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My Wandering Days - A Saturday Visit to The Elephanta Island

My Lonely Days in the city of Mumbai is taking me to places of interest that has potentials of refreshing my mind and soul which i am in some serious need of...

Tough days since i landed here... struggling to meet my expenses in this expensive city and also a feeling of being exiled far away from my home and loved ones which i never wanted to, have had some depressing effects on my mind and body...

Nevertheless... My Passion for Travelling places drove me to visit the Gharapuri Island, 11 kms into the Arabian Sea yesterday...

This part of the world has been experiencing heavy torrential rains for the last couple of days and hence i was quite skeptical whether the ferries which are actually very ordinary motor boats operating from the Apollo Bunder next to the Gateway of India to the Elephanta Island, would be available since the wild sea often creates risks of fatal accidents thus suspending trips to Elephanta in the monsoons here in Bombay...

Since i had to find some activity to spend the weekend fruitfully, took a chance, moved out of office at around 2 pm, took a cab from CST station to The Gateway of India at Colaba... and was happy to see travel agent representatives loudly calling out to attract tourists interested to travel to Elephanta... I skipped my lunch for the day gladly as the trip across the sea to the Island was far more exciting to me than anything else... To & Fro Ferry tickets costed 130 bucks.. got them at once... had quick bites at a Vada Paw to extinguish hunger for a while... and proceeded to alight the boat, passing by a mighty statue of Swami Vivekananda which was erected to commemorate His historical journey to the west from Bombay in May 1893...

The Ferry started off slowly passing by Cargo Ships and Oil rigs which are densely scattered around the area and the Mumbai Coastline with Skyscrapers could be seen at a distance slowly moving far from us... A distance of 11 kms east of the Gateway of India, took approximately an hour and finally we reached at the Gharapuri or Elephanta Island which is a rocky island covered with dense forest growth...

A Concrete Pathway stretched into the sea lead me to the entrance of the caves.. There are Toy Train services also that drops one off to the area where from a few steep steps will lead one to the main cave Number One dedicated to Lord Shiva...

The island is 2.4 km in length with two hills that rise to a height of about 500 feet. A deep ravine cuts through the heart of the island from north to south. On the west, the hill rises gently from the sea and stretches east across the ravine and rises gradually to the extreme east to a height of 568 feet. This hill is known as the Stupa hill. Forest growth with clusters of mango, tamarind, and karanj trees cover the hills with scattered palm trees. Rice fields are seen in the valley. The fore shore is made up of sand and mud with mangrove bushes on the fringe. Landing quays sit near three small hamlets known as Set Bunder in the north-west, Mora Bunder in the northeast, and Gharapuri or Raj Bunder in the south.

The two hills of the island, the western and the eastern, have five rock-cut caves in the western part and a brick stupa on the eastern hill on its top composed of two caves with few rock-cut cisterns. One of the caves on the eastern hill is unfinished. It is a protected island with a buffer zone according to a Notification issued in 1985, which also includes “a prohibited area” that stretches 1 kilometer from the shoreline.

I could well realize that i was having a failing health after coming to Bombay as i panted badly as i reached the cave though the steep steps!! One thing which i noticed with a lot of humiliation is that the entry fees for this World Heritage Site maintained by ASI was Ten bucks for Indians and Two Fifty Bucks for foreigners... there were many foreigners around and it was indeed a shame and does discourage foreign tourists to a good extent... such disparity should at once be stopped and myself being a Tourism professional really felt ashamed at this as i have never experienced this in any country i have visited so far...

It was time to explore the main cave now... The main cave, also called the Shiva cave, Cave 1, or the Great Cave, is 89 ft square in plan with a hall (Mandapa). At the entrance are four doors, with three open porticoes and an aisle at the back. Pillars, six in each row, divide the hall into a series of smaller chambers. The roof of the hall has concealed beams supported by stone columns joined together by capitals. The cave entrance is aligned with the north-south axis, unusual for a Shiva shrine (normally east-west). The northern entrance to the cave, which has 1,000 steep steps, is flanked by two panels of Shiva dated to the Gupta. The left panel depicts Yogishwara (The Lord of Yoga) and the right shows Nataraja (Shiva as the Lord of Dance). The central Shiva shrine is a free-standing square cell with four entrances, located in the right section of the main hall. Smaller shrines are located at the east and west ends of the caves. The eastern sanctuary serves as a ceremonial entrance.

Each wall has large carvings of Shiva, each more than 16 ft in height. The central Shiva relief Trimurti is located on the south wall and is flanked by Ardhanarisvara (a half-man, half-woman representation of Shiva) on its left and Gangadhara to its right, which denotes river Ganges's descent from Shiva's matted locks. Other carvings related to the legend of Shiva are also seen in the main hall at strategic locations in exclusive cubicles; these include Kalyanasundaramurti, depicting Shiva’s marriage to the goddess Parvati,Andhakasuravadamurti or Andhakasuramardana, the slaying of the demon Andhaka by Shiva, Shiva-Parvati on Mount Kailash (the abode of Shiva), and Ravananugraha, depicting the demon-king Ravana shaking Kailash.

The main cave blends Chalukyan architectural features such as massive figures of the divinities, guardians, and square pillars with custom capitals with Gupta artistic characteristics, like the depiction of mountains and clouds and female hairstyles.
The Elephanta caves are "of unknown date and attribution". Art historians have dated the caves in the range of late 5th to late 8th century AD. Archaeological excavations have unearthed a few Kshatrapa coins dated to 4th century AD. The known history is traced only to the defeat of Mauryan rulers of Konkan by the Badami Chalukyas emperor Pulakeshi II (609–642) in a naval battle, in 635 AD. Elephanta was then called Puri or Purika, and served as the capital of the Konkan Mauryas. Some historians attribute the caves to the Konkan Mauryas, dating them to the mid 6th century, though others refute this claim saying a relatively small kingdom like the Konkan Mauryas could not undertake "an almost superhuman excavation effort," which was needed to carve the rock temples from solid rock and could not have the skilled labor to produce such "high quality" sculpture.

As it had been raining for the last few days, water constantly flowed down the hills and even dripped through the age old ceilings of the caves the rocks outside being covered with moss and fern...

I came out of the main Cave... had a round through the other four caves in the area... Nature was at its best here... Green Forestry... Deep Grey sea... cloudy skies... a monkey sat on the railings all by itself enjoying the moist weather and gave me a feeling as if it was also experiencing the same loneliness that i have been facing here in Bombay!!

I too sat there for a while gazing at the sea across the green mountains while Tagore's composition... Ami phirbona re phirbona aar phirbona re... came to my mind... hummed its folk tune until i realized that it was getting late and i had to return as the last ferry would leave by 5.30 pm...

On the way back... it started to rain again heavily and seemed as if the ferry will be misdirected by the strong winds and heavy drops of rain... God was the only savior if that would happen... Thankfully reached the shores and my adventurous Saturday afternoon trip ended on a good note... back to the congested room shared by two other guys to rest for the day... God is Great...

Information about Elephanta has been gathered from Wikipedia. Photographs by author.


  1. Great Write Up!

    I would like to add up two comments if you do allow me:
    1. Though we Bengalis love to call it as Bombay, I would strongly suggest you to call it as Mumbai. Coz there is huge sentiment attached here with the name "Mumbai" and the People of Mumbai really won't like to hear "Bombay" from you :)

    2. Regarding exorbitant entry rates for Foreign Tourists, I have noticed and felt same as you've expressed. But the point is, it's not only about Elephanta Caves, I have seen this tradition across all heritage monuments under ASI (which I've visited so far) namely Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, Ajanta Caves, Ellora Caves, Bibi Ka Maqbura, etc...

    Really don't have any idea such is the practice in other nations or not.

  2. Wow Soubhik... Great going..! I like your blog very much... keep on posting...

  3. Good attempt shoubhik, kinda how a travelogue should be written. Wish u were with us, could have posted this for BEATS!

  4. Pratibha has left a new comment on your post "My Wandering Days - A Saturday Visit to The Elepha...":

    it felt as if i have been on an imaginary tour to elephenta !!!

    Ur writing is highly technical, and the articulation is equivalent to any professional writers. ... great ..shoubhik..its a beautiful narration.

    dont worry for not having company , you will find many soon.. as u hav wriiten in your profile..u cann't be lost anywhere u have to live that way.

    keep writing we are here with you , if not in mumbai.

    Posted by Pratibha to Some Experiences Recently Acquired at July 12, 2011 9:37 AM

  5. Swami Stavapriyananda

    Soubhik, tomar chhabi je anobadyo. Sanger detailing gulo aro sundar. Congratulations!
    amar mane hochhilo ei samay Mumbai gele hoto, tahole tomar sathe bhalo kare egulo sab dekha jeto

  6. Well written !!! :) Looking forward to more destination reviews..


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