We had one full day in Mumbai before leaving for the Western Ghats so we decided–on a whiim–to visit Elephanta Island, as the departure point was quite close to our hotel. We were staying at the Hotel Diplomat, in the Colaba District, just a block from the water. The two biggest landmarks in the neighborhood are the Gateway to India (built by the British in 1924, just 24 years before they exited the country) and the Taj Mahal Hotel, site of the infamous Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008. From the landing of our hotel, we could peer over the fence to see the pool and just a glimpse of the opulence inside. Rooms there start at $400 per night; a third of Indians live on less than that per year. Also, there’s a Starbucks in the lobby if the local tea just isn’t a substitute for your half-caf skinny caramel macchiato.
Sunset at Mumbai Harbor
Gateway to India
Elephanta Island is the site of 5th century temples cut into rock caves. To get there, you board an ornate and colorful boat and take a 70-minute cruise, passing Indian warships and oil tankers along the way. Simon was the hit of the voyage; Indians everywhere seem to enjoy trying to make him laugh, giving high five (he prefers fist bumps), and pinching his cheeks. Once on the island, you have to walk up a steep hill lined with touts and souvenir sellers before reaching the series of five carved caves. Ancient worshippers expanded the naturally-occurring caves and carved most of the figures in place. Carvings of Shiva (both friendly and terrifying), lingam shrines, and a large Ganesh were some of the highlights.
Don’t look behind you…
The guardian has met its match.
We take him to a fifteen hundred year old temple, and Simon just wants to play with the pebbles.
Our boat to Elephanta Island.
We only had about two hours but really could have spent all day, especially if we’d taken the time to hike into the upland forests. But we had to hurry back to catch our train.
Or not. Everything I’d read had warned us that the Indian railway system was needlessly complicated, outdated, counterintuitive to foreigners, and yet heavily utilized. A metaphor for India, I guess. Long story, condensed: even though we had booked our tickets in advance, paid for them in full, and arrived at the train station early, our reservation was canceled. We spent 90 minutes walking up and down the train platform, searching in vain for our names on the passenger lists –printed on dot-matrix paper (remember the holes along the edges?) taped to the sides of the cars. Five minutes before the train departed, a ticket checker finally explained that our tickets were not valid, our money had been refunded to our account, and we could go to the counter to buy new tickets. Alas, the ticket counter was at least 200 yards away and we had too little time, so we stood there and watched as the train, with open berths available, pulled away from the station.
We took a taxi back to the hotel, booked an extra night, and arranged to take a bus to our destination instead. It worked out ok in the end. I would have preferred the overnight sleeper rather than spending a full waking day in transit, and the bus took longer and cost more. But we eventually made it to the Hermitage Guesthouse and our guests treated us to a lovely dinner, even though it was nearly midnight.
Fell asleep in the middle of the four-hour Bollywood film on the bus.