One balmy summer’s day, when we decided to take the kids to Elephanta Caves.
We thought it made for a good day spent with family, because while the intention was to go sight-seeing the caves, it also involved getting a good look at the Gateway of India, a boat ride and a mini-train ride.
Even at 10 am, crowds of tourists were already at the imposing arch built to commemorate the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary to Mumbai.
It took a while for us to find out where the tickets for the ferry could be sourced from, and another hour to cover the 11-km distance to the island. En route, the children were excited to see merchant vessels, navy ships and eager to know details of these.
The caves offer a heady mix of history, culture and architectural finesse, dating back to 5-8 AD.
For those who do not prefer to walk, there is a mini toy train that will take you almost to the beginning of the steps, leading to the caves. If you choose to walk, there are stalls selling an assortment of things, from caps and curios to jewellery and toys. Dotted along the way are also refreshment stalls. Watch out for the monkeys. Avoid holding food and drinks in your hands. They make a grab for them.
Once we climbed the hundred-plus steps, we entered the caves. The temples are believed to have been created between 5th to late 8th century AD when the island was known as Gharapuri (place of the caves in Marathi) The Portuguese renamed it Elephanta because of a large stone elephant near the shore, which has since been moved to the Bhau Daji Laud Museum, Byculla. Many believe the Pandavas made the caves.
Constructed in the Mandala style of architecture, there is a large courtyard, on either side of which you find other equally remarkable carved images of Shiva in his various forms. There are a smaller group of caves on the eastern side, which are Buddhist monuments, and one of the two caves is incomplete. There are seven caves in all: five Hindu caves, dedicated to Lord Shiva and two Buddhists caves. Usually, tourists frequent the first set of caves and leave.
For a history buff, the island is a treat. The kids enjoyed their history lesson and on our return we paused at the shops to pick up knick-knacks and for some much-needed food before we took the toy train and ferry back to the shore.
Where Elephanta Caves (Gharapuri).
Getting there Take a ferry from the Gateway of India. It takes an hour (approximate) to reach Elephanta
Timings Mondays closed, 9 am-5 pm
Charges Rs 10 per head, Rs 250 foreign nationals
Restroom facilities Yes
What’s good The caves. To know that these were the home to monks of different religions, is extraordinary
What’s not good It’s hot and tiring to visit in summer. Wear hats, and carry lots of water. Avoid carrying food in your hands as monkeys around tend to snatch it away. Don’t shoo them as they can get aggressive, where others of the pack might join in as well.