Discovering India – the hill stations of Maharashtra

Travel gets the mind fresh; travel to places to relax and recuperate, rejuvenates.

  • You are planning a small trip sometime round Valentine’s day with your loved one, the one to come into your life, or even the near and dear in your family lot.
  • You are just over with a lot of projects and would like to unwind.
  • There is some change required in your life at the moment so that you can relax and soothe your nerves before you get back to the grind.
  • You simply want a change of scene for a few days but do not know where to head.

The answer to all these my friend is a small round trip of five places, fairly close to each other, in the same state of India, that are not so crowded, are scenic and actually suit your taste for the outdoors.  They are five hill stations in the state of Maharashtra, known for their panoramic beauty, good climate, and would put you and others with you in a good state of mind from day one – Khandala, Lonavla, Matheran, Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani.

Khandala13-khandala

This hill station is 3 Km. from Lonavla, 7 Km from Karjat, the last point for the Mumbai local on that route. Located at one end of Bhor Ghat (top), Khandala lies on the road link of the Deccan Plateau to the Konkan Plain. and has a lot of road and rail traffic. In fact the Mumbai – Pune Expressway passes through Khandala.  Automatically this has become a place of interest for tourists, hikers, picnics and nature lovers.

What Khandala offers to its vistors

  • the story of how the tunnel was created boring through solid basalt rock formation, the railway line to Karjat came about, the link between Sopara and Pune got done make for interesting stories that some locals like to repeat.
  • an ancient jail built in 1896 where founders of the St.Xavier’s College had got jailed by the British.
  • Tiger’s Leap that is a natural formation that actually looks like a tiger leaping into the valley from that point.
  • Amrutanjan Point, at height and giving an excellent view of places around and especially the Duke’s Nose. The reason for the name is a puzzler.
  • Duke’s Nose, also known as ‘Nagfani’ is named after Duke Wellington, who had a pointed nose resembling the cliff.
  • Karla and Bhaja Caves that are historical rock cut caves, at a distance of 16 km from Khandala. Karla Caves are ancient Buddhist caves, Bhaja Caves are similar on a much smaller scale. These caves are also in Chaitya style.
  • Bhushi Lake is an ideal spot for all those who wish to relax in the lap of Mother Nature. Its serene and tranquil surroundings and crystal clear waters provide an environment of peace and harmony.

Lonavla

This small town and hill station is a small Municipal Council in Pune District, 64 Km from Pune City, 96 Km from Mumbai. famous for its Lonavla brand Chikki, it is on the railway line from Mumbai to Pune. Lonavla is home to INS Shivaji, the Indian Navy’s Premier Technical Training Institute.

Lonavla is adjacent to Khandala. Both are 622 metres above sea level, spread over 38 sq.Km. and are part of a tourist’s Places to Visit. The caves Karla, Bhaja and Bedsa with the forts Lohagad and Visapur get tourists to visit them. all trains running between Pune and Mumbai halt at Lonavla.

Korigad-Fort-LonavalaWhat Lonavla offers to its vistors ( some are common with close-by Khandala)

  • Rajmachi Point located about 6.5 km from Lonavla. This point commands a view of Shivaji’s famous fort, Rajmachi (Royal terrace) and the surrounding valley. Regular State Transport buses ply between Rajmachi Point and Lonavla from the State Transport Bus Stand.
  • Ryewood Park & Shivaji Udyan, a garden that covers a lot of ground and is full of tall trees. There is an old Shiva temple in the park. The garden has plenty of place for children to play.
  • Valvan Dam, that has a garden at its foot, and is a popular evening spot 2 km from the town. The dam supplies water to the Khopoli power station at the foothills of the Sahyadris for generating electricity. The Kundali River feeds into the dam’s reservoir.
  • Lonavla Lake, surrounded by natural scenery, is about 1.6 km from the town. The lake dries up during the winter months.
  • Duke’s Nose stands 12 km from Lonavla, clearly visible from the highway while driving towards Mumbai. This landmark in Khandala is popular with hikers. Also known locally as Naagphani (Cobra’s Hood), the cliff owes its name to the Duke of Wellington, whose ample nose it resembles.
  • Tiger’s Leap, also known as Tiger’s Point, is a cliff-top with a sheer drop of over 650 m, giving an extensive view. Buses are available up to INS Shivaji and the remaining distance of about 1.6 km has to be covered on foot. Just around tiger’s leap, there is a small waterfall active only during the monsoon that serves the purpose of relaxing in the water better than Bushy dam, as the force of the fall is higher. Adventurers can trek down the stream whilst intermittently stepping back on land where the water current is too strong and the fall is steep.
  • Karla Caves, located near Lonavla, is a complex of cave shrines built by Buddhist monks around 3rd to 2nd century B.C. A famous temple of Goddess Ekvira Devi is also present here.
  • Lohagad Fort is a robust climb of about 11.2 km from Malavali Railway Station that takes you to the ‘Iron Fort’, once a formidable battle-station of Shivaji. The fort commands a view of the surrounding hills and hamlets.

There are some other spots to explore as well within reach.

Mahabaleshwar

This hill station served as the summer capital of Bombay province during the British Raj, because it is an evergreen forest area that has an average elevation of 1353 metres. It is 120 Km from Pune, 285 Km from Mumbai. It is a vast plateau surrounded by valleys on all sides, reaching close to 1450 m at its highest point.

Mahabaleshwar comprises three villages: Malcolm Peth, Old “Kshetra” Mahabaleshwar and part of the Shindola village. Mahabaleshwar is the source of the Krishna River that flows across the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The legendary source of the river is a spout from the mouth of a statue of a cow in the ancient temple of Mahadev in Old Mahabaleshwar.

deal_image9528-1What Mahabaleshwar offers to its vistors

In old Mahabaleshwar, 7 km from Mahabaleshwar, there are many tourist points and 5 temples to see, with examples of old Indian architecture. There are also natural view points, some named by the British, who made holidays in these places during the British Raj.

  • Krishnabai Temple, has the Krishna river flowing from a cow-face on a kunda. Behind Panchganga temple, there is a small trail that leads to Krishnabai temple where the Krishna river is worshiped. It is built on the hilltop overlooking the Krishna valley and was built in 1888 by a ruler of Ratnagiri on the Konkan coast. The temple has a Shiva lingam and a beautiful statue of Krishna. A small stream of the river flowing from a cow-face (gomukh) falls on a ‘Kunda’ or water tank. Stone carved columns and ceilings are the special characteristics of this temple. It is not visited much by tourists and is isolated. But it provides a most exquisite view of the river Krishna.
  • Monkey Point, is natural sculpture of the stones which looks like three monkeys sitting beside each other and portraying the 3 monkeys of Gandhiji.
  • Arthur seat point is a point with a beautiful view from where one can see the Savitri river.
  • Venna Lake is a nice quiet place for boating surrounded by trees and a major attraction for tourists.
  • Balakwadi and Dhom dams can be viewed from Kate’s Point that is 1280 metres high.

Needle Hole Point / Elephant Point, a natural rock formation with a hole in between, Wilson Point, the only location in Mahabaleshwar where both sunrise and sunset can be seen, Pratapgad, a fort near Mahabaleshwar built by Shivaji Maharaj, Lingmala waterfalls at a height of approximately 600 feet, has the water cascading into the Venna Lake are added attractions of Mahabaleshwar.

Matheran

Matheran is a hill station located on the Western Ghats range, close to Karjat, at an elevation of around 800 m above sea level. It is located around 90 km from Mumbai, and 120 km from Pune.

Matheran’s proximity to many cities nearby makes it a popular weekend getaway for urban residents. Matheran, means “forest on the forehead”, is an eco-sensitive region, declared by the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India. It is Asia’s only automobile-free hill station. The transport facilities available are horses and hand-pulled rickshaws.valley-crossing-matheran

There are around 38 designated look-out points in Matheran, including the Panorama Point that provides a 360 degree view of the surrounding area and also the Neral town. From this point, the view of sunset and sunrise is dramatic. The Louisa Point offers crystal clear view of the Prabal Fort. The other points are the One Tree Hill Point, Heart Point, Monkey Point, Porcupine Point, Rambagh Point, and more. To stay there, there are plenty of hotels.There are a lot of Parsi bungalows. Beautiful old British-style architecture is preserved in Matheran. The roads are not metalled and are made of red laterite earth.

The British developed Matheran as a popular resort to beat the summer heat in the region. The Matheran Hill Railway was built in 1907 by Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy and covers a distance of 20 km over large swathes of forest territory. The Matheran hill railway is also known as Matheran Light Railway (MLR). Matheran has a huge number of medicinal plants and herbs, has a large monkey population. The nearby Lake Charlotte is the main source of Matheran’s drinking water. Inside the forest animals likeLeopard, Barking deer, Malabar giant squirrel, Fox, wild boar, mongoose are found.

Matheran is well connected to Mumbai (100 km) & Pune (120 km) by rail and road, while Neral is the nearest rail station. The nearest airport is Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai that is located around 100 km away from Matheran.

There are altogether 28 points, 2 lakes, 2 parks, 4 major worship places and a racecourse to visit inside Matheran. There are view points like monkey and echo, steep cliffs, deep ravines and there are many picnic spots as well.

Panchgani

Panchgani  is a famous hill station in Satara district in Maharashtra, India. It is renowned for the many premier residential educational institutions. It was discovered by the British during the British Raj as a summer resort. Panchgani is nestled in the middle of five hills in the Sahyādri mountain ranges, and the Krishnā River flows nearby.

Distances of Panchgani from major cities are – From Mumbai – 285 km, From Pune – 100 km From Mahabaleshwar – 18 km, From Satara – 45 km & From Wai – 10 km

What Panchgani offers to its vistors

  • Sydney Point is situated on a hillock facing the Krishna Valley. One can see from here the glittering waters of the Dhom Dam, Pāndavgad and Mandhārdeo. Sydney point is about 2 km from Panchgani Bus stand.
  • Table Land is a flat large expanse of laterite rock, the second longest mountain plateau in Asia. Some spacious caves including the “Devil’s Kitchen” are visible from here.
  • Parsi Point, is a scenic point situated on the way to Mahabaleshwar, and overlooks the Krishna valley and the blue shiny waters of the Dhom Dam.
  • Devil’s Kitchen is situated at the south of the table land. The Devil’s Kitchen has a mythology associated with it. It is believed that the Pandavas of Mahabharata epic had stayed here for a while. Pandavgad Caves (near Wai) are also said to be built by them then.
  • Mala’s Fruit Products, one of the best Jam developers in India are housed in Panchgani.
  • Mapro Garden is situated on the curvaceous roads between Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar, accessible by buses originating both from Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar.
  • Strawberry Festival, an annual event is held in summer.
  • The global charity Initiatives of Change opened “a centre for introspection and dialogue”, a 68-acre campus called Asia Plateauat Panchgani in 1967. Over the past four decades Asia Plateau has been used for holding training programmes and conferences of Initiatives of Change.

These five hill stations are the prize attractions of Maharashtra for their tourism trade and known for their fresh air, good scenery and recuperative climate. Now is the right time to make a beeline for the hills to enjoy salubrious climate and refreshing sights.

India is a vast territory that has not been discovered fully for what it has to offer. Why not make it an annual event to visit some part or the other of a land that provides natural landscapes, scenic spots, panoramic views, novel traditions that would exhilarate the senses, refresh the spirit, broaden the mind, to make us better creatures to live on this planet?    

Post author

K.Siri Seera, jokingly referred to as Que Sera Sera (meaning ‘whatever shall be shall be’ in Spanish). Latest inclusion to the by-now-famous four already in the editorial team, she is a Nature freak, with a passion for the outdoors, the first one to raise the hand for suggestions regarding trips, excursions, the wild. Fitness schedules and badminton, not to mention her taekwondo regimen (she is a black belt in tae kwondo) keep her lithe and fit as a fiddle. It is only when the weather is bad forcing her indoors that she devotes her energies to displaying her skills in carrom or curls up with a book that gets her into a different world altogether. Naturally after an inspiring read, she jots down tidbits in her scrapbook that have been quite helpful in providing a lot of ‘inspirations’ in her circles. Wanderlust in her blood, the travel bug gets to her every few months when she is off to some unexplored exotic place in the country. Small wonder this walking encyclopedia of travel info, expounds on places to see, where to stay, what clothes to take, how much could it cost etc. given half a chance. It just cannot be dull when she is around! You can ask about her travels and sights of India by mailing to ksiriseera@unnatisilk.com