Elephanta Caves is UNESCO World Heritage site is a fine specimen of rock cut architecture and art of medieval India. To state the trivial, there are no elephants in Elephanta!
The name was given by the Portuguese as there was a large elephant sculpture in the island, when it was held by them. Otherwise this island was known as Gharapuri. The island is known for the 7th century caves with boldly executed mythical themes.
Who made the Elephanta Caves?
Unlike many other ancient monuments in India, very little is known about the history of Elephanta. In other words who and when theses monuments were executed still remains as a matter of speculation and debate.
Much of the beliefs on the patrons of this mysterious island are based on the stylistic ground on which the caves and its sculptures are executed.
Apart from the main cave, there are 5 to 6 minor caves with varying level of details.
If you still have energy (and time) after visiting the main cave and the minor caves, trek up the the Cannon Hill. There is a old cannon post overlooking the harbor. There are also a few un-excavated Buddhist sites, dating back to 2nd century BC.
And of course there is a tiny site museum next to the ticket counter with great narration of the themes at Elephanta, better visit before exploring the caves.
Take the ferry from Mumbai's Gateway of India point. This 1 hour ferry is the only way to access this island. Churchgate and CST are closest railway stations. There are also bus connections close to the Gateway of India.
How long does it take to visit Elephanta?
Reserve minimum half a day's itinerary for a whirlwind Elephanta tour. If you are with flair for art and archaeology, you'll need a full day, catching the ferry at 9 am from Mumbai, and returning by the evening. The ferry is 1 hour in each direction. There is a 30 minutes trek from the ferry point to the caves. Keep at least 2 hours for a decent tour of the caves. Add another couple of hours, if you are keen to visit other minor caves and attractions in the island.
How much does it cost for the Elephanta tour?
It's a do it yourself tour. Means, buy everything separately yourself. The ferry tickets (about Rs150 to Rs130) . Buy the entry ticket at the island (Rs10/USD 5) . Local guide fees (if you would prefer one). A superb guide book on Elephanta by ASI costs Rs99 (buy from the ticket cave entry ticket counter). Snacks and foods are sold at the canteen and at the kiosks.
There are some limited facilities available at the island catering to the tourist population. The toy train can save you some walk from the boat landing point to the entry point of the village. There is a canteen at this point. Near to it is a post office.
Further are a series of souvenir shops. At the descent of the trek , you'll find the 'Dolly Service' , a palanquin like service for those who can not scale the steps to the cave entry.
Near the ASI ticket counter there is a restaurant operated by the state owned MTDC.
Despite the noisy crowd you may encounter inside main cave in Elephanta , this image of Lord Shiva with his closed eyelids and in a deep contemplating attitude would be the most satisfying piece of art you would ever see in India.Rather this is the highest watermark of medieval Indian art tradition.