I haven’t been on an adventure in ages. People these days tend to get cooped up inside their houses or get piss-drunk in bars, and the great outdoors usually gets relegated to the great ignored outdoors.
So when I asked Chandu to suggest a place to go to and he suggested Kanheri caves, I jumped at the opportunity. I had read about Kanheri caves from another blog (1) . The post was as surprising as it was inspiring. I had never heard of Buddhist caves inside Mumbai’s city limits. The possibility of exploring something that was an auto-rickshaw distance away was thrilling. I guess in some corner of heart I still have a little bit of Jupiter Jones. (A shout-out for anyone who gets that one)
I think we managed to do everything differently from the blog I mentioned earlier. We arrived at Sanjay Gandhi National Park at 8:30 a.m. and managed to find a restaurant opposite the gate that served us some yummy Missal Pav, Idlis and super sugary cutting chais that weren’t as cut out as we’d expected them to be. I was happy to have my missal and cutting chai as these were two things in my Must-do-in-Mumbai list. If you’re wondering whether all the other items were foods, you’re bang on the money.
Slobs that we were, instead of taking the 5 km trek to the caves, we waited for a bus to pick us up. There was one everyone hour starting 9:00 a.m. Something that looked like it had been a contraption used to transport prisoners not too long ago pulled up near the gate and we herded ourselves in. The ride down was pretty bumpy, but as I had mentioned earlier, I was in love with the all the colors.
We were dropped a little ahead of the caves and we had to hike it up for a kilometer or so. Carrying water and grapes for the trip is a great idea. Water for you, grapes for the monkeys. While you hike up, you’ll see plenty of monkeys, who will walk over pick grapes from your hand as if they were expecting it.
Other than the monkeys, the rest of the walk should leave you breathless, especially if you are the types who would prefer a missal pav early in the morning to a nice walk in the woods. Our party did their best to huff and puff as much as they could; myself included.
Other than the 4 of them, there was also a dog who faithfully escorted us all the way to the top. I tried to remind everyone of how a Dog Walker had accompanied Yudhishtira up the mountain in the Season Finale of the Mahabharata (5) . I tried to tell remind everyone in that episode at the end of the climb Dog Walker transforms into Yama and with very heavy breathing (long walk up) says “Dude, I’m you’re father”. Star Wars picked it up much, much later. Also in the episode, all the people walking with Dharmaraj fell down and died during the climb. I started to tell my gang that I was the noble guy and I would survive, meaning that all of them would fall down and die, but luckily I realized that the dog analogy would blow in my face. I limited myself to grunts and huffs.
The sight to behold when we reached there was amazing.A big thanks to Anish for this panoramic stitch. Click the pic below for a better view.
The cave above is the first cave that one sees as soon as one finished the journey up. This one is labelled Cave #1 and there is one just beside it labeled Cave #2. Naturally I thought that this would help the monks of yore know where they had to go when they had to. What we didn’t realize till much, much later was that there are 109 caves cut beautifully into the rocks. I say beautifully because the precision and simplicity of the cuts are perfectly counter-balanced by the detailing of the sculptures and the aura of the place.
The word Kanheri apparently comes from the words for black in color. I guess the person who had named it had just discovered the meaning of the phrase “Gotcha!” because there was nothing really black about what we saw.
In the foreground above, you can see a Vihara (2) which indicates that the monks used to pray here. In the background, one can get an idea of the beauty of the place, as you have sculptures carved all over the wall. Like I said, simplicity juxtaposed with detailing. The caves date back to 1st century BC to 9th century AD. In hindsight, it was nice to be walking in something that was being used in the same era as Christ. (Did I get that right?)
The #2 cave reminded me of Hamunaptura. If you remember the scene from The Mummy where they discover the lost city for the first time, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Check this out.
After a while, Chandu and I went trekking a bit higher and it was then we saw how big the place actually was. William Wordsworth would have done a Ctrl-H on his poem, replacing Daffodils with Buddhist caves if he had seen the sight. Too bad I don’t have a picture to show you. But do not despair, I have put together a nice slideshow for you. I have been waiting for a long time to test out the slide show capability of WordPress. Even though it is 3rd party, if WordPress recommends something(6), you’d know it was good. Please do let me know what you think.
It was 1:00 in the afternoon and time to bid adieu to Kanheri. We had some lovely nungu (3) from a nice lady at the bottom of the climb down. This was one item I had forgotten to add in my list before. The punjabi girl in our group had never seen this before much less eaten it. If you’re eating/slurping/drinking nungu for the first time, the experience can be a little disturbing. After you’re done peeling, the gooey fruit core reminds you of everything you don’t want to be reminded of. Put once the white jell-o touches your mouth, you’re hooked. It is probably the best fruit to munch down in the summer. The punjju took it like .. well .. as a punjiu takes to nungu (henceforth).
Cheers from Kanheri
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