Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Karla Caves - 2nd Century Buddhist Caves, Lonavla

Visited Karla caves near Lonavla,  famous for the 2nd century BC Buddhist caves, this morning. Been to Lonavla many times before but never visited Karla caves. We took the expressway till Lonavla, got off, and took the old Mumbai-Pune highway which also had a toll road, so we had to pay another toll of Rs.39 for the 5 km to-fro drive to Karla. This in addition to the Pune-Mumbai expressway toll which is Rs. 99 till Lonavla. Now Milind tells me that the Pune-Mumbai expressway toll has been increased - I don't understand why? If at all give the contractors a longer recovery period - why tax the users with arbitrary increases in prices?.
The climb

Anyway the caves are to the left of the highway after the Treasure Island resort and you follow the directions till you reach the hill. You cannot miss it. The climb up the hill is really steep. Little tolls like the village development toll, the parking toll etc appear and you shell out small tenners as you go along. Once you park, you can relax in the shade of some tall eucalyptus trees, a fine spot for a picnic, with a lovely homemade kulfi before you start the trek upwards.
The Main stupa

It is quite a climb, almost 25 minutes or a little more than that and though there are steps, it can tax the old and the infirm and even those who are not used to it  Up there one finds  a temple that has now occupied pride of place in front of the Buddhist caves. Many people seem to be devotees of the temple deity and I saw a huge vinyl poster of the temple trustee in all likelihood, obscuring the temple itself, along with Bal Thackeray. Many devotees came with offerings of poultry and goats and sheep which were brought up there and then carried  away to some place for you know what. On the way down I saw a young twenty year old girl, who appeared to be possessed by some spirit, being led up to the temple steps. Maybe she is the oracle here just as we have an oracle in the Bonalu festival in Hyderabad.
Inside the main cave

The main cave is very well preserved. the caves remind you a bit of Ajanta, Ellora with the rock cut architecture and fine detail. The main hall had a high ceiling with sculptures on either side, of gods and goddesses, lions and elephants, wonderfully carved. I could see an Asoka chakra that was inscribed on one of the pillars and on another the famous symbol of four lions sitting back to back. It is really beautiful this cave. But once out of the main cave there is precious little to see. The other caves have some meditation cells and nothing much else.

The need of the Buddhist monks for isolation is amazing. I have seen Ajanta-Ellora which are so remote even today, Karla which is difficult terrain, and even the unbelievable Bellum caves which are underground, near Anantapur. The locations are so remote that it is amazing how they survived there. But every location is cool, peaceful and quiet - perfect for meditation. If in Lonavla and have a good three hours to spare, it is worth a visit. By itself, I'd give it a miss.

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