India’s ancient cave monasteries
By William Dalrymple
To the north of Pune lie rock-cut complexes as startling as Petra but completely overlooked by tourists
The great hall of Bhaja is built into the side of a cliff face, high in the Western Ghats. It lies to the north of Pune in the wild heartlands of the Deccan, and dates from the early 2nd century BC. Open to the environment at one end, and entered by a magnificent 9m-tall horseshoe-arch, it still miraculously preserves its ancient wooden roof beams, like the wrecked keel of a prehistoric ark. These wooden shards crown one of the oldest rooms in the world: a ribbed chaitya hall lined with tapering octagonal columns, ending in a rounded apse that encloses the perfect dome of a tall stone stupa.
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