I have had 2 previous visits to Elephanta caves. This time it was the worst experience and I shall think 100 times before visiting it again. I must confess that the situation there was gruesome and I had a fear of falling a victim of a possible stampede. Before I go further writing about the entire turmoil, let me tell you briefly about the usual stuff about the place / the journey / the feel etc. through my perspective.
Elephanta Caves is situated in a Elephanta Island. You can reach there by taking Ferry from Gateway of India after shelling out around 100-150 bucks. No doubt, the highlight of the entire journey is the Ferry ride which is close to 45 minutes one side. En-route, you will see plenty of Ships, cargo vessels, mid-to-large boats, patrolling boats, and a few Japanese and Korean ships as well. Given that you are traveling under the shades and the temperature is bearable, it is indeed a moment to cherish. Snacks, water and cold drinks will be served on the ferry at prices usually higher than the MRP with no negotiations. To climb up the upper deck the ferry staff will ask for 20 bucks without which you are not allowed to even step on the stairs. Any ways, the view is better from up there.
After the 45 minutes journey, you reach Elephanta island. Get down at the passage, buy mini train ticket (approx 10 bucks pax), board it till the main entrance. Buy another ticket to enter the island (INR 5 pax). Walk up till the foothill and you will see stairs going up the hill. The stairway has small open shops throughout, selling various accessories, memorabilia, gift items, artificial jewellery, and few other art and craft items. It is not a tough climb and will take hardly 20 minutes for a slow trekker. At the hill top just before entering the cave area, there is a booth to buy tickets. 10 bucks for Indians and around 200-300 for foreigners. Altogether there are 7 caves, the first 2 being the biggest and the last one is worth skipping if you are short of time. The last ferry leaves by 6:30pm, so ensure you are back at the boarding area accordingly.
Now the story of turmoil
28th December 2014, I along with my wife and one cousin reached Gateway of India at 12:00 pm. The counters outside the entrance booth have stopped selling the tickets. You now need go at the back of Gateway structure. There will 2 lines, one to buy tickets and the other to actually board the ferry. Being Sunday, it was too crowded and messier. We somehow sneaked in breaking the queue and got the tickets in 5 minutes. The ones who wanted it legitimately had to stand in queue for at least half an hour. Thanks to my wife who still has the Delhism running in her blood. Again, we broke the other queue and joined the crowd who was supposed to board the next ferry.
If you have every taken the ferry, you must have seen that there is no safety railing on the stairs edge. As soon as the ferry arrived people started pushing each other to make way and grab their favorite seats. In that scuffle, a lady was pushed by the crowd and she fall down between the stairs and ferry. Few more were about to fall but somehow managed to stick to the edge. In all that hue and cry, a-few-good-men dived immediately to save her. Altogether, it took 5 men to pull the women out as she was sinking further below (she didn’t know swimming and due to her heaving weight, was plunging quickly). The ferry driver cum supervisor played heroic who first went under the lady, pushed her up through her feet. Kudos to this guy names Asif.
Part 2 – Ferry and Filth:
On the ferry, despite of having dustbins, people were more comfortable throwing the garbage either in the sea or on the deck itself. I was a bit motivated after the recent Swach Bharat Andolan campaign, but was feeling too lazy to clean other’s mess. I know I should have done it. Later on I started relating my own attitude towards the cleanliness spree that if I am so lazy, the same is the case with others.
Part 3 – People and Inhumane Behavior:
After alighting the ferry I hardly had to put any efforts to walk as I was pushed by the crowd. I was feeling as if I’m just floating towards the train boarding area. It was really funny seeing people grabbing each other across the track ensuring they are closest to the train to jump in. There was no sense of fear, even in the people carrying kids, as they were motivated more to save time than their small ones’ life. People were fighting for the seats that made me to realize that indeed I’m amongst a bunch of inhumane and foolish crowd. We decided to walk than waiting for the next train.
Part 4 – More Filth and Trash:
The entire island has now turned into a trash box. Plastic bottles, snack wrappers and loads of trash lies throughout the perimeter of the train track & the pavement on which it runs. It smells filth and nothing else. The trash is everywhere and I bet, you will not find a single place which you can label as “clean”. In and around caves area, there are guards deployed to control miscreants doing rubbish stuffs. Yet, there were many guys who were proudly throwing the garbage inside the cave. Thanks that the guards are attentive and will complain immediately. I can’t explain but you got to see towards the valley when you move out of cave 2 and take right towards cave 3. A trash collector can earn a fortune if they had to start a business out there.
Part 5 – Stampede and Security:
This was my 3rd visit at Elephanta. The last 2 were easy-coming-easy-going trips, but this time it was a dreadful situation. I have had never seen so many visitors coming to the island that day. It was a complete mess. The officials did not plan it and allowed as many of them to enter the island. But they never realized that more people will require more ferries. Each ferry will take at least 1 and a half hours to make a round journey. We reached the ferry boarding area at around 5:30pm only to find ourselves amidst a possible stampede like situation. There was total chaos and people were pushing each other. The frustration level among the visitors was getting higher as they were standing & waiting for the ferries for hours. The moment a ferry arrives, people start pushing from behind putting the lives of front lots in danger. As stated earlier, there are no safety railings on the stairway edge. When the next ferry arrived, I somehow managed to push my wife inside. By the time my turn came, the ferry was already ready to push off. I had to jump from the stairs on to the edge and grab the wooden railings. Thanks almighty! I was finally safe. When the ferry left I turned behind only to see an endless queue of people waiting for their turn.
So what is the solution:
- Tickets – Altogether you have to buy 4 tickets to see the caves – Ferry charge, train charge, island entrance fee and caves entrance fee. Make it as a package and sell it online.
- Visitor’s movement – Only limited number of tickets should be sold based on the maximum capacity
- Safety – Staircase for boarding and alighting the ferry should have strong railing installed. There should be a makeshift passage which people can use to walk from Stairs to ferry.
- Cleanliness – You can’t expect people to change. But the government authorities should also help people to improve. If you do not have dustbins, where the hell you expect to throw the trash. I couldn’t track a single trash can (except 1 near cave 1) in the entire island. Officials should penalize heavily on perpetrators.
Elephanta caves has been recognized highly on a global heritage level. Yet, WE – ourselves and the government is not helping at all.
Nonetheless to say, Elephanta caves is a must-go-and-visit place around Mumbai and is a fantastic tourist designation. Despite of all the above stated issues, I will go there again – but this time only if I am forced with no choice.