Although from an architectural standpoint the Bedse Caves have little to add over and above what can be seen at Karla or Bhaja, this fact results in them being far less visited. If like me you prefer to have monuments in a slightly quieter setting, away from the crowds, then you may find Bedse to be the highlight out of the three. If you plan to visit, especially on a weekday, the chances are you will have the place entirely to yourself.
Of the small assembly of rock-cut structures, there are two highlights :
This is an excellently presented Chaitya hall dating to the 1st century BC Satavahana period. It is reached through a narrow passageway cut into the cliff, unlike any of the other caves in the region. This makes the approach far more tantalising, in much the same way as when you reach the Treasury along the Siq in Petra, Jordan. You can make out parts of the structure beyond, but it is only once through the passageway that the full extent of Cave 7’s frontage can be appreciated.
The exterior is richly carved, four large columns in the verandah have octagonal shafts, pot-shaped bases and inverted bell-shaped capitals. Above this are paired animals ridden by couples.
If you backtrack around to the front of the passageway, it is possible to scale some of the natural rock frontage (not the monument!) to get a closer look of these carvings up close…although please do not try this is conditions are wet or damp.
The main doorway is flanked by pierced stone windows, with the large arched opening displaying timber-like ribs.
The side walls are covered with more arched windows and railings.
The hall interior has octagonal columns, again leaning slightly inwards as at Bhaja, creating triple aisles. An unadorned hemispherical stupa is located at the rear, with the timber ribs of the vaults having vanished long ago.
There were a number of curious carvings on some of the columns, their meanings I’m afraid I know not, but an interesting feature worth a closer look.
This consists of a verandah with subsidiary cells giving access to an apsidal-ended vaulted hall.
It’s an interesting space, with nine cells cut into the side walls with arched motifs over the doorways.
Until around 1861 the caves were regularly maintained – even painted. These works were ordered by local authorities in order to please British officers who often visited caves. Unfortunately, this has caused loss of the remnants of plaster and possibly murals that once existed here.
In many respects my visit to Bedse Caves was the highlight of the three caves that can be visited in the region. The solitude and setting more than made up for the fact that there is slightly less to see here. If you have any doubts, make the effort to visit – I don’t think you will be disappointed !
To reach Bedse Caves from Pune, take the NH4 towards Mumbai (not the expressway). Once you reach Kamshet, take the road going to Pavananagar or Pavana Dam. Keep going on this road for around 7-9 kms until you see a turn to the right marked as “Bedse”. For the next 2-3 kms the road is pretty bad, but with some patient driving can get you across. You will then reach the village of Bedse, which is surprisingly big for its remote location. Park your vehicle here and then walk on a clearly visible trail for around 0.5 km until you see the stairs leading to the top. There is a trackway navigable by car that will take you to a small car park at the base of the steps, but access will depend on the weather and how well the track is maintained (in Jan 2016 access was possible).
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