Located in the beautiful hill station town of Lonavala in Maharashtra, India, are the ancient Bhaja Caves that attract thousands of tourists each year. Due to their close proximity to the bustling cities of Mumbai and Pune, they also make for ideal day trips or weekend getaways for city dwellers. Bhaja Caves are a collection of 22 rock-cut Hinayana Buddhist caves that were built in the second century BC. They are situated at a height of about 400 feet (121 metres) and overlook the Bhaja village. They are famous for their ancient architecture, stupa (mound-like structure containing religious relics that is also used as a meditation place), viharas (Buddhist monastery), sculptures, reliefs, carvings, and inscriptions. It is a place of immense archaeological significance, giving visitors a glimpse into the life of that era. To make the most of your time here, scroll down to go through our guide to Bhaja Caves, Lonavala.
Things to do / Highlights
Marvel at the majestic architecture of the chaitya hall
One of the highlights of Bhaja Caves is the chaitya hall or chaitya-griha (a shrine, sanctuary, temple, or prayer hall most common in Buddhism). It is located in Cave 12 and is significant as the oldest surviving chaitya hall in India. It is characterised by a vaulted ceiling that is shaped like a horseshoe and has a massive stupa in the centre of the hall. Other salient features are its wooden architecture, Indian mythological reliefs, arched doorway, window shaped like a horseshoe, and a multi-storeyed, portico-style area that has several windows and balconies.
Admire the inscriptions on the stupas
Bhaja Caves also house 14 magnificent stupas, of which nine are outside the caves and five are inside. The stupas contain relics of Buddhist monks who died at Bhaja and have an inscription of three monks, namely, Sanghdina, Ampinika, and Dhammagiri. Visitors can admire the elaborately carved stupas that depict the names and titles of the monks.
Appreciate the ancient arts while wandering through the caves
There are 22 rock-cut caves at Bhaja and they contain chaityas, stupas, viharas, and such other dwellings for monks and residents. They feature many intricate carvings, murals, reliefs, sculptures, and paintings that shed light on the ancient arts of India. Must-see artworks are Buddha paintings and statues, reliefs from Indian mythology, broken animal figures, carvings of a woman dancing and playing tabla (Indian percussion instrument) from 2000 years ago, sculptures of figures wearing exquisite jewellery and headdress, and architectural features like verandahs and rail pattern embellishments.
Best time to visit
Weather plays an important part in visiting Bhaja Caves. The western part of India, where the caves are located, experiences very hot summer months from April to June, with temperatures reaching 40°C (104°F) at times. It is advisable not to visit in the summer. If you do, please ensure that you wear sunscreen and caps and avoid prolonged exposure to the sun. Ensure that you stay hydrated too. It is best to visit in the winter months (November to March). Monsoon season (July to September) is also a good time to visit, but the surfaces of the caves may be slippery at that time.
Hire a guide for more information
Since there is very little information available on-site, you can hire a private guide at the caves to show you around. For a small fee, the guide can provide you with historical, religious, and architectural information about the caves. Some guides may be able to show you around unknown or unexplored parts of the caves.
Wear comfortable footwear
To reach the caves, you have to climb about 200 to 250 steps, the first few sets of which are steep, high, and very uneven. Climb with precaution and wear comfortable shoes. Also, the exploration of the entire cave complex may take two to three hours, so sturdy and comfortable footwear is a must. You should also wear socks in case you are asked to remove your shoes while visiting shrines or sacred places in the caves.
How to get there
Taxis or autorickshaws
There is no public transport available to reach the caves, but you can hire an autorickshaw from Bhaja village to take you there. From Mumbai and Pune cities, a taxi can be easily hired to reach the caves.
Private bus services also regularly ply between Pune, Mumbai, and Nasik, among other places. From there, you can hire an autorickshaw or taxi to reach Bhaja Caves.
Driving your own car or a rental car is the most convenient way to reach the caves. Pune is about 60 km (37 mi), and Mumbai is about 100 km (62 mi) from Bhaja Caves, and both the cities are well-connected by road.
A paid parking lot is available about 100 metres (0.06 miles) from the start of cave steps, but the parking spots are said to be limited in number. Alternatively, you could park your vehicle on the roadside, especially if you are travelling on a two-wheeler like a motorbike.
Bhaja Caves, Lonavala Information
Bhaja Caves, Lonavala
Address: Bhaje Caves Road, Near Bhaja Village Maval District, Lonavla, 412106, India
Opening hours: Wed - Mon: 11am - 5pm (closed on Tue)
Cost: 0.35 USD (Indian citizens); 2.78 USD (Other nationalities)
Department of tourism: Maharashtra Tourism
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