Mumbai – Elephanta Caves and Bollywood
Apr 7, 2018
|Mumbai is the last stop in India. Toady’s tour is the Elephanta Caves, located on an island just off the coast of Mumbai. Actually, Mumbai started out seven islands that have gradually been joined together with landfill projects. Another Portuguese colony until sometime in the 1600’s when the Princess of Portugal married the King of England. Mumbai went to England as part of her dowry. It’s the Banking and Bollywood capital of India. Our guide told us the area where all the big banking skyscrapers are located was once a moat for the fort. They tore down the fort and threw all the stones into the moat as landfill.
Our ship is docked at a cruise terminal next to the Naval base and near the colonial area center. Its still a hopping place for banking, Universities and of course Bollywood. Several beautiful colonial buildings, like the train station where 3 million (yes that’s million) pass through each day to get to work. The Bollywood area has nice Art Deco. Someone said they heard it has more Art deco than South Beach Florida. We drove though nice areas in the 10 minute ride from the cruise terminal to the Gate of India pier to catch the boat to Elephanta Island. Security is tight as we have to go through metal detectors to go out onto the plaza area for the Gate of India. Memory of a terrorists attack in this area in 2006(?) with 180 people killed is still strong. The Gate of India is a huge structure, similar to the Arch de Triumph, built to commemorate a visit by King George of England. Mumbai became important to England during the American Civil War when the cotton supply from the US was cut off. Globalization even then!
The one hour ferry boat ride to Elephanta island passes through several other islands and LOTS of anchored ships. Between the hazy smog and still air, it felt as going through a ship graveyard. One of the small islands was a naval munitions station. Another was an oil platform and pipeline. We watched them pouring concrete to create another platform to support the pipeline.
The pier at Elephanta is very long, so they have a small narrow gauge train, that for 5 rupees ($0.10) will take you the quarter mile to the mainland. Glad we are there early in the morning as it s not too busy. When we come back in the afternoon, the pier is packed with Indian tourists that we have to fight our way through trying to get on, while we are trying to get off. Can’t imagine what the regular trains must be like with the crowds. It was a wall of people pushing to get on and we pushing through to get off. No sign of road rage, just the way it is.
The Elephanta caves are at the top of the hill, in the middle of the island. Its 120 steps up the incline. Not near as bad as Batu Caves as there are 2-4 steps with a flattish (downward incline) area. The walkway it covered in tarps and lined with vendor stalls. Four guys will carry you up in a litter chair for a fee. One of them went by empty. It would have been an interesting ride as the guys shoulder height ranged from under 5 foot to almost 6 feet tall making the litter chair very uneven. Mel and I make it ok to the top with just a little slowing down. Monkey’s are waiting to grab your food and water bottles. Actually I think they prefer Coke and will take your bottle, bite a hole in the bottom and suck it down.
The caves are welcomingly cool. Carved out of a solid piece of rock, ceiling are at least 20 feet high and a cool breeze comes through. Built as a place to stay and meditate, it has a cistern system that is used for the water on the island today. The statues are all carved right into the stone walls. The pillars are carved from the rock. Shiva is the principal deity here and is shown in many of his incarnations. Our guide explains you can tell its Shiva because he is sitting on a bull. Hence the reverence for cows in India. Must have taken years to build with the tools they had. Much of the lower half of the carvings were heavily damaged by Portuguese soldiers using them as target practice. Glad they got tired and left the rest alone.
Back down the steps, Mel and I are glad we have our walking sticks. It gives us better stability on the steps and incline down. The whole walkway, built of 6x6 well worn stones is uneven and many times not very level. Mel wanted to buy some souvenirs on the way back. I am the one that ended up with 2 T-shirts, a Ganesh statue and a Ganesh printed cloth (I like Ganesh, the elephant god a lot). Mel got a kids T-shirt for the quilt. She did get a cold coke at the restaurant while we waited for the rest of our group.
Back to the ship for a couple of hours to shower and dress up for Bollywood night! The bus takes us around the Art deco movie houses and along the seashore. There shore is lined with people going to the local cricket match. Mumbai is playing Chennai tonight and all the fans are out to cheer for their team, tickets or no tickets. Our Bollywood live performance is an exclusive for our Viking ship only. Very cute. It’s a play within a play. Two guys come out to explain they are Bollywood producers but don’t really have much money so they movie has to been very small. They then figure out the plot of the movie, interacting with us. First you need a hero, love at first sight, villain to steal the girl. The hero gets beat up by the villain’s henchmen. The villain has an “item girl” dance (a sexy dance by a girl that has no relationship to the plot, simply there for T&A). Hero has a dream about his true love, dance off between villain and hero to win the girl back. Ji Ho victory dance!! Audience participation included people on stage to pretend to be a hero and also a brief lesson on how to dance Bollywood style. (twist the water faucet with one hand, screw in a light bulb with the other, throw a pitch). Lots of fun. Could have been a Disney production.
Dinner was at the Kiber restaurant which looked like it might have been a very old mansion. Beautiful doors and wall frescos. Dinner was wonderful. Must have been 15 different courses of Northern Indian style food. All of them were great. They came around with the different courses and put some on your plate. I recognized most of it but there were a few dishes I did not know. Gulab Jam and Furni (ice cream) for dessert. Yum!! Mel, Patty and Nora liked it too. The cook kept the heat down. The lamb vindaloo was spicy but not hot. Actually the samosas, tomato paneer (cheese curd) and biryani rice all had pretty good kicks to them.
Leaving incredible India after a week. It was much better then we were expecting. In eight hours, you don’t necessarily see much of the place, but we saw some incredible things. Glad we came.