From Bedse Caves we headed towards Malavli (Mumbai bound direction). Once we reach the Malavli Phata (Malavli Crossing), the road towards right goes to Karla Caves and the left goes to Bhaje Caves.
We did have some food during this journey and lots of water to gain some of the energy back.
From this Malavli crossing, the Karla Caves are just 1.5 Kms away. The auto again was parked just in front of the stairs. This time there were 350 stairs, but they are also as steep as hell - initially it looked easy but the more you climb the steeper it will be. The snap below is of the initial staircases.
We started climbing. Since Karla is the most famous of these 3 caves and there was a temple at the top, it was not as isolated as the Bedse Caves. And the place was thronged by numerous people of different age groups. There were a lot of small food stalls, tupris in between where you can have food and water and take some rest. Also many stalls sell sweets to offer to the God.
As we climbed up, the sheer beauty of the scenery again started unfolding in front of us.
There was one tiny and cute waterfall as well in between.
Once we reached at the main entrance, we found there is an entry fee of 5/- for every person.
These caves are again a complex of ancient Buddhist rock-cut architecture carved over two separate periods - from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD, and from the 5th century AD to the 10th century AD. The oldest of the cave shrines is believed to date back to 160 BC!! Built in the time of the Hinayana sect, during the Satavahanas rule, these caves do not actually show the Buddha (by the 7th century AD, the Mahayana sect took over and representations of Buddha became more common).
The main cave has a magnificent Chaitya with huge pillars and intricately carved sculptures dating back to the 1st century BC.The Chaitya is 45-meter (148 foot) long, possibly the finest and largest of its kind in the country. Compared to the Bedse Caves, the Karla caves are really gigantic. Also these caves are multi-storied, not just a single story like Bedse.
The facade of the caves is formed by carved temple screens, sculpted with railing ornaments and human couples. Outer and inner screens form an antechamber to the main cave. The panels of the wooden doors and windows are finely decorated with intricate sculptures of couples embracing.
Within the complex are a great many other magnificently carved prayer halls or chaityas as well as viharas or dwelling places for the caves' monks. The facade of the caves is formed by carved temple screens, sculpted with railing ornaments and human couples. Outer and inner screens form an antechamber to the main cave.
A notable feature of these caves is their arched entrances and vaulted interiors.
The outside facade has intricate details carved into it in an imitation of finished wood. The central motif is a large horseshoe arch.
There is a lion column at the front at the entrance from the Buddhist period, accompanied by a recently built temple. These lions are the very same national emblem which we all are familiar with.
By the central doorway, there are sculptures of the Buddha preaching while seated on a lion-supported throne, along with magnificent carvings of three elephants. On each side, fifteen pillars separate the narrow aisles from the central arch. The pillars are adorned with motifs of elephants, men and women riding, etc. Here are some of snaps of the carving from inside and outside the caves.
As it started raining we took shelter in one of the caves and imagined that the caves were excavated for the Buddhist monks, who also used to gather here during the monsoons – but 2000 years back!! It really was an awesome feeling.
We wandered a bit more around the places. There is a paid parking for private cars which you can drive upto, in that case you only have to climb half the stairs.
There was a small monsoon waterfall at the top which is a good place for a photo session.
Getting down through the stairs are always easier and we had indulged ourselves for some more photo sessions.
Coming to the foothills, we had lunch with typical Maharashtrian food with a combination of Misal Pav, Wada Pav etc at a food stall.
Then we started for the last section of our trip – the Bhaje Caves. (to be continued in Part 3)