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The Elephanta Caves

The Elephanta Caves , located on Elephanta Island, or Gharapuri, about 11 Km off the coast of the Gateway of India, Mumbai, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit to these caves, excavated probably in the 6 th century CE, is awe-inspiring, and also thought-provoking. Over the years, I have visited the caves a number of times, and also attended a number of talks by experts in the fields of art, history and archaeology on the caves. Together, they help me understand these caves, their art, and the people they were created for, just a little bit better. Every new visit, every new talk, every new article I read about the caves, fleshes out the image of what the island and the caves would have been like, at their peak. I last wrote about the caves on this blog, in 2011, almost exactly 11 years ago. Since then, my understanding of the caves has, I would like to think, marginally improved. Hence this attempt to write a new and updated post, trying to bring to life, the caves of Elephan

The Gangtok Zoo

We stood on a platform and looked at the woods. Beyond them was the city of Gangtok, and further ahead, we could see the snow-capped mountains.  A small cabin up ahead and a wall partly visible between the pine trees was the only indication that we weren’t really in a forest, but a zoo – the Sikkim Himalayan Zoological Park in Gangtok

Somewhere down there, was an Asiatic Black Bear, or so the board informed us. The bear however, was nowhere to be seen. Someone behind us muttered “What kind of a zoo is this, where we can’t even see the animals we came to see?” He might have been right, for we saw very few animals here, but for me, the vast enclosures, and having to search for the animals, was probably the best thing about this zoo!

The Bear enclosure, minus the bear! But with a fantastic view of the mountains! 

The Gangtok Zoo is spread over 230 Hectares, on a hill, and the animals are housed in huge enclosures, in an attempt to provide them some semblance of a natural environment. This attempt is only partly successful, since most of the animals here are from even colder zones and higher altitudes. We visited the zoo on a winter afternoon, and found almost all the animals fast asleep, especially the felines. I have written about it here.

The green cover in the zoo is beautiful! There is so much to see besides the animals! 

There is a 2.5Km long road winding its way along the various enclosures, leading to the top of the hill, where the prized inhabitant of the zoo is housed – the Snow Leopard. This one, like its friends, was fast asleep too!

The snow leopard, fast asleep!

There is a watch tower here which we can climb, to get a bird’s eye view of the entire zoo. We were, however so tired by the walk uphill that we didn’t even try!

The watch tower

Among the interesting animals we saw here was the Himalayan Palm Civet….

Himalayan Palm Civet

And a Bharal – Himalayan Blue Sheep…


The highlight of our visit though was the Red Panda… this one was busy walking around, entertaining the visitors…

Red Panda

While its companion slept peacefully on a tree, least bothered by all the sounds and calls.

Red Panda

And once again, this is what bothered me about the zoo. I appreciate the work which goes into establishing a zoo like this, with huge enclosures and a natural setting. However, a natural setting also means protecting the animals from the visitors. And this is where we seem to fail always, which is true even of this zoo.

A purple rumped sunbird seen within the zoo

There were quite a lot of visitors, including young adults, kids, couples, and grandparents. Across age groups, people shouted, laughed raucously, and even threw stones, in an attempt to wake the animals, and get them to approach the fence. When I stopped someone from throwing a stone, they simply laughed, and to my infinite disappointment, there wasn’t a single zoo official to do anything about it.

This is a beautiful zoo, one which can be so much better, with just a bit better management. When we know that as tourists or spectators, we have no discipline, or even regard for the animals we have come to see, it is up to the zoo to ensure that no one disturbs the animals. It is meant to be their home, after all.

  • The Sikkim Himalayan Zoological Park is located about 3 Km from Gangtok, on the hill opposite Ganesh Tok.
  • Timings: The zoo is open from 9 AM to 4 PM every day, except Thursday, when it is closed.
  • Vehicles are allowed into the zoo, till a point, after which we have to walk. Please check with the zoo authorities at the entrance if vehicles are allowed till the watchtower. They weren’t when we visited, but I have been told that it was due to additional security measures.
  • Suggestions:
    • Please, please respect the animals. Many of them have been rescued from poachers and traders, and the zoo is a place where they can live in peace, in an environment as close as possible to their natural one.
    • Do not throw stones at the animals!!
    • The animals are not here for your entertainment, so please do not try to get them to react to you by shouting/ laughing/ gesturing or any other means.
    • Please look around and enjoy the beautiful sights the zoo provides, apart from the animals. The zoo is home to a variety of birds (not caged) and all you have to do is be quiet and look around. Also, the variety of trees and flowers is amazing. You will only notice them if you look!

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  1. Glad to know about the large enclosures that animals are kept in. Nice post on Gangtok zoo.

  2. That is quiet a place to explore there. I visited Gangtok last summer and I must say that there are decent number of places to visit in Gangtok that one can eally explore on their trip to Gangtok.


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