Heritage Elephanta, India

With a fascination of exploring heritage structures especially in India and revisiting history , it took me decades to visit an absolutely awesome place so close to Mumbai. We have toured around various parts of India and abroad visiting places with ancient history but like they say “Ghar ki murgi dal barabar’, inspite of being an Mumbaikar (a term we born and bought up in Mumbai love to call ourselves ) it never did occur to visit a place so close to our city brimming with history and heritage.

Elephanta Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site . Located on Elephanta Island or also known as Gharapuri they are about 11 kms northwest from Gateway of India. The island has a coastline of 7 kms with two hillocks seperated by a narrow valley . The island has three small villages Raj Bunder,Shet Bunder & Mora Bunder which are still inhabited by people .

Travel : Elephanta Caves can be reached by the daily boat service operating from Gateway of India . The ferry service starts at 9 am and the last ferry from Elephanta is 5.30 pm. The travel lasting for 45 mins is quite smooth and comfortable and the sea gulls hovering around the boat waiting to be fed with tidbits make the journey enjoyable

Sea gulls encircling our boat enroute to Elephanta Islands

Our colony club had arranged for a one day picnic to this beautiful island . We had heard that it would be a 120 steps climb to reach the caves and would be tedious. I was very apprehensive on hearing this but the love for exploring heritage places won the battle raging in my mind and after seeing the magnificent caves , there was not a moment of regret. Though the steps leading upto the caves are built of stone, they are quite broad and not very steep . Both sides of the steps are lined with stalls selling clothes, costume jewelry, artifacts cold drinks, eatables so stopping at stalls admiring the items on display made the climb very easy

Our Colony excursion group

The Elephanta Caves are a collection of cave temples predominantly dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.The Main cave is an unusually large excavation supported by rows of massive pillars which rest on a square stone base.

On the left of the main entrance is the main sanctum enshrining an Linga and with four doors on either side having Dwarpalas or Doorkeepers . There is a big fair held every year during Mahashivratri . The island was captured by the Portuguese in 1534 AD. They have destroyed many sculptures and defaced them . Presently these Caves are a protected site under the Ancient Monuments preservation Act

The Shiva Linga in the main sanctum
A Dwarpala on one of the entrances of the main sanctum

The sculpture of Maheshmurti which is the most famous and iconic image associated with Elephanta Caves. The Central face depicts a calm Shiva or Mahadeva . The Destroyer image of Shiva or Bhairava image to the left depicts Shiva with a cruel mouth, moustache and hooked nose with skulls and serpents . The face on the right is a peaceful Shiva with feminine expressions holding a lotus.

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One side of the Maheshmurti sculpture is the Ardhanarishwar Shiva sculpture depicts Shiva, one half of body is female leaning against his Bull Nandi, the upper hands holding a snake & a mirror. The lower part of the sculpture is slightly damaged

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Ardhanarishwar Shiva

On the other side of the Maheshmurti is the Gangadhara Shiva Sculpture. The main sculptures are of Lord Shiva & his consort Parvati. According to mythology the mighty river Ganga was trapped in the matted locks of God Shiva. The Goddess Ganga has been depicted as the three headed Goddess above his hairlocks .

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Gangadhara Shiva

There is a sculpture of Natraj Shiva or the Lord in the Dancing Pose .However the lower portion of the sculpture is completely missing

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Natraj Shiva

A beautiful sculpture opposite the shrine is a scene showing Lord Shiva’s marriage to Goddess Parvati

Kalyanasundara Murti ( Marriage of Lord Shiva & Parvati)

On the north of the main entrance is a sculptured panel depicting a serene Shiva as a Mahayogi sitting in meditation on a lotus

Mahayogi Shiva

Many sculptures were damaged or defaced during the Portuguese invasion

Dwarpal sculptures which are damaged

Damaged structures of the Dwarpals ( Doorkeepers)in the background

There are other smaller caves also near the main caves ,but many of them do not have sculptures of great importance and are in a derelict condition

The trip to Elephanta is half a day trip. It is recommended to start the trip early in the morning to escape the heat and the milling crowds which start in the second half of the day

Rani ni Vav -Patan-Gujarat,India

Patan is a small village in Gujarat ,a state in India. It can be reached from Ahmedabad which is the nearest airport . Patan is about 100 kms away from Ahmedabad and is accessible by road or rail. We travelled to Ahmedabad from Mumbai and keeping it as a base visited two places with ancient history namely Modhera & Patan .

After visiting Modhera ( do read my blog on Modhera) which we completed by 12.30 pm , we drove down to Patan which is approx a 45 minute drive and 34 kms from Modhera . After having lunch at a dhaba serving Junagadhi food , we drove down to see another architectural marvel Rani ki Vav ( Vav means a Well in Gujarati ) which is one of the finest step well in India and situated in Patan

Step wells were built during ancient times not only for storage of water ,but also for recreational purposes when the Rani or Queen used to come with her maids to escape the scathing sun and enjoy the cool breeze wafting at the base of the well .It also served as a social get together spot for the village ladies when they used to come to fill water in their pots and also for religious ceremonies . Stepwells also made the task of filling water easier since the villagers could climb down to the groundwater level to fill water

Rani Ni Vav

Rani ki Vav or the Queens step well is an intricately constructed stepwell situated in the town of Patan built in the 11th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site .Located on the banks of Saraswati River, Rani ki Vav was built in memory of King Bhimdev Solanki by his beloved wife queen Udayamati. The stepwell was later flooded by the nearby Saraswati River and silted over until the late 1980s. When it was excavated by the ASI , the carvings were found in a proper condition.

It is an architectural wonder and I really marvel as to how the craftsmen must have created such a well with perfect dimensions and carved such intricate carvings and steps in those days when scales or modern tools were not available .

Intricate Carvings on each level of the Vav
Note the footwear worn by the Apsara on the left of the image
Carvings on the sides of the steps

The steps of the Vav begin at ground level, leading you down through several pillared pavilions to reach the deep well below. We had hired a guide because it was just not possible to understand the carvings and the history behind the Vav just by observing it . There are more than 800 elaborate sculptures amongst the seven levels . The main theme is the Dashavataras, or ten incarnations of Vishnu, including Buddha. There are many sculptures of apsaras painting their lips and adorning themselves at each level of the vav. Every level is different from the other and it is with awe and admiration that you appreciate the craftsmanship and the efforts taken by the craftsmen of yore .

However , unfortunately we were unable to go down to the last level which has been kept closed due to security reasons as mentioned by our guide

After completing Rani ni Vav we proceeded to a place next to it called the Sahastralinga
Talav which was a artificial water storage tank constructed by the Chalukya King Sidharaj Jai Singh in the late eleventh century. However it is completely dry now and in the ruins.

Sahastralinga Talav

It took about 2 hours for us to complete sightseeing the Vav after which we drove down to Ahmedabad which is about a 3 hour drive from Patan . There are many budget hotels to stay in Patan but except the Rani ni Vav not much of places to see. Ofcourse Patan is famous for its weavers who make the hand woven and intricate Patola saree. There is a Patola saree making unit in the main town and those interested can go to watch how an Patola saree is woven and also buy them .

Ahmedabad, India

The curiosity to visit two places having ancient history in Gujarat namely the Sun Temple at Modhera & the ancient Step Well Rani ni Vav at Patan gave us the opportunity to explore Ahmedabad too . These two places are close to Ahmedabad so we decided to keep Ahmedabad as the base and travel to these places.Little did we know that Ahmedabad also had a lot of history behind it and we would tick mark a third place for sightseeing in our itinerary which initially had just two places Modhera & Patan. Ahmedabad being the third.

Since travelling by road could take almost an entire day to reach Ahmedabad (Mumbai -Ahd is 526 kms ) to save time we decided to travel to Ahmedabad by the Shatabdi Express which leaves Mumbai at 6.15 am and reaches Ahmedabad at 1.30 pm. The train travel is quite comfortable with breakfast and lunch being served on the train and the broad windows of the train giving an unhindered view of the countryside as the train races to reach its destination in time. After checking into a hotel at Law Garden we decided to explore Ahmedabad in the afternoon.

Food : There are many dhabas or carts available in every nook and corner of the city comprising of fluffy khaman, jalebi-fafda, dabeli and samosas. The rates are extremely cheap and coupled with a hot cutting chai can make a wholesome meal in itself. Restaurants around serve the standard Punjabi dishes,pav bhaji ,Dosa,idli etc.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img-20171228-wa0099.jpg

                                                    Street food of Fafda /Jalebi ,Khaman 

There are not many non vegetarian restaurants available. You may get some in the Mirzapur Road area where the Siddi Sayyed Mosque, Bhadra Fort are located.During our visit to these places in the evening,we chanced upon this tiny place called Famous Samosa House which served a unique combination of mini  mutton samosas with pav.   

After tucking into delicious Gujarati Thali comprising of farsans, phulkas, veggies, kadhi dal and rice and totally satiated we visited the Sabarmati Ashram which was once the residence of Mahatma Gandhi and his wife Kasturba. It is located on the tranquil and serene stretch of Sabarmati River and has a number of other establishments within its bounds. The most famous among them is the museum ‘Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya’ which has some of Gandhi’s personal letters and photographs on display. There are other buildings and sites within the Gandhi Ashram known as Nandini, Vinoba Kutir, Upasana Mandir, and Magan Niwas. The cottage Hriday Kunj has his charkha and the writing table preserved there along with his wooden chappals and his spectacles .

At Sabarmati Ashram

After spending time in the Ashram we visited the Adalaj Stepwell or called Adalaj ni Vav ( Vav meaning well in Gujarati ) which is 14 kms from Sabarmati Ashram. Stepwells are wells in which the water is reached by steps. The stepwell may have been built to ensure water during periods of drought. Adalaj Stepwell is intricately carved and is five stories deep. It was built in 1498 by the Queen Rudradevi in memory of her husband Rana Veer Singh . It is a fine example of Indian architecture work. It is recommended to visit this well before sunset because climbing down the steps after sunset is a bit risky.

Adalaj Ni Vav
The base level of the Vav

A view from the second last level of the Vav

Evening we visited Law Garden for a round of shopping. Law Garden has lanes dedicated to stalls selling handicrafts, costume jewellery ,traditional Gujarati Chania Choli and other traditional apparel . A little ahead is the Khau Galli or the foodie street where late evening stalls serve street food like Pav Bhaji , Dosa , Chaat items ,Chinese food . The lane is crowded by 9 pm with locals

The next day was scheduled for our visit to Modhera & Patan. It was a day trip and we returned home late evening.

Swaminarayan Akshardham in Gandhinagar ( about 45 mins from Law Garden ) was on the top of our itinerary the next day. Akshardham is an architectural marvel with a perfect blend of art, culture and devotion . Spread over large expanse of land the
majestic Akshardham Temple is built using 6000 tons of pink sandstone.Since cameras and cell phones are not allowed inside the temple complex due to security reasons, we were unable to capture pics but the grandeur of the temple will always remain in our memory.

The afternoon was spent in sightseeing local tourist places in Ahmedabad like the Hathi Singh Jain Temple a renowned Jain temple

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A Monument inside the Hathi Singh Jain Temple

The Siddi Sayyed mosque, close to it is the Rani Rupmati’s Mosque which is built with Islamic & Hindu architecture. Rani Rupmati’s tomb is also situated here. A little ahead at a distance of 5 mins is the Bhadra fort and Teen Darwaza a beautiful pillared gateway

Carvings in the Siddi Sayyed mosque
Carvings in the Siddi Sayyed mosque
Rani Rupmati’s mosque built with Hindu & Islamic architecture
The Bhadra Fort

After a toy train ride at the Kankaria Lake late evening, we were ready to board our night train to Mumbai