There is MORE to India than the TAJ

Left Surya Temple, Ajanta, Kailasa Ellora, Rani-ki-Vav
  • India’s Delhi centric media is obsessed with the Taj Mahal as a must see tourist destination. From an architectural standpoint there are many monuments across India that exceed if not match the Taj. This article is about four such monuments in Gujarat and Maharashtra.

When foreigners plan an India vist the Golden Triangle, consisting of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, is high on the priority list. Within that the Taj Mahal is a must see. Even the honourable Supreme Court spends more time reviewing conservation measures on the Taj than on any other monument in the country. Actually there is lots more to India than the Taj. Read on -----

Kailasa Temple Ellora 

1 Kailasa Temple Ellora, Maharashtra

There are 34 caves of which 17 are Hindu, 12 Buddhist and 5 Jain. Of these the most visited is the monolithic rock cut temple known as Kailasa. It was named after the mountain abode of Siva. Ellora caves are locally known as Verul Leni and 30 kms from Aurangabad. Caves are very well clean and toilets are found across the cave area.  

Work began during the reign of Rashtrakuta king Dantidurga (735 to 757 A.D.). The credit for excavating main temple & vimana goes to Rashtrakuta king Krishna I (757-773). It is said the temple took two hundred years to make.

How did they make it?

Kailasa was excavated from top to bottom and scooped out all through from outside to inside. “The 3 sides of the hill were cut vertically, that is, three trenches were excavated on its three sides to obtain a huge rock island. Then the sculptors went about chiselling the rock from the top to the bottom to create a monolithic temple complex, 83 metres long, 46 m wide and 33 m deep.” 

Height from top of the hill to temple base is 150 feet. There is a cemented path that takes you around temple and to top of the hill. It is only when you walk around that one realizes the grandeur and scale of achievement.

Now let us enter the temple.

As you enter one is greeted by a panel of Gajalakshmi (goddess of wealth) seated on a full-bloomed lotus in the midst of a lotus pond while the elephants above pour water by way of ritual adoration. On either side of entrance you see Pillars of Victory and elephants.

In centre is the temple. It rests on a raised seven metre high plinth and consists of the sanctum cell where Lord Siva is enshrined as a Linga. The main hall (Sabhamandapa) has 16 pillars with floral and animal designs. One of them shows Samundra Mantham just like what you see at Bangkok Airport today.

Above the shrine is an imposing South Indian style tower capped by a well-ribbed cupola. Cloisters on 3 sides of the temple, side halls, free standing pillars & elephants enhance the aesthetic beauty of temple.

The temple has a corridor on three sides. You can see sculptures of Kuber, Rama & Lakshman praying to Shiva before starting work on Ram Sethu, Hari Hara, Rudra Tandava, and avatars of Vishnu amongst others.

On temple wall are two panels that show story of Ramayana and Mahabharata and Sri Krishna’s birth. Note that epics were part of the national consciousness even in the 8th century.  

How to reach, where to stay and how much time to spend

The closest railhead and airport is Aurangabad. It is 30 kms to Ellora. Being a high traffic route could take up to an hour. You can take a local state transport bus or hire a taxi.

Hotel Kailash i.e. minutes away. It has cottages, rooms and is very good. Saying from personal experience. Restaurant is good though expensive. Tel 0243 7244446.

If you wish to see caves at a leisurely pace keep 2 days. Caves open from sunrise to sunset and closed on Tuesday. Note Ajanta closed to Monday.

Important to use the services of a guide. Some names – Madhushudan Patil 91 75881 97664, Ram Krishna 91 75881 96674, 91 75889 96674 (speaks South Indian languages & Japanese too), Amod Basole 91 94222 10571 (NRI’s, foreigners and only English speaking). 

To see albums of Ellora Caves

1 Kailasa Temple

2 Buddhist Caves

3 Jain Caves

4 Hindu Cave no 29

5 Hindu Caves meaning others.

Cave 26 Ajanta 

2 Ajanta Caves Maharashtra

Rock-cut caves are good specimens of Indian mural paintings. There are 30 caves that include 5 chaitya-grihas and some 25 viharas or monasteries. They were excavated between the 2nd century B.C. and 7th century A.D. These caves are known for their sculptures of Buddha, elegance and paintings inside caves – awesome to say the least. Paintings cover lives of Buddha and Bodhisattvas.

Here “we find a rare symphony of three arts – architecture, sculpture and painting. The technique of painting is that of a tempera and not a fresco. In the former colours are applied on a dry plaster which remains on the surface as a thin layer, while in the latter painting is done on a wet surface in which the colours get absorbed”.  

Going into cave wise details would take pages. Must see caves are 1,2,9,10,16,17,19 and 26. Even after 2 days at Ajanta wanted to go back the third day.

To see albums of Ajanta Caves

1 Caves 1 & 2

2 Caves 4,6,7,10,11,19

3 Caves 16 and 17

4 Caves 20,21,24,26

5 To see exhaustive and wonderful set of Ajanta pics clicked by a follower from I think South-east Asia

How to reach, where to stay and how much time to keep

The closest railhead and airport is Aurangabad. From here it takes about 2 hours (100 kms).  You can take a local state transport bus or hire a taxi.

Maharashtra Tourism Resort is ten minutes away from the cave T point junction. Clean and functional rooms/cottages. Food is decent.

If you wish to see caves at a leisurely pace keep one full day starting at 9. Caves open from 9 am to 5.30 pm, closed on Mondays. 

Important to use the services of a guide. Some names – Rahul Dev 91 95523 71641, Abdul Nasur 91 97646 91425. 

Front view Ranik-ki-Vav Patan 

3 Rani ki Vav Patan, Gujarat

Patan was the capital of Gujarat for over six hundred years ie 8-14th centuries. This step-well was constructed by Queen Udayamati in memory of her husband Bhimdeva I (1022-1063 A.D.) of Solanki dynasty. It lies on the left bank of the river Saraswati.

The step-well remained buried for centuries and suffered due to negligence and flood in the river. Till 1960 none knew a highly ornate and sculptured vav existed here. The vav measures 64 m long, 20 m wide and 27 m deep. Depth of the well is 29 metres.

Entrance to step well is from the east. It has stepped corridors at the ground level that take you to a reservoir beyond which is the well. The vav consists of steps, side walls on either side of the steps, mandapas or multi-storied pavilions and the back wall of the well. Each storey has its roof supported by pillars with square base and decorated too.

The original structure had seven terraces of which five remain. Originally 292 pillars supported the pavilions of the step-well, 226 remain intact today.

“At the top of the well eight pairs of corbelled brackets were built into the rear of well to facilitate drawing up of water. Shaft of the well is highly ornamented with intricate carvings and large vertical brackets in pairs which supported the different galleries of the well. The brackets are arranged in tires.”

A very interesting feature is a carving of Sheshashayi Vishnu in shaft of the well. There are three carvings that can be from three levels as you walk down to the well.  They represent Swaraglok, Prithvilok and Patallok representing Akash, Bhoomi and Patal respectively.

Side walls have numerous gracefully carved sculptures for eg Mahisasurmardini, ten avatars (incarnations) of Lord Vishnu, Apsaras, Yoginis amongst others. The vav has more than 800 elaborate sculptures across 7 galleries. Each one is a masterpiece.

Some of the geometrical and decorative patterns carved on the walls are woven today in the traditional Patola textile ie Patan is famous for.

It is only when one visits that one can realize the “mastery of Solanki sculptors in depicting rhythm, vigour, beauty and various moods in stone”.

Close to Rani-ki-Vav is a must visit museum on world famous Patola saris.  

How to reach and how much time to keep

Closest airport and railhead is Ahmedabad. From here it is a 126 kms drive – takes about three hours. Hiring a taxi is the best way. I used Vivek Shah (recommended by a friend) 0792 6561306. Had a good experience. Monument opens at 7.30 am (in winters).

It will take you a maximum of three hours to see the step-well. After that visit the Patola Saris Museum close by. To understand the monument use a guide. Jagdish 91 99043 46072 and 91 96649 18114. About an hour away Surya Temple Modhera that is covered next.

To see albums

1 Rani-ki-Vav

2 The story of Patola saris of Gujarat


Reflection of dancing hall in Surya Kunda

4 Surya Mandir Modhera

Drove in from Patan to reach by 7 am. The temple has a different look around sunrise. Reflection of miniature shrines and dancing hall in the water of Surya Kunda - water tank make a lovely sight. It is also the cover pic on the eSamskriti album.

The temple was constructed during the reign of Solanki King Bhimdev I (1022-1063 A.D.) Its dimensions are east-west 120 feet, north-south 175 feet.

The place where this temple is made is mentioned in the Skanda Purana as Bhaskara kshetra. The literal meaning of Modhera is "Mound of the dead". Modhera is sometimes called Mundera, the original settlement of Modha Brahmans. The Jain Acharya Hemchandra was of the Modha parentage.

The complex has three parts. First is Surya Kunda, next is Rangapa Mandapa (dancing hall and third is garbhagrha (sanctum).

In front of the dancing hall is a torana. Toran at entrance existed on four sides of the dancing hall, now only two remain. The hall has 52 pillars. Walls of the last two have intricate carvings. They have scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana, more on that later.

“The temple is designed such that first rays of the sun to fall on the image of Surya, the Sun God, at the time of equinoxes.” Though partially ruined, the temple retains a large part of its earlier glory.

"The entire descent of the kunda or tank is divided into 4 main terraces with tiered steps in the form of truncated pyramids at regular intervals. Miniature niches are attached to the terrace walls." These niches have various murthis like Sheshashayi Vishnu. Also are temples of Nataraj, Ganesh, Sitladevi temple etc.

Some examples of carvings on pillars of dancing hall are Varaha avatar of Lord Vishnu, Ram Sethu bridge made to take Sri Ram from Rameshwaram to Sri Lanka, Krishna lifting Govardhan parvat (mountain), Bhima lifting the elephant Ashwathama.

In the sanctum amongst others saw Ardhanareshwara - person with and without a breast, combination of Shiva Parvati and Vishwakarma considered the Divine Architect or Devashilpi.

Of the four sun temples that I visited three are a must see. Sun temple Konarak Orissa is a masterpiece. Surya Martand Mandir Anantnag, even though in ruins gives you a sense of its grandeur. The Almora temple is simple with no sculptures. And this one swept me – did not feel like leaving. 

How to reach and how much time to keep

Ahmedabad is the closest airport and railhead. From here about a two hour’s drive. Combine visit with Rani-ki-Vav Patan. No hotels keep Ahmedabad as your base. 

Keep about two hours to see temple well. For guide contact Girish Bhai 91 76985 16388.

To see albums

1 Surya Mandir Modhera

2 Adalaj-vav step well. Do see on return from Modhera to Ahmedabad

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Enjoy. 


1. Ajanta, Ellora and Aurangabad Caves – An Appreciation by T V Pathy

2 Books on Rani-ki-Vav, Patan and Modhera written by Kirit Mansodi and published by The Archaeological Survey of India.

3 AJANTA by Debala Mitra published by The Archaeological Survey of India.


The author is a travel photojournalist and founder  

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