For Mumbaikars, the Kanheri caves have long been a favourite spot to get far from the madding crowd, with the ancient Buddhist structures atop a hill at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park offering much-needed tranquility, even as you breathe in a bird’s-eye view of the bustling city below.
However, despite its historic significance and adequate maintenance, the site is not among Mumbai’s most popular tourist destinations, with most visitors flocking to places such as Gateway of India, Juhu Chowpatty, Elephanta caves and Mahalaxmi temple, according to a recently conducted state tourism survey.
While accessibility may be one of the reasons for this, with SGNP located in Borivli in the far north of Mumbai, the caves also lack various elements needed to help tourists understand them better.
Kanheri, credited with the largest number of cave excavations on a single hill, is a ticketed monument protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
However, at the ticket counter, no brochures or information pamphlets are available to help tourists know more about the structures.
There is just one billboard at the entrance that gives details of the caves and their importance, but from there on, the tourists are on their own.
There are no boards, official or even private guides to explain the history of each cave, and without brochures and audio guides, no possibility for tourists to have a self-guided walk through the structures.
As a result, most visitors simply amble around the site, clicking pictures and enjoying the view.
“It’s a very well-maintained structure, and it feels calm to be up here, away from the humdrum of the city, but I would have definitely liked to know more about why the Kanheri caves are significant for Buddhism, and what each cave means,” said Rohan Pataskar, who is originally from Pune and works in Mumbai’s financial services sector.
According to the ASI website, Buddhism first arrived in Aparantha (western India) at Sopora, which is very close to Kanheri. Some of the caves in Kanheri date back to mid 3rd century BC, and were in occupation till nearly 11th century AD.
The structures even find mention in the travel logs of early visitors, such as the Portugese in the 16th century and other voyagers from Europe.