Monday, November 8, 2010

Bombay - The Final Episode...(maybe...)

Despite all of the traffic-related trouble getting there...Elephanta Island is a pretty cool place.  I was told by more than one person that the ferry-ride from the Gateway of India docks to the island was "thirty minutes".  Once again, "India Stretchable Time" was at play.  It was almost an hour and a half from dock-to-dock.  It looks like there might be faster boats out there on the journey (I'm sure for a price!) -  I don't think it's even possible to go any slower on a boat and not sink!!

The deck-hands on the ferry sold bottle of chilled Kinley water (bottled by the Coca-Cola Company) and Diet Cokes (there are a lot of American tourists in India!!) and snacks.  They also strictly enforced a "no photos" rule...the Mumbai Harbor is filled with large oil tankers...and I guess that the "no photo" rule has to do with an anti-terrorism campaign.  Evidently, terrorists are fond of posing as tourists for their reconnaissance runs and take picture of their potential targets.  This was the case with the terrorists the took-over, shot-up and set-fire-to the Taj Mahal Palace back in 2008.  If you got caught taking a picture, you got yelled-at.  I have a feeling that if you tried to sneak a second picture after your warning, you might just see your nice digital camera sailing overboard into the harbor waters!!

When we arrived at the docks on the Western side of the island....there were probably 12-15 almost identical ferry boats lined up at the dock...and they were three-deep!!  Our crew tied-up along side one of the other boats and we had to step gingerly onto the old tires hanging from the port and starboard side of the boat-hulls to walk from boat-to-boat sideways to get onto dry land.  The landing-dock is about 1/2-mile from the actual beginning of the trail up to the "caves" (a series of temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, carved out of the solid stone of the island.  It was never clear to me if the caves were natural or they were carved out of the actual mountain...but the stone-workmanship was amazing whatever the case!!)

Instead of walking...most people opted to pay Rs. 5.00 and ride this old and rickety train to the trail-head.  Before I could reach the ticket-shack, a nice Indian fellow who was born, raised and lives on the island (and his kids go to school there - in the one village on Elephanta Island!) walked up to me and offered to be my guide.  He seemed like the type of guy who would not take "no" for an - I let him do the "guiding" for the rest of the afternoon.  I'll tell you now that at the end of my day on the island, I gave him Rs. 1,000.00 - a little more than $20.00 U.S.D. - - and it was the best twenty-spot I've spent in a long, long time!!

He told me that there is no running-water on the island....electricity only flowed through the primitive wiring during certain daylight hours...and the drinking water that they do have comes from the natural island caves collecting rain-water and other home-based rain collection systems.  My comment to my guide: "For and American, that sounds more like 'camping' than 'living'..."  He also said that his father was raised on the island as well...I can only imagine what THAT must have been like!!

Something that nobody told me about the trip to Elephanta Island is that...after the brief choo-choo train ride....there is a trail/stairway that goes up the side of the hill...probably 150 uneven steps - straight uphill.  You walk past row after row of souvenir stands selling everything from trinkets to bangles to statures of your favorite deity...there are some pics on my Facebook Page Photo Album.  By the time I got to the top...I was a little winded...but the island humidity caused me to sweat so much that it looked like somebody had turned a hose on me!!  I never fully cooled-off until the ferry-ride back to the Bombay mainland where I paid Rs. 10.00 extra to sit up on the upper-deck where the breeze was blowing!

My guide asked me if I wanted to stop at the top...and I said that it was the best idea I had ever heard!!  After I caught my breath, we walked toward the first cave...and I realized how essential having a guide would be toward my enjoying my tour of the island temples.  This fellow (you have probably figured out by now that I have completely forgotten his name!!) knew the details and history of every single temple carving in the caves we explored.  I'm now to the point where I can say that I am pretty well-versed in the Hindu gods-and-goddesses - and that certainly helped me to understand everything.  But the sheer numbers of carvings of idols and Shiva lingam in the caves - not to mention the architecture, engineering and workmanship on the pillars that still support these structures after all these centuries...would be overwhelming if I was to "go it alone"...  Again, the photos tell a better tale than I could do with mere words...

We explored four of the most important cave-temples before we sat down for a break.  Here - the island monkeys were pretty aggressive and - a little scary.  One man was walking by with a plastic souvenir bag...and a fairly large monkey thought there was a snack inside the bag....  The man ran like... well - he ran like a man who had a crazed monkey was chasing him... and it was a good thing that he was a little faster than the sprinting simian!!  I had regained my wind and noticed that the time of the boat I had chosen to take back to shore was going to depart in about a half-hour - - and I still had the small museum to go through.

It was stiflingly hot in the - my tour of the inside was not overly long.  There was an... errr... let's call it an "unfortunate unflushed overflow" in the men's rest-room - so - I was evidently a braver soul than most of the island visitors...I was the only one on the inside!!

My guide walked me as far as the train...then - took the ride down to the boats.  He made sure that I was safely on-board...and I thanked him profusely.  He gave me his mobile number in case I ever came back...but - I really can't imagine wanting to brave Mumbai traffic ever again.  Wild monkeys are one thing...wild auto-rickshaw drivers....that's another thing all together!!

To be continued.  Next edition...The Gandhi House and Museum...and the trip to the airport!!

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