To get to Elephanta Caves, you will need to go to the Gateway of India in the Mumbai city. From here, get the tickets for the launch (boat or ferry). The journey takes 1 hour to reach the island by sea. The launch travels at a speed of 14 Nautical miles. The tickets are available at the Maharastra tourism development corp (MTDC) at the entrance of Gateway. The Caves are off-visit on Mondays although the MTDC does sell boat tickets with the ticket saying so, so be aware. The launch (boat) leaves from gate no.4 at the rear of Gateway of India.
The ticket for Deluxe boat is ₹160 for Adult, ₹90 for Child (3 to 7 years) which includes return journey. If you want to see the view from the upper deck, you have to pay ₹10/-extra to the launch (boat) operator on board. Economy boat charges are ₹20 less.
There are 2 types of launch: Economy and Deluxe. One is big, the other one is slightly smaller in size. Travelling by both carries its own fun experiences.
The first boat of the day is at 9AM; they may wait a little bit for more passengers, but they are pretty much leave the dock on time. They have a boat going to Elephanta Island every 30 minutes. Week days are less crowded than weekends.
From the Gateway of India to the world famous Elephanta Caves, and from the hustle and bustle of the contemporary commerce of Mumbai, this trip is a journey to Western India 1400 years ago; to a time when the Hindu sect of Shaivism, dedicated to the deity Shiva, was blooming in the region.
Originally called Gharapuri, the island gets its modern name from the Portuguese, who found a colossal stone elephant here in 1534. The statue has been moved to a museum in Mumbai. Sadly, the Portuguese damaged many of the sculptures and pillars within the caves as they tested the amount of echo by firing shots into the cave.
The main cave became a protected site in 1909 and came under the authority of the Archaeological Survey of India. In 1987, UNESCO added the Elephanta Caves to the World Heritage list due to their outstanding universal value representing a masterpiece of human creative genius.
When you arrive at the Elephanta Island, there will be lots of locals offering you the service to guide you around. Unless you are unfamiliar with the Indian god Shiva and would like to know the details of Shiva's life and family, you do not really need a tourist guide -- their charges are not really reasonable, i.e., ₹2500 or more to tell you all about Indian Gods that you may not know if they are telling you the true stories or not and you would probably forget by the time you leave Elephanta Island. If you really want to know all about Elephanta caves and Shiva, you can buy a good book from any vendors when you walk up the hill to the caves -- remember you should always bargain.
There is a small train to take you from the dockside to the entrance at the bottom of the hill. The price, ₹10 for adults, unless you want to exercise which you do not really need, because you'll have a chance to really exercise by walking up to the cave, the whole 120 steep steps.
The island, small and round, rises like the back of a giant turtle from amidst the azure depths of the Arabian Sea. You will take a narrow road after disembarking. This travels to the site of ascent, broken by the persuasive cries of the jamun wallahs selling the salted plum coloured fruit in cleverly designed pouches, holding not more than 7-8 jamuns in each. To get to the caves, you will climb a steep street up, as the caves are located on the top of a hillock shaped island. This climb is followed by a long flight of sharp stone steps, where the old and the invalid used to be carried in palanquins by coolies. Some locals regard the caves as a religious place dedicated to Lord Shiva.
There is a tourist tax of ₹5 for adults (local and foreign) and ₹3 for children at the bottom of the hill. At the entrance of the park at the top of the hill, one needs to pay an entrance fee to get access to the caves (₹30 for Indian citizens and ₹500 for foreign nationals).
There are several caves you can visit. According to the guard there, there are only five caves on Elephanta Island. But some of the maps show seven caves. Except the first two caves at the entrance, other caves are small and not well developed. You can also walk up to the top of the Island, it is called Cannon Hill. There are two 19-20th century cannons there and the ruins of a fort in between the two make for a nice viewpoint of the bay; otherwise nothing else to see.
Take lots of pictures and show them to your friends.
- Elephanta Festival. 7pm-10pm. For two days in every February, Elephant Island hosts a classical music and dance cultural event. Festivities begin with local fishermen performing folk dances and continues with esteemed musicians from all over India showcasing their skill and talent. Watch the performances in open air and against the backdrop of the caves.
There are many things for sale. There are paintings (look for ones with leaves). Most of the stuff is brought in from Mumbai and sold at double or triple the price, so while purchasing mementos, make sure to look out for something unique to the Island and the craft skills of the local people.
One thing you should not miss is eating the wild berries that the locals sell as they are delicious. Fresh fruit and vegetables at affordable prices are available throughout the island. Hawkers will offer you the likes of starfruit and cucumbers coated with masala. The fruit is refreshing and hydrating, particularly on a hot and humid day.
- The MTDC resort offers a fine spread of Indian food at a reasonable cost. The view of the sea from the MTDC restaurant is really pleasing to the eye. You can sip on your tea, coffee, beer, etc, while enjoying the view.
It is advisable to take lots of drinkable water with you from Mumbai itself.
Staying overnight at Elephanta Caves is not permitted. If you want to rest during the daytime, The Maharastra Tourism Department Hotel is a good choice. They also serve food and drinks.
If you want to stay overnight, then you have to stay with the locals which is not advisable.
Beware of the monkeys that roam around. They are quite used to the huge masses of people moving around. But they are not happy when kids and even pesky teenagers tease them by throwing stones or making weird sounds. There have been many cases of people been scratched or attacked by monkeys, usually in retaliation. If left alone, they will usually not do anything. Try to be with the crowd, especially if you have got some packed food with you and want to have a picnic in the area.
The first boat leaving Elephanta Island for Mumbai is at 12:00 noon and the last one is at 5:30PM. If you are fast, you can take the first boat from Mumbai to Elephanta Island, visit all caves, go up to Cannon Hill to see the old cannon, come back to the dockside, and take the first boat back to Mumbai.