Saturday, January 20, 2007

Bombay's Elephanta Island

I didn't actually know anything about Bombay before I got there. I had had a very good experience with an earlier trip to Korea, where I just copied a free but very basic city guide from Wikitravel, then got the city's free tourist brochures and went by that. The plan didn't work very well in Bombay - the airport was something like a warehouse and certainly didn't have an information center giving away free booklets. I gathered from the Wikitravel entry that the center of Bombay's tourism was the Gateway of India - a large Victorian arch built almost a century ago, in celebration of Queen Victoria visiting colonial India. I has seen it before, it was on the DVD cover for the movie "Bombay."

There's a lot of tourists about the arch, and a lot of touts selling things, but not much in the way of a tourist industry presence. Anyway, while it can't be seen from the above picture, the opposite site of the arch is Bombay Harbor. A lot of the tourists are there to take boats to Elephanta Island. It's a strange contrast of frantic selling of the different boat tour options, and people milling about, waiting for the next boat.

This is the Gateway of India, taken from the boat to Elephanta Island. The Taj hotel is right next to it. A lot of the boats are just parked, I visited India in early November, outside the main tourist season. There's still more ahead, the boat actually had to take a really circutious route to get around all of them.

The island is about six miles from the harbor, and it takes an hour to get there. So slow! There isn't an option to pay more for a faster boat. The ride takes you past a mildly busy commercial harbor, and the Indian Navy dockyards. Once I arrived, there's a five or ten minute walk from the dock to the island proper. It's long enough that a lot of people opt to take a toy train back and forth, instead.

There's no elephants on the island, the name came from a statue that has since been moved to a museum in Bombay. At the top of a very long series of steps up through tourist touts, though, there were a lot of...monkeys!

The ones I saw were urban scavengers, but they were pretty timid, and would maintain a short distance from people. The reason why the people were there were for the Elephanta Caves, a series of caves with stone sculptures of Hindu religious imagery.

The caves were forgotten over, and scholars still don't agree when the statues were carved - sometime around the ninth century.

The caves were re-discovered by the Portugese in the 17th century. They smashed a number of the sculptures, it's a pity! Also the caves were decorated in some concrete staircases and doorways and so forth, that are supposed to look period I guess. They're really ugly and are crumbling away, which confuses the whole issue.

The island has a few small villages on it, but all I saw was the associated tourist industry, and a few far-off glances of people going about their business...

There were also some fishermen nearby the dock, I assume villagers from the island:

And that was what I saw of the island. Beautiful, but I'll admit I was expecting something more. Maybe an hour long boat ride builds up your anticipation. Here's another picture of the arch, with the sun setting.

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