Ellora Caves – a complete guide

What is Ellora?

Recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage area, Ellora is an ancient architectural site consisting of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain caves dating back to AD 600. Ellora also contains the magnificent Kailasa temple – the largest single monolithic structure in the world.

The location isn’t quite as impressive as that of their siblings over in Ajanta, but the caves in Ellora more than make up for it with intricate carvings and dramatic courtyards.

Inside Kailasa Temple

 

How do I get there?

Access to the cave site is via the city of Aurangabad. Public buses to Ellora leave from Aurangabad’s central bus station (the one next to Siddharth garden) every 30 mins between the hours of 5am and 9pm. The journey takes approximately 1.5 hours and costs ₹39 (£0.4/US$0.5).

There are a few different bus routes that all stop in the Ellora area; some drop you directly at the cave site entrance whereas others will only go via Ellora village (a 2km walk/tuk-tuk ride from the caves). Without knowing some Hindi it’ll be hard to determine which bus you actually get on, so take things as they come and be prepared for a short walk!

Top Tip

Sit near the front!

The local buses in India are often very old and therefore have little suspension, so brace yourself for a bumpy ride! You can alleviate some of this constant bottom-bouncing by sitting closer to the front of the bus (if you even get a seat that is)!

One of the buses that will take you to Ellora

 

When are they open?

6am-6pm Wednesday-Monday (closed on Tuesdays). The caves get busy at weekends with domestic tourists so visit on a weekday if you can.

 

What is the price of tickets?

In 2018, adult tickets were priced at ₹500 (£5.5/US$7) for foreigners and ₹30 (£0.3/US$0.4) for Indian nationals. I know this is an incredibly large disparity in price but it’s only to encourage and enable Indian people to explore parts of their own country (plus, it’s still quite cheap in comparison with touristic sites in other countries). An authorised guide will set you back in the region of ₹1370 (£15/US$19).

 

Which caves are best?

The caves at Ellora can be grouped into the different religions for which they were built. Here are the best caves, their respective religion and what to look out for:

Buddhist Caves

 Cave 2 – large seated Buddha

 Cave 9 – intricate exterior detailing

 Cave 10 – awesome interior ceiling

 Cave 11 – simply its grand size

 Cave 12 – top floor Buddha shrine and reincarnations

Wonderful ceilings in the Buddhist caves

Hindu Caves

 Cave 15 – spooky but captivating interior

 Cave 21 – dramatic exterior and detailed carvings

 Cave 22 – interesting floor engravings

Detailed carvings of the Hindu caves

Jain Caves

 Cave 32 – an abundance of carvings and detailed interior (upper floor)

Delicately crafted pillars in a Jain cave

 

What else is there to do?

Standing tall at the centre of the cave site is the incredibly impressive Kailasa Temple. It is officially the largest single monolithic structure in the world (the largest structure to be carved from a single rock).

But what does this mean? Well, it means that this temple wasn’t built upwards like most modern structures but rather cut down – carved delicately from one huge rock. Think of it as being the world’s biggest ice sculpture…except made from rock!

As well as going inside the Kailasa temple, you can take a path from its south side that leads up and around the top – giving you an almost birds-eye view. From here you can begin to appreciate the sheer scale of this engineering marvel.

View from above Kailasa Temple

 

Where can I eat?

The MTDC Ellora restaurant is conveniently located within the cave complex (next to the ticket office). The food isn’t anything to rave about but it provides a quick and easy solution to refuel on your day of sightseeing. It’s thalis are great value for money at ₹140 (£1.5/US$2) and beer is also available.

 

How long do I need?

I would recommend half a day for visiting the Ellora Caves. As with most touristy sites, it’s a good idea to arrive early to avoid the crowds (and the midday heat in central India).

If you started early enough, you could combine your trip to Ellora with a stop off at Daulatabad Fort which is on the way to the caves.

 

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