I absolutely loved the UNESCO-listed Ellora Caves and it was one of my favourite places that I visited in South India so I’m going to tell you how to see them on a backpacker budget including transport and accomodation.
We got a sleeper coach from Margao in Goa to Aurangabad, which is the jumping off point for the Ellora and Ajanta Caves. There are also coaches from Mumbai. Download and book transport directly on the Redbus or iXigo apps to avoid cripplingly high commission from travel agents. You can also take a train to Aurangabad.
The state of Maharastra has some hotels that are Indians-only so be careful when booking your hotel! There aren’t really any budget guesthouses for foreigners, but there are a couple of reasonably-priced hotels. We stayed in the Treebo Royal Kourt which was good, but I recommend staying near the bus station if you can to save on tuk-tuk fares. Check the Tripadvisor link below to check reviews and find good deals for hotels in Aurangabad:
To get to the Ellora caves, you have a few options – the cheapest is to go to the central bus stand which is near Siddhartha Garden (find it on Maps.me). You can get public buses to both the Ellora and Ajanta Caves (be warned, Ajanta is a 2 and half hour journey away).
Ellora Caves is the most impressive of the two and its much closer as it is only a 45-minute journey from Aurangabad by bus. It takes about 30 minutes in a jeep, but if it’s shared then you’ll spend 20 minutes picking up passengers so it will take more time in the long run. Be aware that travel sickness is quite common in India and while I was in a jeep a child tried to be sick out of the window and it landed on my face.
The public buses to Ellora go from the left-hand side of the terminal as you walk in (look for a woman in a little booth), they go every half hour or so and cost 32 rupees. A shared jeep costs 50 rupees and they go when they’re extremely full. The jeep park is on the outskirts of Aurangabad off the highway near the Panchavati Hotel. It is marked on Maps.me.
The third option is a state-run sightseeing coach which goes at 8.30am from the Central Bus Terminal and returns at 5.30pm. You can book it on the day or the day before and it goes to the Ellora caves, Daultabad Fort, Bibi Ka Maqbara and Panchakki and costs 276 rupees per person. I’ve heard that it’s quite rushed tour and when we went on a bus tour in Goa, it wasn’t a very pleasant experience for several reasons but mainly because people were so late that we didn’t see everything. You can actually see the Daultabad Fort on your left on the bus to the Ellora Caves.
*The Ellora Caves are closed to visitors every Tuesday*
The Ellora Caves system is made up of 34 cave temples in total, all created between the 6th and 11th centuries AD. The caves subscribe to different religions so 12 are Mahayana Buddhist caves (made 550-750 AD), 17 are Hindu caves (600-875 AD) and 5 are Jain caves (800-1000 AD). The centrepiece of these beautiful rock-cut caves buried in the hillside is the breathtaking Kailasa Temple, in cave number 16, which is the first cave you will see when you arrive.
It is the world’s largest monolithic sculpture and if you come here on the day that the Ajanta Caves are closed (Monday) then it will be very busy (and vice versa for Ajanta Caves on Tuesdays). The entrance price is 600 rupees for foreigners and you’ll get a token that you need to keep, to get in and out at the gate like on a subway. It’s not possible to see anything without paying the entry fee. Watch out for the grey langur monkeys on the way in.
When you arrive at the Kailasa temple, make sure to go up the steps and explore the inside of the temple as well as the outside. This was one of the few places where we didn’t get asked for selfies which was nice.
If you go left at the Kailasa temple then you’ll find caves 17-33. These are all the Hindu and Jain caves. Of the Hindu caves, numbers 21 (the Ramesvara Cave) and 29 (the Dumar Lena) are most ornate on this side. The Hindu caves are notable for their storytelling, but also that they were cut from the top down. Number 32 is the most impressive of the Jain temples and known as Indra Sabha.
There is a shuttle bus that will take you to the far away Jain temples for 10 rupees from outside the Kailasa temple as the Ellora Caves are much more spread out than the Ajanta Caves.
If you go right at the Kailasa temple then you will find caves 15-1. Numbers 1-12 are all Buddhist and 13-15 are Hindu. Caves 5, 6, 9, 10, 11 and 12 are the most impressive of the Buddhist caves with the most ornate rock carvings. Of the two Hindu caves on this side, don’t miss numbers 14 and 15, which are the Ravana Ka Khai and the Das Avatara (Ten incarnations of Vishnu) caves.
The Ellora Caves really are one of the most impressive jewels in South India’s crown and certainly one of the most incredible sights that I saw in the whole of South Asia. Certainly, a day trip to remember and the India that you imagine in your dreams.
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Have you been to the Ellora Caves? What did you think of them? Any questions then let me know in the comments below!
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