Looking for a weekend gateway near Mumbai? Mumbai has many cool picnic spots worth visiting at the weekends. One such amazing place and one of my favorite are the historical Elephanta caves. A delight for mythology enthusiasts and history buffs, Elephanta caves is a group of historic caves in an island off the Mumbai coast. It is a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site in Mumbai.
Elephanta Island is popular for various ancient temples, carvings, and sculptures. This island is called the Gharapuri which means the ‘City of Caves’. Elephanta Island is around 10km distance from Mainland India. These caves hold significant importance for Shiva devotees and the rock-cut designs will take you back to an era of architectural brilliance. You can find the harmonization of Buddhism and Hinduism at this place.
Look out for a detailed guide on how to reach the Elephanta caves by various locales and means of transport. Before that let me take you through the history and architectural significance of this marvelous structure.
I was super amazed by the many stories this island narrates. I recommend you hire a guide to know all the historic information about this place.
The evidence of settlement on this island dates back to the 2nd century BC. There is no literature or recordings of the caves before the 5th century. Most scholars believe that the caves were built not later than 500 AD. The newest addition to this place is the iconic Shiva temple built during the Kalachuri’s reign.
In the 16th century, the Portuguese took over the island and named it Elephanta Caves because they found a giant stone elephant on the island. The elephant is now located in Jijamata Udyaan of Mumbai. In the British era, the island became famous among pilgrims who visited the caves to worship Lord Shiva.
The position of the temples on this island resembles a traditional mandala pattern. The carvings of this island explain Hindu mythologies. The grand cave of the island is believed to have been destroyed by the Christian Portuguese invasion. The walls of the caves have Persian inscriptions and lovely sculptures (sadly, most of them are destroyed).
The island has two groups of ancient caves. The large cave collection has five caves that lie on the western hill region of the island. Cave 1 is the primary one and runs around 1 km deep and the remaining four caves lie close to the primary cave. The grand cave is roughly square with a central mandapa. There are numerous entrances to the cave and it holds the main Shiva temple of Elephanta Islands. Top sculptures to spot here are Ardhanarisvara, Ravananugraha, Yogishvara, Kartikeya, Ganesha, Dvarapala, and others. The most important sculpture of this cave is the 20 feet high Trimurti statue. This cave is located near the shore and you need to climb around 120 steps to reach it. Alternatively, you can take a toy train to the top. The return ticket fare for the toy train is ₹10.
The 6th and 7th caves lie on the eastern hill area of the island. Both the hills are connected to each other by a man-made pathway. The eastern hill is popular for its stupas and is also called the Stupa Hill. Cave 6 is the largest cave on Stupa Hill and is called the Sitabai temple. The cave is supported by four pillars. There is a central chamber that holds the largest temple while the smaller chambers were the resting place for the Buddhist monks. Cave 7 is a smaller cave with verandahs and few sculptures.
Best Time To Visit Elephanta Caves
Those of you who have visited Mumbai or stay here know pretty much about the climate. You’ll find the weather in Mumbai hot and humid most of the year. Thus I suggest choosing the time to visit this beautiful island wisely.
It is best to visit the Elephanta Caves between November to February, during the winter season. If you’re looking for a budget vacay in Mumbai, the summer season will offer discounts on flights and accommodations. Heavy rains slash this city and there are jams and water-clogging everywhere. The ferry and other water activities in the Arabian Sea are closed during the monsoons in Mumbai. Thus, the rainy season is the worst time to visit.
Elephanta Caves Timings
- Tuesday to Sunday: 9:30 am – 5:00 pm
- Monday closed
- Ferry from Gateway of India: Starts @ 9:00 am
- Indians: ₹40 per person
- Foreigners: ₹600 per person
- Village visit: ₹10 per person
- Toy train ride: ₹10 per person
- Video camera: ₹25
- Still camera: Free
- Guide charge: Starting from ₹100
Be a witness to the virtual tour of Elephanta Caves with me. Check out my vlog here.
How To Reach Elephanta Caves?
Elephanta Island is not directly connected to Mainland India. If you’re planning to visit the caves, The Gateway of India jetty is the only way to reach there. In case you’re traveling by air, the Mumbai International Airport is the nearest to the Elephanta Caves.
Once in Mumbai, you need to take a combination of road and water transportation to reach the Elephanta Caves. I have listed some easy ways to reach the Gateway of India below:
By Road: You can hire cabs, buses, taxis, or take a private vehicle to Gateway of India. Auto-rickshaws are not allowed in South Mumbai. From here you need to take a boat to reach the islands.
By Train: Commuting in Mumbai via train is very easy as the railway stations here are well-connected. The frequency of the trains is very good. I reached the CST railway station and boarded a taxi to Gateway of India. You can also reach the Churchgate station and walk to the monument too.
How To Reach Elephanta Caves From Gateway Of India?
Once you reach Gateway of India you will find many ferries to go to Elephanta Islands. Little boys keep shouting ‘Elephanta’ and you can buy the ticket for jetty from them.
For a return journey, the ferry ride will cost –
- ₹205 per person for deluxe double-decker ferry
- ₹150 per person for single-decker ferry
- Children below 2 years can travel free
The first boat in the morning starts at 9:00 am and the first boat leaves the Elephanta caves at 12:00 noon. To enjoy the best of the trip make sure you start early. I boarded the boat at around 11:00 am but you should start your day early. The last boat from Gateway of India starts at 2:00 pm while the last boat from the caves leaves at 5:30 pm.
It took me an hour to reach the caves on the ferry. The view from the deck was mesmerizing. Hundreds of seagulls flock around the jetty hoping to get some food from the visitors. Feeding chips and biscuits to seagulls are harmful to them, please avoid such acts. Don’t litter in the sea. Be a responsible citizen and enjoy your ferry ride to the fullest.
How To Reach Elephanta Caves From Bandra?
The distance between Gateway of India and Bandra is around 18 km. Take a direct taxi or bus to the Gateway of India and board the ferry. You can also take the local train from Bandra railway station and reach Churchgate. Gateway of India is just a walk away from there.
How To Reach Elephanta Caves From Pune?
There are no direct means of communication between Pune and Elephanta Caves. Pune is 162.5 km away from the Elephanta Caves. So the best option to reach there is taking a train from Pune to Mumbai, reach Gateway of India, and lastly take the boat to the caves.
If you’re looking for a comfortable trip then hire a direct cab from Pune to Mumbai, Gateway of India and from there you can hire a boat to reach the island. You can also take buses to reach Mumbai and continue the journey from there.
Frequently Asked Questions
Elephanta Caves is located off the coast in Mumbai. It lies around 10 km from mainland India. To reach the caves, you’ll need to go to the popular tourist spot the Gateway of India in Mumbai. From here you can reach the jetty and purchase for the launch (ferry) from the Maharastra tourism development corp (MTDC) office at the entrance of the monument. The ferry ride takes 1 hour to reach the Elephanta Islands. From here you can climb up to the caves or take a toy train ride to reach the top.
Yes, if you’re a history buff and love Indian culture and mythology then Elephanta Caves are definitely worth visiting. This glorious abode of Lord Shiva is an epitome of Hindu culture and beliefs. Elephanta Caves consists of 7 caves of which the most remarkable is the Mahesa-murti Cave.
The ferry ride from Gateway of India to Elephanta Caves takes about an hour. The first boat leaves the Gateway at 9 am and the last one leaves at 2 pm. You can get a boat every half an hour from the Gateway of India between this duration.
Once you reach the Elephanta Island you need to climb up 120 steps from the shore to the main entrance of the cave. If you’re unable to walk there are palkhis available for the pilgrims that take you to the caves tour. You can also board the toy train to reach the top.
If you want to tour the complete island and know the history and stories about the caves, we recommend budgeting around 1-2 hours there. Plus, the ferry ride takes 1 hour; the journey is mesmerizing. Most travelers mention it is a divine place and time just passes by.
Yes, you can click pictures at the Elephanta Caves but videography is not allowed inside the main caves. There are a few spots and pathways you can capture in your camera. All the UNESCO World Heritage Site prohibits videography inside. You can get amazing silhouettes of the sculptures against the lights in these caves.
Yes, you can take food along with you to the Elephanta Caves. Make sure you dispose of the garbage appropriately and not dirty the place. Staying overnight at the caves is not possible. There are a few carts and restaurants to have snacks and meals that you can relish on the trip.