Trip To Elephanta Caves - A Wonder On The Lap Of Arabian Sea
It was a lovely sunny morning in December. I was in Mumbai paying a surprise visit to my husband who was there on a work assignment. It was ...
The Journey Begins:
Mumbai local trains are the best if you are on a budget, tight schedule and do not mind being pushed around in the crowd. We had all the three conditions checked and so we took a train at 9:30 AM from Dadar station to Churchgate. Owing to the weekend, the mad office hour rush was at the minimum and we got to sit during the entire thirty minute long journey. My friend was quite surprised when she heard that we did not get on first class and yet managed to grab a place for ourselves in the local train!
The Ferry Ride:
Once we were at Churchgate, we came out of the terminus and asked for direction to Gateway of India. A helpful taxi driver said that a walk would take fifteen minutes and a taxi ride would take almost the same time due to heavy traffic. We got the hint and decided to walk. Watching Mumbai in the peak hours of the day was a spectacle in itself. People hardly walk in Mumbai. They strutted and some almost galloped. We also witnessed a beggar entering a Subway joint and asking for a sub. He was shooed away but I realized that beggars too have an upbeat life here.
So after a seemingly long walk, we reached Gateway of India. It was an impressive structure with the famous Taj Mahal Palace in its backdrop. Shutterbugs were clicking away to glory and we too followed them. The cry of local touts shouting "Elephanta" reached our ears. But we were instructed by our friend to head straight to the ticket booth and not talk to any guides. We obeyed and got two tickets of 120 INR each for a round trip.
In about five minutes we were ushered to a colorful ferry. It was 40 INR extra if we wanted to enjoy the upper deck view. I declined the offer as the view from where I sat was quite beautiful. The warm breeze, the vast blue expanse of the Arabia Sea, the ferry dancing on the waves, and a melodious local song created a hypnotic ambience. It was as if the whole ferry ride had assumed its own rhythm and we were tapping to it. There was a romantic verve in the air and we were totally enjoying every moment.
Towards Elephanta Caves:
After an hour and a half long ride on the sea, we reached an island which the locals referred to as Gharapuri. As we got off the ferry, we spotted something similar to a railway track. I had just begun wondering what it was meant for, when I saw a toy train approaching us. A horde of tourists got off and an immediate mayhem ensued for seat acquisition from the people who were waiting. We were taken by surprise and even before we knew it, the train was full. We waited for another fifteen minutes for the next train to arrive. In the meanwhile we purchased two round trip tickets amounting to 20 INR. This time we had learned the trick. So as soon as people started getting off, we jumped on the train and occupied a place. The train started moving, huffing and puffing towards the Elephanta Caves. I was tired but happy at my feat. "Once we get down, I will the ultimate destination Elephanta", is what I said to myself. But what I saw after getting down from the train almost made me faint! There was no sign of anything that even vaguely resembled a cave. There was just a long flight of stony stairs laid out before us. We started climbing.
The side of the stairway was lined with hawkers selling everything from trinkets to baskets to clothes. The clamour of people, the cacophony of bargains, the whooping of monkeys in the trees and the seemingly endless climb had left my limbs as well as my spirit aching. Where were the caves? I kept wondering. And then suddenly it appeared before me.
Experience At Elephanta Caves:
Quoting from the Information Board at the entrance of the Elephanta Caves, "The island of Elephanta, originally known as Gharapuri, derives its name from a massive stone elephant now displayed in the Victoria Gardens in Bombay. Except for a few Kshatrapa coins of the 4th century A.D. found here nothing is known of the history of Elephanta prior to the defeat of Mauryan rulers of Konkan by the Chalukyan emperor Pulikesin II of Badami in a naval battle for the island in 635 A.D."
The place is a collection of rock cut temples dedicated to different avatars of Lord Shiva. Massive figures have been carved on stone walls and narrate various tales of Indian mythology. There are three main caves or rock cut alcoves and each has intricate stone carvings on them. The massiveness of the carvings is breath taking. It is a 7th century structure and has undergone centuries of weathering. Yet, Elephanta Caves stand tall and towering in the island of Gharapuri overlooking the Arabian Sea.
We explored each cave all the while marvelling at the workmanship of the artists who built something so massive and beautiful. After a two hour long wandering around the place, we were parched.
The Tale Of Return:
We were totally thirsty and when looked around, we found something interesting. People were buying used bottles for 10 INR each. Some poor women were seen collecting and cleaning used mineral water bottles and then selling them to people who were standing in queue in front of a tiny water tap. The women charged 20 INR if the customers wanted the water filled in the bottles. I was appalled at the scene. Restraining my urge to drink water that way, we started our downhill climb. It was 3 PM and the sun was merciless. Finally on the way down we found a string of refreshment joints. We bought a bottle of water and quenched our thirst.
Soon we were heading back to the ferry in the toy train. As we climbed onto the deck, my muscles gave up and I dozed off. Refreshed after almost a couple of hours slumber, we were happy to reach the land. Famished as ever, the two of us headed straight to Mumbai's famous Leopold Cafe, where a mug of chilled beer and beef roast charged our spirits.
No matter how tiring the journey was, the visit to Elephanta Caves was a great experience and anyone visiting Mumbai should not miss a trip to the enchanting rock cut artistic wonder.
Contributed By: Kriti Mazumdar