Elephanta Caves, Mumbai

Late this January, my wife and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. We were in the city of Mumbai on our anniversary day. For various reasons, we were not able to go to a place outside Mumbai. So, our best option was to do some sort of a half day trip from the city itself.

Mumbai is a commercial center of India. It is not a Jaipur or a Christchurch, where one can go to some scenic lake or sit on top of a mountain for a quiet outing. Mumbai is hectic, vibrant, and filled with malls and restaurants for “leisure and entertainment” options. There aren’t a whole lot of peaceful places to go to. So, after exploring various places for a half day trip, we decided to go to the Elephanta Caves. You can read all about this ancient UNESCO World Heritage site here. My wife had never been there, and I went there about 20 years ago, so going to the caves was something we agreed on almost immediately.

We left early morning for the Gateway of India. The plan was to catch a ferry from the Gateway to Elephanta Island – a small island sandwiched between Colaba and Navi Mumbai. Ferry boats are pretty much the only way people get to Elephanta Island. Do not worry if you are prone to sea sickness, because the boats do not rock much. Our journey was quiet calm as well. The first thing we had to do was buy round trip (return) tickets for the ferry. This was done at ticket counter #4, which was located outside the security checkpoint, on the right side towards the Taj Mahal hotel. At the ticketing area, there are normally lots of people queuing for various boats that go to Mandwa, Alibaug and Elephanta. So before standing in any queue, please check at the counter window to see which line is for which boat. Otherwise, you may be standing in the wrong line! We initially stood in the queue for Alibaug (unknowingly), before discovering that tickets for the Elephanta ferry were available at the adjacent counter and there was no queue at that counter.

After buying our tickets, we headed in to the Gateway monument to find our ferry. There were ferries leaving from various sections of the Gateway square. We asked a couple of people to find out that the Elephanta ferry left from the area which was directly behind the Gateway monument. The first boat was supposed to leave Gateway at 9am (at least that is what official information said). But in reality, it left the moment the boat was filled to capacity. A few minutes after we sat in the ferry, the captain decided to leave. It was about 8:35 am.

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                                                                    (our ferry looked like one of these)

It took the ferry about 1 hour to get from Mumbai to Elephanta. One of the good things about a trip to Elephanta Caves is that you not only get to visit a UNESCO World Heritage site, but also get awesome views of South Mumbai while on the ferry. As we pulled away from the Gateway, we got some wonderful views of the Taj Mahal hotel and the South Mumbai skyline. Along the way, we also came across some Coast Guard and Navy facilities, and a whole bunch of oil tankers from India and other countries. There was a group of seagulls that kept flying close to our ferry. People on board our ferry were tossing snacks and biscuits, which the seagulls were gobbling down. They were very good at catching flying bits of food.

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                                                                (a little bit of the south Mumbai skyline)

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                                        (inside the ferry)

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                                                                             (a facility of some sort)

After an hour, we reached Elephanta Island. We disembarked from the ferry and were greeted by an interesting looking toy train, which ran for about a kilometer to the starting point of the walk to the caves. My wife seemed pretty excited by the train, and so we bought a Rs.20 ticket to ride on it. The initial stretch of the walk to the caves felt like a tourist trap, with stalls lined up on both sides of steps selling various “touristy” artifacts. There were a few innocuous monkeys jumping around, but they weren’t harming anyone. We climbed some steps for about 10 minutes before entering a clearly sign-boarded gate of the famous Elephanta Caves.

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                                                                       (approaching Elephanta Island)

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                                                                       (path towards the caves)

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                                                                       (Toy train on Elephanta Island)

There were 5 caves in total that we walked through. The first one was the best maintained, as some of the others had deteriorated to an extent where some carvings were not clearly recognizable. The underlying theme of all the carvings is Lord Shiva. There are various Shiva carvings and Shiv Lingams. As we were taking pictures and walking about, we were approached by local guides who offered to explain every carving to us at a cost of about Rs.300. We declined and decided to view the caves on our own. One of the benefits of going to Elephanta by the first boat of the day was no overcrowding. We were able to walk about freely and take pictures without being interrupted regularly.

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                                                                       (large pillars inside cave #1)

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                                                              (beautiful carvings from a single stone)

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                                                                       (another single stone carving)

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                                 (walking through the caves)

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                                                                       (a Shiv Lingam inside the door)

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                                                      (beautiful detailed carving, all done by hand)

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                                                                                 (Lord Shiva himself)

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                                                                       (more carvings of Lord Shiva)

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                                                                    (sitting posture of Lord Shiva)

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                                     (these columns look Greek in design, or is it the other way around?)

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                                                                       (beautifully decorated door entrance)

After viewing all the caves, we headed back to the main gate and walked towards Canon Hill, a small hill which offered sweeping views of the Arabian Sea and the Nhava Sheva port. The path to the top was a little bit tricky, with steps either broken or completely missing. But with a little bit of effort, we managed to reach the top in about 5-10 minutes of walking/trekking. The top of the hill has two large canons on either side of the hill. There was hardly anyone at the top of the hill. We sat near one of the canons for a quiet moment and took in the views. After a few minutes, we headed back to the ferry as we wanted to catch the first boat out. We took the toy train back to the ferry terminal, only to find huge crowds of people disembarking from ferries and walking up towards the caves. A lot of them were domestic and international tourists, out with their families and kids. We carried on, and embarked on a waiting ferry. That ferry also left before time, and we made it back to Mumbai by about 12.40 pm.

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                                                                          (view from Canon Hill)

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                                                          (the boat terminal at Elephanta Island)

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                                                                  (one of the two canons atop the hill)

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                                                                           (the busy Nhava Sheva port)

Overall, if you time your visit right, then Elephanta Island is a great option for a half day trip from Mumbai. It gives you peace and relaxation, as you can move away from the hectic pace of Mumbai for a few hours. It also gives you an opportunity to take some amazing photos of Mumbai while on the ferry.


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