Wednesday, June 6, Mumbai, India.
Today’s major activity was a trip to Elephanta Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site about a 45 minute boat ride from Gateway of India. We had no problems purchasing tickets (RP150/US$3 each) and then hopping on the ferry, which left a few minutes later.
The island doc is on the end of a fairly long causeway and they have a narrow gauge railroad that can be ridden to the bottom of the 120 steps that lead to the caves. Or you can hire porters to carry you up on a sedan chair, but for any reasonably fit person, the trip from the dock to the caves is a gentle walk and climb that takes maybe twenty minutes. Along the way everyone pays a RP5 tax, walks past the ubiquitous stands of souvenirs and at the main entrance at the top you pay your entry fee, which is RP250/$5 each for foreigner’s ticket, but just RP10 for Indians. However, the foreigners’ tickets include a guide service so we were glad we didn’t hire one of the locals trying to pigeon hole us off the boat
Our guide Ramanandan was amazing. He spoke perfect English, was very knowledgeable and clearly had educational experience (we later found out that he taught at the Waldorf School). He not only gave us information about the site, but by finding out a little about our backgrounds, was able to tailor his presentation to our knowledge level and experience, e.g. he made a lot of engineering references knowing that this is the boys’ area of expertise and interest. He told us so much about Indian culture and philosophy, especially how it relates to mysticism. One example is the Hindu idea of god is that of Generator, Operator, and Destroyer. Sometimes this is the Trimurtha – three principal deities (Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva) and sometimes it is the different aspects of the same god, e.g. the three headed version of Shiva. The cave is a temple to Shiva and essentially is a series of spaces arranged around a central inner sanctum. The inner sanctum contains a Shiva lingam or large stone thallus that is the center of veneration. In the spaces around this are galleries containing amazing carved panels depicting various scenes from the life of Shiva. Decorated columns seem to support the entire space.
The amazing thing about this temple is that is it all one piece of rock – the entire temple was excavated and carved from the solid rock under the mountain approximately 1,500 years ago. All the detail work, all the columns, etc. are one interconnected piece of rock.
We walked back to the dock just as a boat was leaving and were hurried on to it. As far as we knew all boats came and departed from the Gateway of India, but when we docked, we found ourselves at a different port in Mumbai and the boat was not going on to Gateway of India, so we got off and tried to figure out where we were Even when presented with a city map, none of the locals (inc. the policemen) could point out where they thought we were. So we took a taxi to a restaurant (the Copper Chimney) which we had read about in our guide. Lots of confusion ensued as policemen and locals all tried to help the taxi driver figure out where we were going. In the end he got us to the general area and we walked a ways until we eventually found the place, about 20 minutes before they closed the kitchen, but this was enough time for them to serve us up a very nice lunch.
Nearby was the local Rolls Royce showroom and in fact, on our way back to the hotel, we say a shiny new white Rolls Royce. I would think that you’d have to be crazy to try and drive a car like that here – one scratch from a taxi and the repair would probably cost more than the taxi is worth. About 80% of the cars on the road appear to be taxis and the other 19.99% appear to be what in the US would be middle class or economy cars – Hyundais, Toyotas, etc. Haven’t seen any Mercedes, BMWs, etc. – just the one Rolls Royce on the road (plus 3 in the showroom). We later found out that cars here typically end up costing about 3X the US with import duties etc. In the paper I saw an ad for a used 2011 Prius with 8,000 KM (5,000 miles) on it with an asking price of RP23 lakh, or about US$50,000. The Indian counting system is interesting, rather than use millions or billions, for large numbers they use lakh, with is 10^5, or 1/10th million, and crore, which are 10^7 or 10 million or 100 lakhs, so you sometimes see numbers like 23,00,000 (23 lakh) which is a correct representation in India, but looks very confusing. We would expect to see 2,300,000.
After lunch we came back to the hotel and got the 3G data plan working on the phones, so now we have internet access. Dinner was a tasty but simple affair provided by our hotel and included in the tariff. We ate with the Welsh couple we met yesterday, then hung out with them on the rooftop terrace watching the traffic go by in the evening. Then it was time to try to get some sleep before facing the onslaught of Mumbai again tomorrow.