A Heritage Tour to Udaygiri and Khandagiri Caves

I am claustrophobic, and caves are usually never my favorite places to visit. However, I am glad my friends planned a visit to the historical and beautiful caves of Udaygiri and Khandagiri in Bhubaneswar despite my protests.

The caves are about 7 km from the city of Bhubaneswar. Since we did not have a car, we decided to rent a car in Bhubaneswar with a local driver. The first thing I always do when we visit a historical site is hiring a local guide.

More about travel and caves

Local guides add life to a place with the amalgamation of local myths, histories, and stories that they narrate while showing you around. That experience can never be replicated by reading about a place on Wikipedia. But never forget to haggle for a reasonable price.

The caves are rock-cut and built into the Kumari mountain range around the 2nd century BC by King Kharavela. Places this old always have a vibe about them, and the caves of Udaygiri and Khandgiri had these ancient and mysterious vibes exuding from every corner.

These caves were built as a residential complex for Jain monks to stay in and meditate at. I do not know much about Jainism but the fact that they believe in achieving enlightenment by giving up worldly pleasures, embracing suffering, and penance. This explains why some caves or rooms are really small and cramped. Some of them are so small that even a short person like me couldn’t stand straight in them. 

However, we were impressed with how the caves had been equipped with a water source via a canal that passes through every cave. Although small, the caves had holes for their residents to communicate with each other and even tilted flooring for resting heads while sleeping. 

Moreover, the caves have beautiful carvings, ancient inscriptions, and writings engraved on walls centuries ago. They say originally, there were 117 caves built into the mountain range, out of which only 33 stands today. Udaygiri has 18, and Khandgiri has 15 of these remaining caves. The fact that all the engravings and carvings we saw were made by hands painstakingly really amazes me.  

The star attraction in Udayagiri caves is Rani Gumpha which is the largest and most beautiful complex in both Udaygiri caves and Khandagiri caves put together. Rani Gumpha caves are double-storeyed with 32 cells and even two stone guard carvings at the entrance. It is believed that Rani or Queen Lalatendukesari resided in these caves. Now, I couldn’t help but wonder why a queen was residing in caves meant for monks!

Other unique structures in the Udaygiri caves include the Ganesha Gumpha, which has a Ganesh Idol carved inside it. The Bagha Gumpha has an entrance shaped like a lion’s open mouth. The Hathi Gumpha does not have a striking structure, but its importance lies in the ancient carvings inside it.

The Khandagiri Caves on the opposite end have carvings of Jain Tirthankars. Interesting structures include the Ananta Gumpha with twin serpent carvings and the Gaja Lakshmi carvings. I can go on and on describing the caves and their beautiful splendor, but the truth is that you have to visit to know what a historical wonder they truly are!

How can you make the trip easier?

After this trip, I believe that it is a must-visit to see for yourselves this architectural as well as a historical marvel. These locations can be easily accessed, and you can use a reliable car rental app for your friends and family if need be. Try and plan a visit on weekdays as that is when the caves would be least crowded. 

Good luck with your explorations and I wish you a happy trip!

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