Mumbai Harbour is dotted with many islands. Among them, the island of Elephanta (4 km2). Just as they dubbed the bay (‘Bom Bahia' means good bay) the Portuguese explorers who disembarked there in the 17th century, saw an elephant sculpture carved in the rock and so named the island.
Only 10 kilometres offshore, it is just an hour by ferry (boarding below the Gateway of India). Elephanta Island or Gharapuri (the island of caves) is worth the trip for its collection of rock sculptures honouring the god Shiva. Here you can stand before the stunning temples that were dug and carved into the rock in the early 6th century, like the 40 metre main cave called the Great Cave, or Cave 1, or mandapa (meditation hall).
The masterpiece of the island is the immense Trimurti Sadashiva sculpture of Shiva, six metres high. Three faces, one looking ahead and two in impassive profile, reveal a different aspect of the god: one for Shiva the creator, one for Shiva the preserver, and one for Shiva the destroyer…