Exploring Udaygiri and Khandagiri Caves – Bhubaneshwar

At a short distance from Bhubaneshwar are the Udaygiri and Khandagiri caves on opposite hills. They are Jain caves, which date back to the 2nd Century BC. Udaygiri Hill has eighteen caves, while Khandagiri Hill has fifteen. Read on to learn how we went about exploring Udaygiri and Khandagiri Caves in Odisha.

History of Udaygiri and Khandagiri Caves

These caves were built by King Kharavela of the Mahameghavahana dynasty and served as residential blocks for Jain monks. ‘Uday’ means ‘Sunrise’, and ‘Giri’ means ‘Hill’, so ‘Udaygiri’ means ‘Sunrise Hill’ when translated into English. ‘Khanda’ means ‘Broken’, ‘Giri’ means ‘Hill’, so ‘Khandagiri’ means ‘Broken Hill’ in English. Legend has it that Mahavir Jain, the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism, visited these mountains and preached. The place is, hence, sacred to Jains.

Udaygiri Caves

After visiting the Ekamra Kshetra, we head to explore the caves. It is afternoon, and the sun is scorching on our heads. It is not the best time to explore caves on a hill. We purchase entry tickets and begin by exploring the Udaygiri caves first. We see several tourists climbing a steep slope, taking them to the top of the hill with caves. It is an arduous climb, and we ask the security guard how best to see the eighteen caves on the hill. He points to a flight of stairs on the right, and we begin our ascend.

Cave 1: Rani Gufa

‘Rani’ means ‘Queen’, and Gufa means ‘Cave’, so ‘Rani Gufa’ means ‘Queen Cave.’ It is believed that it is named after the queen of King Lalatendu Kesari. This is the largest and most beautiful Udaygiri cave. There is a central courtyard with a two-storeyed cave on three sides. There are cells where the monks meditated. We can see carvings of dwarpalikas or gatekeepers on either side of the cells. There are scenes, perhaps incidents and stories carved. We notice elephants, horses, celestial beings, processions and lots more. I wish more literature were available telling us the stories behind these carvings. Rafiq climbs the upper storey to explore while I am content looking at the caves from the ground floor.

Cave 1 Rani Gufa @Rafiq Somani
View from Top Cave 1 Rani Gufa @Rafiq Somani
Cave 1 Rani Gufa @Rafiq Somani
Details of Cave 1 Rani Gufa @Rafiq Somani

Cave 2: Bajaghara Gufa

It is a simple cave with some cells.

From Right to Left Cave 2 Bajaghara Gufa , Cave 3 Chota Hathi Gufa (White Pillars), Cave 4 Alkapuri Gufa and Cave 5 Jay Vijay Gufa at top of the steps. @Rafiq Somani

Cave 3: Chota Hathi Gufa

It is a single-cell cave with an arch carved on it with floral patterns. A herd of elephants are carved from which the cave gets its name. (Hathi=Elephant)

Cave 4: Alkapuri Gufa

Next to the Chotta Hati Gufa is the Alkapuri Gufa, a plain two-storeyed cave.

Left Cave 4 Alkapuri Gufa and Right Cave 3 Chota Hathi Gufa @Rafiq Somani

Cave 5: Jay Vijay Gufa

Close to the upper storey of Cave 4 is the Jay Vijay Gufa. A flight of stairs takes you to this cave. Sadly, we cannot explore as there is a ‘No Entry’ sign on the stairs. Two female dwarpalikas/gatekeepers are on either side of the cave entrance. 

Steps leading to Cave 5 Jay Vijay Gufa on top and Cave 4 Alkapuri Gufa is on the right @Rafiq Somani

Cave 6: Panasa Gufa

The Panasa Gufa is a plain cave behind a tree.

Cave 7: Thakurani Gufa

Next to the Panasa Gufa is the two-storeyed Thakurani Gufa. The lower floor has two cells, while the upper floor has a single cell.

Cave 7 Thakurani Gufa and Cave 6 Panasa Gufa near tree @Rafiq Somani

Cave 8: Patalipuri Gufa

It is a large but plain four cell cave.

Cave 8 Pataliputra Gufa @Rafiq Somani

Cave 9: Swargapuri and Mancapuri Gufa

We see a large two-storeyed cave with a lower cave called Mancapuri and an upper cave called Swargapuri. There are large dwarpalakas/ gatekeepers on the lower floor.

Cave 9 Swargapuri and Mancapuri Gufa @Rafiq Somani

Cave 10: Ganesha Gufa 2

After the Rani Gufa, the Ganesha Gufa is beautiful. The entrance is flanked by two statues of big elephants carrying flower garlands. There are carvings on the top of the pillars of the cave. On the left side façade of the entrance is a human figure. There are more carvings on the façade of the caves.  

Cave 10 Ganesh Gufa @Rafiq Somani

Cave 11: Jambeshvara Gufa

It is a two-cell cave with another small circular cave on one of the sides.

Cave 12: Bagha Gufa

It is a single cave resembling the open mouth of a lion/bagha from which it gets its name. For some strange reason, to me, it looked like a frog’s head with an open mouth!

Cave 13: Sarpa Gufa

It is a cave next to the Haathi Gufa, which resembles the hood of a snake/sarpa from which it gets its name. There are some inscriptions on the top right opening of the cave.

Cave 14: Haathi Gufa

It is a large natural cavern which has some inscriptions on it. The slope we had seen when we entered the complex leads up to this cave. ASI has erected pillars to support the cave.    

Cave 14 Haathi Gufa @Rafiq Somani

We couldn’t find Cave 15-18. You may want to check with the authorities where they are located. Cave 15 is Dhanaghara Gufa, Cave 16 is Haridasa Gufa, Cave 17 is Jagannatha Gufa, and Cave 18 is Rasui Gufa.


There is a Chaitya on top of Udaygiri Hill. On a flattened hilltop is a rounded apse structure. The monks prayed over here. From here, we get a breathtaking view of the opposite Khandagiri Hills. There is a white Jain temple on top. We see several people scattered on the hill. They are looking at the Udaygiri Hill, and we are gazing at the Khandagiri Hill.

View of Khandagiri Caves from Udaygiri @Rafiq Somani

Our exploration of the Udaygiri Hills is complete. We are tired and exhausted with all the climbing and the sun blazing over our heads. We next head to the Khandagiri Hills to explore the caves.

Khandagiri Caves

We begin climbing a flight of stairs which are choc bloc with tourists. Add to it are langurs which are trying to grab food from people. The caves are not clearly marked nor maintained like Udaygiri. In fact, it’s so cramped up, or is it that our energy levels are at an all-time low that we can hardly find any space to set foot? People are more interested in clicking selfies with the caves. Khandagiri means Broken Hill, and I think the hill lives up to this name. I am heartbroken to see the sad state of the caves.

Langurs at Khandagiri Caves @Rafiq Somani

I struggle to climb the uneven, stoned steps and see a series of plain-looking caves. People are sitting in the caves and chit-chatting. It is impossible to know what is what. We see a two-celled cave, which we later find out is Cave 4. Tentuli Gufa. People are just sitting on the rocks near the pathway, obstructing the way for other tourists. In contrast, others seem to be in a mad rush to get to the top of the hill. Somewhere on the hill, we see a large cave called Navami Gufa and next to it is a rectangular box-shaped cave called Dhyana Gufa, which must be a meditation cave.

Khandagiri Cave 4 Tentuli Gufa @Rafiq Somani
Left Navmi Gufa and right Dhyan Gufa at Khandagiri @Rafiq Somani

I somehow reach the top of the hill, which has a Digambar Jain temple. Photography inside the temple is not allowed. The only bright spot is that from the top of Khandagiri Hill, we get a fantastic view of the Udaygiri Caves. We can see the slope leading to Haathi Gufa and several other caves.

Udaygiri Caves from Khandagiri Hill @Rafiq Somani

Khandagiri Caves need upkeep

Exploring Khandagiri Caves has been disappointing compared to Udaygiri caves, which are better maintained and have clear signages. While the Udyagiri Caves are under ASI (Archaeological Survey of India), that is not the case with Khandagiri Caves. The stakeholders need to take care of this heritage structure since it is also a part of the Ekamra Kshetra, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tentative List.

Is it worth exploring Udyagiri Caves and Khandagiri Caves?

Without a doubt, our answer is ‘yes,’ even if the Khandagiri Caves’ upkeep and maintenance are far from satisfactory. Their historical significance, rock-cut architecture and sweeping views from the top of the hills make exploring Udaygiri and Khandagiri caves worthwhile.


Nearest Airport: Bhubaneshwar has the Bhubaneswar Biju Patnaik International Airport, with connectivity to major cities in India.

Distance: Udaygiri, Khandagiri to Bhubaneshwar 7 km or 12 mins.

Where to stay: We stayed at The Crown, Bhubaneshwar-IHCLSeleQtions. You can do a net search for hotels depending on budget and comfort.  

Travel Tip: Avoid visiting the caves in the afternoon because it can be scorching. (We had time constraints, so we ended up seeing them in the afternoon.) Wear comfortable shoes as there will be considerable walking and climbing. Please carry water bottles to keep yourself hydrated. There are langurs who will grab food, so please be wary. 

Odisha Driver: Pintu- 7978630261.  He was not just our driver but also unofficial guide explaining the details of the monuments/places and narratives behind them.

Travel Planning Help: Om Leisure Holidays helped us plan this trip.