Magnificent Maharashtra: Half day in Elephanta Caves
The Elephanta Island is located an hour boat ride (or 10 KMs) away from the Gateway of India, Mumbai, in Arabian Sea. The Island, consisting of two hills separed by a narrow valley, covers an area of 4 to 6 square miles, depending upon the tides. To see to the main attraction of the island, which covers seven stone caves, you have to climb up 120 rocky steps. If you want to avoid climbing the steps, the option of ‘Doli’ is available. Although I personally don’t prefer it because I don’t like to see four men lifting my chair up on their shoulders and just for a few bucks climbing 120 tiring steps to give me a royal feeling, however, for aged people this Doli is a good option.
But why should I climb 120 steps? What’s special in these seven caves?
You must have seen the ‘Mahesh-Murti-Shiva’ logo of Maharashtra Tourism. This ‘Trimurti’ is the main artistic and religious (Hindu) attraction of the Elephanta Caves. Each of the seven caves is made of a single gigantic stone. Just imagine the height of Indian aboriginal engineering & structuralism even in 6th Century. Most probably in the middle of the sixth century a Hindu Kalachuri Dynasty king started to build these caves. I must say that almost nothing is remaining now in last six caves, thanks to the ‘mercy’ of the colonial powers, but the main cave (or cave number 1) is an exquisite work of art sculpturing stories from Hindu Mythology, Purans and Vedic texts especially based on Lord Shiva. You can buy a booklet or hire a local guide to know more about each sculpture. A local guide can charge you around 350-400 rupees and the booklet would cost 100 rupees.
Although the name says ‘Elephanta’, you will not be able to see any elephant in the island although there used to be a huge stone elephant statue at the south shore of the island after which,during colonial era, the Portuguese named the island as “Elephanta Island”. The elephant statue was damaged by the British in their attempts to relocate it to England and it was moved to the Victoria Gardens in 1864. Later on, in 1914, the stone statue was reassembled and now it is placed in the Jijamata Udyaan in Mumbai.
Elephanta island is also known as by the Marathi name Gharapuri. The hour-long boat ride to the island is pleasant.You can see a glimpse of the Mumbai sea shore, Mumbai dock, few old Indian Navy ships and specially the friendly Seagulls. If you throw some foods in the air the Seagulls will love to give you a company throughout your journey. To ride on a boat,you have to walk to the jetty located at the back side of the Gateway of India.Ticket price would be Rs.200 per person for going and return ride together. You can visit any time in a year but I would suggest to avoid monsoon. After landing in the Elephanta Island walk for a min to board a small toy train which will drop you at the step zero. Don’t dare to walk, take the train, otherwise it can be very tiring. There will be an entry fee to the cave which you have to pay just before the entrance to the main cave area. Veg and non-veg restaurants are available but I would prefer to go in a veg restaurant. We went to the all veg ‘Raj Mahal Restaurant’, their service was really nice and food was good.
One more special thing I have to add -by the side of the steps to the Elephanta Caves you can see one or two shop sselling a very special local stone. These stones are available in the island but one has to know where to find them, so better to buy from the locals. From outside it will look like a normal stone but if you bisect it, you would be surprised to see the raw crystals inside. The more is the age of a stone, the bigger isthe shiny crystal inside and more is the price. Most of these crystal stones are translucent type; just take one half of it and place in front of a light; you can see it yourself. My local guide to the trip told me that these stones gives positive energy which I was not that sure about but I bought one because it’s a special stone and I liked it.
Be careful about the monkeys, they can snatch your water bottle or handheld stuffs.