Elephanta Islands and its cave temples. Mumbai. India.

Mumbai sights – Elephanta Island and its caves

Elephanta Island is one of the most famous sights of Mumbai, India, attracting many tourists with its cave complex dedicated to God Shiva. The cave complex includes 7 caves. They are believed to have been carved by monks during the 5th-8th century AD. However, it is also partly recognized that these dates have no reliable confirmation and it is likely that the caves on Elephanta Island are much older, and their builders are not known.

Be that as it may, but this place is very popular with both residents of Mumbai and tourists. True, we must admit that almost all tourists – Hindus, white visitors, oddly enough, very, very little.

How to get to the island

You can get to Elephant Island by water in two ways:

  • A guided tour
  • By yourself on a water streetcar

There are a lot of boat tours right at the Gate of India and it is not that difficult to buy one. It is more difficult to get it at a reasonable price, you have to bargain. But the abundance of offers, and hence the high competition, gives you a good trump card in this matter.


We preferred the second option – by ourselves. It is not expensive at all, and it is easy to do, and we will tell you about it.

Independent excursion to the island Elephant

As you understand, first of all you need to buy a ticket for the boat. The ticket office is located to the left of the gateway to the Gate of India in a semi-circular, one-story building. There are many windows and at first glance they offer different options – don’t sweat it and don’t try to figure it out, as the Indians explained to us – everything is the same. The only thing is that there are two variants of boats – small single-deck and bigger double-deck. a round trip ticket for the first one costs 160 rupees, for the second one it is 130 rupees. You should choose a double-decker, otherwise you risk getting very wet from the splash, the waves in the bay can be decent. Ships, both sightseeing and voyage streetcars, start from the piers located at the Gate of India. The boats go there from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at 15-minute intervals, except on Mondays. You can go back from Elephanta Island at any time, but remember, the last trip to Mumbai is at 5:30 pm, if you are late you will have to spend the night on the island.

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Oh, and get this. If you chose a double-decker boat, you have to pay extra for the ride on the second floor. The cashier didn’t tell us about it, and we learned it only when we boarded the ship and intended to go up to the upper deck. The way was blocked by one of the crew members, pointing out that the ticket to the upper deck costs more. Our offer to pay more was not met with understanding – the answer was no.


Well, if you don’t want money – we’ll go for free. Taking advantage of the fact that we are the only white tourists on the ship, calling for hospitality, humanity and respect for such rare guests, with some difficulty, but persuaded his friend that he had to let us in the top and on such tickets, which we have. Thus we ended up on the second floor. But how much it should cost, we can’t say exactly, it seems to be 10 rupees more expensive.

It takes about an hour to get to Elephanta Island. The time passes very quickly – the road is interesting. First you admire the view of Mumbai moving away, then the ships you meet, and even the secret islands, which supposedly can’t be photographed. There were only Hindus on our boat except us. In the middle of the trip, the kids did some real Bollywood dancing. You can also buy water and snacks on the boat. In general, the boat is comfortable, even flowers are growing on it… Elephanta Island doesn’t look very presentable from the water, like this. Coming out to the quay, looking around. Water near the island is dirty, gray, there is a lot of garbage on the sand, and we are not attracted to swim in spite of exhausting heat… Trade has been already organized right on the pier. They sell drinks and all sorts of goodies – spicy cucumbers, corn, nuts, tamarind seeds. If lazy to go to the entrance to the cave complex, rescue the tourist train.

Cost of visiting Elephanta Caves

There is a token fee of 5 rupees to enter the island.The cost of visiting the cave complex itself for foreigners is 250 rupees. This amount will have to be paid at the end of the ascent, directly at the entrance to the cave complex.

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Thus, the total cost of a self-guided excursion to Elephanta Island, together with the return trip is 160 + 5 + 250 = 415 rupees or just over $6.

Elephant Island Caves.

The caves are located on the mountain. All the way to them you are accompanied by continuous trading stalls with all sorts of souvenirs, and various food. Drinks are better to buy at the beginning of the ascent, the higher up, the more expensive they will be. Be vigilant, the road is controlled by numerous monkeys, who just want to steal tourists. For the lazy tourists are these chairs – just sit down and they will take you to the place for a fee. Although go not particularly far – about 15 minutes.

Finally, here are the caves. There are seven of them. The first one is the largest and best preserved, looks interesting both outside and inside. It is relatively cool inside – you can take a leisurely stroll, looking at the huge stone sculptures and bas-reliefs. The second cave is located almost next to the first one. It is not so impressive in size, but also interesting. Moving on, we explore the others. There are many Hindus everywhere – they love to travel around their country. For rest and refreshment, many of them took a huge stone pavilion. Some, tired of the heat, sleep on the ground in the shade of a tree. Only a few white tourists and we are a kind of attraction for Hindus, and there are many who want to take pictures with us. However, they are no less interesting to us, we are happy to catch them in the frame. And the caves are different, some quite small, and others bigger, but all unlike each other, admiring its mysterious atmosphere and the work of unknown ancient craftsmen. There are intricately curved old trees. But in general, at this time of the year (beginning of May), vegetation is very sparse – all withered from the heat. After looking around, we go back. On the island there are a few cafes and a couple of hotels – missed the last streetcar, we can sleep overnight. The prices in the cafe are very pleasing to the eye.And about the cost of living did not find out, apparently – not expensive.

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On the way back we look more closely at the souvenirs – a lot of interesting. We buy some souvenirs as a souvenir. This is probably the biggest selection of souvenirs in Mumbai. You can buy very beautiful things here inexpensively by haggling. At the exit we bought baked corn, which was the tastiest corn we’ve ever eaten. To tell the truth, we hardly had time to take a bite once, when suddenly the cow came up and headed straight for us, with obvious intentions to take away the corn. She didn’t have to tug at us for a long time, we surrendered almost without resistance. We bought one more corn cob for that occasion – to see how the cow would behave this time. Nothing has changed – she robbed the white tourists again… So, hide the corn from the Elephanta cows, they are total troublemakers.

On the way back to Mumbai we were enjoying the panoramic view of the city and the ships which were passing by. We were sitting on the lower deck, as requested by the ticket, and it was cooler downstairs.

Personally, we were very impressed by the walk to Elephanta Island. Traveling around India, seeing the sights of Mumbai, be sure to pay attention to these caves. We are sure – you will not regret it!

Cave Cities and Temples – Part IV. Elephanta

Elephanta is an ancient and mysterious place, about the age and origin of which discussions are still going on.

Helena Blavatsky in her book “From the Caves and Wilds of Hindustan” wrote: “Wandering quietly and cautiously along a bay as lovely as it is treacherous, we still had plenty of time to admire its surroundings. To our right was seen a group of islands, at the head of which rises the head-shaped Gharapuri, or Elephanta, with its ancient temple. Gharapuri in translation means “city of caves” – according to Orientalists, “city of purification” – if we believe native Sanskritologists. This temple of porphyritic stone, carved by an unknown hand into the very core of the rock, has long been a bone of contention for archeologists, none of whom have so far been able to determine even approximately its age.

A unique place called Elephanta Island, also known as Gharapuri Island, is situated east of Mumbai, in the state of Maharashtra, in the waters of Bombay Harbor. This mysterious island is a magnet for tourists from all over the world. Its biggest attraction is the underground stone cave temples adorned with a huge number of statues.

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The island received its present name, Elephanta, in the 17th century, thanks to the Portuguese explorers who discovered an elephant (elephant) sculpture carved from a solid piece of basalt at the entrance to one of the caves of the temple complex.

The Portuguese tried to take the elephant back to Portugal, but they failed because they dropped it into the sea. The elephant was later raised from the bottom of the sea by the British, but their attempt to transport the sculpture also failed. In 1864 the elephant from Elephanta was transported to Bombay (now Mumbai). The basalt elephant is now in the Dr. Bhau Daji Museum (formerly the Victoria and Albert Museum).

The stone elephant from Elephanta is just one of the many wonders of this small island. In V- VIII centuries the extensive ensemble of the so-called City of Caves was created here – the rocky Hindu temples, connected with the cult of god Shiva and being one of the most significant sights in India.

The ancient history of the Elephanta cave temples is not reliably known, as there are no written references to it. The coast and islands belonged to the ruling dynasty of Magadha until the sixth century AD.

The cave temples of Elephanta are cut out in sheer cliffs and from the pier the road, about 2 km. long, leads to them. The central temple, dedicated to Shiva, consists of three vast grottos – rooms along which stand grandiose sculptures carved from the same monolithic rock. All the gods of the Hindu pantheon and the heroes of the epic poem Mahabharata are assembled here.

Numerous sculptures are devoted to Shiva and his exploits, his struggle with demons and his various reincarnations. Such an abundance of sculptures can be found only in the Indian cave temples of Ellora and Ajanta.

One theory of the origin of the caves is as follows: the monks, worshippers of Shiva, secluded themselves on the island of Elephanta and hollowed out several caves in the mountain for habitation. A little later, some of the caves were combined into halls, and then the world-famous statues of Shiva and other deities appeared.

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The entire temple complex dedicated to the god Shiva .

The main hall is a large cave with an area of 43 square meters . The ceiling is about 6 meters high and is supported by 20 columns in six rows. In the center of the hall on the wall is a bas-relief, devoted to Shiva – trimurti Shiva – triad, combining the three main deities of the Hindu pantheon: Brahma-Creator, Vishnu-keeper and Shiva – Destroyer.) The sculpture, 5.44 meters high, represents Shiva as the Supreme Deity responsible for the creation, preservation and destruction of the universe.

To the right of the central entrance is an altar with a lingam, the symbol of the divine generative power, the main symbol of Shiva, which is a one and a half meter cylinder of stone.

Many stone figures of the temple of Shiva show traces of destruction – in the past centuries there were many who wished to test the ancient monuments “to the strength” or even wipe them off the face of the earth. Nevertheless, the sculptures of Elephanta have survived until now in all their beauty. The art of the craftsmen who created this amazing temple strikes the imagination of travelers.

The exact date of the creation of the caves is unknown. It is assumed that they were created in the “golden age” – the period of the state Guptas, when the main canons of national literature, fine art, architecture and philosophy of India were developed. That’s when the idea of building a temple in honor of the Hindu deity Shiva was allegedly born.

Local legends say that the Elephanta caves were not created by humans or not quite humans. It was either the Pandavas – the warrior brothers, the heroes of the ancient Indian epic “Mahabharata”, or thousand-armed demon Banasura.

The artistic style of the whole structure shows the deep antiquity of the temple and takes us back to the time when the cult of Shiva was predominant in the Hindu religion. It may be possible to determine the approximate time of the construction of this unique historical monument, as more than a thousand and a half inscriptions from the Elephanta temple were exported to Portugal.

In 1987 the cave temples of Elefanta were included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites

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