Category Archives: Caves

Ellora Caves: Best ways to see

Tips: People tell me the best time to go is in November. This is for lush greenery and nice temperatures. They also say the rainy season is good for the waterfalls that run right past the caves. So that means June on into November. Take shoes with good tread for the rainy season because these rocks can get slick, and I personally would take a walking stick for this weather.

The posh experience: For luxury in India, it is my bet that you can’t beat the Taj hotel and its affiliates. Just be aware that you get what you pay for. These hotels can be as expensive as nice hotels in Seattle and New York City. But their service is phenomenal.

Authentic and more affordable Ellora caves experience: For much lower prices but to still get a safe and enjoyable experience, I have a couple of people to recommend. These guys are “hometown” men and know the region better than anyone. I have full confidence in them and they are who I would contact if I ever decided to return to the region. They can get you an affordable hotel walking distance from the caves! If you want to support local people, this is a great way to do it.


Mr. Sadeek speaks fairly good English. He knows everyone who is anyone in town. People go to him to get their problems solved. In other words, he’s the man.

The other person I met I don’t have permission to share his name and contact number simply because I didn’t ask. This person took me on a wonderful tour of Khaldabad, the resting place of Aurangzeb himself, and he too knows everyone. Younger and less experienced than Sadeek, this man is highly honorable. If interested, contact me via this blog and I can ask him if I can share his contact info.

For the finest cloth I have ever seen, hand spun on looms, you must visit this place. It is fairly close to Ellora caves.

I will be shopping with them online and possibly via WhatsApp.

And for great, trustworthy, knowlegable cab drivers, my choice is:

The Caves at Elephanta Island

Located 9 km into the Arabian Sea, off the coast of Mumbai, is the small island known as Elephanta. Formerly, as with most things in Mumbai, it used to have a different name, Gharapuri, which means the place of caves.

These caves contain magnificent statues carved from rock and are thought to date back to approximately the 5th century AD. The caves are named after the basalt elephant that the Portuguese saw as they approached the island. This Elephant now resides at a museum in Mumbai.

Spoiler alert: I did not see all the caves. There is one primary cave that the Portuguese did their best to destroy back in the 1600s. The others are much more “Spartan” and after seeing three caves, I was good, what with the heat and the tourists, stray dogs, monkey families, and random young men approaching for photos, plus the prospects for a ladies room looking pretty slim, I decided not to be a hero about this tourism stuff. And, since the 20 hours of flying I had just done, both my feet have swollen up like balloons with the swelling crawling up my legs toward my knees.

Regardless of the defacement performed by the mindless idiots several hundred years ago, proving once again that humanity’s stupidity is timeless, regardless, the cave sculptures were pretty cool.




Elephanta Island

Here’s a tip for anyone well adapted to cold but not heat—go in the morning! Take the first ferry, which leaves at 9 a.m. 

Someone tried to stop me on the way to the ticket office and convince me to go in the afternoon, but that would have the wrong choice for me.

The trip takes about an hour. To sit on the upper level, you have to pay 10 rupees more. Either place, top or bottom seemed fine. I opted for the top.


Once you get to the island, you take a small train to the base of a hill you must climb to see the caves.

Porters will carry you up the hill for about 1200 rupees.


I chose to walk in hopes of relieving the swelling in my feet that happened after my 20 hour fight in.

It was a hike, but doable.

I had hoped to see the rest of the island, but proved to be too harsh an environment for me. Heat, bugs, mosquitoes, seemingly abandoned dogs, monkeys, and people eyeing me, sometimes not in an entirely friendly fashion.

These people laughed at me for how I was wearing my scarf (incidentally it was like a babushka), so I questioned them about it and then took their photo.


See, still smirking. They said there was nothing wrong with my scarf, I think they just couldn’t find the words. So, here’s me with the scarf.

I thought maybe it was the color or the pattern, but the concierge at the Taj said that this is how old women in remote Indian villages wear their scarves out of modesty and respect.

Later on someone really liked my scarf. So there.

Elephanta Caves — Planning

I love history and archaeology, so the moment I learned about the Elephanta Caves (a World Heritage Site), I knew they were first on my list. Although it’s unknown who built these caves or when, art historians have placed these caves at the 5th to 8th century A.D. Some say these caves are not man made.

The Elephanta Caves on are Elephanta Island, which is east of Mumbai (old?) and west of Navi (new) Mumbai. The island is 1.5 miles in length, and the journey there by ferry will take about an hour. Mango, tamarind, and karanj trees cover the island.

Below is a map of my new stomping grounds: (click to enlarge)

depart-to-elephanta-caves

Place/Activity Times Cost   When Closed Notes
Elephanta Ferry 9 a.m. — First boat leaves Apollo Bandar

2 p.m. — Last boat leaves Apollar Bandar

12 Noon — First boat departs island

5:30 p.m. — Last boat departs island

₹150 Mondays It takes one hour to get to the caves.

Boats leave every 30 minutes.

Elephanta Island and Caves

Please imagine that the images below fit together properly. Travel has no place for perfectionism. 😉

elephanta-island-north

elephanta-island-south

  • Historical Shiv Mandir (Northeast on Island)
  • Historical Shivja Temple (Northwest on Island)
  • Elephanta Caves (Central)
  • Elephanta Lake Garden (South Central)
  • Cannon Point (West)
  • Shree Datta Mandir, Gharapuri (South)
  • Gaondevi Temple (South)
  • Someshwar Mandir (South)

*******

New Word Alert!
Mandir — a Hindu Temple
Bandar — Port
Hillock — small hill or mound
Stupa —dome-shaped structure erected as a Buddhist shrine

*******

Here is what the inscription at the island says about the Elephanta Caves (take from a tourist video on YouTube):

The island of Elephanta, originally known as Gharapuri, derives its name from a massive stone image of Elephant now displayed in the “Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Garden” (Victoria Garden) in Mumbai. The cave complex of Elephanta comprises a total of 7 caves. Of them, 5 are in the lower western side, while 2 are at the eastern top of the hillock. Out of 5 caves at the lower side, the Cave No.1 is exclusively carved with various manifestation of Lord Shiva. It consists of a pillared hall with a small shrine and four entrance doors flanked by the guardians. While the massive but graceful figures of divinities, guardians, and certain architectural features, such as the square pillar with cushion capitals suggest Chalukyan influence, the depiction of mountains and clouds and the hairstyles of woman are  reminiscent of Gupta art.

Facing north this main cave consists of a sanctum and massive hall divided into 5 bays. The excellent carved panels on the walls of this cave include the Yogeshvara (Lord of Yoga), Nataraja Shiva (Cosmic Dancer), Shivaparvati, Ardhanarishvara Shiva, Kalyansunder Murti, and Maheshmurti. The ceiling of the  main cave is believed to have been originally painted with different colours. The Maheshamurti of Shiva is depicted on the south wall with three aspects of creation, protection, and destruction, revealing a masterpiece of Chalykyan Gupta art.

The circular pedastal in the open courtyard marks the seat of Nandi (Bull), the vehicle of Shiva. The side cave has a small shrine and a Pradakshinapatha (circumambulatory passage) with an interesting panel of Ashtamatrikas (eight mother goddesses) flanked by Kartikeya and Ganesha.

The other caves are plain and lesser embellished. The other antiquarian remains found in Elephanta Caves are stupa (3rd Century B.C.) at the top of the hillock Kshatrapa coins of the 4th century AD and some sculptures including Mahishasurmardini, four headed image, Brahma, Vishnu and Garuda.

This site was declared by the Archaeological Survey of India as a monument of national importance vides no. 2704-A, dated 26.5.1909 and thereafter inscribed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1987.

According to a Wikipedia article about the caves,  the Portuguese, who took power in 1534, did considerable damage to the caves. “Portuguese soldiers used the reliefs of Shiva in the main cave for target practice, sparing only the Trimurti sculpture. They also removed an inscription related to the creation of the caves.”