Elephanta Caves

Posted on March 5, 2014

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The slow boat over was exactly that. We were going against the current. Surprisingly the boat left dead on time at 1430. Wow a miracle, the first mode of transport in India that has been punctual. I paid the extra 10p to sit on top desk, found a seat and closed my eyes.

All the passengers apart from one Norwegian couple were Indians. I was the only NRI. Elephanta Caves is an island about 9 miles from Mumbai and is home to some stunning 7th century caves which were filled with impressive Shiva statues under the order of the King at the time. When the Portuguese invaded they defiled a lot of them, but some are still intact. There is one impressive large cave and the others stand empty.

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The island is shut to tourists on a Monday and that’s when all the islanders go over to Mumbai mainland. It’s a beautiful sleepy little fishing village – that’s the main source of work after tourism.

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As you disembark from the boat be warned there is the usual bonkers rush to squeeze five people into a gap barely large enough for one. After two weeks in India, I’ve now started pushing back!

It’s a bloody dangerous way to get off a boat because you have to through several boats, all bobbing in the water so you are boat hopping to get to the shore. I am sure people must have fallen in between vessels after all the shoving.

I picked up a local guide, his name was Manoj.

“Manoj I want the highlights. Don’t go on and on and on. The most important facts. Let’s do this in less than an hour, ok?”

“Yes Ma’ma no problem,” he said shaking his head from side to side in agreement.

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Manoj has lived here all his life and has two little boys age two and seven. His wife stays at home with the kids. Guides are rarely hired by Indians. I was only his second job that day and probably his last given the time.

The walk up is pleasant enough. There are 120 steep steps up the mountainside. In the heat of the sun it is tougher than it looks. All the villagers have stalls selling food, clothes and trinkets.

Locals live here but so do a large population of monkeys. The problem is the macaques have become so habituated they have also become incredibly aggressive. The tourists end up feeding them junk food they have brought with them and now they actively go up to people and aggressively raid bags, snatch bottles of water out of people’s hands and any food you are carrying. I came without food and had my water safely zipped up. I saw several people get scratched and close to being bitten.

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There was so much teeth baring and vocalising it was quite an awful scene. There are signs everywhere saying ‘Beware of the Monkey’s’ (why they had to put an apostrophe Lord only knows?!!)

None of the Indians I saw care about the litter they drop. The place looks terrible. This is a world heritage site. It was awarded this status in 1987. Carrying food with you should be banned here. The cows and goats are also getting in on the act. I saw one South East Asian women scream her head off after a large brown cow came over and licked her grilled corn on the cob. She had paused to look at something and he went for it. She staggered backwards screaming and wailing, the cow gave chase and she dropped the corn and fled in tears. What a palaver.

I also bought some grilled corn on the way back but I got the seller to wrap it back in its leaves and I stuffed it onto my rucksack to munch on the boat back.

Here are some of the incredible statues:

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Posted in: India