My dad is probably wondering what’s wrong with me because I haven’t gone on and on about the food yet. Don’t worry. I’m sure there will be an entire post devoted to it. So far, though, breakfast has been the highlight - I’m thoroughly enjoying these fried donut fritter thingies with the vegetable soup and then all the fresh fruit and tangy yogurt. Plus Indian chai - black tea with milk and spices, poured steaming hot into teeny-tiny cups. This morning, the addition of a dosa - kind of like a crepe, made from fermented batter and then rolled around spiced potatoes with a red chutney on the side.
Today’s adventure is super-touristy but fun all the same - and Scott, who’s been to Mumbai a lot, has never done it, so it’s new to him, too. On the suggestion of my friend and former KPCC colleague Tess Vigeland (follow her on Instagram - she takes amazing photos), we made the ferry trip to the Elephanta Caves, on an island about 7 miles offshore from Mumbai.
For 200 rupees (roughly 3 dollars), you can take one of the many ferry boats lined up in the harbor, just offshore from the Gateway to India, on the one-hour trip out to the island. For an extra 10 rupees, you can sit on the top deck. I would advise this - better views, fewer diesel fumes. Snacks are available on board, as the seagulls are keenly aware of. They followed us both to and from the island in a flock of hundreds, as people threw all manner of chips, nuts, puffed rice things overboard.
We pulled into the dock, which sits at the end of a long jetty. Too long for many people - the half-mile trek to the bottom of the steps leading to the caves was in full sun and some people just didn’t want to haul their children that far. Luckily, there’s a mini-train to take you. It looked like the kind of thing you’d find in the kids’ section of the county fair.
At the end of the jetty, tiny shops line the sides, all the way up to the top of the stairs, before you enter into the actual site. All kinds of bric-a-brac for sale - from carved soapstone elephants to plastic toys to “antique” door-knockers (how did they find so many antiques that look exactly alike?). And then there are monkeys everywhere. Climbing over the tarps that shelter the vendors, hopping up walls, chasing each other through the trees. We were warned that if you pull out food or water around them, they're going to come after it. And if you happen to sit down, to just rest your feet for a second, they will sneak up behind you. Turn around, and they freeze or look nonchalantly away. Kind of like a game of Red-light, Green-light. I don't trust them. Sneaky monkeys.
Once at the top of the stairs, you had to pay to get inside (40 rupees for locals; 600 rupees for foreigners). The caves are carved directly into the basalt rock of the island - they are essentially ancient cave temples, predominantly dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. I had trouble getting a photo that would capture the scale of the place but you can see all these pillars and statues - and that’s just one cave. There are several of them (although this was by far the most ornate). The age of these caves isn't known for certain but they're thought to be from the 6th century. They remained an active place of worship until the Portuguese showed up in the 16th century (1000 years!) and that's when the area came to be known as Elefanate, because of the elephant statues found there. Then things kind of fell into disrepair for about 300 years before the area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1970s. It blows my mind, though, to think of how much time and effort and precision went into hewing these temples by hand.
All in all it was worth the trip (thanks, Tess!) and nice to have a bit of a break from all the horn-honking. Also, as a side note, I had my moment of fame - and it’s not because of Wild Thing. Somewhere in the realm of 40-50 people asked me to take photos with them, hold their children for photos, pose for selfies, shake hands for photos, demonstrate how monstrously tall I am. Scott took photos of this whole thing (at least for the shots that he wasn’t also participating in). It was hilariously funny at first but then we couldn’t walk 10 steps without being asked to pose, and that started to wear a little thin. Still, pretty amusing.