The History of Elephanta Caves:
The caves are assumed to be built between the 5th and 8th century C.E. It consists of two Buddhist and five Hindu caves. The island was named ‘Elephanta’ by the Portuguese invaders after discovering a black stone sculpture of an elephant. Currently, the elephant sculpture is accommodated outside the island in Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai.
The Cave-1 is the most intact among the others and was an active worship place for Hindus until the 1500s when the Portuguese invaded and took control of the island. Cave-1 holds a massive 6m high sculpture of Trimurthi, with three faces of Lord Shiva located at the center of the cave. The interior design of the cave resembles the Ellora caves. Another structure that survived the invasion of the Portuguese is the Sitabai Temple, a large hall for prayer surrounded by rich and mesmerizing sculptures of Hindu deities.
Due to a lack of records, there is no information regarding the creators of the cave. The earliest surviving record recognizes Elephanta Islands as Purika or Puri, the capital of the Konkan Maurya kingdom during the 6th century C.E. The role of the empire in building the caves remains debated amongst historians.
How to Reach Elephanta Caves:
Elephanta Islands are located 10 kilometers to the east of Mumbai. The most convenient way to reach Elephanta Caves is via Gateway of India. BEST bus services are running from CSTM and Churchgate station that will charge you Rs.5 for a one-way trip. There are also shared taxi services you can avail of to reach Gateway of India. From Gateway of India, you can board a ferry to Elephanta Island. The ferry will take 1 hour to reach the destination.
The island is closed on Mondays. The timings to visit the same are from 9 am to 5 pm. The ferry usually charges Rs.230 for a round trip. As soon as you reach the island, you will have to pay Rs.5 to enter the island. You will have to walk for 30mins to reach the caves from the point where your ferry dropped you. There is also a toy train facility available that will cost you Rs.10 to drop you at the hill base. From there you will have to take stairs to reach the caves. UNESCO recognizes the caves as a World Heritage Site.
To enter the caves you will have to pay an entrance fee of Rs.40. If you follow the path to the right of the entrance to the caves and climb the hill further, you will reach the spot where a 20th-century British-era cannon is located. The location is not well maintained, and you can witness litter all around the cannon area.
Best Time to visit Elephanta Caves:
The best time to visit the caves is from October to February i.e. during the winter months. During the monsoon, from July to September, the ferry services are impacted heavily due to the unpredictable nature of the sea. Hence it is recommended to avoid visiting Elephanta Caves in the rainy season. Summer could be a good time to visit but the direct heat from the sun can make trekking a tedious task.
Is Elephanta worth visiting?
A trip to Elephanta caves will take your whole day. It will take 1 hour for the ferry to reach the islands and 1 hour to return. Being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Elephanta Caves holds a significant place among historians. The lack of an official record makes the sculpture more mysterious and will make you ponder throughout the trip.
If you are planning for a small getaway from the daily schedule, Elephanta Caves can be a good option for you. You can expect a good trekking experience, a serene ferry ride, a short toy train ride, and mesmerizing views on this trip.
Please make sure you carry sufficient water bottles and wear trekking shoes while visiting this trip. You can also find many shops from where you can get souvenirs at a reasonable price.