Bhaja Caves - the lesser known exquisite Buddhist caves of Maharashtra

Bhaja Caves is a small cluster of Buddhist Caves built by the Hinayana sect of Buddhism near Lonavala in Maharashtra. The work on these Caves started in 2nd century BC and finished in 2nd century AD. Over these 300 years, 22 Caves were made though today only a few of these are accessible for travellers.

Bhaja Caves near Lonavala
Chaitya hall at Bhaja Caves

Main attractions at Bhaja Caves

Chaityagraha

The main excavation here is the Chaityagraha. This was also a period of transition in architecture practices in building and reinforcing caves and temples. The earlier method was using ribbed wooden fitted ceilings to support the large prayer halls. These timber elements slowly became a part of design sensibility and continued to be used to keep a connection between the past and the present. When these Caves were built, their role was purely ornamental, and not structural.

Entrance to the Chaityagraha
Stupa in the Chaityagraha

The Stupas

The other striking part of the cave excavation is a collection of stupas. Some of these are carved deep into the rock, while a few are outside. The result is a fascinating space where you can walk in and around.

The stupa collection

Carvings

Another very interesting, yet easy to miss attraction here are the carvings on the rocks. There are a few of them near the Stupas, while a few more are in the caves. Do keep an eye for them :)

Carvings at Bhaja caves
Carving at Bhaja caves

My visit to Bhaja Caves

My visit to the Bhaja Caves was a sight for the sore eyes. I had just visited the Karla Caves early morning and was extremely disappointed and disheartened by the way those historical Caves were kept and slowly getting destroyed (read more: Buddhist Caves turned into a dancing arena). It was so so sad to be there that I literally ran away.

Now my driver had no clue about Bhaja Caves, so we had to use google maps to locate the Caves. He was so convinced that nothing like this existed that he walked all the way up to the Caves with me to confirm. Both of us were rather impressed by the nicely kept Caves and lack of commercialisation there. It was a hot day and only a few tourist were around, which was so comforting after witnessing the mayhem and traffic jam on the hill at Karla Caves.

View from inside the cave
View form top of the caves

I sat, took notes, made a few videos and even fewer pictures, but was so much at peace. A couple sat next to me and I couldn't help but hear their conversation. They were breaking up because of parental pressure and this was their last meeting, both hugged and sobbed, completely oblivious to the world around as well as a stranger taking pictures (that's me). It's so disappointing to see how many people who love each other continue to be separated due to different religions, castes and economic strata. Sad to see love losing the battle for one more couple...

Practical details

Entrance fee:

Citizens of India and visitors of SAARC (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives and Afghanistan) and BIMSTEC countries (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar): Rs. 15
Others: Rs. 200
Children: Free (up to 15 years)



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