Sunday, 23 March 2014

Backyard tourism in Mumbai

Woke up this morning and decided to do something different from the usual beer-mutton curry- movie regime that has come to define my Sundays. Jumped into my car with my camera, dragged a friend in and drove to the north of the city. Its funny how we are always planning holidays but don’t explore what our own city has to offer. We reached the Kanheri Caves in about 30 minutes.

The caves which have been carved out of basalt sometime around the 1st Century BC, were used as Buddhist Viharas. The art on the walls are Spartan. There are some small caves which are completely devoid of any carvings but the larger ones have a collection of sculptures depicting Budhha and his teachings.  We trekked up the rather friendly hill walking from one cave to the next despite the hot Mumbai summer sun.

Young couples deprived of privacy in this teeming city, dot the landscape.  Buddha or the art glorifying his teaching is clearly not the reason for their visit to the caves. The curious eyes of a few foreign tourists and their trigger happy fingers is the only give away that this is a monument of historical importance.

In one of the caves, we got completely lucky as we encountered something absolutely out of the ordinary. A foreign tourist (his T-shirt read ‘Made in Germany’ so I assumed he is German) broke out into an operatic piece. He sang from his gut and with his heart. Within seconds, his powerful voice filled the entire cave. The melodious canonical chant was completely mesmerizing. Not just my friend and me but even the security guards were captivated with this spontaneous aria. I regret not whipping out my phone and capturing the moment.   

By and large it was a well spent Sunday. But sadly I missed collecting any story about why and how these caves came up in this region or what the art on the wall depicted. The brief mandatory write up at the entrance is a badly written piece. Clumsy sentences strung together with misspelt words and incorrect grammar. It does nothing to satiate one’s curiosity about the significant of these caves. Another sad reminder of how little we value our culture. Ours is a country seeped in history and here is just another national heritage standing silently in the periphery of the city more as a refuge for young lovers than as a historical landmark.

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