Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mumbai, Elephanta Island

Since I was on a cave kick over the past few days, I figured I might as well be thorough and head out to Elephanta Island to visit Mumbai's caves.

So, after getting some errands done in the street market around Victoria Terminus, and admiring the gargoyles clinging to the terminus' spires, I headed down to the Gateway of India arch to catch the ferry. It was a nice hour-long journey across the water, the sea breeze giving some relief to the hot Mumbai sun.

The Island was named Elephanta Island by the Portuguese for a large stone elephant near the entrance of the island, which was since moved to a garden in the city. Before the Portuguese, it was known as Gharapuri, City of Caves. They are Hindu caves, with the exception of two small Buddhist caves, carved at least before the fifth or sixth Century, but the details of their creation is unknown. Locals claim that they were not man-made, but carved out by Pandava, the hero of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, and Banasura, the demon devotee of Shiva who were both known to live in caves.

Only a couple of days and a few hundred miles worth of space and time removed from Ajanta, the only one I found really impressive was the main Shiva cave temple. Unfortunately, the Portuguese army used the caves, and the massive carving of Shiva as target practice, and severely damaged the caves. It was still a nice journey through the island caves, though.

I made way way through the loop, up and own the small hill that makes up the eastern half of the island and headed back towards the ferry. There was still a bit of time before the last ferry, so I stopped for a lassi at a small restaurant behind some vendors selling note books, t-shirts with Hindu deities on them, and Gandhi paraphernalia. No sooner did I take the first sip, then three large men came and sat at the table next to mine. I wouldn't have usually paid this much attention, except that they had long braided hair, one with a french braid, perfectly done eyeshadow, mascara, and lipstick, long painted nails, and wearing distinctly feminine, and very revealing saris, fully displaying their hairy chests and stomachs. I think what I found most odd about it is that most of the Indian men you see on the street are quite slim, but these men were big and strong looking. They started talking to me, asking all the usual questions, and I did my best to talk to them as if nothing was strange, until the asked me if I wanted to go back to their house with them... One of the more important rules is not to go to a stranger's house, and these guys fit that category in a number of ways, so I gulped down the rest of my lassi, told them I was very busy, and headed straight for the crowd waiting at the dock...

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