During our recent stay at Hilton Shillim Resort near Lonavla, we visited the ancient Buddhist Karla caves. It is located on top of a hill in Karli, which is about 15 minutes drive from Lonavla town.
Although the hill was easy to find (thanks to Google Maps), our heart was in our mouth as we drove up the steep narrow road leading to the hill. It was then followed by climbing up about 400 steps to reach the hilltop. As we reached the top we were huffing and puffing but the first glimpse of the magnificent caves made us completely forget about our troubles.
The Karla caves are ancient stone cut caves, considered to be one of the oldest in India dating back to 2nd century BC. The cave exterior has a number of small balconies like structures, which are the viharas, designed for the Buddhist monks to reside and meditate. The small caves of the viharas have multiple pillars and one can walk around the open space to have a closer look at the carvings. However, it was disappointing to see that the stairs leading to the balcony were closed for public viewing.
The other part of the cave comprises Chaithyagruha, which is large prayer hall with a Stupa located in the center surrounded by carved pillars forming an apse. The hall is one of the largest Chaithyas in India and gives a clear picture of the remarkable designs of the ancient Indian architecture. The ceiling of the hall has natural curved wooden ribs forming a beautiful sight alongside the semicircular room. The external façade has a large pillar with lion carving on one side and a Hindu Ekavira Temple on other.
Entry to the cave costs INR 5/person for Indians and INR 100/person for foreigners.