If you are visiting Mumbai or Pune and are looking for hidden caves, history, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, you simply have to visit Aurangabad. Not only are there plenty of things to do in Aurangabad and places to see in Aurangabad; you can also visit the famous Ajanta and Ellora Caves from Aurangabad. Unfortunately, there is a lack of accurate information on the internet for these locations, which is why we have compiled this in-depth guide.
Table of Contents
- 1 Why to Visit Aurangabad
- 2 Where to Stay in Aurangabad
- 3 Places to See in Aurangabad
- 4 How to Visit the Ajanta & Ellora Caves
Why to Visit Aurangabad
Aurangabad is Maharashtra’s fifth largest city with over a million inhabitants and has a rich history, culminating with it once being the capital of the mighty Mughal Empire from 1653 to 1707. Today, along with its array of historic sites and rich culture, it’s not hard to understand why Aurangabad has been bestowed the moniker ‘Tourism Capital of Maharashtra’. On top of that, the city serves as an excellent platform for visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Ajanta and Ellora.
Where to Stay in Aurangabad
We would recommend that you give yourself 3 full days in Aurangabad in order to see everything, especially the Ajanta and Ellora Caves. It may be convenient for you to stay close to the bus terminal if you are planning on using public transport. If you are going to hire a private driver, they can pick you up at your hotel. Most hotels in the city are mid-range or budget hotels. If you are looking for luxury, you should check out the hotels around Aurangabad Airport. Below are some of our recommendations:
- Luxury: Vivanta By Taj
- Mid-Range: Hotel Green Olive
- Budget: Hotel Pariwar
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Best Places to See in Aurangabad
1. Bibi Ka Maqbara
Often touted as the ‘Mini Taj Mahal’, the Bibi Ka Maqbara is the most prominent landmark in Aurangabad. Of course, it doesn’t conjure up the same magic as the Taj and isn’t so exquisite. This mausoleum was built in mid 17th century by Azam Shah, the son of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, as a tribute to his mother Rabia-ud-Daurani. Her mortal remains lie underground flanked by an octagonal marble screen with exquisite designs. It was designed by the architect Ata-ullah, who coincidentally was the son of Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, the chief designer of the Taj Mahal. It is the sole example of Mughal architecture on the Deccan Plateau. The mausoleum stands at the center of an enormous enclosure and is laid out in a Charbagh style formal garden.
The monument looks better from afar as the closer you get to the monument you see that it lacks proper maintenance and suffers from crumbling decor. It is still worth a visit though, especially if you haven’t seen the Taj.
The Bibi Ka Maqbara is open from 8-20. Entrance is 10 INR for Indian citizens and 250 INR for foreigners.
2. Aurangabad Caves
Often overlooked in favor of the more well known Ajanta and Ellora Caves are the Aurangabad Caves. The complex consists of 12 rock-cut Buddhist shrines made up of basalt rock divided in 3 groups that are about a kilometer apart. The first group of caves consists of caves 1-5, the second group consists of caves 6-9, while the last group is made up of caves 10-12.The caves have intricately carved sculptures from the 2nd century to the 7th century related to Buddhism as well as Hinduism. Cave 1 & Cave 3 are the earliest excavations here and are probably date back to 2nd – 3rd century. Cave 7 is the most exquisite one which features a panel of six scantily clad female musicians. This sculpture group is considered to be a cornerstone of Tantric Buddhism. The lush green landscape around the caves just adds to the charm of this place.
The opening hours of the Aurangabad Caves is from 9-17. Entry fee is 10 INR for Indian citizens and 100 INR for foreigners.
3. Daulatabad Fort
Located around 16 km northwest of Aurangabad lies the mighty Daulatabad Fort. It is perched atop a conical hill and lies 200 meters above sea level. The Daulatabad fort was constructed in the 12th century by Yadava general Raja Bhillamraj and was originally known as Devagiri. It was renamed Daulatabad (City of Fortune) in 1328 by Mohammed Tughlaq, the eccentric Sultan of Delhi, who shifted his capital here. It is surrounded by three layers of defensive walls and a moat making it virtually impossible to penetrate. The fortress has also never witnessed a battle in its lifetime. The steep and slightly dizzying ascent to the top (700+ steps) will take you past a series of shrewd defenses, huge wooden doors, iron gates, water cisterns, a subterranean passage and the impressive Chand Minar tower. Once there, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the surroundings. We would advise you to take some water bottles along for the climb.
The fortress is open from 9-18 and it’s best to go early to beat the crowds. Entrance is 10 INR for Indian citizens and 100 INR for foreigners.
4. Panchakki and Baba Shah Musafir Dargah
Panchakki is a 17th-century water mill that is situated in the complex of the Baba Shah Musafir Dargah. Also dubbed ‘Nehar-e-Panchakki, the water mill was built on concepts of medieval Indian architecture and functions on scientific principles. The water is sourced from an underground water stream 6 km away from Panchakki and is transported through earthen pipes. Originally constructed with the purpose of generating electricity, it was later used to grind grains for the pilgrims of the Dargah. The tomb of Baba Shah Musafir, a Sufi saint who served as a spiritual adviser to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, is found here. The complex also comprises a court, a madrasa, a mosque, and a huge 300-year-old Banyan tree. Panchakki is a popular picnic spot in Aurangabad.
The Panchakki water mill is open from 7-18 and entrance is free.
5. Grishneshwar Jyotirlinga Temple
The Grishneshwar Jyotirlinga Temple is a famous 18th-century Hindu temple in the village of Verul, just 1 km from the Ellora Caves and about 29 km from Aurangabad. It is a famous pilgrimage site as it is believed to be the last or 12th Jyotirlinga on the earth. A Jyotirlinga is a devotional manifestation of Lord Shiva, one of the supreme deities in Hinduism. The Shiva Linga is found one level below the front entrance of the temple. The temple is renowned for its wonderful medieval architecture with intricate carvings of Indian deities and attractive friezes. The temple complex has a lovely tranquility about it that enables you to savor a quiet moment to reflect on things. This is one of the smallest Jyotirlinga temples in India in terms of size. Cell phones, cameras, and leather items are not permitted inside the temple and men have to go bare-chested to the inner sanctum.
The Grishneshwar Jyotirlinga Temple is open daily from 5:30-21:30 and the entrance is free.
How to Visit the Ajanta and Ellora Caves from Aurangabad
One of the main reasons to visit Aurangabad is, of course, its proximity to the Ajanta and Ellora Caves. Both can be reached easily on a day trip from Aurangabad. Personally, we find the late monsoon to be the best time to visit both, the Ellora and Ajanta Caves. It turns the hillsides lush green and brings down the temperature considerably. Below we have outlined some practical information to make the most out of your visit.
Should You Visit Ajanta or Ellora?
Personally, we recommend that you visit both complexes as both shine in different ways. However, if you are short on time you may wonder whether to visit Ajanta or Ellora. The Ellora Caves are definitely easier to reach and because most of the art is sculpture, it is a little more impressive than Ajanta. On the other hand, the complex in Ajanta is significantly older and because it is harder to reach, also off the beaten track. They both cost the same, although it is, of course, more expensive to get to Ajanta. You could also book a tour that will give you a taste of both.
[one_half padding=”0 5px 0 5px”] Ajanta Caves
Distance from Aurangabad: 105 km
Price for Indians: 30 INR
Price for Foreigners: 500 INR
Opening hours: 09:00-17:30
[one_half_last padding=”0 5px 0 5px”]Ellora Caves
Style: Buddhist, Hindu, Jain
Distance from Aurangabad: 25 km
Price for Indians: 30 INR
Price for Foreigners: 500 INR
Opening hours: 09:00-17:30
Visit Ajanta Caves from Aurangabad
The Ajanta Caves are a set of carved Buddhist caves, located about 105 km from Aurangabad. The earliest caves date back to about 200 BC and display some of the most exquisite Buddhist art, including paintings and sculptures. For that reason, they have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
How to Get to the Ajanta Caves from Aurangabad
By bus: Buses run from Aurangabad several times a day and reach the Ajanta caves within around 3 hours. Please note that the public buses can get very crowded and that you may have to share a seat with another traveler. The buses terminate at the Ajanta parking lot from which it is a bit of a walk to the ticket counter. In fact, we recommend that you take the shuttle bus to the ticket counter. The shuttle buses cost 40 INR per person.
By car: Alternatively, you could rent a car with or without a driver. If you hire a driver, ask them to drop you off at the viewpoint and pick you up at the parking lot. We recommend that you shop around a bit and find yourself a good and decent driver. Prices are generally 2200-2400 INR for the day. Please note that some drivers may charge you extra to drop you off at the viewing point. Make sure to discuss that before you leave.
Visiting the Ajanta Caves
We strongly recommend that you arrive at the caves shortly before opening at 09:00 as it is the only way to beat the crowds. Entrance is 30 INR for Indians and 500 INR for foreigners. The site closes at 17:30 every day except on Mondays when the Ajanta Caves are entirely closed for visitors.
Once you pass the ticket counter, you have a bit of a climb ahead of you. To reach the caves you’ll need to climb a set of stairs. There are porters available at the bottom of the stairs, but as long as you are able-bodied, you should be fine on your own. Once you reach the plateau, the caves are set in a semi-circle around the mountain and consist of viharas and chaityas. The majority are viharas, or monasteries, which are characterized by symmetrical square plans. Chaityas are worship halls and typically more narrow with high ceilings.
Apart from the architecture in and by itself, Ajanta’s main draw is the paintings in the caves. Unfortunately, conservation of the paintings started after considerable decay had already occurred. Today, it can be difficult at times to make out the scenes depicted on the walls.
Across the gorge lies a viewing point from where you can get a beautiful panorama of the caves. It may actually be a good idea to that in the beginning, as a visit to the caves can be quite tiring and you may be tempted to skip it at the end.
Tips for Visiting the Ajanta Caves
First off, we strongly recommend that you read about the different caves before you visit. There is very little information available at the site itself. Once you get there, there are guidebooks on sale around the entrance and we would recommend that you buy one or hire a guide by the entrance. There are also some guards in front of the caves who will give you some information for a small tip.
You should wear comfortable clothes as well as shoes that can easily be removed. You will need to take off your shoes when you enter the caves. Apart from that, it’s also a good idea to bring sunscreen and a sun hat as it can get very hot.
You are allowed to take photos inside the caves but without flash. The caves are kept quite dark to protect the sensitive artwork. You may want to carry a small flashlight to be able to see properly.
There is a restaurant available close to the entrance called MTDC Ajanta. They serve thalis at a decent price and there are Western-style toilets available as well (bring your own toilet paper though). We recommend that you stick to vegetarian food as we found the non-veg dishes to be mediocre.
Visit Ellora Caves from Aurangabad
Similar to the Ajanta Caves, the Ellora Caves also feature ancient Buddhist artwork. Additionally, you can also find Jain and Hindu artwork at the Ellora Caves. With over 40 caves at the complex, there is plenty to see. The oldest caves date back almost 1500 years and the Ellora Caves are also UNESCO-listed.
How to Get to the Ellora Caves from Aurangabad
Located only 25 km from Aurangabad, the Ellora Caves are much easier to get to than the Ajanta Caves.
By bus: Similarly to the Ajanta Caves you can take a public bus from Aurangabad. The ticket costs approximately 40 INR and the journey takes about 45 minutes. From the bus stop, it’s about a 5-minute walk to the entrance.
By car: Alternatively, you can hire a car with a private driver from Aurangabad. You can shop around a bit, although prices are generally around 1200-1400 INR for the day.
Visiting the Ellora Caves
The caves are open year-round, although 10:00 is probably a good time to arrive. Please note that the complex is closed on Tuesdays. Entrance for Indian costs 30 INR for Indians and 500 INR for foreigners.
Once you pass the ticket counter, you will immediately arrive at cave 16. From here you have caves 17-28 on the left and caves 1-15 on the right (facing cave 16).
In order to get to caves 29-34, you need to take a shuttle bus from cave 16. Tickets for this bus are sold in front of cave 16, costing about 22 INR.
Cave 29 lies somewhat separate from caves 30-34 which means the bus will drop you a crossroads before continuing to caves 30-34. From this crossroad, it’s about a 5-minute walk to cave 29.
Ellora Caves Overview
The main attraction, cave 16, also known as the Kailasha Temple. It is a chariot-shaped monument to the God Shiva. It is King Krishna I how is credited with the construction of the temple. The place is absolutely massive and you could spend an entire day at this ‘cave’ alone. Unfortunately, this particular ‘cave’ was closed during our visit due to a security threat. It is so monumental, however, we will definitely be back in the future to see it in person.
If you are short on time, make sure to visit caves 10,11,12,14,15,16,21,29,30,32,33 as they are easily the most important ones.
- Caves 1-12: Buddhist Caves
- Caves 13-29: Hindu Caves
- Caves 30-34: Jain Caves
Tips for Visiting the Ellora Caves
Guidebooks to the caves can be bought just after the entrance in front of cave 16. They may cost about 60 INR, but they are definitely worth it. There is next to no information in and around the caves which is a bit disappointing.
There aren’t really any restaurants around the Ellora Caves so we’d advise you to grab food once you get back to Aurangabad. A number of street food stalls lies outside the ticket office, but they may not be the best place to get food with a European stomach. Apart from that, there are a few water vendors inside the complex, but nothing more substantial than that.
The toilets at the Ellora caves were a big letdown for us. They aren’t particularly clean and there is no toilet paper. In fact, when we visited, there wasn’t even running water to wash our hands (or our behinds). We recommend that you bring some wet wipes as well as hand sanitizer.
Now, what do you think? Would you like to visit Aurangabad? Which is your favorite, Ajanta or Ellora? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!