Elephanta Island—A Most Illogical Name

 
Photograph/Gabriel Fuchs

Photograph/Gabriel Fuchs

Elephanta Island might be Mumbai’s best tourist destination that is not in Mumbai. The island is some 11 kilometers from Mumbai’s Gateway of India and is famous for its temples cut directly into the rocks, with elaborately carved statues adorning the temple interiors.
While visiting India, and in an effort to get away from the mad street life of Mumbai, I decided to set out to Elephanta Island one grey day, looking forward to a certain serenity. Taking photos in a calm environment can be fun too. Or so I am told.

First thing I realised on Elephanta Island is that, most illogically, there are no elephants there. There are, however, loads of monkeys. These monkeys are macaques and consequently great carriers of the Herpes B virus. Stay away, or you will have some really difficult explaining to do a few days later about how you got THAT disease from a monkey on an island named after elephants. Things can hardly get more confusing.

As a happy foreign tourist with a camera, I had to pay 25 times more than an Indian to enter the caves. This made as much sense to me as being on Elephanta Island and seeing no elephants. I did however see the Eiffel Tower in the souvenir stalls. Why on earth this symbol of Paris is sold on Elephanta Island I do not know, but it was certainly worth a photo. Whatever does not make sense, makes sense to take pictures of. In that sense, Elephanta Island is a photographer’s wet dream.

And talk about wet, getting to Elephanta Island is an interesting experience. The boats look like they are all in God’s waiting room. They are properly run-down and with no symmetric lines whatsoever left from their initial design. Furthermore, many of these ferries do not block the entrances on each side once the boat takes off, meaning that when a passenger slips because the boat hits some wave—and it will inevitably do so—then if the passenger is unlucky, he or she will simply fall off the boat. Another way of falling off is to lean on Elephanta Island—A Most Illogical Name the badly attached railings that actually exist around most, but not all of the ferry.

On the one-hour boat ride to Elephanta Island—more in bad weather—one can photograph the Mumbai harbour complex which stretches all along out to the island, with small metal constructions for docking the boats out in the sea. Inevitably, one keeps a very interested eye on these boats and docking stations. After all, one does want to know where to swim when and if the ferry decides to sink.

If the sea is a bit rough, the general uneasiness of being on a ferry is happily combined with seasick passengers hanging over the insecure rails. They legally do this at their own risk, as the boat ticket actually states ‘Company accept no responsibility whatsoever for injury Accident or loss of any kind’. The ticket further states ‘Passenger Travel their own risk’. Even though being written in poor English and with an innovative use of capital letters, the message seems clear. If the boat sinks, or if you sink, you got no one to blame. And this is the ticket for a ‘Luxury Launch’…

In other words, a visit to Elephanta Island is a good occasion to take some photos rarely found in the usual tourist books. And isn’t this what good photography is about?

Photograph/Gabriel Fuchs

Photograph/Gabriel Fuchs

Tags: Mumbai, better photography, Gabriel Fuchs, different strokes, Jan 2012, Elephanta Island, photographing as a tourist