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Elephanta Island

Cave one of five.

sunny 36 °C
View Indian Caves and Temples Tour 2011 on Grete Howard's travel map.

A short car ride through relatively empty streets (it is Saturday morning after all), took us to the Gateway of India which was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay in December 1911. One of the most recognisable landmarks of Mumbai, it is full of crowds day and night. The reason for our visit was twofold – first of all to see the Gateway, and secondly to catch a boat to Elephanta Island. Even at 09:00 the temperature was already heating up, unlike yesterday when the heat didn't really become oppressive until around 14:00. This doesn't bode well for the 120 steps to the caves on Elephanta Island.

India_Gate.jpg

The boat trip was just long enough for a snooze, and to be honest there wasn't much to see en route unless you are into oil rigs and offshore cargo docks. One mad rush signals the landing of the boat on the island, and everyone scrambles to catch the little train that takes you from the end of the pier to the bottom of the steps. To my relief, the steps were not only covered from the unforgiving sun by a blue tarpauling, they were interspersed with longish stretches of gentle slopes, with shopping opportunities aplenty both sides of the path.

The island is uninhabited apart from a troupe of aggressive monkeys who are expert thieves (as the lady behind us found out when her bag of picnic stuff disappeared up a tree quicker than you could say sandwich). Later a stand-off between monkey and human occurred, with a lot of hissing and growling – mostly by the monkey. I'm not sure who was most frightened, me or the monkey, but the final score was Grete one, monkey nil.

Monkey.jpg

There are seven caves in total on the island, although some are still unfinished. The caves contain some amazing Hindu religious carvings, including an enormous statue of the three headed Sadhashiva, representing Shiva as the Destroyer, Creator and Preserver of the Universe. They date from the 9th century and are now protected by UNESCO which is just as well, as bored Portuguese soldiers used to use the ancient carvings as target practice when they were stationed on the island, causing unforgivable damage. I have to confess that some of the mythological tales Serene was explaining to us went whoosh over my head.

Elephanta_Caves.jpg

Back in the city we headed to the famous and infamous Leopold café. Famous because it has been a Mumbai institution since 1871, and infamous because it was targeted by the terrorists during their bombing of Mumbai in 2008. Fortunately the atrocities appear not to have put the patrons off, as the café was full to bursting; it is said that everyone who visits Mumbai ends up here at some stage during their stay.

On reading the complimentary paper in the hotel room yesterday morning, we had a little bit of a flap on as the headline stated that 130 pilots had walked out on the beleaguered Kingfisher Airlines after they cancelled 36% of their flights. Gulp. Our onward flight is – you guessed it – with Kingfisher! Reception kindly checked on the flight for us and it all appeared OK. Phew. Later in the day we had a text from Sabu (of Icon India tours who arranged our whole trip) to say the flight times had changed and was now an hour earlier. No problem, and later we managed to check in on line using my new dongle! We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, but almost ended up boarding the wrong flight as we were too busy chatting to some new found friends who were travelling to Ahmedabad rather than Aurangabad. We just heard the 'bad bit at the end, and joined the queue. Wrong bad.

Indian bureaucracy is alive and well in the airports too, or is it just a job creation scheme? They thoroughly check your tickets and passport before you are even allowed to enter the terminal building, then again at check in obviously. At security your boarding card is checked and duly stamped (woman and men enter different areas), and the officers at the X-ray stamp the airline luggage labels for each and every item of hand luggage. At the gate your boarding card is scanned and before you get on the transfer bus they ensure your labels are correctly stamped. If not, you go back with your carry-on to the security area while everyone else waits on the, as happened to a Canadian lady on the flight. Boarding cards are again checked before you enter the plane.

Indians may be good at red tape, but they also excel at hospitality – greeting us at reception in the Aurangabad hotel with the words: “Miss Grete?” before we even opened our mouths.

Posted by Grete Howard 08:41 Archived in India

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