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Elephanta Travel Guide

ElephantaNothing quite prepare you for the experience that is Elephanta. Even getting there is different from other trips. The motor launch from Mumbai's Gateway of India chugs out of the harbour, past fishing boats, large ships and little islands, buoys bob up and down. The northern coastline of Mumbai. reminds you of the changing industrial and technological scene. Attendant gulls hover motionless overhead, an occasional fish leaps out of the wake furrowing behind it is a pleasant hour and 15 minutes to Elephanta.

The history of elephanta is the hoary mists of time. Crowning the island's easteem hill, and commanding a panoramic view of wood-land, marsh and sea, are the Buddhist stupas' or burial mounds and cisterns. Their antiquity has been traced back to the third century or even earlier.

Once known as Puri - later Gharapuri - this island was the proud capital of a powerful coastal kingdom and the great cave shrine in praise of Shiva, excavated in the sixth century, added to the ruling dynasty. Several centuries later the Portugese took possession of the island. They found monolithic stone elephant at the place where they landed and also named this a ilha do elephanta, island of the elephant. There was a stone horse too, a little further, which has a vanished without a trace.

The Portugese built a fort here with a watchtower, hoisting up to flag to ward off Aattacks by pirates boats. Did they use the caves for target practice? Or did they deliberately desecrate the sculptures? Antonio Bocarro, Portugese chronicler of the 17th century described Elephanta vividity and made special mention of the cistern of water in the western cave: "There is also a large and deep tank of water without which the heathens of the East never build their pagodas; because among their other abominations they believe that water purifies and cleanses them".

Early European writes made wild gueses about the origin of the cave, as fanciful as they were off they mark. One wrote that he had heard it was built by the Chinese when they were sailing by. Another asserted that it was Alexander the Great who excavated the cave to the mark of the end of this conquests. The British followed the Portugese and there are some interesting 18th century accounts describing Elephanta. Captain Alexander Hamilton fired a gun into one of the caves,"…I never heard canon or thunder make such a dreadful noise, which continued for half a minute and the mountain seemed to shake". As soon as the noise subsided a serpent 15 ft. long emerged from the cave, sending Alexander Hamilton pelting down the hill.

ElephantaThe great stone elephant toppled over and was earmarking for the British museum, where it would have been had not the crane broken while attempting to split it. Jumbo was then moved to a city museum in Mumbai. Out of the launch you climb 120 steps up a steep hill. Birds and monkeys chatter amid the branches arching above; though the trees behind you the sea shimmers in the sunlight as you step into the clearing before the caves. This the, is Elephanta.


Regular launch services from the gateway of India take you to Elephanta Island throughout the year, except during the monsoon. If the steep climb up to cave is daunting, you can hire a chair and be carried up.


November to March is the ideal time. During May the crossing may be a little rough.


February sees an explosion of dance and music on the island when the Elephanta Festival is staged. Eminent artistes- dancers and musicians- perform under the stars outside the caves. Special launch services take you to the island and catering arrangements add to your comfort. Plan to visit Elephanta during Festival time.

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