Nestled within the boundary of Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai is a group of Buddhist caves, known as Kanheri caves. These are believed to be more than 2000 years old, which once served as a monastery to Buddhist monks.
Excavation of such a large number of caves from a single basaltic outcrop is what astonishes a discerning explorer the most.
As I went spelunking through the spectacular caves, a lot of mysteries of the caves kept unfolding before me. If you are considering a trip to Kanheri caves, use this handy travel guide to plan a day trip from Mumbai.
A Quick Glance Through
- Caves Location
- Getting There
- History of Kanheri
- Things To Do And See
- Caves Timings
- Ticket Booking And Charges
- Where To Eat
Kanheri Caves Location
It lies 7 km deep in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park forest on the northern edge of the park. Here is the address and precise location of the caves.
Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivali East, Mumbai, Maharashtra – 400066
Use this map to know the precise location of the caves.
Kanheri caves are accessible through Sanjay Gandhi National Park entrance. It is almost a 20 minutes ride from the national park main gate to the caves by bus and private vehicle.
You can even walk or cycle to the caves entry point. During rainy seasons, it might take little more time, since the pathway leading to the caves turns muddy and slippery.
Sanjay Gandhi National Park main gate is about a kilometer away from Borivali train station and is easily reachable by taxi, auto rickshaw and bus.
History of Kanheri Caves
Kanheri caves have deep linkages with the development of Buddhism in India. The ancient past of the caves span from 1st century BC to 11th century AD.
During this period, it was established as a center of learning and saw the apogee of Buddhism in the region.
The caves derive their name from the Sanskrit word Krishnagiri, meaning black mountain. Over time it became Kanhagiri and later known as Kanheri. The basaltic rocks of the cave are predominantly black in colour.
From a single hill, more than 100 caves were carved out which were meant to serve different purposes. Vihara caves were used for living, meditation and study.
Some caves designated as places of worship are called Chaitya. A large number of devotees used to congregate there for community prayers.
The Chaitya hall (cave no. 3) is one of the largest caves in the entire series of caves, which was designated for worship. It has a semi-circular roof and contains a dagoba, a dome shaped Buddhist shrine.
Kanheri has the second largest chaitya-griha in India after Karle caves near Lonavala in Pune. The cultural exchanges between Monks of Kanheri and the Chinese monks are also believed to have influence on the Kanheri caves architecture.
Presence of water cisterns, visible across many caves, bespeak a highly evolved rainwater harvesting system. During its times of glory, this site was an important transit point for traders because of its proximity to ports like, Sopara and Kalyan.
Some of the caves also have inscriptions, written in Brahmi, Devanagari and Pahlavi scripts. Inscriptions like these have helped historians discover happenings of that period.
One of the inscriptions mention the Satvahana king Vashishtiputra Satakarni, who once ruled the Deccan region in India.
By the end of 11th century AD, the caves are believed to be abandoned by monks. This series of caves hold a great significance as it witnessed the rise and fall of Buddhism in India
Things To Do and See
1. Ancient Buddhist Caves
A 15 minutes moderate hike from the base location in Sanjay Gandhi National Park takes you to the primeval Kanheri caves.
If you stand facing the caves, the cave no. 1 on the extreme right is a Vihara. The structure is supported by two large pillars at the entrance. This cave doesn’t have any decoration and was meant to be used for living, study and meditation purposes.
In the center, lies a long open cave, known as no. 2. This cave contains three stupas and all don’t seem intact. Some part of it is broken.
The next cave on the left of cave no. 2 is Great Chaitya cave, also referred to as cave no. 3. Opposite to the cave entrance on the extreme end, it houses a huge stupa. Cave no. 4 on the left of the Great Chaitya also features a stupa.
Cave no. 11 is equally fascinating. Also known as Darbar cave, it is the second largest cave after the Great Chaitya cave. This massive cave was big enough to accommodate a large number of devotees. Most of the caves are conveniently approachable through rock-cut stairs.
2. Rock Carvings and Sculptures
The caves are testimony to the well developed Buddhist culture and art form in India. A trip to Kanheri caves offers a unique opportunity to experience the simplicity and elegance of Buddhist architecture.
Of all the caves in the series, cave no. 3 is the most embellished with carved sculptures and relics of Buddha. Rock carvings of Buddha in different postures can also be seen in this cave.
The most prominent figure of the cave is Avalokitesvara, a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas.
Upon scouting around for a while, I landed in cave no. 34 that has unfinished paintings of Buddha. It looked elegant despite incomplete paintings of the cave.
Cave no. 90 features Buddha in Padmasana posture on a lotus throne, surrounded by devotees. Inside cave no. 41, a sculpture of Avalokitesvara with 10 heads can be seen. It also features a few paintings of Buddha.
3. Nature Trails And Hikes
A plenitude of nature trails in and around the caves has established Kanheri as one of the most popular trekking places in Mumbai. Approaches to most of the caves involve hiking uphill and downhill. There are rock cut stairs to make the climb more convenient.
Avid trekkers can go for Upper Kanheri trail beginning from Sanjay Gandhi National Park main gate. This eventually finishes after reaching the peak of the hill. Birdwatchers can also undertake this trek as the complete stretch is teeming with numerous types of birds.
You may also like: 15 Most Beautiful Birds in India
4. Seasonal Waterfalls
In the rainy season the quaint charm of the caves grows manifold owing to the rise of numerous seasonal falls. Even the surrounding basaltic hills look concealed under a thick veneer of greenery. It is an added attraction for the visitors.
5. Visit Sanjay Gandhi National Park
The caving expedition can be finished in the first half of the day. Keep aside 3-4 hours to fully explore the caves. You can spend the rest of the day traversing Sanjay Gandhi National Park, known for its lush green landscapes.
This national park is counted amongst one of the brisk getaways from Mumbai city. Tiger and lion safari, boating and Van Rani mini train are some of the popular attractions of the park.
Kanheri Caves Timings
The caves are open from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm for visitors. On all Mondays, the national park is closed but you can still visit Kanheri caves.
However, all other activities remain shut on Monday. So, plan accordingly if you wish to explore the national park also in addition to the caves.
Ticket Booking And Charges
The national park and caves entry ticket can be bought from the ticket counter at the park main gate. You can also buy tickets online. Follow this link and click on ‘online booking’ on this page: Sanjay Gandhi National Park online ticket.
Following are the ticket charges.
Adult – Rs 64 per head, Kid aged 5 to 12 years – Rs 34 per head, Private vehicle entry fee: Rs 215
Where To Eat
There are no food joints in the caves premises. Some vendors sell snacks, like bhel and roasted corn along the stretch leading to the cave entrance.
A single fast food joint (cafeteria) inside Sanjay Gandhi National Park caters to the visitors. It is located in proximity to the tiger safari ticket counter.
You can relish some popular Mumbai dishes, like misal pav and usal pav. Outside the park, there are umpteen restaurants in Borivali East.
Tip: Carry your own packed food as the cafeteria is usually crowded. To make the best use of time in a day trip, food packets come handy.
Over To You Now…
Have you visited the majestic Kanheri caves in Mumbai? Tell us in the comment section below.
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