The Kondane caves are around a dozen kiliometres north-west of Lonavala, but they cannot be approached the way the crow flies, and it entails a long and roundabout journey from Lonavala, taking some one and a half or two hours to reach them, and then a long climb in through the forest for more than two kilometres on foot.
The caves are very remote, situated on the hot and dry plains, and are believed to be one of the earliest cave groups in western India, probably 2nd or 3rd c. BCE; the caves could not be seen while approaching until we were within around 100 metres of them, and they were obviously intended for full seclusion and meditation.
There are only three main caves here: an ancient Chaitya hall, which is very much in the style of the early Hīnayāna period, it now has new, recently built pillars, which are very much out of style; there is a large vihāra hall with around nine cells positioned around it. The pillars are broken down, it looks like deliberately, and the place has quite a lot of rubble around; there is a 3rd vihāra, which is seemingly built in a natural hollow. It is quite broken down now.
There seems to be no real protection of the monument, with only one attendant, who turned up after we arrived, and very few visitors owing to the remoteness of the caves. There seem to be intentions to repair/rebuild part of the caves, as there is cut stone around, but no sign of recent activity, and one feels the place is languishing from lack of attention.
We visited in the dry season, so the waterfalls and rivers which otherwise flow near the caves, were dried up. There was a very good view out from the vihāra caves on the valley below, and the whole scene reminded me strongly of some of the Theragātha verses where the monks rejoice in the remote countryside, such as Vanavaccha’s verse (Th 1.13):
The pleasing dark clouds, the clear streams flowing,
covered with ladybirds, these rocks delight me.