History, spirituality, meditation, and adventure. Yes, there are caves in India where you can experience it all. They're located right across the country, from side to side and top to bottom. Here are 10 places where to find them. Many of these India caves are maintained by the Archeological Society of India, so do be prepared to pay a small admission fee.
No doubt India's most popular and widely recognized caves, the Ajanta Ellora caves are carved into hillside rock quite in the middle of nowhere, in northern Maharastra. These caves are simply awe inspiring. Words can't describe how magnificent they are. There are 34 caves at Ellora dating from between the 6th and 11th centuries AD, and 29 caves at Ajanta dating back to between the 2nd century BC and 6th century AD. The caves at Ajanta are all Buddhist, while the caves at Ellora are a mixture of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain.
2. Elephanta Island Caves
If you can't make it to the Ajanta or Ellora caves, the Elephanta Island caves just off the coast of Mumbai may be the next best thing. They're one of the most popular tourist attractions in Mumbai. There are seven ancient caves hand carved out of rock in a similar manner to the Ajanta and Ellora caves, but on a smaller scale. They're believed to date back to between 450 and 750 AD. The main cave has a number of stunning large sculptured panels depicting the Hindu god of creation and destruction, Lord Shiva. Get there by taking a ferry from the Gateway of India, in Colaba. (The caves are closed Mondays).
The attractive cave temples are the highlight at Badami, in northern Karnataka. There are four temples, open daily from dawn til dusk. One cave is dedicated to Lord Shiva, two to Lord Vishnu, and the remaining smaller one is a Jain cave temple. They overlook the 5th century Agastyatirtha Tank and the waterside Bhutanatha Temples, which add to their appeal. It's a postcard view! If you venture around the town and its laneways, you might come across some ruins of the Chalukya empire.
4. Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves
The outskirts of Bhubaneshwar, one of the top tourist destinations in Orissa, is an excellent place to explore caves dotted all over the landscape. Udayagiri (Sunrise Hill) has the most interesting caves, and if you don't mind getting up early it's worthwhile to arrive there at dawn for an almost spiritual experience. Wander around and you'll discover many ornately carved caves, thought to be occupied by Jain asthetics. They include the Tiger Cave (with an entrance carved like a tiger's mouth) and the large and revealing Queen's Palace Cave (with remains of Jain symbols and battle scenes). Khandagiri is across the road and its worth a visit for its superb vistas over the city, as well as its few caves.
If you're keen on remote meditation caves in India, you might want to head to Tabo, one of the top Buddhist monasteries in India. Located in the Spiti Valley, in high altitude Himachal Pradesh, the rugged, rocky ridge above the town is filled with caves that the local Buddhist lamas meditate in. There are dozens of caves, both large and small, all dug into the mountain by hand. You can walk up to them and spend some time in quiet contemplation.
Want to visit India caves as an adventure activity? That's possible as well! Picturesque (but wet!) Meghalaya in India's north east has the largest number of known caves in the country -- currently 1,284. One cave is an incredible 22 kilometers long! Meghalaya Adventure Tours (email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Ph: 0364-2545621/2548059) conducts week-long caving expeditions from Shillong.
7. Jammu and Kashmir
There are two important India caves dedicated to Lord Shiva in Jammu and Kashmir, both of which are popular with pilgrims. Shiv Khori is located near Ransoo, in the Swalik Hills around 110 kilometers northwest of Jammu (it's possible to take a public bus there). It's a kilometer-long cave with a natural Shiva lingam at the end, made out of a stalagmite. Pilgrims flock there during the Shivaratri festival in February/March. On Mount Amarnath, around 140 kilometers from Srinagar in Kashmir, there's the Amarnath caves and temple. A famous Hindu shrine, it also has a Shiva lingam made out of a stalagmite, but this one is an ice one. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit it during the Amarnath Yatra, in July/August.
8. Undavalli and Mogalarajapuram Caves
In the Andhra Pradesh cultural heartland, not far southwest of the bustling city of Vijayawada, you'll find the well preserved 7th century Undavalli cave temples. Their backdrop of palmtrees and rice paddies provides a tranquil contrast. Inside you'll find shrines dedicted to the all powerful Hindu trinity -- Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. However, it's the huge reclining statue of Lord Vishnu on the third floor that really stands out. The Mogalarajapuram (try saying that!) caves, on the east side of Vijayawada are quite damaged and nowhere near as impressive. Yet, they're still interesting.
9. Trichy Rock Fort Temple and Pallava Caves
The Rock Fort Temple is the focal point of Trichy, one of the top 5 places to see south Indian temples. It was built by the Nayaks of Madurai, in spectacular style on a rocky outcrop 83 meters (237 feet) above the city. The panoramic view over town is memorable, particularly at sunset. However, it was the Pallavas who firstly cut small cave temples into the southern face of the smooth rock. They're still there, and it's possible to visit them. One is on the way to the Uchi Pillayar Temple. The other more spectacular (lower) one is harder to find. You'll need to turn left onto the circular tar road at the first level, as you being the climb to the temple. There are some captivating ancient sculptures inside the caves.
10. Dungeshwari Cave Temples
If you're on the Buddhist trail, you'll no doubt want to check out the Dungeshwari cave temples (also known as the Mahakala caves) where the Buddha spent a number of years before making his way to Bodhygaya and finally attaining enlightenment. You'll most likely be invited in to meditate. It's a wonderful spot to enjoy the serenity and spirituality.