Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Elephanta Island, Mumbai

Taj Palace Hotel and Tower, Gateway of India
Elephanta Island or Gharapuri (literally "the city of caves") has caves that are one of the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Mumbai city. It is a lovely experience that’s definitely a must do if you’re visiting Mumbai.

The best way to get there is to take an early boat from the Gateway of India jetty on the Apollo Bunder for a delightful 1-hour ride across the harbor. There are great views of the Taj Palace Hotel, the naval dockyards, nearby islands and colorful ferryboats.

Once there it’s a long steep climb to the caves up steps that are lined with stalls selling all the usual trinkets and snacks. At least stopping at the stalls can give you a break from the long climb up the stairs to the temples. It’s worth it though…

The Elephanta Caves are the home of Lord Shiva and a perfect example of Hindu cave culture in the Arabian Sea. It is situated about 10 km (6 mi) from Mumbai on the east side of the harbor.  It owes its name to an enormous stone elephant found there by Portuguese navigators that’s no longer there. The elephant was cut into pieces and removed to Mumbai and put together again. Today it's the the stone guardian of Jijamata Udyaan, a zoo and garden in Mumbai.

There are a lot of interesting sculptured panels there with Shiva as the main attraction in most of them. The only sculpture not damaged by the Portuguese soldiers, who used the panels for shooting practice, is the central Trimurti or the three headed Shiva.

While returning to Mumbai, the view of the Taj Palace and Gateway of India with the sunset in the background is an exceptionally beautiful way to end the day. The trip is perfect for people who want to be away from the noise and crowds of Mumbai and have a peaceful and natural experience. Highly recommended!

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