Nestled amidst the natural beauty of Lonavala, the Kondana Caves are a hidden treasure, known to a few and waiting to be discovered by many. These caves, which have witnessed more than two millennia of history, offer an intriguing journey into the past and an escape into the tranquility of nature. Let’s embark on a virtual tour of this fascinating site.
Carved out of solid rock around 2,100 years ago, the Kondana Caves comprise a cluster of 16 Buddhist caves. They are situated 33 kilometers north of Lonavala and 16 kilometers northwest of the more renowned Karla Caves. What makes these caves even more captivating is their location atop the same hill as the Rajmachi Fort, adding historical depth to their surroundings.
To reach the Kondana Caves, one can start their journey from Karjat, heading south through Kondivade village and onto Thakurwadi village. A small clearing on the left with a modest shack marks the parking area. From here, it’s a relatively easy 30-minute hike up the hill to reach the caves. The pathway is generally discernible, and you may even have a local child as your guide for a small fee.
Restoration and Renovation
On a visit in early 2017, it was evident that some restoration work had commenced in the caves and on their access path. Pillars inside the Chaitya (prayer hall) had been reinstated, although not with original stonework. Stones lay scattered both inside and outside the Chaitya, presumably intended for creating a new floor and repairing the pathway.
Local children mentioned that not much progress had been made in the past year. Currently, this construction material poses a bit of a hazard to those exploring the caves on foot. However, this in no way diminishes the captivating and picturesque ambiance of the site. What adds to the charm of the Kondana Caves is their relative obscurity when compared to nearby caves like Karla, Bedse, and Bhaja. If you visit outside the monsoon season, chances are you’ll have this enchanting place all to yourself.
Guardian of the Caves
Just outside the Chaitya, you’ll find a damaged carving of Yaksha, the guardian spirit of the Kondana Caves. These mythical creatures are distinguished by their pixie-like ears. An inscription to the right of Yaksha’s head mentions Baluka, a disciple of Kanha. This intricately detailed carving and its guardianship provide a fascinating link to the site’s ancient history and beliefs.
The Challenge of Restoration
If you’re wondering why these caves appear to be in a state of disrepair, it can be attributed to a significant earthquake in the early 1900s. This seismic event damaged the cave floors, many stupas, and the front entrance. Despite efforts to restore and repair the site, progress seems to have halted, leaving a lingering hope that these precious caves will be fully restored.
An Invitation to Explore
Kondana Caves offer an enchanting journey into history and nature. Amidst the tranquility of their surroundings and the mysteries they hold, these caves invite the adventurous traveler. While there might be obstacles in the path, the allure of exploring an ancient site that is relatively untouched by the crowds makes the journey all the more rewarding. The Kondana Caves are an open invitation to connect with the past and experience the wonder of an archaeological gem waiting to be fully unveiled.