India: Weekday Outing - Elephanta Island

Are you all ready for this shake-up?  A weekDAY outing instead of a weekEND outing.  I know, crazy, but that's what happens when you go on vacation, apparently.  You can do stuff during the week!

Thursday morning brought me right back into my Mumbai routine: morning run along Marine Drive, breakfast at Frangipani, then pack up the adult diaper bag and head out for a day of sightseeing/getting lost in the city.  The fun addition this go around was of getting to do this with someone else, save for the running on Marine Drive.  Matt welcomed the opportunity to sleep more while I tested how many faces I recognized in saris and tennis shoes.  Answer?  A surprisingly high amount!

Our destination du jour was Elephanta Island, which you reach by taking any number of rickety old wooden boats on a ride 45 minutes across the bay.  I'd tell you about the island's history but alas, we did not hire a "tour guide" nor did we buy a "guide book" while there.  And yes, those quotation marks are to be read in a mocking tone.  Instead, we came, we saw, then Matt Wikipedia-ed it.  Good enough for who it's for.

As we embarked on our trip, Matt delivered one of the better lines of the trip:

Oh nice, a wooden hull boat.  It would take one big rock to smash this thing in and capsize us.  Of course, the good news is there would be a rock for all of us to stand on.

Sound and optimistic logic, indeed.

We made it across the bay without running into any rocks.  Upon reaching the island, you walk alongside tons of locals selling all sorts of goodies and trinkets.  Spiced pickles appeared to be the favored treat and a cow, goat, monkey, rooster, or stray dog will gladly take your leftovers.  You're also kindly asked to keep your elephanta clean.  This is humorous for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is the trash dump located within sight of the requesting signage.  And then there's just something funny about being asked to keep your elephanta clean, no? 

At the end of the pier, you reach the equivalent of an outdoor strip mall perched along both sides of a massive set of stairs that one must climb to get to the ticketing office.  Perhaps you'll be so delighted by the trinkets that you don't even make it to the apex?  Whatever floats your wooden hull boat, I guess.

We climbed and climbed and then huffed and puffed before buying tickets.  That transaction entailed giving one guy on the side of a shack our money and in return, he gave us paper tickets.  Next, we turned 90 degrees, walked 5 paces, and gave said paper tickets to another guy.  He took them, passed them to guy number three, and guy number three nodded us through the gate while he passed the paper back to guy number one.  Ahh, the whole toll booth staffing strategy appears to be consistent throughout this nation.

Once through the gate, you are free to walk about the paths and explore five caves in various stages of restoration (read: recreation through modern-day concrete and re-bar).  

Even if authenticity wasn't the wow factor, the scale of some of the caves certainly gave you pause.  While we enjoyed wandering through the caves, we found ourselves more interested in yet another hike up a hillside to two old canons.  I'd share a picture of the view but Mumbai smog plus a modest camera lens didn't amount to much.

Now, before we leave the island, note that I mentioned monkeys at the beginning of this tale.  Elephanta is known for its hordes of monkeys and they were everywhere.  So much so, in fact, that signs warned visitors to beware of them!  We did see a few aggressive ones go after tourists' lunches.  Given my track record with monkeys and cameras, you'd think that I'd finally capitalize on the chance to get a monkey photo without being harassed.  I guess I do better under pressure because the below image is all I got.  Weak.  I promise you there are monkeys in the shot.

After a full day of hiking and boating, we returned to South Mumbai and went to The Strand for rooftop beer and snacks.  Under a full moon and with a raucous wedding band providing the soundtrack, you can't ask for a better way to end the night!

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