Elephants and Monkeys
Hi all! Sorry for the long delay. For the past couple of months I’ve been wading through the good, the bad and the ugly. The good, Andrew and I spent 8 days in Mumbai. The bad, Andrew moved again, this time to Wellington for a short term contract. And the ugly, I had back surgery.
I’ve been taking it easy on my own again for a bit, recovering from back surgery and I’m starting to feel like my old self again. I had one short visit to visit Andrew, right before my surgery, but I wasn’t feeling well so I didn’t get to do much exploring. I am really looking forward to heading down there a bunch of times over the next couple of months to see him and explore the Wellington area. A lot of exciting new places to visit soon!
For now, let me tell you about some elephants and monkeys.
Andrew and I had a free day in Mumbai, so we, along with a friend Rachael, headed to the Gateway of India. It’s a huge archway constructed for a visit by King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay when it was under British rule. In 1947, the last of the British troops ceremoniously left India via the gateway signaling the end of the British rule in India. (Now to clarify, Mumbai is the same city as Bombay. Mumbai is thought to be more similar to the historical Indian name, whereas Bombay was a Portuguese anglicized name of the city introduced when Portugual ruled the city briefly prior to the British rule.)
So anyways, at this gateway, you can pay a couple dozen rupees for a ferry ticket to Elephanta Island. You do have to wade through heaps of people selling balloons and tea and photos and tours but there is a government run nook where you can purchase said tickets. Once we got our tickets, we made our way to the water’s edge to try and find our ferry. There were no signs and we weren’t really sure where to go, but somehow, with the help of some helpful locals, we found a mob of people all clamoring to secure passage on one of these ferries. We quickly made our way onto a ferry, and were thrilled to see the ferry was not as packed as expected. Sadly, the early breeze on the boat faded after a bit, and it was quite a toasty, slow hour long amble to this island.
The ferry tied up to another ferry, which was tied up to another ferry and we somehow made it onto the pier. From the pier, there was a train for 10 rupees (20 cents NZD or 15 cents USD) to the island. It was a 5 minute walk, but it was hot, and cheap. We walked, which was actually rather fortunate, because we ended up spotting these neat little mudskippers in the shore. These little fish use their fins to actually walk/skip across the mud and puddles left behind by the receding tide. They kind of look like salamanders when their out and still, but then they have this large gill they open and their fins rotate and they look pre-historic, like the tiktaalik.
After being entertained for a bit, we moved along the pier, to a tiny little town. The town basically consisted of souvenir shops and a cow. From here, there was a small fee, I think about 50 rupees to get “onto” the island. Hokay.
Then there were stairs. Lots of stairs. And souvenir shops. And more souvenir shops. And more, and more shops. And at after spending 8 days in Mumbai, the souvenirs here were the cheapest in all the city! So there’s a hot tip if you are doing any shopping in Mumbai. We’d already purchased most of our gifts, which was rather disappointing. Oh, and then more stairs. Somehow, all the guidebooks forgot to mention these. They are kind of hard to miss. The climb was not impossible, but it was pretty hot and humid.
At the top of the stairs, there were a handful of restaurants and an entrance way to Elephanta Caves. Only a couple of rupees for Indians, it ran us foreigners nearly $5! Ouch. Talk about nickle and diming. But all up not bad for entrance into this “City of Caves”, considering it’s an UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Elephanta Caves are a network of caves that was believed to be built around the 5th and 6th century. In the 1500’s, the Portuguese named the island Elephanta after finding a large elephant statue, that has since been relocated. There are many large carvings of Shiva, one of the main Hindu deities in the main hall/temple as well as other Buddhist references.
The carvings were pretty neat, and it was interesting to see the impressive artwork and carving that were completed ages ago. The mystery of when and who built them is also intriguing.
What was perhaps most surprising though, was that the carvings were not the only interesting photo opportunity. There were two famous people, Andrew and Rachel. Andrew, a 6 foot 4 white guy with a red beard and Rachel, a tall blond, made quite the scene. Folks would stop and ask them politely if they could take a photo with them. After some sleuthing, it sounds like the Indian tourists liked to take photos with white people and pass them off as friends they made on their travels. So to the handful of ‘friends’ I made in India, hi again!
The heat was pretty oppressive, so we didn’t stay long. On the way back down the stairs, we ran into some monkeys (Rhesus Macaques?). They were off several yards at first, but then we saw some right up along the path. They were these cute little things from afar, but up close, I’ll admit, I was a little nervous. They didn’t look like the most friendly of critters. Many of the monkeys had tiny babies. One appeared to still have it’s umbilical cord attached. Awwww!
These guys knew how to work a crowd. We saw one monkey pick up a bottle of water and expertly unscrew the cap and take the last couple of sips. Later he got his hands on partially filled bottle and knew exactly how to handle and balance the bottle, even though it was nearly half the size of him!
But then things got more intimate. I had purchased a bottle of soda and one monkey approached me, and grabbed my bottle! I don’t think so! It was nearly full. He had quite the grip, and it was a battle of wits. I didn’t know if the sucker would come at me if I didn’t let go, but after firmly denying his advances, he backed off. A bigger guy came over and we all backed away. These were wild animals after all.
At the bottom of the hill, down all the stairs, we walked past the last of the stray dogs and wandering goats and cows and found our way back to the ferry.
All in all, quite the adventure.