Located close to the concrete jungle of Mumbai, the Elephanta Caves lie just off the coast of the Arabian Sea, situated at a 10 km radius from the bustling metropolis. One of the oldest rock cut structures in the country, the Elephanta Caves are the perfect expressions of archaic Indian art associated to the cult of Lord Shiva. Primarily believed to be the abode of Lord Shiva, the Elephanta Caves are an epitome of Hindu Cave culture and are a unique testimony to a bygone civilization. The origins of the Elephanta Caves have been debated time and again, though the sculptures and the art speak volumes about the time from when they could have been popular-6th or the 8th century. The island on which the caves are built was originally known as Gharapuri, and the Portuguese retitled it as Elephanta Island when they discovered a large stone structure of an Elephant on the island. The temple was primarily built for the worship of Lord Shiva and 'Shivaism'. However, it is believed that the Portuguese destroyed many other structures and even used the idols of Hindu Gods within the caves for target practice. Today, the site is a popular tourist hot-spot.
Elephanta Caves - UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Elephanta Island is a quiet and picturesque island with green foliage and harmless primates scampering about. One of the main places to see on this island would be the Elephanta Caves. Upon entering the caves, a massive hall supported by large pillars and a large 'Mahesamurti' statue will greet you. This remarkable, three-headed Shiva sculpture is the main attraction of this island. Other sculptures of Shiva, in the 'Shiva Nataraja' and 'Ardhanarishvara' forms, can also be seen here. The entire cave complex is about 60,000 sq. feet and is made out of natural rock. If you are looking to capture beautiful pictures with the Arabian Sea in the background, head out of the caves and you will come upon the beautiful Elephant-shaped rock structure. Those wishing to laze around and soak in the nature can spend the evening exploring the island with a guide or walk up the Cannon Hill or just relax on the beach.
A small island just off the coast of the Arabian Sea may be the least expected place for shopping for souvenirs, but get ready to be pleasantly surprised with the collection of local Elephanta souvenirs that you can take back home. Once you are on the island, a short walk uphill will bring you to the local flea market. A paradise for women, this little market offers sculptures made of marble, jewelery, clothes, paintings of Lord Shiva and many amazing items of wood work. If you are collecting Indian artifacts, then there is no better place to shop for souvenirs than the Elephanta Caves. While the prices are a bit exorbitant, it always helps to know the basics of bargaining in the world of barter-especially at unique and beautiful places like the Elephanta Caves.
If you are interested in local Indian food, an MTDC run resort offers a fine local spread at a reasonable cost. There are other local food vendors at Cannon Hill and outside the caves selling wild berries, tea, coffee and other refreshments if you are just looking for quick snacks.
Overnight stays on Elephanta Island are not permitted. However, if you want to rest during the daytime, the MTDH (Maharashtra Tourism Department Hotel) is a good place to take a quick siesta! This hotel also serves food and drinks. The check-out time at this hotel is at 5:00 PM.
How To Reach
To go to Elephanta Caves, one will have to go to the Gateway of India in Mumbai and take a boat/ferry ride from there. The journey takes one hour by sea. Tickets for a deluxe boat are Rs. 140 for adults and Rs. 90 for children. Economy boats charge Rs. 20 less on both tickets. The first boat leaves at 9:00 AM and the last boat from the island leaves at 5:00 PM.
The Elephanta Caves is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai metropolis. This trip to the caves will take you back in time, when faith, religion, hard labor, art and romanticism served as a base for everyday living. The Elephanta Caves are a glorious testimony to the aesthetics of a forgotten world and stand as one of the most popular tourist destinations, along with being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.