curvaceous craggy ranges that spine along the coast of Maharashtra, the
Western Ghats, are the home of several little known but charming hill
stations. In fact they almost belong to the colonial era, when people
travelled up to these stations to escape the heat of the plains.
Many of them still retain some of that old world charm and would make for an ideal holiday even if it be only on the weekend.
The nearest of these hill stations from Bombay is Matheran. You can catch any Pune bound train from Victoria Terminus which will take you up to Neral, in about two hours. From there you travel uphill in a delightful little toy train. Take in the panoramic view of the plains below as the train chugs uphill. It makes several stops en route, where the local tribals will sell you forest fruits such asjambouls and karvandas.
Khandala and Lonavala :
Sitting atop the Western Ghats on the Bombay-Pune highway are the twin resorts of Khanda'a and Lonavia. By train, the tracks snake in and out of several tunnels, offering you fleeting glimpses of the gaunt hills and their valleys. Suddenly you sense a freshness in the air and feel a levelling of the tracks on which the train has been travelling and you realise that you have reached Khandala. By road, you would take the Bor ghat road at Khopoli. The ghat is indeed steep, but the climb is faster and shorter and it is only an 8 kilometer distance before you reach the top.
Khandala is especially beautiful during the monsoons: the clouds literally envelope the entire town giving you the ethereal feeling of walking on them. Look out onto the hills and you will notice a thousand waterfalls that gush from its sides and flow into the ravines below. Do not miss the sun going down over the hills at Sunset Point. Further up the road, you come to Lonavala. Over the last decade this town has developed rapidly and it is here that both the rich and the powerful have their farm-houses and holiday villas. Several of these fancy structures are out of place with the rural surroundings. While at Lonavala, do visit the Walvan and the Bushy dams. They are usually ftill during the monsoons and attract hordes of tourists. Lonavala is also famous for its chikki and its chiwda.
On the Pune road, about 12 kilometres from Lonavala, are the Karia Caves. Belonging to the lad century B .C., they bear a striking resemblance to those at Ellora. The stupa inside the cave and the rock sculptures at the entrance are an eloquent testimony of the skill of the artisans of that time.
Today Karia moves out of its ancient past to provide sport and adventure to tourists. Maharashtra Tourism provides courses in rock and fort climbing here. Also proposed at this place, is an Institute for Adventure Tourism. Great things are in store for tourists at Karia.
Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar :
Among the hill resorts of the state, Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar are the most frequented because several tourist agencies, as well as the government tourist department, offer package tours to these places. Tucked away in the Satara district, they are best approached from Pune. Panchgani, at a lower height derives its name from the five hills that surround it. This is an ideal base for some good trekking. You can explore several mule tracks that lead through the now thinning forests. Climb atop the Table Land', a flat mountain top from where you can look down on to the coastal plains below.
Mahabaleshwar was the erstwhile summer capital of the old Bombay Presidency, which despite the increasing crowds that come there, still retains its quintessential charm. Numerous majestic mansions built during the days of the British, still stand as monuments of the Raj.
It is a fairly big town with several good hotels and lodges for tourists. For variety of activity you can paddle around the Venna lake or explore the various viewpoints. The bazaar here is also fairly popular, with leather goods and tribal trinkets for sale. There are several small-scale home industries that make rather good jams and jellies.
At both Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra Tourism has accommodation that caters to the needs of all categories of tourists.
Further down the coast, Amboli, on the southern ranges of the Western Ghats, is a quiet but pleasant hill resort. The Sea View point offers you a panoramic view of a good part of the Konkan coast. Facilities are scarce here, but you can enjoy a restful holiday away from the crowds that you find at other resorts.
Some other stations :
Up in the Vidharba region of the state is another relatively unknown resort called Chikhaldara. The place abounds in wildlife with the famous Melghat Tiger Sanctuary in its vicinity. From here you can make adventurous forays into the nearby forests, explore ruined forts and find your way to several panoramic viewpoints. In southern Maharashtra, a hill resort teeming with history is Panhala. This was once a Maratha fort, but has now been converted into a comfortable hill resort.
In Thane district, yet another virgin unspoilt resort is Jawahar. It is renowned for the rich and vibrant paintings by the Warii tribals.
As varied as the different parts of the state, the hill resorts in Maharashtra, offer you a secluded sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the city, allowing you to explore their natural scenic beauty. They are ideal spots for an invigorating holiday.