A tiny island of Gharapuri off Mumbai harbour is the location of some ancient cave sculptures dating back to the 5th century developed under the Rashtrakutas
by Anannya on March 22, 2010
There is much to amuse oneself at Elephanta. The squeaky train ride from the jetty to the start of the steps; the monkeys frolicking around; the 120 odd steps you have to climb; the hawkers selling trinkets, t-shirts and other touristy items.There is an MTDC certified restaurant serving a good lunch, veg and non-veg. Most importantly, after a climb in the hot and humid weather, there is cold beer available here.
The boat ride from the Gateway to the island takes about 30 minutes. It offers an excellent opportunity to take a look at all the ships especially those of the Indian Navy. As the boat veers left (North East) of Gateway of India, on the left hand side you will first see the Indian Navy (Naval Dockyard) and then the big commercial liners. As your boat moves along, you will pass the oil terminal of Butcher Island. Oil is offloaded in this island and through underwater pipes pumped to the different oil storage tanks on shore. In April 1944, there was a huge disaster when SS Fort Stikine exploded destroying the entire harbour (the erstwhile Victoria Docks). Over 800 people died though unofficial estimates are much more. The harbour had to be rebuilt from scratch. One such fall out was to have oil offloaded offshore from a safety perspective.Boat rides to Elephanta are suspended during the Monsoon months.
The historic Gateway of India is the iconic landmark of Mumbai. Like the Big Ben of London, the Statue of Liberty of New York, the Eiffel Tower of Paris, the Gateway of India is not just synonymous of Mumbai but also represents the human melting pot that the city has been for centuries, welcoming people from all over the world.Going to Elephanta means taking the boat from the Gateway - an opportunity to go from one era (the British) to another (the early Hindu periods). Beside the Gateway of India is another landmark, the Taj Mahal Hotel. We were there about 40 days after the Nov 26 terrorist attack. The area was cordoned off as reconstruction was on.In the midst of the crowd and bustle, there is a quiet moment that one can take under these great arches.
For Indians, the image of the five headed Shiva or Panchamukha Shiva (the five headed Shiva) also called Trimurti (Three faces - as only three faces are visible) is a common image of Mumbai. It is the image used by MTDC, the tourism department of the government of Maharashtra.When you enter the main cave temple, this image of Panchamukha Shiva stands over everything else. All around there are a number of other scenes from Indian mythology depicted - Shiva and Parvati together; Ravana lifting Mount Kailash; Ganesh; Ardhanarishwar, etc.The exact history of the Elephanta Caves is a bit fuzzy. Historians and archaelogists have many theories. The caves themselves seem to have been built between the 5th to the 8th century CE. However, which regime or dynasty sponsored it is unclear. The claimants include the Konkan Mauryas, the Chalukyas and the Rashtrakutas. Till the Portuguese rule in the 16th century, Elephanta was an active holy site for Hindus. During the Portuguese, much of the caves were damaged with Portuguese soldiers using the island and the sculptures for target practice. It fell into disuse for over 300 years with only a few villagers and monkeys living here. Post independence, the tourism potential of the island was observed. In 1987, it was recognised as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.A trip to Elephanta makes for a good one day history class. To reach Elephanta, one has to take a boat from the Gateway of India. It's a 30 minute boat ride to the jetty. From the jetty, one can walk up to the steps leading to the caves or there is a small train that operates there.At the base of the hill there are a number of restaurants serving good food and cold beer. The caves close by about 5 pm (and the last boat is also around that time)
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