There are the Kanheri Caves, Elephanta Caves, Mahakali Caves, the Mandapeshwar Caves and the caves in Jogeshwari.
Mahakali Caves, Andheri East, (Outdoors)
A large chunk of my working life was spent in Andheri East. Yet, neither did I attempt to go till the last bus stop of the eastern side — Mahakali Caves — nor was I curious about why a place was called that. Mahakali must have meant, temples, right? Because who would have thought that right in the midst of a bustling suburb lie a bunch of pre-historic caves carved out of stone? Little did I know that Mumbai has a cluster of caves that is within the city's limits. There are the Kanheri Caves, Elephanta Caves, Mahakali Caves, the Mandapeshwar Caves and the caves in Jogeshwari.
So, one Saturday morning, accompanied by a few friends who also brought their kids along, we headed to Mahakali Caves. Most cave sites in Mumbai are typically Buddhist shrines that were used as living quarters and meditation centres. As our autorickshaw inches closer to the venue, I'm stunned when we spot the caves which are well fenced amid greenery. The gates open (9 am) and soon enough we buy the entry tickets. Mahakali Caves, also known as Kondivite Caves, are centuries-old and comprise a total of 19 rock-cut monuments, built between 1st and 6th century AD.
There is nobody else at the site. We cautiously step into the main cave which includes Buddha figures, stupas and several Buddha idols carved on the rocks too. Nisha, our friend, who knows more, informs us that the caves are made of basalt rock and points out to where the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has made attempts to repair some of the damage.
There is a stone inscription that calls the caves 'Kondivite Caves'. The caves, we are informed, were excavated between 2nd and 6th century AD. It consists of four caves on the notherwest face and a group of 15 caves in the south-east carved off volcanic stone. We tiptoe from one cave to the next, looking at the crevices, marvelling the time it must have taken to chip the stone into carved pockets of peaceful dwellings.
Carved out of solid black basalt rock (which is softer than other rocks), the caves have existed since the Ashokan Empire. The walls contain scriptures in Pali, the language of the common man of those days. The caves are in the middle of the hill and we clamber up to check if there are more far-flung caves. It has just rained and it is intensely green. Aside from the hills all we can see are the high-rises of the suburb and beyond.
The most interesting (eerie) cave is cave number 9 that has an inner shrine and stupa enclosed within a carved wall. We circumambulate the stupa warily. But the air is dry, as is the periphery. The overall area is small and we are done in 40 minutes. I've visited Ajanta and Ellora; the Mahakali Caves reminds me that not only do I need to visit Jogeshwari Caves, but that I also need to show my kids the marvel that are the caves of Ajanta and Ellora.
Safety tip: Wear shoes with good grip for better support while walking on site
Where: Mahakali Caves, Mahakali Caves Road, Sunder Nagar, Andheri East.
Best for: (age group and sex): boys and girls, five years and above
How to reach: Alight at Andheri Station (East); take an auto or board one of the many buses that either terminate at the caves or pass by the site.
Timings: Daily, 9 am to 5 pm Budget: '20 for adults
Food: Carry food
Water: Carry water
Rest Room facilities: No
Where else to go: Hungry Minds, Pawfect Life — Dog Daycare Centre, Juhu Beach, Funky Monkey.
Parent Poll: Interesting site. Ideal for school kids, who are learning about Buddhist architecture in class.
Kids' Poll: Spooky and too quiet
What's Good: Fine example of cave architecture
What's Not So Good: Needs better maintainenance. No guide in sight to help visitors. The ASI office is a tin shed.
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