Spelunking! Does the word sound familiar? Is yes, you are probably a cave enthusiast already. If not, we hope this article enlivens your sense of adventure and inspires you to set out exploring a cave in India. With its geodiversity, India has caves for people with varied interests, be it spirituality, mythology, history or adventure. Here are seven caving destinations for the avid traveller in you.
1. Ajanta and Ellora Caves, Maharashtra
Situated near Aurangabad, these rock-cut caves are arguably the most famous caves in India. Ajanta is a group of 29 caves dated 2nd century BC to about 480 or 650 AD. The caves house Buddhist paintings and sculptures with figures of the Buddha and portrayals from the Jataka tales.
The 34 caves at Ellora, built from the sixth to the ninth centuries, are known for Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples. The Brahmanical & Buddhist group of caves were built by the Rashtrakuta dynasty while the Jain group was built by the Yadavas. The lesser known Aurangabad Caves near the Bibi Ka Maqbara in Aurangabad are also worth a visit if you have the time.
2. Elephanta Caves, Maharashtra
Gharapuri or the Elephanta Caves are situated on an island 7 km off the mainland of Mumbai. The site has seven rock-cut caves carved in a style similar to the Ajanta and Ellora caves, believed to date back to between 450 and 750 AD.
The caves form two distinct groups: the first a group of five Hindu caves and the second, a group of two Buddhist caves. The major attraction here is the Maheshmurti, a depiction of Shiva in three forms – the fearsome, the meditative and the lovable.
3. Bhimbhetka rock shelters, Madhya Pradesh
Located in the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary, these caves are an archaeological site from the Paleolithic Age. The caves are one of the earliest signs of human life in the Indian subcontinent.
The site has over 500 caves with prehistoric paintings depicting scenes from daily life, hunting and war.
4. Borra Caves, Andhra Pradesh
Located in the Ananthagiri hills in Visakhapatnam district, these limestone caves stretch to a depth of 80 metres and are considered the deepest caves in India. The caves have a significant number of irregularly shaped stalactites and stalagmites.
5. Badami Caves, Karnataka
The Badami cave temples in Bagalkot district are sculpted out of soft Badami sandstone. Some of the caves reflect the North Deccan architectural style while some others are designed in the Nagara and Dravidian artistic traditions. Cave 1 is dedicated to Shiva, Caves 2 and 3 are dedicated to Vishnu. Cave 4 has depictions from Jainism. There is also a fifth natural cave temple which is dedicated to Buddhism and can only be entered by crouching on all fours.
6. Amarnath Caves, Baltal, Jammu and Kashmir
Located about 141 km from Srinagar, the cave shrine of Amarnath is regarded as one of the holiest shrines by Hindus. The cave is covered with snow for most of the year except for a short duration in summer when it is open to pilgrims. Inside the main cave is an ice stalagmite (formed from the freezing of water drops that drip from the roof of the cave) that resembles the Shiv Linga, that waxes only during summers (May to August) and gradually wanes after that. According to Hindu legend, this is the place where Lord Shiva revealed the secret of eternity to Goddess Parvati.
7. Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves, Orissa
These caves, located on two hills near Bhubaneshwar, are partly natural and partly manmade. The ornately carved structures are believed to have been residences for Jain monastics during the rule of King Kharavela.
There are 15 caves at Khandagiri while Udayagiri has 18. The most prominent of these is the Hathigumpha (Elephant Cave) which has an inscription written by King Kharavela in the Brahmi script.
The best time to visit all of the listed caves is October to February (except for the Amarnath shrine which is open between July and August) and the best way to make all your hotel arrangements is by making use of Oyo offers.
So, here you are. Pack your bags, get a headlamp and scoot off to explore one of the caves listed here. If you have a bigger appetite, you could also venture into the caves at Mawsmai (Meghalaya), Varah (Tamil Nadu), Edakkal Caves (Kerala), Jogimara and Sita Bengra (Chattisgarh), Tabo (Himachal Pradesh), and Dungeshwari (Bihar). Happy exploring!