Of course, it is not just the grandeur architecture of these caves that draws us to visit them but also the unique mural paintings of ancient times that tell tales of a bygone era. The paintings in Ajanta are world famous and are on the theme of various Jataka stories reflecting Buddha's previous incarnations and events from the life of Buddha. The colors on the walls and ceilings were made from pebbles and vegetable oil from the hills, the colored pebbles were crushed, ground and then mixed with glue. This elaborate procedure for the paintings was definitely worth the effort. It is said that during those days, the entire cave with the paintings would look like it was decorated for a grand event.
Of all the caves, five caves (9, 10, 19, 26 and 29) are chaityagrihas (shrines) and the rest are virahas (monasteries.) Some of the caves are unfinished but still manage to draw your attention for the sheer location and its surroundings. To admire the beautiful sculptures and craftsmanship head to caves 4, 10, 19 and 26 and the mural paintings leave you spellbound in caves 1, 2, 9, 11, 16 and 17.
The entrance and pillars of most of the caves have imposing sculptures, the walls are embellished with paintings and the inner sanctum houses the massive sculpture of Gautama Buddha. Cave 1 is known for its ornamented paintings, Cave 2 for the beautiful geometric patterns with the ceilings and walls brightly painted, Cave 16 has some paintings that have inscriptions on them and cave 17 is also called as the zodiac cave based on a painting of a gigantic wheel.
The stupas are built in such a way that natural light seeps in and illuminates the entire stupa during certain parts of the day. The precision with which this was achieved centuries ago is unbelievable. In this modern day and age will it be possible to built a monument as grand as this? Or did we have alien technology that helped us in carving out such colossal monuments.
Even if you are no history buff, the sheer magnitude of these sculptures and the intricacies in each of the paintings will make you fall in love with history and art. The calm and soothing effect in the caves guarantees you inner peace and you tend to forget everything around.
The details in the paintings are hard to miss even in their deteriorating state. The detailed depiction of the jewels, the facial expressions, the geometrical designs on the ceilings, the lavish palaces, village life, wildlife all are depicted in a beautiful fashion.
Of all the age old paintings only a few have survived the test of time. Thanks to the efforts of the ASI, the remaining caves and sculptures are preserved in a decent manner. Flash photography is strictly prohibited inside the cave premises.
After visiting the caves, the trek path takes you to the view point from where you can have a panoramic view of the caves. It was from here that the British officer spotted the Ajanta caves around 200 years ago.
Ajanta caves can be easily reached from Aurangabad by road and the total distance of 120 km can be covered in 2 to 3 hours. State transport buses frequently ply to and from Aurangabad and leave from Central bus terminal commonly known as Baba bus stand. The ideal plan would be to leave Aurangabad by 7 am and catch a view of the stunning caves with the sun rays falling on the caves making it a very neatly timed moment to click pictures. Once you get down from the bus, head to the interpretation center and pay for amenity charged at INR 10 per person. Then a 4 km shuttle bus ride takes you to the caves and here is where the entry tickets to the caves are sold. If you are carrying a camera specifically buy a ticket for your camera for INR 5. Please note that you would be asked to produce this ticket in caves 1, 2, 16 & 17.
The path from the ticket counter to the last one of the caves is a trek in itself and therefore, the authorities have made porter services available for the benefit of senior citizens and folks who find it difficult to walk the entire stretch.
In the vicinity are a lot of shops that can be checked out to buy souvenirs. They sell wooden statues of Buddha, figures from the mythological epics, coins to crystals. After the walk, to satisfy your hunger pangs head to the restaurant run by MTDC that serves good food and specializes in Thalis and on a hot day you can treat yourself with a chilled beer.
There are a few stay options in Ajanta owned by both Government and private entities. However, it would be a good idea to do a day trip from Aurangabad. If you leave at 7 am, you can be back by 6 pm after leisurely spending considerable amount of time in the caves.
Note- The caves are open for public from 9 am and are closed on Mondays.