Excerpts from -word article. Pictures available.


by Pam Hobbs

In Mumbai (formerly known internationally as Bombay,) you will find little of anything pre-dating 17th century development by the British. But it is close at hand, across the harbour waters on one of the original islands which remained separated from others connected to form this important port. At the city's Gateway of India you can board an excursion boat for a half-day trip to Elephanta Island, formerly known as Gharapuri, capital of the Silhara dynasty in the year 1 A.D.

This is a delightful one hour's ride, at the outset affording you the famous waterfront view that so impressed dignitaries who used to arrive by sea before the advent of air travel. (It is also the last view of India seen by departing British trops in 1947.) The tour includes explanations of Elephanta's temple caves, from a guide who travels with each boat from Bombay.

I visited Elephanta with my friend Kalpana, a Hindu who comes here whenever time permits. Usually she brings her nieces and nephews, and they walk for two kilometers to the island's far side, away from the comings and goings of tourists. There they stay for a weekend or longer, in one of several fishermen's cottages available for rent. Lack of electricity and indoor plumbing is of no importance because Kalpana is not looking for physical comforts. She is here to meditate, to be in touch with herself and find spiritual peace, away from a frenetic lifestyle in Bombay. Next time, she says, I too must stay. If I thought it would make me as wise and serene as she, I would jump at the chance.

As we near Elephanta, small boys and women arrive at the dock. Some carry wild flowers. "If you accept a hand up, or a flower" the guide tells us, "payment is expected." With that she opens a large black umbrella to protect her against a burning sun, and steps unaided onto the quay. It is very difficult to refuse a flower offered by a smiling child. Better to carry some coins in your pocket.