Elephanta Caves

The problem with Elephanta Caves is that it is too close to Mumbai. Despite being on the World Heritage list, not too many seemed to have visited it or remembered anything beyond the dirt and monkeys they had encountered during school picnics. Travel guides admitted that most of the sculptures were damaged. So when I decided to visit with a few friends, we decided to make it an easy relaxed trip, as much about the caves themselves as about the ferry and the company.

Boats go from the Gateway of India to Elephanta, starting from 9.30 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. The ride lasts for an hour, through relatively calm waters and at the disembarkation point, there is a cute toy train. In anticipation of the 200 steps we had to climb next, all of us decided to board the toy train which reached the steps in no time. From there, the climb turned out to be quite easy, wandering past the usual touristy shops. We picked up a guide book called ‘Guide to Elephanta’ by Pramod Chandra. Surprisingly, the one guide who offered his services was willing to charge us just 200 rupees. In the end, the guide book turned out to be pretty good investment since it turned out to be perfect guide to each panel, pointing us the details and telling the stories behind each.

Elephanta has one main cave in which are carved wondrous figures of Shiva in various settings – his wedding, slaying demons, in dance postures, yogic postures et al. I was taken aback by the expressions on each of Shiva’s faces. A lot of the figures were damaged, but enough had survived for us to admire. The most beautiful of the carvings, of Shiva as Tatpurush had three faces – one powerful, one of the destroyer and one of his feminine side. Each of them looked exactly the part.

The Andhakasura Vadh was my next favourite. Shiva as the raged god killing the demon Andhaka practically leapt out of the stone at us.

The Gangadhar – Shiva statue was also charming in its subtle depiction of human (and clearly divine) relationships. Everyone knows the famous story of how when the river, Ganges fell to earth, Shiva captured her in his matted locks and then gently released her to the earth as earth would not withstand the force of the river otherwise. The stone portrait captures Ganges falling on Shiva’s locks but the main story told is of Shiva assuring a rather miffed Parvati by a pat on her arm, that despite the presence of another woman, she was still the love of his life

After the main cave, we were pretty much done with the Island. The Buddha Stupa and a couple of caves were in forbidden forest territory. The other caves were empty or small and had nothing much to offer except for the excitement of going into a cave. ASI has a small museum that tells the story of the panels and has some information on other cave temples in Maharashtra. We did not venture into Cannon Hill, which lies atop Elephanta and has a cannon on display. We were quite tired by then and having reached the Island only in the afternoon, had just about enough time before the last ferry at 5.30 p.m. to lounge around in the MTDC restaurant. It was already winding up time, and the friendly MTDC waiters informed us that they had run out of all food but some stale sandwiches and excellent masala tea. We ordered both and watched the beautiful view of the sea.

On the way back, gulls flew all around us, picking at the food tossed by passengers. Nearer, Mumbai we could see the dull outline of the Taj and the dark silhouette of the Gateway of India.

Elephanta is a wonderful day trip for the winter and definitely worth a visit. Be sure to buy the guide book though.



They say that management is everything.

I had avoided flying Air Deccan in its more parsimonious days when it had developed a healthy reputation for scrimping by going so far as to cut off one engine during a flight (I kid you not. A friend’s friend definitely had had the experience)

However, now with Mallya in charge, and having experienced the glories of flying in Kingfisher I figured things must have improved. They certainly had. The stewardesses were all in tight red skirts. The in-flight reading material was a Cine Blitz. Infact, it was a bikini special. I was waiting for one of the little Tam kids to loudly ask her mom ‘Amma, why is this aunty wearing only her underwear?’

We were seated well in advance of departure time and kept looking around to wonder which moron (there is always one) was holding up the flight.

It turned out to be the pilot.

In his place rushed in two engineers looking fairly flustered. All of us in the aisle seats in the front few rows nearly broke our necks trying to scan and see what the problem was. Noticing the increasing curiosity and hoping to distract, the crew began to recite the safety instructions. That clearly agitated everyone because the possibility of having to actually use the instructions seemed fairly high at this point. Torn between listening to the air hostess and watching what was happening, eventually most of chose to gape at the wondrous lights flashing in the cockpit like they were the distant light at the end of the tunnel.

Time passed. Or rather stood still.

After a while the first officer introduced himself and announced ‘Sorry for the delay. It has been caused by traffic at the Mumbai terminal. We are in line for take off’

At this point I could almost hear the little Tam kid ask ‘Amma why is this uncle saying we are going to take off when the door is still open? Will the maintenance engineers jump off the flight with parachutes then?’

Finally, the maintenance guys looked happier and left the pilot to his own devices. The take off was fairly smooth and we were cruising along nicely. I spent a considerable amount of time wondering if I should take the veg or non-veg food. There was the chicken of course in favour of the latter. But there was qabooli channa biriyani in the former. When the food came, we were handed out simple dabbas. The menu card turned out to have been mistakenly slipped in from a Kingfisher flight. Nevertheless, I was tucking in nicely till the flight officer chose to announce that we were flying at a lower altitude than planned. Luckily the difference was a mere 2000 feet not what my imagination had leapt into. Yet, a lot of the passengers chose to stand up and take a Darshan of Tirupathi when the first officer announced we would be able to see it soon to our left. No harm taking some celestial insurance in these flighty (ha ha. What a pun) times

I breathed easy when we finally reached. Or atleast till the time a barrage of non-deoderized armpits reached out to take baggage from the overhead luggage bins. But that is another story...