The World Heritage-listed cave temples at Ellora are only about 30km from Aurangabad. This means that they can be visited in the morning before the afternoon heat makes the 2km walk of the escarpment difficult. Many tourists also visit the ruined fort at Daulatabad, which is just off the road on the way to Ellora. We would like to have visited the fort as well, but I was concerned about my lack of endurance after being inactive for almost five weeks. I wanted to concentrate my energy on the caves themselves, as I was sure they would be challenging enough.
The escarpment has a gentle slope at Ellora and many of the 34 caves have elaborate courtyards in front of the shrines. The caves were carved by generations of monks over five centuries and are filled with stunningly detailed sculptures. There are twelve Buddhist caves (AD 600-800); seventeen Hindu caves (AD 600-900) and the remaining five are Jain (AD 800-1000). The most dramatic of the cave temples is the Kailasa Temple (AD 760), which is dedicated to Shiva and was hewn from the rock face over a period of 150 years by over seven thousand labourers. It is the largest monolithic sculpture in the world; 200,000 tonnes of rock was removed to create the temple from the top down. It is also located in the centre of the escarpment with the other caves fanning out on both sides. I learned that the Kailasa temple is twice as high as the Parthenon and covers an area twice as large. Unbelievable!
We started out at Cave 1 and were impressed with the beauty of the first few caves. We knew we would not be disappointed having made such an effort to make Ellora part of our itinerary. So often the anticipation of visiting a famous place ends in being let down by the actual visit itself. We took our time and soaked in the atmosphere of the caves and their sculptures. It was remarkably cool inside the dark caves and they were clean and free from offensive odours. We toured the first fifteen caves and stopped for a cold drink and a snack before striking off to see the largest and most dramatic, the Kailasa Temple.
I don't think I need to say too much, the pictures speak for themselves. After spending quite a long time studying the carving in the interior, we made the climb up the south slope to view the temple from above. Here it was easier to see how the temple had been created by first cutting three deep trenches into the rock and then 'releasing' the temple from the cliff with simple tools. We expected to be less impressed by the caves further along, but found each one to have a charm all its own and we were glad we made the effort to tour them.
The Jain temples located at the end of the string of caves were spaced further apart and we were glad we were allowed to travel between them in our hired car as we were starting to tire after several hours in the afternoon sun. At the end of the day, we headed back to Aurangabad suitably impressed and wishing that more of the people we know could visit this splendid place.