Karla and Bhaja Caves

I had been trying to post in order of our trip, but today was a nice surprising adventure, so I wanted to get it down while it was still a fresh memory (and I’m woefully behind on posts)

We are currently in Pune for a quick trip and were researching what to do for a day trip in Lonavla, a hill station nearby. Our eyes came across the Karla and Bhaja caves listed right between Lonavla and Pune in Lonely Planet. According to the book, while they pale in comparison to Ajanta and Ellora, they are the 2nd oldest in the state, and they are a quiet excursion without the bus loads of tourists of the two famous ones. Quiet and amazing – you had us sold. We abandoned the plan to go to Lonavla and headed to the caves instead.

About an hour outside of Pune on the Mumbai-Pune expressway and 3 KM up a very steep hill, you come to a parking lot with only Hindi (and Marathi) signs. Not a single foreign tourist in sight. We next climbed a long flight of stairs passing a odd set of bazaars and shops along the way. They had everything for sale including flowers and coconuts/ fruits to offer at the temple for a prayer service, water, snacks, and even cheap toys. The walk up provided stunning views of the valley below and a glimpse of rural Maharashtrian lifestyle. Our driver, joined us for the hike up so he could pray at the temple. He also helped keep my son moving up the stairs by prodding him along and occasionally “kidnapping” James (train of choice today).

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Odd selection of shops along the way Stunning views
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Our helpful driver prodding along my son

At the top was the most exquisite rock cave I’ve ever seen. Carved from hand and completed in 80 BC, this Buddhist temple had an elaborate selection of elephants and people carved into the outside walls, and on each pillar in the deep cave. At the end was a huge stupa (representation of Buddha). On the ceiling were wood arches, and I was surprised to learn the arches were the only one of the caves in the area that had their original 2 century year old woodwork.

Intricate carvings at the temple entranceThe temple stupa

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In the cave was a lovely family who were quite taken with my daughter. Indian people loves babies and this family was no exception. They loved pinching her cheeks, stroking her hair and even holding her for pictures. They turned out to be a wonderful asset to find. Later, as we made the trek down the steep and old stairs back to the car, they came to my rescue and helped me down because I couldn’t see my feet.

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Lovely girl who came to my rescue

Next were the Bhaja caves. The smaller of the two, and with even less visitors, the road to the caves wasn’t even marked and there were no cars in the parking lot. My son was asleep at the time so our driver came along again to help carry the bags while my husband carried my son. On the way up we passed a lovely waterfall and ladies washing clothes. It was interesting to watch all the local ladies washing clothes, rinsing in the running water, beating out the dirt and leaving the saris out on the rocks to dry in the sun.

Up some very steep (but less treacherous ) steps was a small collection of caves. Not as impressive as the Karla cave, however you could still see a small collection of intricate carvings. Regardless, anything is amazing when you consider the fact that all these caves were hand carved over two millennia ago. In addition, the top had spectacular views of the country side. At the end was a rushing waterfall that my (now awake) son loved. (He kept yelling, look mommy, agua!).

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Sari washing in the river Flash waterfalls from the monsoons
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The cave complex

Afterward, we slowly made the trek back down, legs shaking from the exercise, back to our car. Our driver stopped at a nondescript road-side restaurant along the expressway on the way back to Pune where we had a huge magnificent lunch with excellent service for $15. It was a wonderful way to end to a perfect outing.

  • Fees: Each cave is 5 rs Indian, 100 rs Foriegner. However, both guards allowed our driver in for free.

All photos taken by Atma Photography

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One thought on “Karla and Bhaja Caves

  1. Pingback: Pondering Travel Past and Future « Around the World with Kids

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