Deep among the tropical forests and waterfalls of Sanjay Gandhi National Park are the ancient Kanheri Caves. Carved from basalt rocks between the 1st century BC and 9th century AD, these 109 stone caves formed a kind of monastic university where Buddhist monks lived, studied, meditated, and practiced their religion for over a thousand years.
With its grand stone-carved entrance, Kanheri Caves look like something out of Petra...if a little less pink. In fact, Kanheri is Sanskrit for Black Mountain. An hour from Mumbai, today you can visit many of Kanheri’s 109 caves, seeing up-close the spartan viharas, or chambers, where Buddhist monks once lived. The most popular chamber to visit is Chaitya Cave. Built between the 4th and 5th century AD, this vast prayer room is full of ancient stone carvings of the Buddhist deities. Be sure to look up at the centuries-old decorative woodwork on the roof, too.
After a visit to Kanheri Caves, it’s worth taking the time to visit the surrounding national park. Covering 104 square kilometers, Sanjay Gandhi forest is home to exotic birds, butterflies, and even wild leopards.
The Kanheri Caves are open Tuesday through Sunday from 7:30am to 6pm, with last entry at 4pm. Admission costs 5 rupees. The nearest station for the caves is Borivali Station, near the main entrance to Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The Kanheri Caves are 6 km inside the park, and there’s bus transport that can take you there every hour.