The Junnar region in Maharashtra has the largest number of rock-cut caves in India, numbering over 200 independent excavations and spread over the four hills. All the caves here belong to the Hinayana phase and are datable from mid 3rd century B.C. to late 3rd century A.D.
The presence of so many rock cut excavations with a large number of associated inscriptions (enabling paleographical study) makes Junnar a prominent site for the study of rock cut architecture in India.
Junnar group of caves are classified into various sub-groups depending upon the location of these excavations. They are:
- Tulja Lena – located on Tuljabai hill, 5 km west of Junnar.
- Manmodi – located on Manmodi hill to the southwest of the town. Here there are a further three distinct groups :
- Sivaneri – located southwest of the town
- Lenyadri (also known as Ganesh Lena) – located north of the town
Of these sub-groups, the three cave complexes on Manmodi Hill south of Junnar are the most challenging to visit. But they also the most rewarding to see, and having only been partially successful in 2016, I returned earlier this year to complete my visit.
Armed with this knowledge I thought it was worthwhile documenting the best way to guarantee seeing all three caves on Manmodi Hill in a single visit.
Manmodi Hill is immediately next to the Junnar-Vadaj road which runs south out of Junnar. From the road you can see some of the caves on the hillside, but between you and the caves is dense woodland with no clear path, nor any obvious place to park your car.
From Junnar, start heading south on the Junnar-Vadaj road. Look out on your right for two pillars, the sort of thing you’d expect to see at the beginning of entering an estate, although these are in a semi ruined state and there is no dwelling beyond them.
Turn right between these two pillars, and drive straight ahead. This is a very rough short track which essentially leads to nowhere, so you can stop at any point along here and leave your car.
Now on foot, head straight ahead as far as you can, and then turn right on a path skirting the side of the hill. The map above roughly shows this route.
As you skirt the hill, look right down onto the valley floor for a dead straight trackway leading to the hill you are on. This trackway is private (and locked!), so it is not a shortcut to the caves. However, it does point DIRECTLY to Amba-Ambika caves, so aligning yourself to this trackway and then taking a path on your left will take you steeply uphill to the middle caves of the three.
This may sound all very simple, but Manmodi Hill is covered with trees and once you’re on the hillside you can not see any of the cave complexes. It can be a very disorientating experience, so having a point of reference really makes the adventure a little more guaranteed of success !
From Amba-Ambika caves a very clear flat path continues either side to Bhimashankar and Bhutalinga caves. To leave the hillside and return to the car, simply retrace your steps on the known path you came up on.
Bees nesting under the canopies of the caves are a notorious hazard, many locals will advise not to visit them during certain times of the year. In February/March I did find some substantial bees nests at the caves, but for me they posed no problems.
That said, you should be aware of them and sensibly dress accordingly. Make sure your mobile phone is charged as well, the location feels quite remote and the chances are you will not see anyone else during your visit.
In addition to visiting the many cave complexes around Junnar, I thoroughly recommend a short excursion to Naneghat as well, for what will surely be a unique and memorable experience !
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