Must-visit UNESCO World heritage sites in Maharashtra

When it comes to UNESCO world heritage Sites, Maharashtra actually has the largest number of sites in the entire country. From 2nd century BC onward architectural marvels at Ajanta and Ellora Caves, to the iconic CST (previously Victoria Terminus) in Mumbai, Maharashtra has it all. Not to mention Maharashtra's very own valley of flowers at Kaas, the state indeed has much to explore and see.

UNESCO world heritage sites ellora caves maharashtra
Kailasa Temple at Ellora

I have been living in the state for a few years now and have been to all the sites, except the Elephanta caves near Mumbai, which is quite a shame. Having explored all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Gujarat, I hope to finish them all in Maharashtra as well this summer.

So are you tempted to explore these wonders of Maharashtra? Here's a travel guide to help you do just that!

1. Ajanta Caves

The Buddhist Caves at Ajanta are some of the best known and preserved examples of Indian art, particularly cave paintings. Built over hundreds of years from 2nd century BC onwards, the Caves are next to the river Waghora in a horse-shoe shape.

Ajanta is not how they were originally known, it's a name given from a near-by village and somehow it captures beautifully the enigma of the place. The serene and away-from-the-world location provided the Buddhist monks a perfect place to meditate.

UNESCO world heritage sites ajanta caves maharashtra
The most famous painting at Ajanta Caves

However, over time the Caves were lost to humanity and were discovered by a British officer in the 19th century. Ever since, it's been a celebrate and protected monument, most famous for depicting the life of the time through paintings and sculptures.

Read more: Ajanta Caves

Pro tip: read up about the Caves and have a good book in hand as you explore. Each painting will unfold as a beautiful story then. Here's one book that you can buy in advance:



Alternatively, you can buy guide books there also and they are also quite fine. Some Caves did have mixed up data in these, and caused us some confusion but it wasn't a big problem.

Timings: 9am to 5pm (closed on Monday)
Entry fee: Citizens of India and visitors of SAARC and BIMSTEC Countries - Rs. 30
Others: Indian Rs. 500
(children up to 15 years free)

To reach:
The best way to travel is through your is car or in a cab. There are buses also from Aurangabad and other nearby towns.

Read 'to reach' section for Ellora Caves below for more details.

To stay: Here are two options to stay in Ajanta town itself.
Sathe's Heritage Home Stay
Hotel View Point

2. Ellora Caves

Locally known as 'Verul Leni', Ellora Caves are a collection of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain Caves which are cut from the volcanic basaltic formation of Maharasthra, known as ‘Deccan Trap’.

Unlike Ajanta, Ellora Caves were never lost to oblivion and it's often attributed to its proximity to the trade routes. There are about 100 Caves out of which 34 are visited by tourists. Caves 1 to 12 are Buddhist; Caves 13 to 29 are Brahmanical and Caves 30 to 34 are Jain.

UNESCO world heritage sites ellora caves maharashtra

It has passed through many kingdoms, but it was only under the Nizams of Hyderabad that extensive repair work was undertaken here.

Pro tip: reach early in the morning before the crowd comes in. People often miss going to the Jain Caves in Ellora as they are fewer in numbers, but that would be a disaster. These are perhaps the most beautiful Caves of the entire complex.

Here's a suggestion for a book to buy for Ellora caves.



Timings: sunrise to sunset (closed on Tuesday)
Entry fee: Citizens of India and visitors of SAARC and BIMSTEC Countries - Rs. 30
Others: Indian Rs. 500
(children up to 15 years free)

To reach:
It's best to visit both Ajanta and Ellora Caves during one trip itself as they are only about 100km apart. It's often recommended to make Aurangabad as base for these, but I actually recommend actually staying near Ajanta caves to see the caves there, and in Aurangabad to see Ellora caves.

It's very useful to have your own car/ motorbike or a cab to see these places well and at the best times. Of course, that's not necessary at all. Aurangabad is well connected by buses from Pune and other major town and cities in the state. There is bus survive to Ajanta town as well.

To stay:
In Ajanta we stayed at the MTDC guest house, and also in Aurangabad. Both are well located and also very affordable.

There is also the beautiful Vivanta by Taj and it's possibly the most luxurious place to stay in the city. Though we didn't stay there, we had some really good food for lunch.

Another popular hotel is WelcomHotel Rama International by ITC group.


3. Elephanta Caves

It's amazing that there are actually three primarily Buddhist sites in Maharashtra which are part of the total number of five sites in Maharashtra. This is also the only site that I haven't yet been to which is quite a shame as it's very easily reachable. The caves are located on an island called Elephanta off Mumbai coast, and that's how they got their name - there is no elephant connection. The present caves are from the5-6th Century AD though there are remains from 2nd Century BC as well.

UNESCO world heritage sites elephanta caves maharashtra
Elephanta Caves

Pro tip: The caves are not accessible during the monsoon due to the choppy sea so pale your visit before the famous Mumbai rains come over the city. Also, to best the crowd take the first boat from the city to the caves.

Timings: Open from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M.; closed on Monday
Entry Fee:
Citizens of India and visitors of SAARC and BIMSTEC Countries - Rs. 30
Others: Indian Rs. 500
(children up to 15 years free)

To reach: Elephanta Caves are located near Mumbai and the best way to reach there is by a ferry from Gateway of India. The ferries work whole year around, except the monsoons when the sea is rough.

To stay: 
Sofitel
Taj Tandsend


4. CST (previously Victoria Terminus)

The British were the last great builders in India, even though their contribution fades in front of Mughal architectural masterpieces, like the Taj Mahal and Jama Masjid in Delhi. CST, or Victoria Terminus as it was originally named, however signifies the zenith of British colonial architecture in the entire Indian Subcontinent.

UNESCO world heritage sites maharashtra Victoria Terminus
CST (previously VT or Victoria Terminus)

Pro tip: join for a heritage walk to explore this iconic building from the times of Raj. The walk takes place everyday, except the weekends, and begins at 3PM at the General Post Office. Read more here.

Timings: 3-5PM on weekdays; closed on all weekends
Entry fee: Rs 200

To reach: Mumbai is well connected by flights, trains and buses. It's also connected by ferries and boats from some locations.

To stay: Mumbai has something for everyone - you can stay at the most luxurious hotel, but also in budget hostels. Of course, airbnb is another great option.

Here are the two five star hotels that I have reviewed there - Sofitel and Taj Landsend.

Book here:
Sofitel
Taj Tandsend


5. Western Ghats

Though the entire Western Ghat is a UNESCO World Heritage site, some of the most popular sites are Kaas plateau, the Koyna wildlife sanctuary, the Chandoli national park and the Radhanagari Wildlife sanctuary (source).

Western Ghats have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site as a whole and there are numerous locations across different states which find mention in the list. Maharashtra has four such sites (Karnataka has 20 - check this), and perhaps the most popular and easily accessible is Kaas Plateau.

kaas plateau western ghats valley of flowers
Kaas Plateau - Maharashtra's Valley of Flowers (pic credit: Mr Ganesh H Shankar)

It's a plateau with a unique micro climate due to which during the last phase of monsoon, it becomes home for thousands of flower varieties, some of which are endemic only to the plateau. Unique phenomenon like blooming of Topli Karve brings in large number of tourists.

Too many tourists are now also a threat to the fragile ecosystem here and their entry is now regulated.

Pro tip: it's important to know the date of opening and registering online in advance. Here's the link to do that - Kaas Plateau.

Timings: Varies for each site
Entry fee: none, unless you go to specific sites like Kaas Plateau or other National Parks
Closed on: Varies for each site

To reach: I went in a bus with a bunch of other people and would strongly recommend that instead of a car which can take only four people. Parking is hard to get on the weekends, so if you can, go on a weekday.

To stay: it's actually a one day trip from Pune and Kolhapur, but if you are coming from other major cities there are numerous hotels to stay near the site. I would actually love to do that and then walk to the plateau.

What next?
Well, I need your support to help spread information about Maharashtra's heritage sites across the globe.

Do share the post with anyone who wants to explore these and feel free to reach out to me for any additional questions.

Let's spread some love ❤️

Comments

  1. CST के अलावा कुछ नहीं देखा है,

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    Replies
    1. You must see them all Sandeep - you would love Maharashtra even more 🙂

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  2. Great informative post. Keep sharing.

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  3. These are all such lovely places. A must visit.

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  4. Actually, four of five places you mentioned are on my wishlist should I get the chance to return to India one day. I'm always intrigued by how those ancient temples were made, how people worshiped there, and how they were abandoned. Plus, the exquisite stone carvings and paintings are truly sights to behold!

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    1. Thanks fantastic Bama! If you come again this side, do hit me up - we can catch up for coffee or maybe I can even join you for a trip 🙂

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  5. There are some more places also to visit in western ghats and near Kolhpaur, Sangli and Satara.. Though they are not world heritage sites but places like Khidrapur temple is just an beautiful example of ancient architecture...
    And just now i saw the video of kolhapuri chappals..i'm from kolhapur.. i wish i had met you on that day..

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    1. Absolutely Vinay, there are so many great places in Maharashtra and I am sure going forward, many will be a part of the Heritage list :)

      Btw do check it out - I also made a video on Khidrapur and it's on my channel already :)

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    2. Ohh.. I'll definitely watch it 🙂

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  6. I had no idea tghat Maharashtra had so many UNESCO world heritage sites! Am keen to go. Love your photographs of the historical sites but also that wonderful flower-filled plateau!

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  7. These are all fascinating! So many treasures in one place, I wouldn't know where to start. Or maybe I would just start with Ellora Caves because that was the name of a book publisher I knew of? Still, gorgeous and unique sites to explore.

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  8. I would love to see all of them but most especially that flower field. THat would be my cup of tea.

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    1. The flower field is certainly stunning and very unique too...

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  9. Do you think it would be allowed and respectful to do our follow me Away photoshoot here? Just amazing!!

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    Replies
    1. Taking pictures is allowed at all (CST is a bit tough though), but if it looks like you are doing an elaborate shoot with lights and tripod, it won't be allowed. Such shoots require approval from ASI first. Without a tripod you can easily do it though...

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  10. Oh my god this is so beautiful! So bookmarking this. (Kaliasa Temple at Ellora) It's totally indiana jones style and we love these kind of places! What a list!

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  11. First time I have seen this! Really want to to explore Kailasa Temple at Ellora and those flowers are beautiful -- adding to my list

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  12. Holy cow! The Buddhist Caves at Ajanta is definitely going on my list! I've never seen something so beautiful! I love it!

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  13. India has such a huge amount of UNESCO sites. I'm a big fan of visiting them and checking them off my bucket list. I would like to see the one at Maharashtra best. Nice list.

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  14. I had no idea there were so many UNESCO sites concentrated in Maharashtra. It would be amazing to see the well-preserved paintings at Ajanta Caves.

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  15. For me, India is a country that has it all! It's amazing how an entire western ghats is a UNESCO World Heritage. The Kaas Plateau is really beautiful!!!

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