Elephanta Island, Mumbai
Most famous of the sites around Mumbai is most likely Elephanta Island in the muddy waters of Mumbai harbour. Here you will find a series of old Hindi temple/caves carved into the sheer rock of the island.
Our guide out here was complaining because in the colonial days, the Portuguese used to come out here and practice their sharp shooting on the statues. Still all and all for 1500 year old work, the caves are in remarkably good condition....
Elephanta Island (also called Gharapuri Island or place of caves) is one of a number of islands in Mumbai Harbour, east of Mumbai, India. This island is a popular tourist destination for a day trip because of the island's cave temples, the Elephanta Caves, that have been carved out of rock. The island is easily accessible by ferry from Mumbai, being about 10 km from the south east coast of the island city. Boats leave daily from the Gateway of India, taking about an hour each way for the journey. From the boat landing stage on the island, a walkway leads to steps that go up to the famous caves. Along the path, hawkers sell souvenirs that may bought at a reasonable price. There are also stalls to buy food and drinks. Known in ancient times as Gharapuri, the present name Elephanta, was given by 17th century Portuguese explorers, after seeing a monolithic sculpture of an elephant head found here near the entrance. This sculpture has since been moved to the Victoria and Albert Museum (aka Dr Bhau Daji lad Museum) in Mumbai. The island has an area of 16 km² (6 sq miles). It is located at approximately 18.95° N 72.93° E. The area comes under the jurisdiction of the Raigad district in Maharashtra State. A narrow gauge train takes tourists along the 1 km pier to the base of the steps which lead to the caves. The island is thickly wooded with palm, mango and tamarind trees. The island has a population of about 1,200 involved in growing rice, fishing, and repairing boats. It was once the capital of a powerful local kingdom.
We were pre-booked on a small launch that departed from the south jetty near the Gateway to India.. It carried about 25 passengers and there was a canvas canopy to provide some shade.
The merest hint of a breeze was very welcome during the 50 minute crossing on a very hot and humid day. There was quite a heat haze so promised views of the harbour front were disappointing.
We had been advised that from the point where the ferry would drop us off there was quite a long uphill walk to the entrance to the caves, as well as a good number of steps. We decided to do that rather than wait in the queue for one of the "chair" taxis, held high and carried aloft by four bearers.
It was quite a slog in the heat but there were places to pause for a rest in the shade of trees, views and interesting sights on the way up. We actually passed a couple of the chairs and the seated passengers looked as hot as the bearers. We were carrying water so did not sample any of the refreshments from stalls and cafes on the route.
The walk down back to the ferry was a doddle!
At the Gateway of India you will find a line of ticket offices and a large number of touts - they want your business! The boat trips start around 0930 and leave approx every 30 minutes from the harbour. Once you have your ticket check which "gate" your boat is waiting at and climb aboard.
Elephanta Caves are 9km from land and the boats are not speedy... treat this as a good 1/2 day trip from the city. Once on the island you can take the toy train or walk (the 5 minutes). There is an island tax to pay (minimal) and then of course an entrance fee to the caves (as always one price for Indians and add another 200INR at least for the foreigners!)
Elephanta Caves are an UNESCO World Heritgae Site. If you have, in your Indian journies, already visited the Ellora Caves or the Ajanta Caves you are not going to bowled over BUT they are still VERY impressive and they get you away from the hustle and the bustle of Mumbai for the best part of a day!
The caves were "created" circa AD450 & AD750 at a time when the island was known as Gharapuri.
The temples are dedicated to Shiva and there is an incredible bust of Shiva with 3 faces and eyes closed which means eternal contemplation. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Elephanta.
There are facilities on the island, a couple of cafés and a complete market of souvenirs lining the stairs to the caves entrance... haggle hard and if you see a fixed price lable make sure it doesn't magically remove itself prior to the sale!
Elephanta Island is located about 10km north-east of the Gateway of India and is reached by taking a ferry from the Gateway. The island is home to some marvellous cave temples which are thought to have been created between the 5th and 8th centuries and are today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The island, originally known as Gharapuri (Place of Caves), derives its name from a massive stone statue of an elephant that is now displayed in the Victoria Gardens in Mumbai. The island was named Elephanta by the Portuguese who found the statue.
There are three rock-cut temples caves on the island of which the main large one is of particular interest as it's dedicated to Shiva. This is the first cave you'll come to on your right after passing through the ticket booth. It dates from the mid 7th century and comprises of a pillared hall in which a small shrine with four entrances are flanked with huge guardians either side. The halls main sculpture is located in the central panel of the back wall. It features a huge triple-headed Shiva statue known as Mahesamurti. The three faces represent Shiva in his different manifestations - Preserver, Creator and Destroyer. The hall also features further incarnations of Shiva. The island makes for a good half-day trip from Mumbai. More info and photo's can be found on my Elephanta Island page below.
Open: 9am-5pm Tues-Sun. Closed Mondays. Admission: Rs250 for foreigners.
Catch a taxi or walk to the Gateway, purchase a "legal" ticket for the boat trip to Elephanta Island at the ticket counter and board the boat - there is one leaving the Gateway every 20 minutes. At the island, walk or catch a little train to the foot of the hill on top of which the caves are. Again, choose to either walk up the interesting steps with many little shopping stalls or pay to be carried up by four men. Purchase a ticket to enter the caves and go and explore. The Elephanta Caves have been declared a world heritage site, so it is worthwhile seeing.
This is a small island about 1 hour from Bombay, where there are many old temples and ruins. It is worth a day trip if you are stuck in Bombay, although I was very tempted to put it in the Tourist Trap section. The boat trip out to the island is interesting, and there are some nice little markets on the island itself. The temples and ruins on the island were a bit of a disappointment, as they are in very poor condition. However, if you use your imagination (like me), you should be able to appreciate what it must have looked like hundreds of years ago. The boat trip is a real eye-opener, as this has to be one of the most disgustingly dirty harbours in the entire world.