How to reach Elephanta caves : - The Elephanta caves are situated at an island 10 kms east of Mumbai harbor and the famous Gateway of India. For a trip to the famed Elephanta caves you have to first reach the Gateway of India. From the Gateway of India you buy the tickets for the ferry taking you all the way to the Elephanta Island. Remember the ferries operate every day from 9 am to 2 pm. The tour is normally of four hours duration. The ticket costs 200 Rs for an adult; the rates are for a two and fro journey to the Elephanta Island. The tickets are on first come first serve basis and the ferry leaves the moment all the tickets are sold. The journey to the Elephanta caves is an enchanting experience you get to see the hi sea view of the Mumbai Harbor specially against the backdrop of the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal hotel. The ferry passes across the huge ships waiting to be docked at the JNPT or the Mumbai port. The sea gulls are also an interesting sight on the upper deck of the ferry these birds approach the tourist for food. The elephanta cave location in the midst of the Arabian Sea gives you an opportunity to ride the waves.
The island and the History: - The island in local parlance is also called “Gharapuri” it means a village of caves. The Portuguese first discovered these caves after they captured this area in the sixteenth century. They came across an effigy of an elephant so they named the island in the name of the elephant as “Elephanta”. The elephant effigy still has been preserved and can be seen at the Jija Mata Udhyan of the Mumbai city.
As you alight from the ferry you can board a toy train to take you to the island main land. There are two hills connected with a sort of ravine. The east hill and the western hill. A flight of one hundred twenty steps will take you to the cave complex. These caves are supposed to be built around one thousand five hundred years back somewhere in 5th century to the 7th century ACE.
The caves are carved and excavated from the basalt rocks. The huge columns and the halls are all manually carved from the basalt hills of the Elephanta Island.
The caves at Elephanta are a world heritage site; they were accorded the UNESCO World Heritage status in year 1987. The caves and the carvings are not in pristine condition, the age and the years of neglect has resulted in irreparable wear and tear. Apart from the age the locals say that the Portuguese were also responsible for large scale destruction of these caves it is said the soldiers used the statues for the target practice, still the caves are quite interesting and they tell a story loud about an era bygone.
Entrance of the caves:- The caves are a ticketed monument of the Archaeological Survey of India, Indian tourists are supposed to pay 40 INR. While the foreign tourists are supposed to pay 600 INR, the children below the age of 15 are exempted from the entrance fees.
Art and architecture of Elephanta:- The excellent art work at the Elephanta ascribes to the Hindu and the Buddhist religions. Before the main caves were sculpted the main stay of the caves was Buddhism later Hinduism became the focus. There are total seven caves at Elephanta and the stupas related with Buddha. These caves in Mumbai are as famous as the famous caves of Ajanta and Ellora in Maharashtra state The cave no 2 is the most highlighted cave of the Elephanta cave complex it can be righteously called as the Shiva Cave. The entrance to the cave is not very remarkable just pillars are visible outside leading to the inner huge pavilion resting on 36 pillars, this hall or the Mandapam show cases the best art and the renowned sculptures of the Elephanta caves, The most famous statue is a 20 feet high statue of Lord Shiva having three faces, called Trimurti these three faces of Shiva describe the three different facets of Shiva, the destroyer the creator and the supporter of life. There are some other very well-known sculptures in this now defunct temple, Nataraj the dancing effigy of the Shiva, Kalyana – Sundara-Shiva, Ravana lifting kailash parwat. There are two lateral halls, the cave no 2 is the most remarkable out of the five Hindu caves on the west side hill. The east hill has two caves with the Buddhist connections; there are stupa mounds on the eastern hill supposed to be over 2000 years old. The western hill is also called the cannon hill as there are two cannons on the top. The east hill is called the stupa hill.
Remember no tourists are allowed to stay overnight at the Elephanta island the last ferry leaves at 6:30 pm for Mumbai. There are multifarious activities you can indulge in while you tour the Elephanta island.
1. Trek on the cannon hill:- you can go trekking on the cannon hill which is around 150 metre high, there is a variety of flora growing on this hill if you are a nature enthusiast then this trek is for you. There are two cannons situated at the top of the western hill this is the reason for the name Cannon hill.
2. Go shopping:- While you climb up to the caves, the way is lined by small shanties selling various small items, sun hats, souvenir etc are on sale if you love street shopping you can indulge in the shopping spree while you tour the Elephanta caves.
3. Street Food:- There is a variety of street food available at the Elephanta caves. If you love street food then this place is for you get going and enjoy the food.
The government of India is planning to build a state of the art ropeway connecting the Elephanta island with Mumbai city. This ropeway will be an 8 km stretch from Mumbai to the Elephanta Island. It will take mere 15 minutes to reach the Elephanta island via the ropeway, presently it takes more than an hour to reach the Elephanta islands using the ferry ride. The ropeway probably will start from Siwri Mumbai and it will be a PPP project (Public private partnership) ending at the Elephanta Island. The tourist footfall at the Elephanta island will sure see a spiral increase on execution of this rope way project.