I have visited Lonavla a couple of times before, and hence, had already seen popular tourist spots like Bhushi Dam and Tigers Point. In the quest to explore something new, this trip covered the Karla Caves.
Karla Caves Lonavala Background:
Karla Caves are rock-cut monuments from the Buddhist era dating two thousand years old. Location of the caves may have been of strategic importance since it was a major trade route during that era connecting the Arabian Sea and the Deccan region on the eastern end. The Complex consists of 16 rock cut excavations of which the grandest and the most dominant structure is the Chaitya-griha.
According to Wikipedia, “A chaitya is a Buddhist shrine including a stupa. In modern texts on Indian architecture, the term chaitya-griha is often used to denote an assembly or prayer hall that houses a stupa.”
The Chaitya-griha at Karla caves is the largest such structure in India and is echoed by many to be one of the finest Chaitya-grihas. Caves are a protected monument of the Archaeological Survey of India. Located on a hill top, the climb from base camp to the caves is approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Along the route, you will find many shops selling flowers, garlands, religious objects, toys, refreshments and snacks.
Entrance to the Chaitya-griha at Karla Caves is reminiscent of Kanheri Caves in Mumbai (even Kanheri caves has a Chaitya-griha). The front walls on 3 sides have ancient inscriptions, beautifully carved Buddhist artwork and sculptures of royal Elephants.
The best work includes motifs of men and women depicted as couples. These look exquisite and indicate that a very liberal mind may have been behind its creation. Notice the woman’s arm over her man’s shoulder…
The main front wall also has a motif of a large horseshoe arch that looks extremely pretty
The Chaitya-griha has open seating space for devotees. Roof of the hall has wooden curved ribs that look rich on architecture and often leave visitors awestruck. Here is where you put your camera to full use to get some great non manipulative shots. We ended up spending almost 45 minutes in this hall alone. What did we do, you may ask?
Nothing! We just gazed at the architectural marvel and loved the serenity the hall had to offer.
Ekvira Devi Temple:
Karla Caves Complex also houses a Hindu temple, possibly built much later. The temple is dedicated to Goddess Ekvira and is flocked by many devotees. Origins of this temple are not clear, neither does the complex have any information about the history of this temple.
Blind Faith Sightings:
- The most uncomfortable sight is that of bird sacrifice at the Ekvira temple. We were perplexed initially to see many cocks being tied with ropes. It was, later, found that devotees offered these birds to the temple in honour of the Goddess. The practice of offering birds just outside a Buddhist cave seemed quite ironical, considering Buddha strongly condemned such social evils.
- The complex has many walls and corners that are treated religious. It is not clear why these spots are religious but they are decorated with coloured powder and devotees offer items like incense, flowers and coconuts.
- Inside the Chaitya-griha, devotees throw coins at the top of the stupa which has an umbrella shaped roof. It is believed that if your coin falls on this roof, your wish will be granted.
For International visitors, the entrance charge is approximately Rs. 100. Indian nationals have an entry charge of Rs. 10 to Karla Caves. You can get away by not paying for an entry ticket if you claim that you are visiting Ekvira temple which is inside Karla caves complex. However, this will restrict you from visiting the main Chaitya-griha hall which is the highlight of your visit. So, its better to buy yourself an entry ticket and not cheat 🙂
Situated around 100 km from Mumbai, the drive is approximately 2 hours. The caves are located on a rocky hill near the old Mumbai – Pune highway at Karli near Lonavla. I recommend driving down since the location is closer to the highway. Traveling by train would require an additional commute from either Lonavla station or Malavali station to Karla Caves.
Lonvala is a small town that does not take much of your travel time when exploring. Yet, the nearest next suitable location to visit is either the Bhaja Caves or the Celebrity Wax Museum. Bhaja Caves are the sister caves of Karla, located merely 7 km away. We chose to skip visiting this one for fear of an information overdose on caves. We did visit the Celebrity Wax Museum however; and you can click here to know more about the experience.
(Note: Ticket prices were correct at the time of publishing this blog. It is advised to contact their office for updated information about prices)