Karla Cave, the largest early chaitya (Buddhist temple) in India, is reached by a 20-minute climb from a mini bazaar at the base of a hill. Completed in 80 BC, the chaitya is around 40m long and 15m high and sports a vaulted interior and intricately executed sculptures of Buddha, human and animal figures.
Excluding Ellora’s Kailasa Temple, this is probably the most impressive cave temple in the state. A semicircular ‘sun window’ filters light in towards a dagoba or stupa (the cave’s representation of the Buddha), protected by a carved wooden umbrella, the only remaining example of its kind. The cave’s roof also retains ancient teak buttresses. The 37 pillars forming the aisles are topped by kneeling elephants. The carved elephant heads on the sides of the vestibule once had ivory tusks.
There’s a Hindu temple in front of the cave, thronged by pilgrims whose presence adds colour to the scene.