Close to the city of Aurangabard, roughly seven hours by road or a one hour flight from Mumbai, hide two of India’s most spectacular artistic treasures. The Buddhist frescoes of the Ajanta Caves were created between the second century BC and 6th century AD. It is thought that the Ajunta site was abandoned for the nearby Ellora Caves, where you’ll find some of the most intricate and remarkably detailed carvings by Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks.
A series of 29 cave temples set in a horseshoe shaped cliff, the Ajanta Caves are home to some of India’s great Buddhist art. Occupied since the 2nd century BC, and utilised as prayer halls and monasteries by monks, the statues, murals and inscriptions within depict both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism and scenes of daily life at the time. After 9 centuries, the caves were abandoned and lost to nature until they were stumbled across by British cavalryman Jon Smith while he was hunting for a tiger. Made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, on your visit, head to the viewing platform across the the river for an overview of the whole site.
Carved straight out of the hills about 100 kilometres from the Ajanta, the creation of the Ellora Caves began at about the time that Ajanta was abandoned, 550AD. Spanning a period from the 6th to the 10th centuries, the carvings within the caves span three religions – 12 of the caves are Buddhist, 17 are Hindu and 5 are Jain (34 in total), the perfect demonstrations of India’s religious harmony. Used for study, meditation, eating and sleeping, the carvings here are astonishingly intricate and, like the Ajanta Caves, one of the pinnacles of Indian art. A visit to Cave 16 is a must as it is home to the largest single monolithic rock excavation in the world. The Ellora Caves were listed UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1983.
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The world’s largest and most populous continent, Asia is a vibrant and rambunctious fusion of ethnicities, cultures and customs; an incomparably rich and turbulent history showcased by mindboggling feats of architecture and engineering; a geography that encompasses towering peaks, unfathomable gorges and paradisiacal beaches; and a biodiversity that is so abundant that you’ll be reaching for your wildlife guide.