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Ajanta and Ellora Caves are two separate historical monuments in India located not far from Aurangabad, a city in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, India. The city has become a popular tourist destination in India because of its proximity the Ajanta Caves and Ellora Caves and some other places of interest (see Useful Visitor Info section below).
Although Ajanta and Ellora Caves are two different tourist destinations, in tourist guides they are often mentioned together. There are several reasons for that:
- Both are rock-cut cave monuments. The caves include paintings and sculptures considered to be masterpieces of Buddhist religious art.
- Both are located north from Aurangabad; although Ellora Caves are much closer to the city (18 miles or 30 kilometers). Ajanta Caves are located 66 miles (107 km) from Aurangabad.
- Because of the location of caves, many tourists want to visit both and plan their trips accordingly.
- The last but not least, both cave complexes are on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The Ajanta Caves are located just outside the village of Ajanta. The temple complex consists of 31 cave temples carved in the rock. First cave temples appeared in Ajanta in about 2nd century BC. Some cave-temples in Ajanta were built later - according to some scholars, in the late 5th century. It appears that Ajanta Caves were abandoned somewhere in 6th century AD. These caves were rediscovered accidentally in 1819 by a British officer by name John Smith.
The paintings and sculptures in the Ajanta cave temples depict the Jataka tales (Indian epic literature describing the birth of Buddha). The art includes various decorative themes and form: semi-divine and human, animal and. There are multiple images of Buddha in many caves.
Ellora cave complex includes 34 excavated structures carved into the sides of the rock. One of them, Ellora's Kailash Temple (cave #16), is unique since it was excavated from the top down basically transforming the whole rock into a monolithic rock-cut temple. All caves can be divided into three groups according to the religious orientation: Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism (an Indian religion preaching pacifism and nonviolence with emphasis on nonexistence of God). There are 12 Buddhist, 17 Hindu and five Jain caves. The Buddhist caves were constructed in 630-700 AD, Hindu caves - between 550 and 800 AD, Jain caves - between 1000 and 1100 AD. Widely accepted view on the proximity of temples belonging to different religious traditions is that it was thought to stress the religious freedom, harmony and tolerance.
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What Makes It Special
Indian rock cut temples are not limited to the Ajanta and Ellora Cave complexes. There are more than 110 well known cave temples in India (located in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kashmir, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand) with total number of rock temples only in India counting in thousands. However, the Ajanta and Ellora Caves represent the essence of Indian rock-cut architecture by both, the scale of the construction as well as the artistic value of its architectural styles and decoration.
Some of themples like Kailasa or Kailasanatha (Ellora) are real masterpieces. For example, Kailasa looks like a multi-storey sturcture whereas in reality it was carved and sculpted with hammer and chisel entirely out of one single rock covering an area two times larger than the Parthenon in Athens.
The Ajanta and Ellora rock temples are outstanding examples of ancient architectural heritage; some of them are trully unique. Designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, they represent an artistic legacy to inspire us and enrich the lives of future generations.
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Directions To Destination
International travelers fly to India either through the Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport (IATA:DEL) in the capital of India Delhi or Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (IATA: BOM, ICAO: VABB) in the city of Mumbai The latter is more convenient if your final destinations are Ajanta and Ellora Caves. Mumbai is the closest big city to the town of Aurangabad. Bear in mind, there are no direct international flights to Aurangabad - only domestic.
There are many ways you can get to Aurangabad from Delhi or Mumbai:
By plane: Aurangabad has its own airport, Chikalthana Airport (IXU). It is located about 9 miles (15 km) from the city center. There are metered auto rickshaws, chauffeur-driven taxis, buses to take you to Aurangabad. It takes approximately 20 minutes to get to Aurangabad by taxi or metered auto rickshaw.
Direct flights from Mumbai and Delhi are available on a daily basis; usually, there are four flights. For Mumbai - Aurangabad flights, prices are from $120 up to $150 (INR 5,310 - INR 6,740), the duration of the flight is from 45 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes. For Delhi - Aurangabad flights, prices are from $190 to $240 (INR 8,390 to INR10,840); the duration is two hours.
By train: Aurangabad has direct rail links to important Indian cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad and others. Trains are rather comfortable and not expennsive.
- From Mumbai to Aurangabad (travel distance 233 miles or 375 km; the duration of the trip is about seven hours) you can travel by air-conditioned, first Class, overnight sleeper. The cost of the ticket is about $25 (INR1050). Air-conditioned chair car in a super fast Janshatabdi train (a day journey of six and a half hours) is about $10 (INR 420).
- From Delhi to Aurangabad (travel distance is 1146 miles or 1844 km; travel time is 22 hours) use Asr Ned Express departing from Delhi daily. Ticket prices are from $10 to $35 (INR 420 - 1530).
By bus: Aurangabad is linked by national highways and state highways to all parts of the country. It is 241 miles (388 km) north-east of Mumbai - via Nasik-Manmad and 400 km via Pune. There are several luxury and state bus services that travel between Mumbai and Aurangabad (and Ajanta - Ellora caves). MSRTC (Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation) and private buses are running daily and overnight. There are some good private companies operating buses in Mumbai: Royal Cars(AC), Konduskar(AC), Ghatge Patil-Snozzer (AC Sleeper), Humsafar (Non AC budget carrier). Ticket prices are:
- Air-conditioned bus: from $10 to $15 (INR 450 to INR 650) per person
- Air-conditioned sleeper bus: from $15 to $20 (INR 700 to INR 850) per person
- Budget non air-conditioned bus: from $6 to $8 (INR 250 to INR 350) per person
Traveling from Aurangabad to Ajanta and Ellora Caves
The city of Aurangabad has all forms of public transportation: from city buses, metered auto-rickshaws to chauffeur-driven taxis. City bus service, AMT (Aurangabad Municipal Transport, Municipal Corporation owned but privately operated), operates throughout the city and outskirts. MSRTC (Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation) buses connect Aurangabad to nearby tourist places, distant suburbs and villages around.
As a tourist you can also take metered auto-rickshaws (3-wheeler taxis) or chauffeur driven taxis. These taxis are not very expensive and are ideal for one-day tours to Ajanta and Ellora. A hatchback type air-conditioned taxi will cost you around $0.15 (INR 7.00) per km for 80 km or 8 hours whichever is less. The distance to caves:
- Aurangabad - Ellora: 18 miles (29 km).
- Aurangabad - Ajanta distance is 66 miles (107 km).
The bus fare from Aurangabad to Ellora is about $0.45 (INR 21) and it takes 45 minutes. Do not freak out, if while traveling by bus you it passing the road to Ellora - it goes first to the village and continues to Ellora. In Ellora, the bus stop is next to the sight entrance. If you decide to take a shared taxi to Ellora, the cost is about $0.55 (INR25) per person, but it takes an hour (longer than the bus because the car stops to drop and take people along the way).
A bus ticket from Aurangabad to Ajanta is about $2 (INR 76). The trip takes about two hours. From the bus stop in Ajanta there are 2.5 miles (4 km) to the Ajanta Caves. You can take another bus (which will cost you $0.15 (INR 7) in a non A/C bus.
Note: all prices above are 2011.
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Best Time To Go
The best time to visit the area is October - November, December - early March. Indeed, during summer temperatures can climb to 115 ºF (45°C) and more even if nights are usually pleasant and cooler during the entire summer. Relative humidity is low - on average 9%. Monsoon season continues from June to October. The average relative humidity during monsoon period is 40%.
On the contrary, winter time from November to February is very comfortable for visiting Aurangabad. The average winter temperature ranges from 71.6 ºF (22°C) to 50 ºF (10°C). Average relative humidity is 17%.
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Where To Stay
- Aurangabad Gymkhana Club ( Airport road, Mukundwadi Circle, 431001 Aurangabad), four-star, rates from $60 (INR 2500) per room, single occupancy, breakfast included, 10% tax excluded. Gymkhana Club Aurangabad is 2 km from MIDC (Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation) Industrial Area and 7-minute drive from the airport. Hotel has 72 rooms.
- Ambassador Ajanta (Jalna Road, Cidco, 431001 Aurangabad), five-star, rates from $70 (INR 3200) per room, single occupancy, breakfast included, 10% tax excluded. It is a 10-minute drive from Aurangabad Airport, a 25-minute drive from downtown Aurangabad and the train station. It is 19 miles from the historic Ellora Caves and 56 miles from the Ajanta Caves. Hotel has 92 rooms.
Note: all prices above are 2011.
Research and book hotels in or near Aurangabad, India
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Useful Visitor Information and Tips
If you do not have time for both Caves, you may be wondering what should you choose to visit: Ajanta or Ellora Caves? Obviously, there is no one answer to this question: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. On the other hand, statistically speaking, we have heard more often preferences given to Ellora Caves. Also, Ellora Caves are closer to Aurangabad - a factor to consider if you have limited time.
Ajanta and Ellora Caves opening hours are from 9:00 AM to 5.30 PM. Ajanta Caves are closed on Mondays; Ellora Caves are closed on Tuesdays.
Admission fees: Ajanta Caves - $10 for foreigners; Ellora Caves are free, Kailasa (Cave #16 and the centerpiece at Ellora) is $ 5. Entrance for children younger than 15 years is free in all places.
Remember that you will be visiting caves (even if they are transformed in beautiful temples) which do not have any artificial lights. To get the most out your visit, you need to choose the time when the sun lightens the caves - in most cases this happens in the afternoon.
In addition to caves you may be interested in some activities related them as well as other historic monuments:
- Ellora Ajanta Festival, a four-day event held every year at Soneri Mahal (Golden Palace) in Aurangabad in the last week of November. Golden Palace is an ancient monument at the foot of the hills, at the center of the Marathwada University campus.
- Ellora Festival of classical dance and music organized at the caves every year in the third week of March. Many Indian distinguished singers and dancers usually participate in the Festival.
- Bibi Ka Maqbara, a mausoleum, (or maqbara in Arabic), a finest example of Indian architecture. It is also known as Dakkhani Taj or the Taj of the Deccan and reminiscent of Taj Mahal (originally planned to rival the latter and earning the nickname "poor man's Taj" upon failing do so).
- Daulatabad Fort (also known as Fort of Devagiri or Devgiri), a magnificent 12th century fortress about 9 miles (15 km northwest from Aurangabad.
Aurangabad is a fairly safe place. The people in the city are mostly polite with the foreign and local tourists. Violent crime in Aurangabad is low.
You should be watchful of food poisoning. Avoid drinking tap water. Bottled mineral water is fine but ALWAYS check the seal. Avoid eating ice cream. Avoid ice cubes in your drink. Freshly cooked or boiled food can be considered as safe.
Pay attention to mosquitos. Remember that Dengue fever is the most common cause of fever in travelers returning from India.
There are monkeys in many places in India. Avoid petting them - they are wild animals. Monkey bites are very serious and diseases can be passed through their saliva. If you got bitten, clean the wound and see a doctor immediately. In the caves you can come across bats.
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