Deeply nestled in the forests of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, a Buddhist learning centre — carved out of a hill — has captivated many. Kanheri Caves are mainly frequented by tourists, including history enthusiasts, trekkers, nature lovers, one-day picnickers and soon-to-wed couples, who visit the site for their pre-wedding photoshoots.
Carved out of a giant basalt rock that dates back to 1st Century BC, Kanheri Caves were used by the Buddhists to live and learn the scriptures etched on the walls in Brahmi and Devnagari. Thrilled that his two-year-old son Aayan has taken a liking to the place, Abdul Hamman is one of those impressed by the aura of the caves. “It feels like we are not in the city. Cut away from the noise … Just the echoes of the visitors filling our ears and these ancient statues looking over at us,” said Hamman (32).
Pointing out to the dilapidated condition of most of the monuments, he added: “This, however, is unique. It is peaceful and serene. One feels like meditating in the shade of the caves.”
Locals usually throng the place during the rainy season, when streams of water and small waterfalls adorn the site. One such local, Dinesh Chauhan, said he has been visiting the place every fortnight for over 30 years.
A father of two, the Goregaon resident said: “I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve come here. So many tourists, from both India and overseas, frequent the caves. It is ideal to visit this place during the monsoons. We spend at least four hours here.”
“Seeing what was carved out of rocks hundreds of years ago is so amazing. I am still trying to comprehend how it was done and the effort it required. Even more impressive is the fact that it is situated inside a national park with monkeys and deers, among other animals,” said Andrew McDonald, who trekked to the caves with his wife.
Australian national Su Chen, however, said her visit was rather unpleasant. “I think it is unfair that foreigners pay Rs 200. There are not many facilities here. No brochures or information pamphlets are available to help tourists know more about the structures. There is just one billboard at the entrance, which gives details of the caves, but from there on, the tourists are on their own,” she added.
Chen was accompanied by two friends. Kanheri is a ticketed monument, protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). There are no boards, officials or private guides to explain the history of each cave, and without brochures and audio guides, tourists usually have a self-guided walk through the structures.