|Opening Times||:||The caves are closed on Mondays, but you may still be sold Ferry Tickets and not be told.|
|Ferry Price (Return):||:||– Adult: 200 Rupees (approx. £2.20/$3) |
– Child: 125 Rupees (approx. £1.40/$1.80)
The first boat out to the island is at 9am and the last is 3pm.
Boats run every 30 minutes.
The first return boat is at 12pm and the last is 5:30pm
|Entry Price||:||– Indian: 30 Rupees |
– Foreigners: 500 Rupees (£5.30/$7.30)
Note: There is a “tourist tax” on the island of 5 Rupees per person to enter the village.
|Location||:||Elephanta Island, Maharashtra, India|
You’ll need to get a ferry from behind the Gateway of India. We stayed within walking distance, but you can easily get a taxi (no rickshaws in this part of Mumbai).
The official ticket point is before you go through the security for the Gateway of India (as you look at the entrance, head right and you will see a few ticketing windows – one is labelled as “Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation”, which is the official place to get Ferry Tickets.
Another couple who we were chatting to got their ticket at Gate number 4 where the boat leaves from– they paid the same as us, but we had read warnings about buying tickets away from the official window.
Another of India’s plethora of UNESCO World Heritage Sights, these caves date back to as far a the 5th century and are predominately dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
The Elephanta Caves were named by the colonial Portuguese in the 1500’s because they had found elephant statues on the island. The caves were in use as a place of worship up until the Portuguese Merchants took control. Whilst Portuguese soldiers reportedly damaged several of the statues and carvings, the colonial British started restoration work when Portugal conceded the island to them in the early 1900’s.
Arriving at the island
After the hour-long ferry ride, you’ll need to walk along the causeway and up a lot of steps (there is a mini railway that will shave a few minutes off the walk for around 10 INR, which will drop you at the base of the steps). Here is where you will pay the tourist tax of 5 Rupees per person.
There are Sedans (a chair that you sit in which is lifted on poles by up to 4 people) to help get up and down, but we didn’t note the price as we didn’t use them).
As you climb the gruelling 120 steps (it may not sound like much but in 35 degree heat, it was a struggle), you’ll see plenty of stalls lining the sides selling a large variety of souvenirs (Tip: save the shopping spree until on the way down) and a few restaurants and shops to buy water or stop for lunch.
Once at the top (pat yourself on your sweaty back in celebration), you can buy your entry tickets.
Note: We heard about a scam where the security person who checks and hole punches your tickets may try and keep them. This is so another guard can perform a “random ticket check” and fine you for not having tickets. You just need to be firm if the first guard doesn’t give them back and you won’t have an issue.
Elephanta has a total of 7 caves. The first being the main cave which is where you will see the only carvings dedicated to Shiva, which are cut directly into the cave walls. This cave is reminiscent of something you could expect in the world of Tomb Raider, and if they weren’t full to the brim with tourists, we imagine you would be able to feel the age of the stone in the air.
Caves 2-5 are along the main walkway, and whilst worth looking in (considering you have spent money and time to get there), aren’t really a highlight as any artwork is mostly destroyed but caves are cool anyway, right?
Caves 6 and 7 are to the north of the main cave, reached by a narrow path, but tourists often miss these as they aren’t well signposted.
As there is little (to nothing) to see in the other caves, this is where you will spend most of your time.
Known as the Grand Cave, the carvings inside depict Shiva in various forms, such as Yogishvara (Lord of Yoga) and some show various legends about his life such his marriage to Parvati.
The most important of the carving on the south wall is the Trimurti, which shows a 3 headed Shiva as the creator, preserver and destroyer (check out the main picture at the top of the article).
You’ll notice as you climb the steps up to the cave complex entrance, monkeys sitting on the walls and fences. These ones appeared to be moderately well behaved little primates. Once you get into the complex though, things will change. Adorable as they are, the monkeys here are little bastards’ rascals. We saw many monkeys sneaking around people who sat under the trees, stealing water bottles and other paraphernalia, directly from bags. They will also raid the bins and won’t think twice of snatching food from your hands.
Whilst they didn’t appear overly aggressive, we had read that some incidents had occurred, usually because children and teenagers enjoy teasing and scaring the monkeys, resulting in retaliation.
As a rule, if you don’t bother them then they won’t bother you. Guards around the complex will carry sticks that they hit against railings and bricks to scare the monkeys off if they become too brazen.
Is it worth the effort
We think so.
Whilst we enjoyed the carvings in the Great Cave, our main memory is the adventure we had overall. From battling the ticket touts, finding the location of the boat, trekking the (get ready for a slight exaggeration)… billions of steps up to the caves and becoming Lara Croft like explorers in Shiva’s temple (disclaimer – we didn’t wear the hot pants due to several modesty and decency laws that we would have broken), it had left us with memories, which is really what our time away from home is all about.