Oliver is…

He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man

…monkeying around

I sometimes criticise the lazy way in which white man has named places in Australia. Generally it seems like they’ve just had a quick look and used a description as a place name (Broken Hill, Blue Mountains, Mount Buggery) or they’ve just used a name familiar with them from back home (Newcastle, Victoria, George Street). Having come all this way, you’d think they could put a bit more effort into things.

Simple as it is (and probably quite useful to begin with — “Just make your way over the Blue Mountains and you’ll find the cows”) it’s far better than the Indian way of doings things.

Imagine there’s an island that’s crawling with monkeys. There are also some very elaborate caves dug into the rock. There’s a couple of nice hills. There’s also a statue of an elephant. What would you name it?

If you answered “Obviously I’d call it after the statue and then move the statue off the island so it made no sense”, you’d win a prize. You’d also be robbing me of a blog full of nostalgic computer game quotes and while you may think that would upset me, you have to remember that I am rubber, you are glue.

Caves (with no Daves)

The traditional Marathi name for the island is Gharapuri, which means “city of caves”. It’s the Portuguese you have to blame for calling it Elephanta.

There are five caves on the island that have been carved out of the rock. It’s an impressive sight which an incredible amount of work has been put into, especially as they’re still safe, but after seeing how magnificent the first one is, the rest seem a little basic and, at time, just unfinished.

The caves were built between the 5th and 8th centuries, but no one agrees on who actually did it. Generally because people have ridiculous ideas that they were not man-made.

The Portuguese tried to take the elephant statue with them, but it was made out of rock and pretty heavy so it dropped into the sea. When the British came, they went to find the elephant and they brought it back to the mainland. It now sits outside Mumbai Zoo, something I didn’t go to see because it’s often voted the worst zoo in the world.

Elephanta island main cave

Elephanta Island cave
Elephanta Island unfinished cave

The British also left their mark on the island by putting two massive cannons on what is now known as Cannon Hill. I can’t really find out much about them apart from some other people have had their photos taken with them.

Elephanta Island cannon


I can’t remember coming across wild monkeys before. Last time I was in India some beggars were using them as a novel way to get money out of me and when I was in Singapore as a kid one of the basketball-playing monkeys sat on my head for a while, but I don’t think either of those count as wild.

On what should be called Monkey Island™, there were loads of them. Small cute ones, big scary ones that scream at you and try to steal your water, some that state into other monkeys’ bums. All sorts.

Elephanta Island monkeys

Rhesus monkey

Monkey looking in monkey bum

Cheap tat

For many people, the best part about going to any relatively nice, perhaps slightly touristy attraction these days is the rows and rows of stalls trying to sell exactly the same piece of tat as the person next to them. If this is your thing, you will not be disappointed by Elephanta Island.


Filed under: asia, , ,

2 Responses

  1. Dave says:

    I found that tourism literature really doesn’t take advantage of wild monkeys when promoting places, when they’re usually the best things. I had monkey fun in most South/South East Asian countries I visited, and it’s good to see you’ve joined the club of Taking Photos of Monkeys Staring Into Other Monkeys’ Arses. Welcome!

    • Oliver says:

      When they pose like that for you, there’s very little else you can do. I have multiple snaps of the same moment, just in case loads didn’t turn out properly for some reason.

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