On a bright sunny October day, I decided to visit the Elephanta Caves located on Elephanta Island in the Mumbai Harbor. Being someone who loves travelling and having stayed in Mumbai for my education for more than 2 years for my Undergraduate Education, I hadn’t visited it, a popular tourist place in Mumbai, mainly due to lack of fellow travelers. However, on this particular occasion, I had my mother (Maa) with me. She was visiting me for a couple of days. She had been to Mumbai twice before but hadn’t been able to visit the caves. I knew it was a long awaited wish of hers to see the caves so this was one perfect moment for me to go there with her. So, this one fine Sunday morning, we both started on to visit the caves, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. There are two hills on the island each of which has caves. The western hill contains 5 caves which contain solid basalt rock cut sculptures, dedicated to Lord Shiva while the eastern hill contains a stupa and 2 Buddhist caves. These caves have been dated to between 5th and 8th centuries. Since there are no inscriptions available, the identity of the builders is still unsure.
I stay at Powai, which is in suburban Northeast Mumbai. The travelling component of the trip consisted of 4 different modes of transportation. An Auto rickshaw to the Kanjurmarg Railway Station from Powai, then a local train on the central line of Mumbai Locals from Kanjurmarg to Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), then a taxi to the Gateway of India from CST and then a ferry to Elephanta Island from the Gateway of India. We started off at 9 am. Anyone who has travelled in Mumbai locals knows how crowded they are. Luckily, it was Sunday and a little less crowded than a weekday which could not have been more fortuitous for us. Maa would have never have been able to travel in a local train had it had the normal rush it usually does. We reached CST at about 10 am and the Gateway of India about 20 minutes later. By this time, the Sun was shining and it was hot and humid. I contemplated on whether it was the best time for a visit. It didn’t matter as this was a trip fueled by long time wishes and the excitement of a trip with Maa. However the weather turned out to be a real problem as it was scorching hot a couple of hours later. We took the ferry and reached the island about an hour later. The ferry provided a fine view of the Gateway of India adjacent to the Taj Mahal Hotel. The first ferry leaves Gateway of India at 9 am for the island. After that, a ferry leaves Gateway of India for the island after every 30 minutes till 2 pm. We didn’t know that the island is closed on Monday but were lucky that we went there on a Sunday, else we would have had to return disappointed. The ferry tickets cost Rs 120 each.
It was almost noon by the time we reached the island. The landing quay is lined with shops which sell just the thing needed in the sun- hats and caps. We bought a hat for Maa. Those shops also sell fruits and film camera reels, which, I found out, were still in demand. While digital photography appeal to me for various reasons, I relish film camera photography. That form of photography is dying since the availability of digital cameras, most notably in mobile phones, and I know I shall miss the fun and anticipation of waiting till the reel was finished and then getting it after it was developed. Then we proceeded towards the western hill. Here, we came across the real challenge.
Maa suffers from arthritis in her knees and the climb uphill consists of huge stone steps. Some of those steps were 1 feet long and 1 feet tall. This was a real hindrance to people who are old or crippled or suffering from ailments like arthritis. One major issue that most tourist places in India faces is that they aren’t well developed to be handicapped friendly. The tourism ministry and the local people should strive to make all places people visit, including tourist places, malls and institutions handicapped friendly. This will both be beneficial for the handicapped and provide a boost to our nation’s tourism industry. Climbing up steps causes a lot of pain in Maa’s knees. So, we took our time, one step at a time. The steps are lined with shops on both sides, selling artifacts, handmade jewelry, religious photos and statues, local jewelry, food and drinks. The items on sale were pretty, which prompted us to take a lot of pictures though we didn’t buy anything. An alternative to climbing up the stairs is to use the chair mode of transportation. It is similar to a palanquin, where instead of a compartment, a chair is present for the person to be transported to sit and it is then lifted by four persons instead of two.
Another thing that we noticed, which is similar to other tourist places, is the tiered fees for Indians and Foreigners. At that time, Indians had an entry fee of Rs 10 while foreigners had to pay Rs 250 to enter the cave premises. This policy of tiered pricing is common across ticketed monuments over India, and I am told, across the globe as well. While some foreigners and Indians may feel it to be unjustified, I believe most don’t care and we did see a lot of foreigners around the caves.
At the top of the first hill, there were 5 caves. Some of them are not in a very good state. Except for the main cave which was restored a few decades ago, the rest of the caves are still badly damaged.
The caves are full of beautiful sculptures on Lord Shiva, though some are very badly damaged and only parts of them exist now. We visited each of the caves, looked around and clicked some photos.
Visitors here need to be careful of monkeys, who snatch food packets right from people’s hands. Two of such incidents happened right in front of our eyes. Even our water bottle was snatched at the end of our sightseeing. Luckily no one was hurt and we ended up taking snaps of the monkeys as well. A bit of advice here, a monkey tried snatching someone’s camera as well, so be extra careful with them.
The second hill had very dense vegetation and its climb included a trek that needed a guide and about 4-5 hours to be completed. Given Maa’s medical condition and the fact that we were pretty late, we decided that the trek should be left for another day. I climbed to the top of the hill we were on to look around, and there were two long cannons fixed on the top. From the top, one could see the Arabian Sea and a few islands that had a lot of constructions on them. Then, we started our retreat down to the landing quay to go back to Mumbai.
On the way down, we saw a vendor selling “vada pav”, a local snack, advertising it as Indian Burger.
We reached the landing quay at about 3.30 pm and left the island a little later. The last ferry back to Gateway of India leaves the island at 5.30 pm. As there are no hotels because night stay isn’t allowed on the island, one needs to make sure that one doesn’t miss the last ferry. The trip back to the Gateway of India took an hour. The Gateway and Taj Mahal hotel looked even better against the backdrop of the setting sun. We then roamed around South Bombay for a while before heading home, Maa happy that she had finally seen the Elephanta Caves and I felt content on seeing a big smile on my Maa’s face.
This entry has been shortlisted for Holidify’s Travelogue Writing Contest in association with Linger. The content and pictures may not be used without prior permission of the author.
Submitted by: Abhilash Gupta