This is coming a few weeks late because of bad internet and being busy, but there are a lot of places to see and bus rides to take. After Mumbai, I traveled to Aurangabad on a 10 hour sleeper bus. I plan on creating a post about bus rides in India because they are an experience. Suffice it to say for now, it was a very bumpy ride.
The primary reason I went to Aurangabad is to see the UNESCO cultural sites, the Ellora and Ajanta caves and get my nerd on! Aurangabad is the closest city to the Ellora and Ajanta Caves so you pretty much have to stay there if you want to see them. I unfortunately didn’t realize the type of city it is when I got there. I had booked my hotel for four nights but after arriving there and talking to an amazing New Zealand family that was staying there, I decided to only stay for two nights. There is not much else to do in Aurangabad for a solo traveler besides see the caves.
Also, I would not recommend going there by yourself if you are solo female traveler. I felt the most uncomfortable there and “clicked” at. It is much more of a couple or family place. But thankfully, the hotel I stayed at was comfortable and the family I met there I got to eat dinner with both nights.
Zameer, the owner of my hotel, said that if I had only one day then I should go to Ellora. I wasn’t feeling that great the first day because of my bus ride so I only had one day to do something. Zameer didn’t recommend seeing both caves in the same day, which I have been told by other people, because it is too much and you will get caved out. So he said to just see Ellora because they offer more diversity than Ajanta and were closer.
Getting to the Ellora Caves
You will likely have to hire a taxi or a driver to get to the caves. Most hotels will be able to provide you one and a driver for the day. My total cost for driving there and back and for parking was 2,000 rupees ($40). You may be able to bargain that down as well. The Ellora caves are about a half an hour drive and the Ajanta caves are over an hour from Aurangabad. Half the part of getting there is getting through the city, but once you do, the views are quite amazing. The caves are built into the Western Ghats, which is a mountain range that runs through the central part of India. When driving up those ghats, you have a pretty amazing view of the valley below.
Ellora Cave Entrance
I wanted to write a specific section about this because as a tourist, and a solo female traveler, it is important to know. At the entrance there will be guides who try to sell you guide books and guide you through the cave system. I did it and got the book and half a tour for 300 rupees ($4.50). He was helpful and knowledgeable about the caves. He was also cheaper than the guides inside the caves, they were charging 1,000 rupees and more ($20+). In hindsight, I probably didn’t need this, but if you want a guide then look for the ones outside of the entrance and barter them down. Also, it is 500 rupees to enter ($7.75).
As with most tourist places in India, you will be asked to take photos with. I think I took five or six in 3 hours. A lot of times it will be families or children. But I had to sneak away from three young men that were trying to sneak a photo of me.
The caves are made up of three parts: the Buddhist caves, Hindu caves, and Jain caves. There are a total of 34 caves spread over the ghat. Each section has its own feel to it due to the religion that it is in honor of.
The Buddhist caves are the first and oldest dating back to 600 – 700 AD. They are caves 1-12. Of the caves, these are the simplest in architecture. More basic lines and not a lot of embellishment. They epitomize the simplicity of Buddhism and the teachings that it practices. You should probably start with these, because by the time you get to the later ones, you will be more impressed. Most of the Buddhist caves have a courtyard inside and rooms off to the side for prayer.
The Hindu caves take up 13 – 29. They are the largest group of caves and are more elaborate than the Buddhist caves.
The main attraction at Ellora is Cave 16 or the Kailasa Temple in the Hindu caves. Cave 16 is one of the largest caves carved from a single rock in the world. The cave is dedicated to Shiva and dates roughly back to 725 CE. When you get close to it you can really see the elaborate carving of each rock and actually feel how long it took to carve this temple out of one single rock. You could spend a good 45 minutes just on this one cave because it has multiple levels in it and around it.
The Hindu caves are all decorated with one of the Hindu deities. You will see carvings of Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna, Lakshmi, etc.
The Jain caves are caves 30 – 34 and are the newest caves. These are my favorite ones. Not only because of architecture, but also because of where they are located. A few of the caves are right next to a waterfall and have a great view of the valley below. Like the Hindu caves, these are more elaborate than the Buddhist caves. These caves are decorated with the Jinas (spiritual conquerors who have gained liberation from rebirth). They also house beautifully preserved paintings on the ceilings of the caves of different gods, dancing, eating, etc.
Please stay tuned, more to come!!!