People are always saying that there isn’t enough in Mumbai to entertain kids. I suppose that it’s true if you benchmark Mumbai to places like Singapore and Dubai, with their fancy zoos and aquariums. But at the same time, Mumbai has things and experiences to offer which are different and just as worthwhile. One such experience is Kanheri caves.
Kanheri Caves- The Buddhist Rock Cut Caves
These are rock cut caves which are located in North Mumbai, in the Sanjay Gandhi National park, or Borivali national park, as it is popularly known. In fact if you look at google images of the area, you will be shocked to see a huge patch of forest in the bustling metropolis like Mumbai. This national park hides many gems for kids and adults alike- lake, a mini train, a tiger/lion safari, trails for hiking and Kanheri caves.
You have to drive a few kilometers inside the park to reach these. While the motorable road goes right to the foothills of the steps which you climb to reach the caves, it would be better to park your car at the bottom of the hill and walk uphill a kilometer or so. There is a bus service also and BEST buses come right till the top. It is not a strenuous climb (coming from someone like me who has the weakest lungs ever, you can trust that this is really true) and you are pleasantly surrounded by greenery. You can look out for birds or spot an odd monkey. You will pass many bikers on their bikes and the ones going downhill are absoultely rapturous at the speed they get going downhill- it’s like going down a slide. The steps are not too many either and you reach the caves before you know it.
These are Buddhist caves (aren’t they all?) from first century AD. Not all of them though. The caves were built over a period of time, so the earliest ones are from first century AD and the later ones are even dating as recently as tenth century AD. Well, not all that recent, for sure. Inside the caves, you find the usual sculptures, paintings, statues of Buddha, etc. The caves were used by the monks for living, studying and meditating. It is nice and cool inside the caves even when it is sweltering hot outside. You also get echoes, because of the high ceilings, which kids love. The carvings are not as fine or elaborate, as say, Ajanta or Ellora (Ajanta for me is the pinnacle of cave art, I was a child when I visited but I still remember the guide shining a torch and the necklace glowing on the painted lady’s neck- awesome) but pleasing nevertheless. What is not pleasing is the crowd- sometimes tourists can be boorish. I snapped at a group which was blocking the entrance of a cave for a long time, taking endless group photographs.
The main complex has six or seven caves but when you walk behind, you will be floored to see many, many more. The front of the complex has a finished feel to it but the behind is very raw, closer to nature. Here there are sleeping quarters of the monks, natural cisterns to collect rain water etc. It must have been a rugged life that the inhabitants of these caves led, but I suppose that’s good for the soul. I am told that during rainy season, small waterfalls form here but since we went in summer, we didn’t see any. You have to climb higher to access these parts, there are steps part of the way, but you do need to be adventurous enough and very entusiastic to really go trekking to see all of them. You also need to be careful. People will clamber up like monkeys to impress others and/or be photographed in monkey like poses without much regard to safety and can have nasty falls. It was unnerving to see a boy being carried by his friends, bleeding from the head, being followed by two security guards.
Please do visit the caves, if you haven’t already. They are a must see. We are so privileged to have these beautiful, ancient monuments which we don’t even appreciate or preserve carefully. And while you are there, please stay safe and don’t litter the precious heritage which belongs to all of us.