It was long back, around six to eight years back when I visited the Kanheri caves in Mumbai with few other family members. The caves were close by from where we were staying at that time and were thus reachable quite easily. So we planned and reached the caves one fine January morning. We wanted to avoid the heat later on so we planned to be there a little early; however, by the time we reached it was confirmed that we will have to deal with the heat no matter what.
Kanheri caves date back from the 1st century CE to the 10th century CE and was known as Krishnagiri or Kanhagiri in ancient times. Krishnagiri translates into Black Mountain. The caves are carved into volcanic rock hills and the surrounding hills are made of basalt. The caves are located in Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivalli. The park itself is amongst the few parks in the country that lie within the border of the city, right in the heart of the northern suburbs of Mumbai.
From the gates of the park, there are different ways to reach the caves that are few kms inside. You can either drive, cycle or walk upto the entrance point; however, if you are not used to either walking or cycling, it is better to avoid them all together. In any case after you reach the caves, there is a lot of climbing and walking to be done. So saving some energy is always a good idea.
This is exactly what we did. We opted for the third option – a bus ride to the cave. The charges were reasonable and time to reach was just few minutes; however it was the waiting time that really left us frustrated. The bus, obviously, waited till the time it was considerably full and only then moved towards its destination. Meanwhile, sitting in it we saw numerous other people pass by. Nobody appeared to be in the mood to board the bus. Another bus, full of school children went past us leaving us more exasperated.
After sometime, our bus finally moved and we reached the entrance where women vendors selling fruits – mainly guavas, kamrak (star fruit) and bore. The masala sprinkled on the top made it absolutely yummy and we enjoyed the fresh masala fruits before making our way up to the caves. Yes, you have to climb stairs to reach the entry point. From here, we got an overview of the place. There are in total 109 caves in the complex and we visited a lot of them, but by no means all.
There were Buddhist viharas, chaityas, podhis and benches. Viharas were used by the Buddhist monks as their residence and also to study and meditate. The Chaityas or the chaityagrihas, on the other hands, were huge halls where monks came together to worship. Cave number 3, in particular, was quite impressive with its huge Buddha sculpture in the verandah and a stupa inside the chaitya hall. Another impressive cave was cave number 11. It was a Darbar hall with two long low stone benches, inscriptions and Buddha images. The caves, a majority of them, were rather simple, that is they do not have many sculptures and relief occupying every inch of the wall and pillars.
Another part of the caves that we noticed were the presence of podhis or the water cisterns. They were almost everywhere and were extremely helpful in storing the rain water in the bygone era.
Somewhere, in the middle of our exploration, the school children made another grand entry. With their sheer number and enthusiasm, they seemed to overshadow everything and everyone around them. They made the area, which was rather quite with other tourists, into a bustling vibrant one. Their curiosity unknowingly guided us to places we had missed out.
For those not used to it, exploring the caves is quite task. Though there were steps, they were steep at times and heat hit us every now and then. The caves were are rescue point. We took shelter in the cool environs of the caves whenever anyone of us felt exhausted or was troubled by the heat, It was a big relief!
Reaching the top and getting a full view from there was the reward for the efforts that we had put in. We spent some time there enjoying the views before making our way back down to the starting point. It was obviously pretty much quick and convenient. At a small stall at the starting point, we refreshed ourselves with some cold drinks and snacks. Next on our list was a train ride and boat ride in the park lake; however, we could only do the latter, as for some reason, the toy trains were not running.
For anyone visiting the caves, I have few tips. First go early in the morning and have atleast two to three hours in hand if you plan to explore the caves properly. Secondly, make sure you wear comfortable shoes since there is a lot of walking and climbing to be done, Also carry water and sunglasses/hats/umbrellas along with you.