Islands of Mumbai

Oyster Rock
This fortified island is owned by the Indian Navy. It is located in the Mumbai harbour, on the Western coast of India. The Maharashtra government had thought of anchoring the decommissioned INS Vikrant (now a naval museum) on this island. It is one of the smallest islands of Mumbai.

Butcher Island
This island, also called Jawahar Dweep, is mainly used as an oil terminal by the Mumbai port authorities. It is used for offloading oil from oil tankers. The crude oil is stored in oil containers on Butcher Island, and from there it transported via pipes to Wadala. At this place in Mumbai it is refined for final uses. It is also a restricted area.
Butcher Island is reachable from the Gateway of India, about eight km away. This hilly island is covered in thick vegetation.

Cross Island
With just a few fisher families living on the island, Cross Island stands off the Mumbai harbour, away from Dockyard Road. It is located about 400m from Ferry Wharf on the east coast of Mumbai. Across from Cross Island is Elephanta Island, a popular tourist destination. Cross Island is host to an oil refinery and several large gas holders.

There aren't any tourist ferries to Cross Island, but you can get the local fishermen to take you out to the island on a six-seater boat for a price. On the island, also known as Chinal Tekdi, are the ruins of a fort. There's no surety regarding the builders of the fort, with most people attributing it to the Portuguese or the British. You can find a large gun and many cannons here. Many buildings and landmarks around the Mumbai Harbour can be seen from here.

Elephanta Island
More than the island, the caves on it are famous and known to all Indians. The island itself has a name that means place of caves – Gharapuri Island. It is located in the Mumbai Harbour, east of Mumbai city, under the jurisdiction of the Raigad district of Maharashtra. Many pockets of the island are covered in thick forests, with the tourists having to leave the island by evening. The Elephanta Caves, revered as temples, are carved out of rock. This 16-square-km island is very popular with national and international tourists.

It is a 10-km ferry ride from the Gateway of India. The ride takes about an hour, and you can find boats regularly here – the first being at nine in the morning and the last one at two in the afternoon. You can choose to buy the 'economy' or the 'luxury' tickets. The latter coming with the facility of sitting on the upper deck of the boat. From the landing area, you've to walk up about half a kilometre to reach the caves. Or you can take a narrow-gauge toy train to the base of the steps leading up to the caves.

All along the walk, visitors can buy curios, souvenirs, necklaces and knick-knacks from stalls and shops. Snacks and drinks are also available. There are very few inhabitants on the island – just over a thousand of them. Their main occupations are fishing and boat repairing. Shentbandar, Morabandar, and Rajbandar are the three villages of the island, with Rajbandar being the capital.

The island was named Elephanta by the Portuguese, in the 17th century. They saw a monolithic basalt sculpture of an elephant near the entrance to the island and decided to lug it to the shore. In between the journey, the binding chains snapped and the sculpture fell into the sea. It was recovered by the British and can be now found at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai.

Elephanta Island is thickly wooded with palm, mango, and tamarind trees. It has a population of about 1,200 involved in growing rice, fishing, and repairing boats. There are two British era cannons at the top. Quite recently, a small dam has been built so as to trap rain water but that part of the island is privately owned and not accessible for tourists. This island was once the capital of a powerful local kingdom.

Middle Ground
Located in the Mumbai Harbour within the Thane Creek, the Middle Ground islet is mostly known for the Middle Ground Coastal Battery. This heritage site is maintained by the Indian Navy. It houses an old, coastal gun battery. Just like the island close to it – Oyster Rock – it was earlier part of a reef.

The British East India Company reinforced this island in 1682. A marine police force of the loyal Bhandaris was commissioned on the island to spot the pirates who boarded ships. Even now you can see the deep cylindrical mountings of the old anti-aircraft guns used during World War II by the Royal Indian Navy. They had also fortified the island with cannons.

As of now, Middle Ground island serves as the saluting base to the Flag Officer Commander-in-Chief (FOC-in-C) of the Western Naval Command. The ancient cannons are fired ceremonially with a bugle call when a new FOC-in-C takes office or when a naval ship returns to its home port. When the decommissioned aircraft carrier INS Vikrant (R11) was opened to the public, artifacts from the island were moved to it. But on the island still stores ensigns of old naval ships proudly.

This hard basalt rock island covers just a few hundred metres and is known for its inaccessibility – it is very difficult to berth here during low tide.

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