Planning Your Visit to the Mumbai Caves
Getting to the caves
To see the caves from Mumbai takes several days: you’ll base yourself in Aurangabad, which is about 400 miles east of Mumbai (an hour-long flight), and make separate day trips to Ajanta and Ellora. Allow one full day for each site, and remember Ajanta is closed Monday, and Ellora is closed Tuesday.
If you can make it only to either Ellora or Ajanta, choose Ajanta: it’s farther, but the comparative lack of crowds and the pristine serenity of the forest are worth it.
Suggested itinerary from Mumbai: A trip to Ajanta and Ellora, while making your base in Aurangabad, makes a perfect long weekend trip from Mumbai. If you leave Mumbai on Friday you can be in Aurangabad in the late afternoon, have dinner, and then head out early the next morning for the Ajanta caves, about a 2- to 3-hour drive away, for the day. Sunday morning, you can head to the much closer (about 30 minutes), and more crowded, Ellora Caves, then head back to Mumbai that evening.
Getting to Ajanta and Ellora from Aurangabad: From Aurangabad there are tour buses (check with the Government of India Tourist Office or the MTDC office) but this ends up being rather rushed. You’re best off hiring a car and driver. An air-conditioned car for a full day will cost around Rs. 2,400 to Ajanta and Rs. 1,100 to Ellora. You can arrange a car for hire through your hotel a travel agent, or the Government of India Tourist Office; fix a price in advance.
Hiring a guide
It’s a good idea to hire a guide, who can explain the iconography and details about how the caves were built. The Government of India Tourist Office (Krishna Vilas, Station Rd., Aurangabad 240/236–4999 or 240/233–1217 www.incredibleindia.org) oversees about 45 expert, polite, multilingual tour guides. You can hire one through the tourist office; through the MTDC office (MTDC Holiday Resort, Station Rd., Aurangabad 240/233–1513 www.maharashtratourism.gov.in); or through a travel agent in Aurangabad.
For parties of one to four, the fees are about Rs. 1,000 for a full day to Ajanta, and about Rs. 750 for a full day to Ellora. Hiring a half-day guide (four hours) is about Rs. 450. An extra Rs. 400 or so is charged for trips of more than 100 km (60 miles). It’s best to book ahead. There are also some guides availabe to hire at the ticket counters to the caves.
If you opt not to hire a guide, you can ask the guides posted at the caves, for information; tip them ten rupees for their kindness.