Monday, August 12, 2019

Bhaja Caves - Grandeur of the Past

Bhaja - Facade

It was a rainy Sunday of August in Pune and we were really tired of sitting indoors weekend after weekend.  On the spur of the moment, we decided to drive down to Bhaja Caves near Malavli, some 48 kms from our house. We were not sure of how the traffic along the Mumbai-Pune expressway would be, nor were we optimistic about the weather in Malavli. Still, we decided to step out and I am glad we did; for we thoroughly enjoyed our short outing in the rains amidst the breathtaking greenery and numerous rippling waterfalls all along our route.

Tip: Onwards, we took the Old Mumbai-Pune Highway as the Google Maps guided us and while returning, we took the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Driving on the Expressway was a treat that Sunday with absolutely minimal traffic and gorgeous views all around us!

In little more than an hour, we reached our destination some 2 kms from Malavli railway station. We paid an entry charge of Rs 5 per person to enter the premises. A small parking area for around 10 vehicles was right next to the toll collection point and free.

There are about 150 steps to climb the 400 feet to the caves. The rains had created numerous rivulets and falls along the steps which made the climb a breeze. The view below from the top too was awe-inspiring. Monsoons had carpeted the land lush green below. The rice fields, temples and red-tiled houses set against the Sahyadris were a treat to the eyes.

The Village Below


The History of Bhaja Caves

Bhaja Caves is a group of 22 rock-cut caves situated 400 feet above the village of Bhaja near Lonavala. They date back to the 2nd century BC and the viharas  (rock-cut caves usually provided with a stone bed) were homes to the monks  and places of rest for the weary travellers and traders who used the ancient route between the Arabian sea to the Deccan plateau. The protected monument belongs to the Hinayana sect of Buddhism. The prominent amongst the excavations is the chaityagriha (a prayer hall), housing the stupa with a vaulted horseshoe ceiling with wooden beams covering the dome.  Records indicate that the earlier chaityas were built using wooden beams and later replaced with stone structures. The wooden beams  here at Bhaja seem to be propped up by stone pillars beneath it.

The chaityagriha is one of the earliest of its type and is found to be at least 2200 years old! These caves are renowned for their wooden architecture. The findings of a percussion instrument in the carvings here point to the fact that drums or tabla were in vogue those days and women were quite adept at playing it.

Chaityagriha


Stupas

There are about 14 stupas in the complex with 5 inside the chambers and 9 outside. Stupas are Buddhist shrine containing relics of monks who stayed and died at the very place.  They are places of religious ceremonies and prayers. Some stupas have inscriptions on them revealing the names of the monks and their titles.

Stupas outside the chambers


As we move towards the last cave, we were greeted by a cascading waterfall and the view of a fort (may be Lohagad, Visapur?) beyond it.



Viharas next to the Chaityagriha
More Viharas and the obscure fort beyond in the clouds...



Tip: A couple of hours at least are required to climb up the steps and enjoy these ancient caves. Did not see any guides at the ticket counter; however, one can enquire if one is really interested. The entrance fee is Rs 25 per person for an Indian national


There are no major hotels or restaurants in the vicinity of the steps. However, there are plenty of fast food shacks, bhutte wala and tea tapris to satiate your hunger, if you should feel famished after the small hike.

So, the next time you are in and around Lonavala, don't forget to pay a visit to these caves. They are worth your time for sure :)









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