So on a Sunday morning, we both headed to the Gateway of India, to catch a ferry to the Elephanta caves. We managed to catch one of the early morning ones at about 9.15 am. With the unique background music of Sea waves & ferry's engine and Seagulls adding rhythm to it, we had the best setup for cherishing our old memories together and filling each other on latest happenings in both of our lives. Cool sea breeze was making the journey even more enjoyable, if chatting and laughing together was not enough. The journey was over before we realised it, and soon we were boarding a toy train taking us towards the caves. After the train journey we had to climb up a set of steps to get to the caves and although the weather was perfect, not too hot, not too cold, we were huffing and puffing by the time we were more than halfway up.
Both of us had done some research online before arriving there and one of the important tip was 'Beware of the monkeys', there were signs too placed at regular intervals asking visitors not to carry any food or drink in hands as monkeys may attack them and yet by the time we reached the top of the staircase, I was so parched that I took out a pack of cold drink impulsively. I had barely taken it out when a monkey appeared out of nowhere (trust me neither of us realised where it came from, though we were both facing each other and there were many people around us) and made an attempt to snatch it out of my hand, silly me!! Luckily, I managed to save my drink by shaking my hands just once and with a nail scratch on my finger. I guess while giving priority to hydration, my brain had conveniently skipped all those signboards and information read on the websites. Needless to say I had to pay the price for negligence with an injection and yet I was thankful that it was only nails and not teeth which scratched my finger, otherwise the price would have been more painful.
The caves are wonderful and it's a pity that many statues and intricate carvings were destroyed by Portuguese invaders who are said to have used these statues as targets to practice their shooting skills. To add to the damage, weather has ruined beautiful paintings leaving some traces of what must have been a heritage worth preserving. According to historians, the caves were created some time between 5th and 8th centuries. I was wondering how challenging it must have been back then with the limited resources and equipment. It was mesmerising to see our own heritage and appreciate the efforts put in by our ancestors to create these marvellous caves out of hills.
It took us barely 2-2.5 hours to cover all the caves at our own pace. As much as we would have loved to climb up the Cannon hill to get panoramic view of the surrounding area, the scorching heat and grumbling stomachs were suggesting otherwise and so we decided to head back for a relaxed lunch at Bhagat Tarachand. On the way back in ferry, we met a lovely couple who were out to explore Mumbai. They belonged to Mumbai and yet they had not visited all these interesting places in their own city for all these years. "Often we travel to other countries to visit historical places all the while ignoring all the gems in our own city" the lady told us, and it was so true. So they had set out like real tourists to see their own city.
After having walked around the caves most of the morning, we were starving and the food at Bhagat Tarachand felt heavenly. One thing which struck us both was the way waiters at this approximately 70 years old eatery were suggesting alternate options from the menu to avoid food wastage (i.e. if a customer was ordering something with large portion, then they would recommend half the portion for half the price). It was unusual and pleasantly surprising for both of us, where the outlet cared more about food wastage than earning more money, they redefined the word 'Ethics' and earned respect in my eyes instantly with that gesture. With the taste of the authentic Indian tasty food still fresh on our tongues we set out for the second part of our mission, a visit to Crawford Market, but more about it sometime later.
Tips for visiting Elephanta caves -You need to buy tickets for the ferry outside Gateway of India, it is accessible from both Churchgate (western line of local trains) and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.
The ferries start at around 9 a.m. and I would recommend you catching an early one. The advantages are less crowd and pleasant weather to roam around on the island.
Don't worry even if you are not carrying any food or drinks with you, there are outlets at the island itself to buy those. However do carry at least some water to survive on till you reach the island. (But don't take any of those out until you are inside the caves ;) ).
There are guides available at the island for Rs. 400-800 (they can club multiple people/groups if there are only one or two of you).
You can find more information about the caves and useful tips here - www.elephanta.co.in
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