My annual visit to Pune this year continued my ongoing project to visit the many cave temples that exist in the region. Having already visited the more famous examples such as Karla, Bhaja, Bedse and Kondana caves, I was keen to explore the lesser known examples in the area, of which there must be literally hundreds.
Firangai Cave Temple, often referred to as Nanoli Caves, is close to the village of Nanoli Tarf Chakan on Nanoli Hill, about 45 km north-west of Pune in Maharashtra. In the past this would certainly have been an extremely isolated place, but the passage of time is certainly taking its toll on the landscape. Just 1km away from the cave is one of the largest manufacturing plants I have ever seen, where JCB are producing their machinery.
In order to reach the Firangai Cave Temple you will in fact need to drive right past this JCB plant, from where there is a rough track that will take you a further 300m to a point where you can’t realistically take the car any further. From here it’s a 1km walk up the hill, quite steep in places so be sure to take some water with you. The google map image below shows the JCB plant, where to park, and the clear path to take.
If you have any concerns about not finding the cave, you need not worry. The entrance is clearly marked by a concrete frame and steel stairs which allows safe access to the cave. This was apparently installed relatively recently by locals, there are some rock-cut steps to one side of the cave taking you up a little distance, I imagine a wooden construction used to complete the climb up to the cave entrance. It’s a little curious as to why the cave entrance was made at this elevated position, perhaps the rock below was not safe to excavate, or perhaps it was intentional for some other reason.
The cave consists of a simple hall with one cell on the southern side. There are no traces of any Buddhist architecture here e.g. removed stupa, benches, or any associated Buddhist iconography. This possibly indicates that the cave is quite late in date for a Buddhist rock-cut excavation (potentially 4th century or later), if indeed it has Buddhist origins at all.
Installed in the cave now is an impressive shrine of the Hindu godess Firangai.
South of the main cave traversing the hillside you will spot a number of cisterns, some located higher up the scarp, others at path level, I counted at least 5 examples. Some of these appeared to be quite deep and were still harvesting water, certainly enough I would imagine to sustain a reasonably sized community here (>30).
Heading back to the main cave and continuing north there are a couple of further caves to explore, although much smaller than the main cave. None of these caves have any ancient ornamentation, although one does now have a Hanuman deity on the back wall.
As I walked back down the hill to the car, I looked back and could clearly see there are quite a few more excavations on the hill that are both inaccessible now, and impossible to see when you’re up close to the hillside. I don’t know how many of these have been explored and recorded.
I suspect the caves on Nanoli hill have yet to yield some of their secrets…
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