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Karla & Bhaja Caves of Maharashtra - Ajanta Ellora Shadow

commercialization. As a result they also get fewer visitors which some may find a blessing and reason enough to visit. So if you literally want to take the road less travelled then you will enjoy your visit. Take your time exploring and enjoy the countryside. Your take off point can be Bombay or Pune but the closest is Lonavla from where you can hire an auto rickshaw to get you there.

 

The most impressive cave is at Karla and a short climb will bring you to this spectacular Cave. Karla Cave is considered by historians to be the largest early Buddhist Chaitya in the country. It is around 40 meters long and about 15 meters high. Completed in 80 BC it is said to be carved by monks and artisans from the surrounding rock. Yet it imitates the more prevalent and hence more familiar (to them) wooden architecture of the time. Of course it is not as impressive as the Kailash Temple of Ellora but next to that it is the second most impressive in Maharashtra.

 

It is interesting to see how light filters into the cave through a semi-circular "sun window" to bathe the stupa or dogba in light, quite an engineering achievement considering that it was built in 80 BC. This stupa or dogba is considered to be the representation of the Buddha. This Stupa is protected by a carved wooden umbrella. The cave's roof is ribbed with wooden beams of teak which are said to be original.

 

There are 37 pillars which form the aisle and each one is topped by a carved kneeling elephant, the elephant considered a sacred symbol in Buddhism. At the time the caves were built the carved elephant heads on the sides of the vestibule had ivory tusks and must have presented quite a sight. Today a modern temple has been built near the mouth of the Karla Cave which does detract somewhat from its charm but then again it brings pilgrims here and provides some colour and life to this otherwise desolate area from here the Bhaja caves are approximately 10 km and a brisk 2 hour walk away.

 

You can always take a rickshaw. Of course from the main road it is only 3 km to the quieter Bhaja caves. The surroundings are green and lush and there is calmness about the area. There are around 18 caves of which 10 are viharas and said to date from around 200BC. Cave number 12 is an open chaitya and said to pre-date Karla. This cave contains a simple stupa/dogba. Beyond this is a collection of 14 stupas, five inside and nine outside one of the caves.

 

An added bonus is the view from the Bhaja Caves. You can see two forts - the Lohagad fort and the Visapur fort local children will happily volunteer to be your guides and take you there for a small tip. Maharashtra Tourism runs a clean and pleasant Karla Resort set under the trees and besides a small lake. So relax and even go boating on the lake. It is a much better option than staying in Lonavla where you have to go eventually to get to your onward destination.

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Travel Period: 5/2/12

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Review by: Peden Doma

 

India

 

 

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