I’ve been to Bombay (Mumbai) several times but never did I ever think of visiting the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Due to the pandemic, when I hadn’t gone to Bombay for 3 years, I came across a few places (on Instagram) that could be visited with kids. One of them was the huge National Park, established in 1969, in the middle of the metropolis. I wasn’t sure then if it would be like the Bandipur Tiger Reserve or the Bannerghatta Biological Park.
Nevertheless, we decided to book the Lion & Tiger Safari and visit the Kanheri Caves. Nothing else seemed to interest us. It was quite a walk from the main entrance to the counter to book the safari tickets. We could’ve hired a bicycle if we didn’t have kids with us. We could’ve also booked a van but it would cost us Rs. 700/- per hour. We did not think it was worth it as the van couldn’t take us to the safari area. So, we decided to call him after the safari tour. We took his mobile number and walked for a few minutes until we found the safari counter.
SGNP is spread over 87 sq kms; a great place for brisk walking. I believe that this place can attract a crowd like crazy only if it was well taken care of. Obtaining more and more land for this place without proper maintenance ideas is a pure waste of time and energy.
The safari counter was in the middle of a grassy area where no one, even in their dreams, would ever look for an office. They only accepted CASH. They did not have a jeep or a guide. They only had a bus and a driver who drearily announced when we spotted 1 sleeping lion and 2 tigers. He was perhaps hungry. FYI – 12.30pm to 2pm is their lunch time: not the animals’ but the caretakers’.
Perhaps next time I’ll check out the film city which is spread across 520 acres of land near SGNP.
After the safari, when the van guy did not answer his phone and bicycles weren’t an option with kids, we waited for another bus to take us to the Kanheri Caves. We were ready to walk it, but then realized that the map was not accurately displayed. The caves were 6 kms away from the safari counter, ie. 7 kms from the main gate. They were at the Northern most point of the National Park.
You can wait anywhere along the route and the bus will pick you up. It moves every 15 minutes, and there is no way you can contact it, so, you have to wait until it arrives. We had the kids, so, we decided to save their energy for the caves instead of tiring them on the tedious journey to it. They sat on a short wall until the bus arrived to pick us up.
Timings for cave viewing: 9 am to 5pm
Private vehicles are prohibited to enter the National Park as they disturb wildlife and cause pollution. There is ample parking space at the entrance.
Trust me, in the end, the Kanheri Caves were totally worth the wait at the bus-stop and the bumpy bus ride. It was overwhelming to see such a serene place exist within the boundaries of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, which was in the midst of a bustling city. The caves were very well maintained. There were no cobwebs anywhere, even in the dark areas untouched by sunlight. In the spaces behind the stupas, it was clean. Not an insect in sight. For me, that was remarkable, especially when the price to enter was a mere Rs. 25/- for Indians and Rs. 300/- for foreigners.
These caves were normally meant for studying, living and meditating. I loved the beautifully done sculptures and artwork that had such intricate detailing that I was in awe of the whole village. Yes, it was a village once upon a time when people lived in caves around 2000 years ago. Kanheri Caves are a group of around 109 caves and other monuments cut out of rock. They are mostly filled with Buddhist paintings, carvings and inscriptions. One of the big halls (Cave 90) was adorned with carvings on every wall. Some of the larger caves, also known as chaitya halls, were closed and inaccessible. The only one that was kept open, to the public, was Cave 3 – The Great Chaitya Cave. This prayer hall was magnificent with more than 30 huge stone pillars on the sides and a stupa at the far end of the hall. Read more here.
The college students quietly sketching all of this was impressive. I only wanted to tick every cave number I saw there but with two kids, aged 9 and 5 years, even that seemed impossible.
There were rock-cut waterways that led rainwater into the cisterns. So, the right time to visit this place would be towards the end of the monsoon season. You can enjoy how the water streams through the smartly built drains and fills up the cisterns. Also, during that time, the weather would be cooler. Not to mention, the National park itself may be a little greener and more inviting. In some of the drains, we found accumulated water that was surprisingly quite clear and clean.
Climbing up is quite easy. Some of the ancient pathways made of stone steps have withered but the new ones (made of bricks and cement) are quite visible and easy to climb. But, if you have unpredictable naughty kids, it is better to leave them at home/hotel and come here as there are some paths without handrails.
There are multiple ways to exit if you are not up to viewing all the 109 caves present there. It was hot and we exhausted our water halfway, so, we managed to reach Cave 70 before we decided to descend.
You must be at least averagely fit to complete walking through the whole caves complex.
Avoid taking small kids.
It is advisable to wear good walking shoes or comfortable sneakers so that you are able to explore as much as possible. Wear light and comfortable clothing, too. A cap would keep your head less heated if you’re visiting during a hot day!
Carry a good amount of drinking water. You can also buy fruits available within the park, before climbing the bus, so that you are refreshed along the way.
Mondays, the whole park and the caves are closed for maintenance.
The caves were quite marvellous. We were awed by them. Even my kids were quite excited to see what people built and how they lived 2000+ years ago. They had no soft beds, no security cameras, no IKEA sofas or air conditioners.
If people in Cave 1 wanted to speak to people in Cave 100, they had to walk. They couldn’t give any heads up by calling them to check their availability during that time. Life was hard.
We cannot even imagine sleeping on a stone plinth. But maybe, if all the materialistic things were taken away from us, we would learn to adjust eventually? Life is simple after all; it is we who complicate it.
A lot of thoughts cross my mind while I visit ancient relics and monuments. Is it the same with everyone?
I hope you enjoyed this piece by a first-time cave visitor as much as I had writing it! Let me know what you think of this informative article on Kanheri Caves and my afterthoughts!