India is a fascinating country of contrasts. There’s a constant pull between the tradition and modernity, as exemplified by a comparison of New Delhi vs. Old Delhi. The strata of privilege is on full display. When we visited South Mumbai (which many locals still call Bombay), luxury hotels are sandwiched between scenes of extreme poverty.
Serenity is squished next to the scramble of everyday life. The glittering, gold-domed Taj Hotel is nestled next to the Arabian Sea and the ferry at the Gate of India — where flocks of both pigeons and amateur photographers swarm in staggering numbers.
Earlier in our trip, we visited the aforementioned ferry to sail off to Elephanta Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. he island is home to multiple caves with rock art, temples and sculptures from both the Hindu and Buddhist religions.
Boarding the ferry is chaotic — women and men move into separate lines for bag and body searches before hustling to hop aboard a rickety boat for a 90-minute journey.
Once you get to the island, India morphs yet again, transforming from a busting, divergent metropolis to an incarnate of a filmic fantasy.
But first, the outfit:
The pale blue tunic blouse is by Trademark, one of my favorite brands ever. (I’ve inadvertently worn Trademark almost every day on this trip.) The suede shoes are also by Trademark, and thank goodness I sprayed them with suede protectant before I left for the airport — because I have put these shoes through the WRINGER on this trip, including stepping onto a flooded balcony and trekking on accidental mountain hikes.
The scarf was a super inexpensive find from the Gap, which I picked up during a business trip to San Diego earlier this year. The pants are — once again — NOT pants. (I’m wearing leggings again — this time, a textured tribal high-rise pair by American Eagle.)
Upon landing at Elephanta Island, I felt like I had arrived on the set of the 1933 version of King Kong. To get to the caves, you’ll need to climb about 60 flights worth of stony stairs carved on the side of the mountain. (I did NOT know this prior to arrival.) But before you reach the stone stairs, you have plenty of vendors tempting you to
change your mind stop, shop and grab some tea.
The island is also overrun with animals — mostly dogs, goats and cows. All these creatures share a uniform placidity that can only come from being coddled by thousands of tourists per week.
I couldn’t resist sidling up to a sacred cow for a quick photograph — until the cow gave me a gentle shove with her horns. You don’t have to tell me twice: I’ll stay out of her way from now on.
In additions to the animals of the barnyard variety, there was also a huge number of monkeys populating the island.
I have a very conflicted view of monkeys. I have digested a lot of the highly paranoid (and perhaps controversial) New York Times coverage on the monkey menace in India. Long story short: I’m not only terrified that the monkeys will steal my sodas and snacks, I am worried they will somehow push me to my death, as they did to a Delhi political official in 2007.
But OMG, their cute little faces.
Once you start climbing the stairs, it’s like entering an outdoor mall — only this one is ceilinged by a blue tarp. I absolutely loved the selection and the prices, especially for the deities statues, which are way more expensive in the United States. (I picked up a couple buddhas as gifts.)
Then you get to the caves.
The cave pictured above is a tribute to Shiva. The centerpiece is the huge statue on the left, which represents three aspects of Shiva: the Creator, the Preserver, and the Destroyer.
The caves look like something from a storybook or film.
Quick safety tip: The stone stairs are old and worn down after thousands of pilgrim tourists. My shoes — the soft, suede Trademark slippers — were not the best choice. I was constantly worried about slipping. Do yourself a favor and wear a pair of rubber-bottomed sneakers with actual tread.
Another note — the monkeys on the mountain are not afraid of humans, and they will do everything n their power to steal your stuff. Phones, water bottles, food — nothing is safe, especially the latter. I saw one monkey steal a Sprite bottle, climb to the top of a tree and then proceed to dump the bottle’s contents on pedestrians walking below.
That’s a sick sense of humor I can relate to.
Visiting these historical caves was another example of the contrasts that are intrinsic to India. While the caves are time capsules of an ancient time, you have to navigate modern waters to get there — we passed a submarine and nuclear power plant on the way over. I can’t help but be ever more entranced with this wonderful place.
Next up on the blog: New Dehli and Agra. Stay tuned for more outfits and travel tips alike. And to see everything in real-time, check out my Instagram feed here. Namaste!