Thursday, March 27, 2008

ELEPHANTA BECKONS

A chance visit to the Gateway of India brought with it a barrage of old memories. It was here, where for the first time 128 Idol Three contestants from all over the country & abroad had gathered together. I hardly knew a soul back then, and this is where my Idol fellowship first began. As we’d all stood against the Gateway, the waterfront had been dotted by numerous boats & steamers. One of them was to be ours for the evening. The memory of that “boat party” remains vivid in my mind. It was the beginning of an unforgettable journey…

This time round, things are different. The Gateway “beautification” project has begun. The erstwhile open space around the gateway is now congested with cement & stone, yet a sense of lingering sameness wafts around. Back then, it would have been impossible to saunter around unescorted without getting mobbed. Now, many dawns & dusks later, life is more chilled out and I dare to walk around the Gateway, oblivious of whether I’m being looked at or not. As I make a final circle around the monument, the beckoning chatter of a government guide draws my attention to Elephanta caves. I’ve been coming to Mumbai since I was little but have never visited this relic of the ancient past. Without much contemplation, I board the grandiosely christened “cruise”, which is nothing more than a rundown fishing boat, now re-styled to accommodate more people.
The boat journey is long. At the end of it, the sudden gust of soothing winds takes my attention away from the annoying humidity to the approaching pier. The backdrop of tiny hills adds a good first impression. The seagulls and the abandoned fishing boats give me an indication of the good things to come. Alighting from the “cruise”, I walk towards the toy train which runs from the docking point to the beginning of the ascent towards the caves. The “khatar-khatar” of the slow, dilapidated train adds a certain charm to the journey. The climb uphill is tedious, but I have all the time in the world and move slowly & leisurely. Innumerable monkeys dot the route and it is most amusing to see simian families playing around with, believe it or not, puppies & kittens. A hot & sweaty trek later, I face the now familiar encounter at the ticket office. As most of us know, foreigners get charged more than local tourists at all heritage sites in India. On this occasion, I’m asked to produce my identity proof (for obvious reasons). I do what I usually do in such situations – I flash my best smile & say, “Kya bhaai, ek saathi Bharatiya se ID maangogey?” (hey bro, you gonna ask a fellow Indian for an ID?) What I get in return is a sheepish smile from the ticketing fellow & the handing over of a “local” ticket.

I enter the first cave and am immediately engulfed by darkness. My eyes take some time adjusting to this new environment. There are lots of tourists at the cave, prominently groups of foreigners with their typical hats & backpacks. Among them is a woman who has come alone, confused, yet dignified. This svelte Swiss maiden is unlike any lady I’ve ever come across. A conversation is struck in those ethereal surroundings and what follows is an exchange not only of kind words & smiles, but also something special through that magical pathway called the eyes. Co-incidence or not, a romantic Hindi number is playing in the background. We part ways to feast our minds on objects other than each other, hoping to catch up at the end of that day’s tour.

















There are five caves in all, but the most scenic & worthwhile is the first one. This cave was crafted as an uninterrupted tribute to Lord Shiva by his devotees and it depicts him in his utmost glory. Snapshots from various periods of his life are carved beautifully in the now crumbling stone and are a visual treat. My interest is piqued by one massive piece which depicts Shiva alone as the Holy Trinity of Hindu mythology – the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer (contrary to the trinity being Brahma, Vishnu & Shiva). This further engrains the theorem how mythologies of all cultures can be so contradicting. The centre of the cave has a Mahalingam, that divine symbol of male fertility, the four-sided entry of which is guarded by imposing 11 feet stone sentinels. I move from this massive cave to the other smaller caves which, much to my disappointment have nothing more than tiny dark chambers.
Surely, there must be more to see, I tell myself. The travel-bug in me wants to explore more and I hot-foot it on the small hills around. The uncharted & rubble-laden path ahead leads to the top of the hill, aptly titled Tope (cannon) hill.
There are 2 massive cannons here, which look more like giant pistols and a glance in the direction where they’re pointing gives one an idea where the enemy would’ve been most likely anticipated from. A look at its foundation surprises me. The construction of the cannon is a mix of new technology & old machinery. There are the usual inlets for cannon fodder, and systematic outlets for spent cartridges. The foundation leads to an inner chamber where not too many people venture because of the abject uninviting darkness. Since I’m armed with neither torch nor matches, I advance gingerly & place my faith in the light from the camera flash to show the way. After many well & ill-placed steps (often into animal poo), slivers of the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel shine through. What was the purpose of this cellar, not even the guides could tell. A war shelter, perhaps? I could only hazard a guess.With the sightseeing over, I move back on my tracks.


The trek downhill is brief & swift. I feel exhausted & dehydrated, and a much needed meal later, I walk my way back to the dock. I look out longingly for those hazel eyes which had taken my breath away for some brief moments at the onset of this adventure. I find silence instead. With a heavy heart, I take a quiet journey back towards Mumbai shores, staring at the waves gently sweep by....

14 comments:

  1. Hey Meiyang
    verry beautifully described blog ahh i have never visited elephanta caves as we discused the day we met now reading all the discription i am eager to see the elephanta caves
    seems u enjoyed the trip alot but the specially trecking i would love to do trecking but during rains not during summers hats off to u that u trecked in such a heat
    verry well written blog luv to read ur blogs keep it up mann
    always eager to read ur blogs keep blogging regularly

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  2. These places are so majestic, I would love to visit them whenever I get a chace to go to India. I do hope that proper and utmost care is being given to these heritage sights. Thank you for writing about such a wonderful place, your travel blogs have always been my favourite

    Mystic

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  3. Of late, I've been badly needing a break and when I've actually memerized the whole journey to Diu in the recent past, I have actually going through the same pleasure, satisfaction and relaxation what has been depicted in your blog, Chang!! Just havent been able to devote adequate time to put it up on d space named blogger! Keep up your spirits and get going you travel-bug!!Hoping to catch you somewhere on the holiday spots someday.. ;) Have a great time ahead.....

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  4. Hi Meiyang,

    Welcome back.........

    It was like Meeting the old.........Meiyang who has not lost its touch of flirt [with life and God's creations......] and in enroute finding hope in some beautiful hazel eyes..........

    And yes.........I do get confused at this point........always..........if this all is 'mythology'......I mean the caves and the stories woven around them........then it does mean its a 'myth' ........but so much proof is there.......only that we the modern humans do not know so much about so many things........of course its not possible to know .........but then we cannot call it a 'myth' because we do not know. Some many thousands of years back......someone must have come on these islands.........put their imaginations........creativity.....life.........beauty and some soul.....and wasted some of their beautiful years..........and engraved thoughts inside it.........someone.....some many kind souls did it..........so if we don't know about its pains, plans and reasons behind ....we should not term it as 'myth.'

    Quite debate able..........

    is it?

    but then, its not lost at all.............'Sheen of your English Vocabulary'

    Good going..........

    Keep the pen on........

    Bye and take care

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  5. is the 'trek' doable in a day? or is it one of those things where you have to divide trek in a span of 2 or more days? and when would you suggest is a 'good' time to visit? good pics though

    >>> I do what I usually do in such situations – I flash my best smile & say, “Kya bhaai, ek saathi Bharatiya se ID maangogey?” (hey bro, you gonna ask a fellow Indian for an ID?) What I get in return is a sheepish smile from the ticketing fellow & the handing over of a “local” ticket. <<<

    that's funny 'coz unfortunately the opposite happens to me. i tend to stand out even when standing amongst 'desi' people.

    good pics though, more would always be appreciated.

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  6. Iam d one who gave first comment in this post,ooooh aaaaaaaaaahhhh!!!!!!!!!!.Good post,again I took dictionery for some words,thanx for tht buddy.Good explanation n iam sure it will b of great help to those who wants to visit this place.But I pity U for not able o c tht girl again.U could've taken a snap for remembrance.How U know tht she is 4m Sweden?But I tell u 1 thing,she might hv thought U, as a chinese guy from US,coz u hv tht royal rockstar look,hehehehe......bye n tc buddy,luvya lots.

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  7. WOW! Amazingly written.....It has everything in it that makes a reader keep reading! The way you described everything was amazing, and I loved how, by talking about the girl at the end, you brought everything full circle. I also like all of the other things you have written....especially "Kolkata", "Bikeless in Bangalore" and "Out of the Comfort Zone". I especially like how you captured your nervousness in "Out of the Comfort Zone".
    Your writing is brilliant.....have you ever considered writing a book? When will you write another entry?

    Please do reply

    Rhea
    Rhea435@gmail.com

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  8. The way you write is like. . . .WOW!!
    *faints*

    Im a media student and and aspiring journo, n you are my inspiration!
    Keep the blogs comin!!
    CHEERZ!
    Jolene! :)

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  9. you are an Indian Legend meiyang.

    One of the Best singer EVER. I am your Super duper hardcore fan mate. I could certainly live out a chance going to heaven should your music not be there in the heaven.

    you are GOD of music. We love you

    Warmest Regards,

    Zubair Ahmed,
    Dhaka, Bangladesh

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  10. u noe u shud write in travelogues. ull make ppl visit places evn if they r totally crap. sigh, last time i went 2 elephanta , i was dehydrated on my way there

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  11. Your description has convinced me to visit India.

    You have wonderfuly described your visit. It has always been nice to go through your blog. So, keep writing. I think you should write a book. I will be eagerly waiting to read your book.

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  12. Nice work Meiyang! And THANKYOU for posting some pics. You look yummy!
    Thanks for the wonderful tour of the Elephanta caves, absolutely loved those pics besides the wonderful description. Do take us with you on similar journeys here on your blog, I so enjoyed it!

    That your heart skips and jumps so easily, almost in a childlike manner, at the sight of beauty, be it in nature, art, or a pair of beautiful eyes, is what makes you absolutely precious among other attributes to boot. I believe I'm that way too, yes, in short, I'm as endearing and wonderful as you are, ahem, well almost.

    Keep them coming dear.
    luv,

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  13. Ah ha! Chang the ever adventurous traveller is back! Lovin' the pics and the blog. Lookin' good but you've lost weight. Kya hua? Eat a vada pau man!

    I've been to the caves when I was 2years old and I have no mental memory of it but lots of pics to show that I had been there. There's even a funny story... monkeys grabbed our boiled eggs (I know... weird picnic food but we're Parsi we love eggs lol) and then threw them on the ground from their trees... talk about jalle par namak. hehehe

    Take care and keep us updated on more of your excursions!

    - Farah

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  14. Hey Meiyang...

    I liked your website.got to see variety of pictures here..

    All the pictures were unique...

    Have a Happy &Prosperous Diwali :)

    Gud Luck Prati...

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