Mumbai: Slum And More – Part III

An hour away from Mumbai, there is a true paradise: the Elephanta Island. From the Gateway of India, you can go directly ion a boat to this beautiful island. Dozens of tourists jostle at the dock every day – no matter what weather it is – just to escape from the mainland for a few hours and to experience a little adventure. Because for many Indians – and most tourists were Indians – it is not self-evident to travel regularly and especially not by boat. But with about 100 up to 130 rupees the trip is quite affordable for most Indians – at least for those belonging to the middle class.

Mumbai24Even my Brazilian and me didn’t want to not miss this tourist spot. For twenty minutes we were waiting in the blazing midday heat until finally a new boat arrived the port. The boatman had barely moored as the first Indians already hurtled down the big stone steps – directly to the dock. Without being a great mathematician, you could already guess that this boat isn’t  enough for everyone who was waiting. And so we shoved our way through the crowd, trying to get a good seat or just to get onto this boat. Waiting again – that wasn’t an option for us. Because we only spent three days in Mumbai and we didn’t want to waste our time standing around.

Hand in hand, we made our way to the boat. I know that public hand-holding is morally frowned upon in India – except as a man. Because good (male) friends can walk down the street holding hands. What is a sign of openly lived homosexuality for many other nations, in India it is common and an expression of deep friendship. Indian couple, however, nor hold hands in public, neither exchange other caresses. Indeed my Brazilian and I clearly exceeded a limit. But without holding each other we probably would have gotten lost in the shuffle of people.

With great difficulty we managed to snatch two of the last seats. And then our one-hour trip could finally start. Already at the port, the first strange incident occurred: One of the boatmen tried to aweigh the anchors. Because of the heavy stream at the bay, the boat moved immediately from the dock for a few centimetres. Too much for the little Indian boatman who could just reach the safe railing through a courageous jump. We gasped. But somehow it seemed as if this man would do this every day. And he probably does.

Mumbai27On our boat trip we watched the skyline of Mumbai moving away from us more and more. The Taj Mahal Hotel and the Gateway of India appeared as little walker-ons, as miniature buildings at the vast coast of Mumbai. I could never imagine before how beautiful and peaceful this turbulent, hectic and way too crowded city might look from the sea.

On the water, the time suddenly was standing still. The waves whipped hardly against the bow and the boat was moving synchronous with the waves. It was like a secret dance that the boat and the sea danced with each other – unnoticed by all the passengers who talked across each other. Many of them were already very excited about what they have to expect on the Elephanta Island. After an hour, the trip was over. Passengers jostled frantically towards the exit. Everyone wanted to be the first – the same as when we were boarding.

Mumbai26As we left the boat, we stepped on a long landing stage, which seemed to touch the horizon. On either side of it you could see the sea and later the jungle. Small monkeys climbed about in the trees like professional athletes. They were not shy at all – it was quite the contrary. They came up close to the tourists and were stealing food, sunglasses or other small items. You had to be very careful. But not only the small monkeys were trouble. Traders who wanted to sell their souvenirs were really pushy. At first it was quite fun how they tried to persuade you from their goods. Or to squeeze through the various stalls. But the longer the path was, the more annoying the sellers were. Especially because of the landing stage ended after about 100 meters and you needed to go up a long-drawn stone staircase.

We spent a half hour on our ascent. But it was worth it. The view from the Elephanta seland was breathtaking. But we were more interested in the Elephanta Caves. Most Europeans have no idea about these caves. That is insanely bad. Because this architectural masterpiece already belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. The caves are the home of various stone sculptures and figurines, the largest of them is about 6 meters high. It is unbelievable that these caves were made by human – but so it was! The main cave is also called Shiva Cave – named after the deity Shiva. A shrine on the cave entrance is consecrated to him. The other caves on the Elephanta Island are much less grandiose and less well preserved as the Shiva Cave.

After two hours on the island – or even more (my sense of time seemed to exposed somehow) – we went walked down the steep slope, down to the landing stage. There another boat was also was waiting for us, which would take us back to Mumbai. It saddened us to leave this fascinating place again. Somehow, it was like a little place of relaxation in crowded and noisy India. Exactly this noise, these crowds would enfold us again back on the board and on the mainland.

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