May 6, 2000
This breezy coastal capital got its start as a wedding present to Britain from Portugal, when Catherine Braganza married England's Charles II in 1661. At the time, this city (then called Bombay) was just a large, undeveloped island. Now, with 15 million inhabitants, it's one of India's most dynamic cities. Leaving Abeja to delve into mainland Mumbai, I decided to do a little island hopping (... in search of adventure, like Indiana Jones)!
Unfortunately, my reign was cut short by the flash flood of splashing from the water down below. The hot summer days had forced all of the local teenage boys into the water, and everyone waiting to board the boat got splashed.
These boys had a major expedition going on -- running, diving, splashing -- what a great way to stay cool in this weather. I was so impressed that I decided to catch a few candid shots. Uh-oh, what did I start? Once I snapped a picture of one slider they all sought the camera's focus.
"Bye guys! Be back soon!" I waved.
No one really knows when Elephanta was first inhabited or by whom. But whoever it was left a lasting impression (... and Indiana Jazz was going to find some clues).
Gharapuri, or Place of Caves, is one of Mumbai's most popular attractions for locals and tourists alike. After over 1,500 years this Hindu temple is still a functioning shrine to Shiva, the destroyer god. As a matter of fact, I was one of only three tourists going to visit the island. I was surrounded by smiling and giggling Hindi families who were very curious about the stranger going to visit their temple.
"Nay, nay, from Nigeria," another countered.
"America," I said, smiling, to roars of laughter.
I'd made friends now and walked with a Koli woman once we arrived (... It's always good to act like you don't know anything and make friends with the locals. Stay incognito and you'll get the inside scoop. Listen...).
(... Ah ha! The Portugese never even knew what was right under their noses all along... but we'll find it. You just stick with me.)
While authority and leadership changed over the years, some things stayed the same. The jungle landscape of the island, for example, was unspoiled and pristine. I felt like these trees had a secret to tell, and I was a guest in their home. And before I entered their world I thanked them with a humble nod for allowing me to visit (... I may need their help if things get out of hand).
The elephant the island's named after is no longer part of the ancient décor, but there were still plenty of animals. I expected cows and bulls, even chickens and goats, but when the branches began to shake wildly, for no apparent reason, I had no idea what to expect (... I was right! These trees were protecting something, we must be getting close! Or not). But the branches were just full of wild monkeys (... Oh, okay).
Inside the ancient temple, monkeys darted in and out, sitting in corners with yellow eyes staring out as Shiva danced in relief carvings around the cave.
We soon found what we were looking for. Staring back into our souls was a three-headed carving of Shiva, larger than life, daring us to take the jewel in the center of his head. (... Ok, there was no jewel but there should have been. It was perfect!)
The Trimurti, or triple-headed Shiva, is the most famous of all of the panel carvings. The god is depicted as preserver, creator, and destroyer (... ah ha ha ha ha, destroyer!).
You'll have to excuse my frenzied imagination. It just gets away from me sometimes.
The day was really quite pleasant. Ocean waves were gentle as cows waded in the lagoon. Once we were off the island, the cool breeze tamed the sun and life was bearable again. The Trimurti was a powerful rendering of Shiva, and I am totally convinced that everything I just imagined probably did happen. You know, a long time ago when... okay, maybe not. But the monkeys, they were real! Really they were, and they were everywhere! No, believe me, I promise.
Oh well. It was fun while it lasted. I wonder what other adventures I'll dream up while I'm here. The magic of India is swirling around me and I'm dizzy with excitement. Or maybe that's just heat stroke...
Stay tuned as we visit Hindustan for more exotic adventures!
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew - The Things We Do for Love -- The Story Behind the Taj Mahal
Brian - Beginnings and Endings
Kavitha - Delhi -- The City I Love to Hate
Monica - The Eternal Light Shines Brightly: Amar Jyoti, a School for the Differently-abled
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