I promised you some more on the Elephanta Caves in Mumbai, India. About an hour boat ride from the Gate of India and Taj Mahal Hotel in downtown Mumbai are the Elephanta Caves, a network of sculpted caves located on an island in the Arabian Sea. There are five caves cut out of solid rock between the 5th and 8th centuries and dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
When the Portuguese came in 1534 they named the island “Elephanta Island” because of a huge rock-cut black stone statue of an elephant. The elephant now sits in the Mumbai zoo. Believe it or not, Portuguese soldiers used the massive reliefs of Shiva cut into the solid stone of the caves for target practice damaging or destroying much of the sculpture.
The main cave is the one primarily visited by tourists and was restored in the 1970s. The other caves, including three consisting of important sculptures, are still badly damaged. The caves were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 representing “a masterpiece of human creative genius”.
All of the caves feature an altar featuring a stone phallus, the “linga” emerging out of, or is it into, the “yoni” symbolic of the union of the Hindu god Shiva and were visited by pilgrims seeking fertility. The caves are now a national monument and are no longer considered temples per se, but people, maybe anxious for love or fertility, still place flowers on the erect phallus symbols.
The other caves are in various stages of preservation and repair.
The fifth cave is the most primitive, and really just a cave. But it, too, has a simple phallic altar. This cave is seldom visited by tourists, but the love and fertility wishes are probably more authentic, judging by the condom wrappers on the dirt floor.
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Meanwhile, back on board DAWN PRINCESS . . .
I celebrated the 31st Anniversary of my 37th birthday . . . through the Suez Canal. Unlike the Panama Canal, which offers constantly changing views of Panama and the jungle, as well as the fascinating locking process, Suez is pretty much a straight, sea-level cruise across the desert.
Unfortunately one of the engines on DAWN PRINCESS has been subject to a case of hick-ups, meaning the engines have had to be turned off several times, and we haven’t been able to keep up the necessary speed, so our call at Safaga – a highlight of the trip including the Valley of the Kings, Safaga, the Temples of Luxor and Karnak – cancelled! Not good . . . but a ship is a machine, and stuff happens. However, it’s a big disappointment, and pity the folks who had booked independent overnight excursions from Safaga to Port Said, including lots of non-refundable expenses. Ooops. Possibly a good argument to stick with ship tours; certainly, to have a trip cancellation policy that covers such events.
Since our planned call in Pireaus for Athens turned out to be on a day when a “general strike” was scheduled in Athens, which would have closed down the city, we had to reschedule Athens for today. So as I write this, at 5:30AM, we are sailing into Pireaus, and I’m off for a day climbing in the heat to the top of the Acropolis with thousands of others. July is the worst time to visit Athens.