Take an hour-long ferry ride from the Gateway of India in Mumbai to an island locally called Gharapuri and you will find yourself standing in front of a hidden world of rock-cut caves with magnificent sculptures and spectacular carvings. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, these caves have attracted a lot of international attention, but surprisingly their excavators are shrouded in mystery.
When the Portuguese physician, Garcia de Orta, considered to be Mumbai’s first European resident, visited the island circa 1534 CE, he attributed the caves to the Chinese. By this time, the Portuguese had occupied the region from the Gujarat Sultanate and renamed Gharapuri as ‘Ilha Elephante’ courtesy the life-sized statue of an elephant at the entrance to the island. The statue broke in 1864, when the colonial British tried to move it off the island so that they could cart it to England. It was reassembled and now stands on the grounds of Mumbai’s Bhau Daji Lad Museum.
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