Set our alarms early so we had time to get ready and make our way to the Gate of India to catch the boat to Gharapuri (literally ‘the city of caves’ – aka Elephanta Island). Started walking towards the port as it felt incredibly less humid than last night. However, within 5 minutes of walking, we were both absolutely soaking! Decided to hail a taxi (there are no TukTuks in Mumbai – but the taxis are literally TukTuks with doors!!!) and for 60p, we carried on our journey with a breeze coming through the windows – so much nicer! Arrived at the Gate of India and immediately boarded a boat to take us go the island. Paid extra to sit on the top deck of the boat and got a really beautiful view of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel and the Gate of India. The hour long boat trip across the harbour was nice. Unfortunately, the smog was too heavy to see anything apart from a few boats and the island when we approached it. Once off the ferry, we avoided taking the toy train (which only took people about 200m) and walked to the entrance of the island. We then started making our way up the 150+ steps to the top of the hill. The path was lined with stalls selling all kinds of tourist tat and monkeys watching your every step to see if you had any food worth stealing!!
We visited the larger group of five Hindu caves first. The Hindu caves contain rock cut stone sculptures, representing the Shaiva Hindu sect, dedicated to the Lord Shiva. The rock cut architecture of the caves has been dated to between the 5th and 8th centuries, although it was ‘discovered’ by the Portuguese in 1534 after which the caves suffered severe damage. The caves are carved from solid basalt rock. All the caves were also originally thought to be painted in the past, but now only traces remain (you could only see traces of it when someone shone a torch on them!).
We have to say that they are some of the most impressive cave carvings we’ve seen! The main cave (Cave 1, or the Great Cave) is an intriguing latticework of courtyards, halls, pillars and shrines with a 6m-tall statue of Sadhashiva – depicting a three-faced Shiva as the destroyer, creator and preserver of the universe.
The remaining four caves aren’t as intricate as the first but were beautiful in there own way and, surprinsgly, weren’t as busy as the first cave (don’t think many tourists continued the walk up hill to see them!). Tried to find the last two caves, which hold Buddhist statues but they are, apparently, closed to the public. Headed up instead to the top of the hill where there are two cannons. The cannons weren’t particularly well kept but the view was nice – would have been even better on a clear day.
Headed back down to the harbour, watching American tourists getting whisked down the mountain on a chair that was carried by four men. Stopped to get some fruit and corn on the cob before getting the boat back across the harbour. Decided to pop into the Taj Mahal Palace hotel as the staircase is supposed to be amazing. Decided to treat ourselves to afternoon tea in their Sea Lounge – an amazing buffet of savoury and sweet dishes alongside finger sandwiches, scones and tea! Sat enjoying the view of the Gate of India, watching the world outside whilst listening to the live pianist on the grand piano. We both felt very undressed for such an amazing experience!!!
Headed back to the hotel via the Mumbai metro (after almost getting hit by a bus!!). Got asked by a local to be an extra in a Bollywood movie – Jayne heard that he needed western people to be in a ball dancing scene… I heard pole dancing scene!!! Needless to say, it didn’t seem very legitimate so we turned him down and, maybe, our only chance to make it big in the Indian film industry! Spent the evening back at the hotel planning our next few days in Mumbai and working out how to get to our next planned destination.