Sunday 6 January 2013

Boat Ride to Elephanta Island

Elephanta Island is located about seven miles out to sea from the Gateway of India, right in the middle of Mumbai harbour.  It is one of Mumbai's main historical and tourist attractions but Mr Jules and I only just got around to visiting it yesterday.  This was partly because we had been waiting for the climate to cool down a bit - the temperature in Mumbai is just sooooo nice at the moment!

Pulling away from the pier - The Gateway of India and the Taj Palace Hotel in the distance.
We paid our 150 Rs each for a deluxe ticket (which is not much more than a regular ticket costing 120 Rs) and found our boat at pier 4 behind the Gateway monument itself.  When we got there, the vessel was already almost full, so we paid another 10 rupees each to go up on to the top deck (they never miss a trick eh?). From what I can tell 'deluxe' means you are assured a seat on one of these double-decker boats instead of cramming on to the floor or standing on one of the single-decker boats.  From afar this looked a bit more fun to me, perhaps we should have tried it.  Oh, and there is also a chap that comes around selling crisps and cold drinks in deluxe class.

'Economy' boat

After a pleasant one hour journey on calm seas and sailing past the huge oil tankers that stop to offload at the oil refineries on Butcher Island, we arrived at the end of the Elephant Island pier.  From there, we opted to take the toy train to near the foot of the hills, and then we walked up the market stall-lined incline to the caves.  There was also the option of being carried in a sedan chair for the final kilometre but there was no way I could have inflicted my weight on those skinny sedan chair carriers!

Four men to take this little girl up to the top.  Glad I didn't ask them for a lift!

There did in fact used to be an elephant on Elephanta Island...but only a stone one.  Previously, the island was known as Gharapuri (fortress of the Shaivite priests) but Portugese explorers renamed the Island after discovering a massive stone elephant on the shore.  Unlike most of the "unheathen" stone statues on Elephanta, which were used for target practice by the Portuguese, this stone elephant managed to survive until 1814, when it finally succumbed to erosion.  It was later rescued by British archaeologists (yaaay!) who reassembled the pieces next to the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla.

The ex-Elephanta Island Elephant now in Byculla (picture courtesy of Anuracha Shankar)

After paying the various entry fees, we spent a couple of hours having a look at the carvings and stupas, strolling around the caves, taking a cup of chai and enjoying the views from the various vantage points. 
The main temple at Elephanta is an impressive complex of shrines, caverns, open courtyards and prayer halls created by the Maurya civilisation in the 6th century. Further up the hill from the main temple are another three smaller caves with unfinished or defaced carvings.  Actually, Mr Jules and I were both of the view that the Buddhist caves at Kanheri in Sanjay National Park were not only more plentiful and varied, but also  more entertaining to look at than these caves (due to the defacing of many of the Shivaite figures at Elephanta by those naughty Portuguese).  However, you can tell that these sculptures must have been, at one time, absolutely stunning.  And I loved the cute little Ganesha carvings at the top of many of the columns.

A selection of images including ones showing several entrances to the caves.  Bottom left is a cute, if somewhat defaced Ganesha carving at the top of one of the columns.

Apparently if you hike up the hill just before the main entrance to the complex, you will find several unadorned cave temples hidden away in the forest.  However, we didn't take the walk as the boat ride back to get lunch at the newly opened Pizza Express in Colaba was beckoning!
Here are the photos from Elephanta:
The centrepiece of the temple and as tall as a double-decker bus is the statue of Mahesh Murti,depicting Shiva as creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe.  The statue has three faces: in the middle is Shiva the Creator with a look of serene contemplation, to the right is Vamdeo - the feminine preserving incarnation of Shiva and to the left, is the severe looking Rudra - the destroyer of the universe. Scary!
Shake those hips! This is Gangadhara Shiva - or Shiva carrying the River Ganges. I thought this was actually another one of the sculptures (not photographed) called Nataraja - The King of the Dances..looks more apt!

Kalayansundar Murti - depicting the marriage of Shiva to Parvati

A colourful line of sedan chairs

A couple of slightly ironic Maharashtra Tourism signs

This annoys us...but nothing you can do about it

The toy train which takes you to the end of the very long pier and a bit further
Yoga Monkey.
Looks so sad :(
We got to the Gateway of India at 10am and were back in Colaba by 3pm, making it a nice half day out if you are on a schedule.  If you are going to visit on a weekend, as we did, it is advisable to get on a boat as early as possible  as it gets very crowded on the Island. The first boat is at 9am.  The first boat back from Elephanta is at noon and the last one 5pm.  It is currently 150 Rs return for deluxe or 120 Rs economy.  Expect to pay another 10 Rs each to enter the village (panchayat), 10 Rs each return for the train - which is a bit of fun if you've got kids - and a further 250 Rs each entry into the cave complex (10 Rs for Indian Nationals).


  1. Nice pictures. We went there a while ago - and yes it was a bit hot but not too bad. Followed up with a long weekend at Ellora and Ajunta Caves in Aurangabad.

  2. When I write about specific things in India, I often refer to the wonderful film "Outsourced". In this case, there is a scene of the two main characters going to Elephanta Island
    Regarding the ticket counter, it was similar to that of the Golkonda Fort in Hyderabad where I had to pay significantly more than my wife. I suppose that this is how it is throughout the world. Living in San Francisco, I went to the Zoo and was able to pay a little bit less because I could verify my S.F. address. Once I get my PIO Card, I hope that I can convince places to give me the lower price.



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