The less travelled roads of Maharashtra leads to some even lesser-know, but surprisingly exciting escapes. Bindhu & Radhakrishnan Unny check out five such destinations.
Enough of Lonavala and its detours. Ajanta and Ellora, must-sees in a lifetime, can take a break. Mahabaleshwar and Matheran are clichéd. So what’s left for an escape from the busy city life? Here are five not-so-popular destinations, packed with natural beauty, wonderful history, and a relaxing atmosphere. After all, it’s Maharashtra Unlimited!
A 20-lakh ton, 60km wide meteorite travelling at about 90,000 km/hr dented the earth some 50,000 years ago. We now recognise it as Lonar Crater, world’s only hypervelocity natural impact carter in basaltic rock. Far removed from the typical tourist circuits and itineraries, Lonar is where history, geology, astronomy, ecology and mythology merge for a unique experience. Get overawed by the facts dating to the origin of the universe, trek down to the crater, hear stories around the 12th century temples around the lake, watch and listen to birds, walk through the unique forest surrounding the lake or take a 6-km walk along the rim of the crater. At nightfall, lie on your back and star gaze. Lonar is located about 145 km from Aurangabad. September to March is the best time to visit.
A quaint hill station in the Sahyadris near Kolhapur, Panhala has witnessed the rule of many dynasties in the past – the Shilaharas, the Yadavas, the Adil Shahs of Bijapur, the Marathas, the Mughals, and finally the British. Panhala is the only fort where Shivaji spent more than 500 days, other than his childhood homes, and it was he who named it Panhala. Now a small township, tucked within the remains of the 12th century fort, Panhala can be easily explored on foot. Sajja Kothi, named so because Shivaji’s son Sambhaji was kept under house arrest here (sajja means punishment), on the eastern side of the fort offers a panoramic view of Kolhapur valley. Other points of interest include Teen Darwaja, Ambarkhana, Daru Kothi, Wagh Darwaja, Rede Mahal, Dharma Kothi, Ambabai temple, Sambhaji temple, Someshwar temple and tank, Andhar Bav, and Nayakini Sajja. After soaking in the history, if relaxing is a dire need, Panhala’s botanical garden and sunset point are ideal spots.
Spread over 52 sq km, Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary is home to a variety of animals, birds, and reptiles. Not yet a popular tourist destination, and, hence, not thronged by hordes of tourists, one can still enjoy quiet walks along the four major nature trails within the sanctuary. One would definitely spot different species of birds, and, if lucky, shekroos (the Giant Malabar Squirrel), deer, snakes, or even leopards. However, not-so-touristy also means fewer facilities. Carry food and water, though the Forest Department’s Rest House will provide lodging with prior intimation. If provisions are given, the caretaker will also cook for you. Phansad is 152 km from Mumbai, via Panvel, Pen and Alibag.
Nestled among the famous Devgad alphonso (hapus) mango plantations, is the beautiful Kunkeshwar temple overlooking a pristine beach. A hillock behind the temple gives an enchanting view of the entire area. The water is so clear that one can see the seabed even up to a depth of 15-20 ft. A walk towards the north along the beach will take one to the Mumbri creek, beyond which is Devgad, a small town with many temples such as Gajbhadevia and Vimleshwar dedicated to Shiva and the beautiful Devgad beach. Enjoy this typical Konkan village charm with early morning walks through the narrow roads flanked by mango farms and frolicking in the crystal clear sea.
Climb up the Kasara ghats, relish the greenery of Igatpuri, and after another 35 km of a bumpy ride, Bhandardara awaits you. It’s a visual treat that calms the senses with a placid lake surrounded by green mountains. Bhandardara, it appears is reluctantly falling for all the trappings of a hill station, as city slickers from Nashik and Mumbai have discovered the place. An undiluted village charm can be experienced here. The beautiful Bhandardara lake or Arthur Hill lake was formed when the Wilson Dam was built across the Pravara river. A few kilometres downstream, it plunges 170 ft down to form the roaring Randh Falls, India’s third largest. For adventure seekers, Bhandardara is the base camp for treks to Kalsubai, the tallest peak in Maharashtra, and Ratangad fort. Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) has a resort and a couple of private hotels are also available here. A perfect weekend visit, but best during and immediately after the monsoons.