Thursday, July 9, 2015

A trek to the Kondane Caves in the Rajmachi mountains

Kondane Caves, in the mountains of Rajmachi, are at an elevation of 60 metres above sea level. They are approachable from Lonavla above the ghats, as well as Karjat in the plains below.

The caves, point to the ancient lifestyle of Hinayana Buddhist followers and are the oldest set of rock-cut cave monasteries . These caves are part of a set of 16 caves located in and around the Konadane/Kondivade village. The Karla, and Bhaja Caves are the sister caves  to the Kondane caves,  and point to this area being a great centre for Budhhists . These caves were carved around the 1st century BC, and enclose sculptures, viharas, cahityas and stupas. These are typical elements of Buddhist Architecture, geared to interaction, worship and learning  etc by the devotees. The octagonal pillars, wooden arches, and interiors are very intriguing. 

Consequent to  an earth quake in early 1900 , many stupas, front entrance and floor of the caves were damaged. These ancient caves attract lots of tourists and Buddhist devotees all through the year.

Kondane Caves is around 15 KM from Karjat.

Our group co-ordinated and reached Karjat very early by the Mumbai suburban railway . We proceeded to the Kondivade village (which is like a starting point for the trek), where we had a fresh breakfast of tea and poha, prepared by the villagers. The trek itself is not very difficult and is a gradual elevation through some great wooded areas, and crossing a few streams along the way.

Unfortunately, an hour after reaching the caves,  the place was almost run over with visitors, included a huge  group of school children, and after a tour of the caves, we decided to begin our descent.

      We traveled by public transport from Karjat to the outskirts of the Kondivade village. The place is getting developed at a very fast pace. One such proof of that.

      A place offered by the villagers, for resting a bit and a great breakfast of tea and poha. 

    So many treks, so many village breakfasts, each with its own special poha taste.

           On our way from the village, towards the base of the Rajmachi mountains. 

   The Rajmachi mountain plateau in the distance towards the right.  Our night trek to experience fireflies at Rajmachi, had us  climbing down from that plateau to Karjat the next day morning . This was a trek in the opposite direction. 

   A view of Rajmachi , top right in the distance, and rice cultivation, typical of the Raigad district, where Karjat lies.  

   Small villages along the way doing their bit for afforestation. Mundhewadi, one such, has put up this poem, in praise of trees and everything that they give us.  And managed to keep its trees intact.  All this, while we go berserk felling trees and smearing concrete all over the urban spaces.

Many such makeshift stalls along the way, selling lemon juice , water, and boiled peanuts in their shell . 

                                 A detailed capture of the goodies on offer ....

                   The group taking a short break along the climb to the caves.

                                 Another view of the path to the caves. 

                         A break in the foliage, and the beginnings of a stream.

                       The path gets narrower , and the tree cover denser , as we climb higher

                                  One of the many waterfalls encountered 

                             A wild mushroom encountered along the way.

A sample of the beautiful flora along the way

And, this is not a Google Maps satellite photo. This is a close up of an actual leaf, unknowingly showing us the world !

     We are almost there. The final steps leading to the caves, and I get clicked.  

  The caves have possibly lasted for more than a 100 years after the massive earthquake in 1900,  due to the natural green cover available, and the location, clearly away from urban areas, where such caves still exist , but in a more destroyed form, due to unscrupulous city elements.

The actual approach to the caves entrance

Well defined steps  leading the devotees to the caves.

                                     The once grand entrance to the caves.Although the 1900 earthquake did vast damage, the front entrance,  cave floor and some structures inside remain more or less intact.
  At the entrance is a carving ,which is shape of fig leaf and supported by curved beams.  The main cave has a large stupa with several pillars.

                                     A view of the ancient wooden beams built in.

                                 A panoramic view of the cave entrance.

                      A closeup of the entrance ceiling. And you wonder about the instruments they used in those days to get such accuracy in design.

    These caves are special because of the constant flow of the waterfall , like a curtain, across their entrance.  An effort at capturing the falling water. 

        An experiment with a long exposure click of the pool where the water collected after descending over the cave entrance.

                        The enormity of the caves. And the minusculeness of  humanity.

      The condition of the prayer hall post the earthquake more than  a century ago.  And how we cannot stop spoiling it all by carving our names everywhere.  The entrance cave walls have carvings of people in dancing form.  According to historians , these are images of royalty who donated  freely for the creation of these caves.

                                                               A closer look

       Carved in the 1st century BC. What remains , after the earthquake a 100 years ago.    A still closer look .
A closeup of the top of the structure, as it remains today.

          A typical set of carvings, and the grids in the wall , all across the caves. Imagine the effort, at carving all this from a big rock, and that too by hand. 

A view of a vihara, meant for devotees , to rest. Members of the trek  group taking a breather . The seating arrangement in the Mumbai suburban railways might have been inspired from this.

A typical entrance as it stands today, to one of the caves

The onslaught of visitors to the caves  had us prepone our descent down from the caves, and we took a break along this  local river  which had flowing water thanks to a great start to this year's monsoon.

Streams in flow after a decent start to the monsoon in the plains.

                                                            Another view

                          Unusually clean water, and very relaxing after descending down from the caves.

              A group photo of the trekkers , somewhere along the trek.

And finally, a  typical scene near the Kondivade village , which has probably remained unchanged over decades, if not centuries.  Mountains, greens, cultivated fields, and cows grazing , celebrating the onset of the monsoon .


  1. Loved your blog Pankaja. Came here via Gappa. :) greedily went through several of your posts and felt intensely nostalgic. Sitting here in faraway New England, I am missing my beloved Sahyadri and all those magnificent forts. Would give almost anything to share those village meals again. Sigh...:)

  2. Beautiful pics and evocative prose to explain them. We have so many treasures close to urban spaces which is both fortunate and unfortunate. Fortunate because we can visit them as a day trip and unfortunate because the proximity also makes them prime targets for vandals who don't understand their value and worth. If only we knew how to preserve our heritage sites and archarlogical treasures India could be the topmost travel destination and earn billions of dollars.

  3. Hey keep posting such good and meaningful articles.