The ancient Elephanta Caves are located about 10 kilometres, east of Mumbai, on the island of Gharapuri and also synonymously called the Elephanta Island in Maharashtra and date back over 3,000 years. These Caves are a striking location that combines history, adventure, and natural beauty. Elephanta caves have become a major tourist attraction in India, which is most obvious given the fact that they have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. They were named after an elephant statue discovered in the mid-1500s by Portuguese invaders after capturing the Gujarat Sultanate. Besides being the most valuable compilations dedicated to Lord Shiva, Elephanta Caves are also one of the most notable examples of Indian art and sculpture. It takes around an hour by boat to get to the caves from the Gateway of India. The Elephanta Caves are a popular tourist destination for both Indian and foreign nationals.
Due to a dearth of historical proof, it's nearly impossible to say who built the Elephanta Caves or predict the exact period of their construction. However, after comparing it to other caves in the region, it is assumed that Elephanta Caves have been built close to the 6th century AD, possibly by a ruler from Kalachuri Dynasty or by Chalukya Dynasty. The Elephanta caves were badly ruined by the time the British took control of Bombay in the 17th century. Natural forces had wrecked large areas of the park. As Mumbai expanded, Hindu devotees started visiting the caves all over again to pray there. It's only in the 1970s that the Indian government reinstated the caves seeing their growing popularity and turned them into a tourist attraction. The Archaeological Survey of India is currently in charge of them.
The Elephanta Caves are a multi-cave structure comprising seven carved caves, a main chamber, 2 extra side chambers, temples, and patios. Here are some of the caverns' outstanding features and things to do while exploring them. The sculptures at the Elephanta Caves are a mix of traditions and aspects from both Hindu and Buddhist cultures, since certain caves are dedicated to Buddhism and others to Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Two separate hills hold seven caverns divided into two groups. On Gun Hill, also known as Cannon Hill, lies 1-5 Hindu caves dedicated to Lord Shiva whereas Buddhist caves 6 and 7 are located on the island's eastern Stupa Hill, at a distance. Stupa Hill is not visited much because of the dilapidated condition of the caves. Cave 1 is the major draw as it contains Lord Shiva's exquisite carvings in ten various manifestations. It also shows Lord Shiva’s wedding with Goddess Parvati, Ravan lifting Mount Kailasha and Shiva killing Andhaka, the demon son of Lord Shiva who was born blind. The most remarkable is a stunning 22 foot Trimurti, which depicts three faced Shiva as the universe's destroyer, creator, and preserver. One of the most notable artifacts for the Shiva faith is the fifteen massive reliefs surrounding the lingam chapel in the main Elephanta Cave. Other sections of the caves hold shrines dedicated to Shiva’s sons, Kartikeya and Ganesh. This cave is often related to Dhumar Lena Cave 29 at Ellora. Caves 2-4 are virtually empty of carvings, thus there's less to see there. The disintegrating passageway to the right of the caves' entrance leads to the top of the hill, where two large cannons can be found. In addition, the summit offers breathtaking views of the entire island. However the main cave is the key attraction as it is notable for its vastness and magnificent sculptures. This prime cave features a main entrance on the Northside, two extra side entrances, and a Centre Hall with six rows of towering columns.
Elephanta Caves and the island stands at a distance of approximately 11 kms from Gateway of India and takes about an hour to reach by boat. The boats depart every 30 minutes from there. You can choose luxury or the standard boat whereby the luxury boat is only a tad better than the standard one. By sitting on the upper deck of the boat by paying a bit extra you get to see the lavish Taj Palace Hotel and Gateway of India together at one go. The boat journey is pleasant and enjoyable as you will experience the cool breeze and get to observe birds flying close to the boat or floating peacefully on the lake. You can take a toy train or choose to get carried on a chair tied to two wooden poles.
Upon reaching the jetty, you will need to hike up 120 stairs from the island's pier to get to the caves' entrance. Souvenir and food kiosks line the stairwell leading up to the caves. You can stock up on everything that you need to eat and drink. However, keep an eye out for the troublesome monkeys patrolling the area and keep any refreshments away from them. They're notorious for being violent and stealing. Alternatively, you can eat at the government-run restaurant near the cave entrance. Tourist guides are also available just in case you need some guidance around Elephanta Caves. For an enriching experience, you should also visit the island's settlements to learn about the culture of the Agri and Koli fishing communities who live there.
There are a few restaurants lined up near the Elephanta Caves where you can have your meals. They are StarBucks, Young Chilli, Kazipura, Elephanta Port Restaurant and Bar, Elephanta’s good food.
Other places that you can visit around the Elephanta Caves are Nhava Sheva, Kwan Kung Temple, Hasnabad Dargah, Our Lady of Rosary Church, Mother of Jesus Church.
Mumbai which harbours these caves is one of Maharashtra's most inhabited and largest cities and also known as the entertainment and financial centre of India. Also referred to as the "City of Dreams.", Mumbai is a city bursting with energy and has a fast-paced environment. The core of Mumbai features some of the best and most magnificent colonial buildings, and if you wander out into the backstreets, you'll find various unique bazaars, temples, fine restaurants, and a unique nightlife.
November to February is the ideal period to visit the Elephanta Caves. Monsoons are to be avoided as the rains are heavy in Mumbai during this period.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, Mumbai is about 19 kms from Gateway of India. All major cities are connected like Amritsar to Mumbai, Jaipur to Mumbai, Indore to Mumbai, Lucknow to Mumbai. Cabs are available from there. Flights are available to Mumbai from all major cities of the country.
Elephanta Caves are not to be missed if you wish to travel back in time.