A quick decision the night before, and off you go. That would be the perfect way to visit Elephanta Island. How many times has one wished to get out of the city and visit someplace quaint and serene and come back to reality just in time? The UNESCO World Heritage Site, Elephanta caves on the outskirts of Mumbai lives up to that expectation.
Elephanta Island got its name after the Portuguese rule in 1534 when they first saw a huge statue of an Elephant at the entrance, which is now placed at the Jijamata Udyan at Byculla in Mumbai.
Just an hour away from the Mumbai Harbour (Gateway of India), Elephanta Caves is very accessible in terms of travel as well as budget. Sailing towards Gharapuri (Elephanta Island) gives you the opportunity to stare at the fast-moving city of Mumbai. The idea of a 1-day retreat or picnic sets in when your boat leaves the harbor and the sound of the waves hit your ears. The picnic joy is enhanced as you watch children who with great excitement look forward to the Elephanta Island excursion.
Setting foot in Gharapuri, one is greeted with a toy train that transports you from the Jetty to the village entry booth. The distance is not that much and to inform you of the speed of the train in an example, you can outrun it, but it’s the sheer joy of riding in a toy train that will make it pleasurable.
Walking towards the caves, you are surrounded by shops and stalls selling souvenirs and knick-knacks on both sides. The caves are 100+ steps from the ground, which acts as a reasonable detector of one’s stamina, but strolling your eyes on the shops makes the climb less difficult. On reaching the top you are welcomed by monkeys, who unintentionally will somehow always grab your attention.
At the entrance, a museum provides information about Elephanta caves and its sister caves located in Mumbai and all over Maharashtra. When visiting sites of great history, it is always best to hire a learned guide. But making the excursion more interactive is the joy of learning about the place on your own with the help of a guide book, which one can purchase while climbing the steps.
Using the guide book to understand, learn and admire the sculptures helps. A friend reading aloud the history and intricacies from the guidebook, while you look at the sculpture to admire its beauty, find and recognize the details mentioned, makes the trip even more endearing. The guidebook which will cost you around Rs 100-150, very efficiently explains the sculptures, simultaneously providing you time to soak in amazement and marvel at its architecture.
On reaching the first and the most important cave, one will see four pillars gracing the entrance. The cave showcases sculptures of stone depicting human emotions better than flesh, which invokes deeper respect for the craftsman of the 5th to 8th centuries, the era to which the caves date.
The sculpture that will leave one awestruck is the massive “Trimurti” depicting the Panchmukha Shiva. The statue represents the three aspects of Shiva. The right depicting creation and its features similar to Brahma, the face on the left depicting rage representing destruction, its features being similar to Bhairava and lastly the central head with features similar to Vishnu is meditative and portrays calm representing Protection. The sculpture to the left of the “Trimurti” that provides a remarkable impression is that of the four-armed Ardhanarishvara carving. The single sculpture depicts the union and togetherness of Parvati (right) and Shiva (left). Another mesmerizing sculpture is the panel depicting the wedding of Shiva and Parvati. One can also see her being led by her father, who has his right hand over her shoulder. The sculpture also depicts Brahma, Vishnu, Indra and many other divinities attending the ceremony.
Other sculptures like Ravana lifting Kailash, Shiva-Parvati on Kailash, Gangadhara, Nataraja, Yogishvara, Linga force one to think of how such beautiful artistry was created, and simultaneously make you feel upset for the damage that has been caused to it over time.
The detailing of the ornaments, hair, the complexities of the carvings and the mythology behind each and every sculpture leaves one awestruck. The remaining four caves have been partially destroyed with just a few columns, sculptures and carvings remaining.
After visiting all the five caves, if one has time on hand and loves to trek, one can visit Cannon Hills. It is another half an hour’s trek from the Caves. A few meters into your trek you will be greeted by a refreshment stall where you could charge up your batteries for the trek ahead. On reaching the top you will see a well preserved black cannon and a very beautiful view. Staircases will lead you into a passageway which will then lead you to the lower cannon, providing the view of the Jetty, which would be the perfect ending to the Elephanta island excursion with its serene landscapes embedded on your mind.
Traveling on your own, making use of the different modes of transport along your way and learning about the place on the go makes an experience worthwhile. Also travel in retrospect is a very interesting tale to tell. For example, you first took a train to reach Churchgate, then a bus to reach Gateway of India, after which you sailed to Elephanta Island not to forget, outrunning the Toy train in Elephanta Island. Then you used the most reliable transportation, your feet, and trekked to the caves, and repeated the process in reverse to reach home, except you were a little tired by the end of the journey so took a cab instead of a bus to Churchgate station. Add a few of the fun details of chewing on corn cobs, buying souvenirs, feeding monkeys and voila, your very own one-day travel tale.
EXPLORE DARJEELING WITH AWARA FEET.
How to Reach:
By Ferry: Elephanta Island is located an hour away from the Mumbai harbor and there are regular ferry services from the Gateway of India that will take you there.