A modest collection of ruined temples and fifth-century rock-cut caves stand just 6km west of Vidisha at Udaigiri. The caves, many decorated by Hindu and Jain mendicants, lie scattered around a long, thin outcrop of sandstone surrounded by wheat fields.

Once you’ve left Vidisha, a left turn just after crossing the Betwa River leads along a gently undulating tree lined avenue for 2–3km. As it approaches the hillside, the road takes a sharp left turn towards the village. Stop here, at the base of the near-vertical rock face, to climb a steep flight of steps to Cave 19, which has worn reliefs of gods and demons around the doorways, and a Jain cave temple on the northern edge of the ridge. Ask the chowkidar to unlock the doors for you.

The site’s pièce de résistance, a 4m-high image of the boar-headed hero Varaha, stands carved into Cave 5. Vishnu adopted this guise to rescue the earth-goddess, Prithvi, from the churning primordial ocean. Varaha’s left foot rests on a naga king wearing a hood of thirteen cobra heads, while the river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna hold water vessels on either side. In the background you can see Brahma and Agni, the Vedic fire-god. The scene is seen as an allegory of the emperor Chandra Gupta II’s conquest of northern India.

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