Having enjoyed ourselves at the Elephanta caves, we decided to head North of the city to Sanjay Gandhi National Park. I really wanted to see the Kanheri Caves, and Mike wanted a chance to see some lions and tigers. SGNP is the largest national park in the world within city limits, making it quite appealing to day visitors.
To head North, we decided to catch the local train to Borivali. These trains have made it possible for individuals to commute over 50 km within 1.5 hours (in Bangalore traffic, covering 25 km can take up to 2 hrs during peak hours).
In my rush to board the train, I pushed Mike onto the first car of the train –and then realized it was the all-ladies car. How embarrassing! We quickly hopped off at the next stop and waited for the next train. We watched some cricket as we waited.
After a 1 hr ride to Borivali and a short rickshaw ride, we arrived at the park:
We caught a bus going deep into the park to the Kanheri Caves. These Buddhist caves were constructed during 1st century BCE to 9th century CE. Kanheri, the black mountain, was a university for Buddhism during the early part of last millennium.
There are 109 caves at Kanheri, but most are unadorned dorm rooms. However there are a handful of truly amazing caves. Cave 3 is the giant assembly hall. Stumbling upon the cave felt like entering an ancient city.
We were greeted at the door by Buddha, standing at over 20 ft tall. After 2000 centuries, he still stands, a big friendly giant watching those who enter and leave the shrine.
And just like any ancient architecture there was beautiful sculpture on the walls and foreign script.
The shrine at cave 3 was a large hall facing a geometrical representation of life.
Then we began to climb up the mountain to find more interesting caves. The trouble is, Kanheri isn’t well-marked. After finding a dozen dorm room caves, Mike and I were ready to throw in the towel and go find a lion safari. And, here’s where being Indian finally came in handy. A watchkeeper for the park saw us turn to leave and said “Memsahib, aap itne dhoor ayeeho, aur aap yeh Cave nahi dekhna?” [Madam, you’ve walked so far, but you don’t want to come see this cave?]. We walked maybe a dozen yards over to where he was standing and discovered a giant meditation hall, Cave 67.
The watchkeeper and I had a nice conversation where he told me where all of the interesting lecture rooms were located, and which hill paths to take to get there.
Cave 80 and 90 have 2000 yr old carvings. Also the room is so short I can touch the ceiling.
Cave 34 has a colored painting of Buddha in the ceiling. I wonder how the paint managed to stay on after so many centuries.
Cave 41 has an eleven-headed buddha sculpture (look at the left side of the photo). This sculpture represents an old buddhist myth regarding Avalokitesvara, a buddhist who embodies the compassion of Buddha. In this story, Avalokitesvara vows to not rest until all of the souls in the world had been freed from the cycle of life and death (i.e. attained peace or nirvana). After much effort, he realizes that the task is difficult, and the stress causes his head to break into 11 pieces. Buddha transforms these pieces into 11 heads so that Avalok can better hear the cries of people and respond to them.
Following a peaceful excursion through the ancient Buddhist university, we stopped for a cold drink (sodas) at a stall.
We had to be weary of the monkeys though. One grabbed a lady and stole her fanta!
To finish off our day at the park, we decided to go on a Lion+Tiger safari. While we got to see these royal beasts in nature, it was a bit artificial with the cages. Next time we’ll have to do a night safari in Kerala or close to the Himalayas…that’s when the leopards and tigers roam.
We decided to end our day with some dancing at a club in Colaba. Polly Ester’s turned out to be a fun and classy joint. Unlike Bangalore, Mumbai’s clubs stay open until 4 or 5 AM, so the party really gets going after midnight.
Combining nature, city, and clubbing…makes for another excellent day.