Bhaja caves near Malavali Village, Lonavala
The buddhist excavations at Bhaja, also known as Bhaja caves, date almost to the 1st century AD and are believed to be one of the oldest buddhist religious centres in this area. it is also a big tourist draw as it is near Lonavala, but thankfully, because of its classification as a national monument, it is relatively well maintained compared to many other tourist attractions here.
How to go to Bhaja caves from Pune (magarpatta city): Bhaja caves are very easy to locate , as the exit is located right on the old Pune-Mumbai highway. Take the Nh4 (old mumbai-pune highway) towards Mumbai, few kilometres (6-7) before lonavala, you should see an exit on the left towards Bhaja/Malavali (and one on the right towards Karla caves). Take the left, you should reach Malavali village (there is a railway crossing to cross – a wait not more than 10 minutes). 2 kms from Malvali, you would reach the base village of Bhaja, where ample parking is available. On any monsoon day, you would see lot of trekking/walking grps walking towards Bhaja from Malvali railway station, but the likes of me drive over as much we can and then walk the remaining distance. On the day i went, the old highway was blocked because of Palkhi, so i was forced to take the expressway. So, if you too have to take the expressway for some reason, drive upto Lonavala (central point), take almost a U-turn onto the old highway going towards Pune, drive for 6-7 kilometres and then turn right towards Bhaja. During the non-monsoon seasons, there is a shortcut from behind the food court on the expressway (before lonavala) to reach the malvali village road without having to go to Lonavala and then come back.
The base village of Bhaja has its typical share of chai/Pakora shops and the garbage dumps. Once you cross all this, it is just you and nature all the way. There is a waterfall just at the base which is used for bathing as well as washing clothes. But, if no one minds, who cares? There were many buffaloes grazing near the fall and Akshara wanted a snap with them. A little later, she found another dirty cow to get photographed with!
To reach the caves, it is a short climb of around 20-25 minutes on a properly laid out path. There are steps for most of the distance, but at some places, it may get tricky. The steps were a little too big for Akshara to climb on her own, but it wasn’t a tough climb even with carrying Akshara most of the way
The best time to visit Bhaja caves would be late evening, as the caves face west and the late evening light would be great for photographing the caves. It was cloudy/raining for most of the time on the day we went, but the few minutes that the sun came out, the light was magical. The caves officially close around 6 pm and they dont allow anyone to enter beyond 5.45 pm, so time your visit leaving around 20-30 mins for the climb. We took it easy going up , spending lot of time taking photos of the amazing greenery around and also using our standard prop (nowadays), the umbrealla.
You can actually spend a lot of time at the top exploring every nook and corner of the caves. We went close to the closing time and it was also starting to drizzle. With just one umbrella for the three of us ( and no jackets), we spent just around 10-15 mins walking around and doing a brief survey of the caves.
The caves are right next to the Lohagad fort. You can see the fort from Bhaja village as well as from the caves. If you walk to Lohagad from the base village, it is a walk of 2-3 hours. If you have a good vehicle, you can drive along for most of this distance almost upto the base of Lohagad fort. Visapur fort is also closeby. To go to Visapur fort, you have to climb up to the left of the caves. There is no clear path marked, but just keep going up and you should reach Visapur Fort. If you intend to walk to Lohagad from Bhaja, don’t come towards the path to the caves, instead walk across the fields (next to the temple). This should save you a km or two.
More photography on the way down. It was a good half-day trip with a mix of nature and history