Now that I had finished the forts project, it was time to find new worlds to conquer!
I wanted to keep up the concept of discovering places in Mumbai which I had not visited yet, and decided to continue with the ancient monuments theme.
So where to go? Suddenly the name ‘Mahakali caves’ popped into my head. I had heard the name of the road ‘Mahakali caves road’ but had no idea about the caves itself. I googled it and saw that it was about 15KM away, which would make it a comfortable 30 -35 KM round trip – I would go from Ghatkoper and return via Powai and see Powai lake as well.
I set out early morning and it was pretty pleasant cycling in the cool weather – it was still dark and the street lights were on. Mumbai never sleeps – so the early morning people were on the road – the newspaper and milk vendors, the vegetables and perishables delivery vans, the trucks wanting to get out of Mumbai before their timing ends, etc. I usually put on a podcast and enjoy listening to an excellent audio program while pedalling – it is more interesting than some pointless music, and safer as well – you can hear the traffic noises.
I took a right at Saki Naka and another left at the JVLR road and it was a long uphill pull to the caves, I was puffing a bit when I got there. Good training for the planned long rides in the future.
But when I got to Mahakali, there were no signs, no indicators that there was anything of historical interest there. Just a long fence on one side, and the normal small time shops on the other. Mystified, I asked the locals where was Mahakali.
‘Right here’ he said.
‘But where are the caves?’
‘Right there’ he pointed at the fence. I looked at the fence – No signage, no information, no welcome board - there was just a forbidding looking gate, which looked like a gate to some sarkari top secret office instead of a tourist location. All that was missing was an armed guard looking as if he would shoot you if you even looked in that direction.
And yeah – the gate was locked.
‘It will open at 8.30 AM. Come back then.’ The local grunted.
Hmm. That’s an hour away. Let’s see what can be done. I went and locked my bike to the fence and started looking around. A guy washing a car caught my eye and nodded at a gap in the fence.
I looked at it puzzled, and saw a guy walking through it with a bottle of water in his hand. It was obviously the shitting zone. But the guy nodded again and so I went through that tiny gap. Wow – I must have really lost some serious weight to be able to go through that gap. Yahoo!
I walked around there, and scrambled over a gap in the wall and entered the ASI area. Now I was truly a trespasser – hope there is no armed guard, else my ass is grass.
Luckily there was no one around at all, all quiet on the western front.
I turned the corner and gasped!
Wow – that was unexpected. What a beautiful place! A patch of really ancient caves right in the middle of a concrete jungle. It was very clear that these caves were Buddhist and very ancient.
These were made during the 1st century BC – which makes it 21 centuries old! Wow! And I didn’t even know about the place till now.
The ASI has done quite a nice job here – the caves were nicely preserved and delicately restored, there was a nice garden in front and overall a very pleasing atmosphere. God only knows why they refuse to divulge the presence of the place outside.
There are 19 caves in all – there was one main cave with a ruined stupa and Buddhist carvings – which was probably the main temple – there was another cave with a nice carved gateway, which was perhaps the meeting hall, and a lot of small caves which were probably the living quarters of the monks. There were couple of rock cisterns which still had water in them.
The caves were up on the side of the hill and one could see down towards the Jogeshwari – Vikroli Link road snaking about below. It was a Sunday morning so it was still a bit quiet – but on weekdays it would be choc a block with traffic. It was really interesting to think that the monks must have decided on building the monastery here because it was secluded and far away from civilisation. Talk about coming a long way in 2100 years.
But it was still quiet and peaceful there, and I could easily imagine monks in ochre robes going about their daily life, and chanting Om Mani Padme Hum in the cave temple. For a moment, I went back to the 1st Century BC.
But the present century called me back, and it was time to leave before the ASI watchman came. I scrambled over the wall again and got on my bike. It was time to return home before the sun came out in full glory. I went from Powai lake side and enjoyed some nice sunrise views over the lake on the way back.
Mahakali caves was a very pleasant surprise, and I hope that it remains as well maintained and green as it is now.
I blog about my travels - and the thoughts they set off! Sometimes the simplest destinations can be the most thought-provoking!