There are very few tourist places that you can just take off to without worrying about hundred other things like accommodation, weather, distance, and so on. You may wish to plan ambitious and exotic summer holidays to beat the heat, no doubt, but you'll admit it is a boon to have a venue to gate crash into without much ado, if you so desire. The twin hill-stations of Lonavala and Khandala, nearly two hours drive from Mumbai, are two, actually one such place.
Nestled in the Sahyadari mountain ranges, this place fulfills all parameters that a rollicking holiday spot should - there are the endless green stretches bursting with birds and wild flowers, hidden dirt tracks for leisurely nature walks, hilly terrain for hiking and trekking, waterfalls to frolic in, and lots more.
If you happen to be in Mumbai as you
are likely to be if you are visiting India, you can just hop across to
these Western Ghats, either by road or rail. The train journey is quite
enjoyable as you are in the company of like-minded holiday-revellers,
which really sets the mood for the excursion. But hitting the road may
be a good idea too, for then you can move around at your pace when at the holiday destination. Luckily, there is absolutely no dearth of places to stay - from up market, trendy resorts to small guest houses, accommodation is available for different budgets.
Things to see and do
Khandala is the smaller of the two hill-stations and also more
peaceful. Walks through this small town will be rewarded with
breath-taking views of the valley or ghats, the Bhorgat to be specific.
Lonavala is just five kms. away from here. Quaint names for places
such as the Duke's Nose, Monkey Hill, Tiger's Leap and Ryewood Park
give an idea of what exotic trails await the avid holidayer. The Duke's
Nose, named after the erstwhile Duke of Wellington of the prominent nose, is a hill-top with a pointed peak and the Monkey
Hill, as the name suggests, is full of Hanuman langurs. The Ryewood
Park is a botanical garden named after a Britisher, Mr. Rye who was
said to have been mesmerized by the vista it put up.
En route to Lonavala is the famous
Rajmachi Point, also called Sunset Point by many because of the
spectacular sunset views it affords. There is a lovely garden here with
a children's park. Besides the tourist spots there are a lot of turn
outs where people can take on their own and explore places off the beaten track.
Cradled in the verdant valley of Lonavala is the Kaivalyadham Yoga
Hospital, a health resort which conducts a week-long course for healing
through yoga. But you are welcome to visit the place even as a tourist.
Lakes and waterfalls
Lonavala is famous as a lake district because of the presence
of many artificial lakes - the Bushy, Tungarli and Pawna, among others.
The lakes are open for fishing but you need to come with your own
fishing apparatus, it is not provided here. The Bushy and Walwan dam
are two hotspots choc-a-block with tourists. Of course, the many
waterfalls that dot the valley landscapes and the lakes create a dismal
picture in the summer. The heavy monsoons can create and retain its
magic only till March, thereafter the summer heat does act on the place
and makes it drier. But the abundance of green cover ensures a very
pleasant summer here.
Forts and caves
This place is replete with history thanks to the forts of
Chhatrapati Shivaji - the Lohagad, Visapur and Rajmachi forts, and the
Buddhist caves of Karla and Bhaja. The 2nd
century caves are cut in rocks and are an outstanding example of temple
art and architecture. The approach to Karla caves is through a steep
climb of 20 - 30 minutes from the car park and just may be an obstacle
with children in tow; so you may want to leave them behind in the car.
The Bhaja caves are a little more remotely located and therefore better
Chikki and fudge
The best thing about these hill-stations is that it
affords a completely relaxed, no-tension holiday - with no headache of
where to stay, what to see and where to eat. The places are filled with eateries, again of all kinds, suiting all pockets. Lonavala is famous for its chikki
all over India. Chikki is a sweet savoury made of dryfuits, nuts and
sugar or jaggery syrup. Chikki stores line up the roads as you enter
the heart of the Lonavala city; the Maganlal and A1 chikki stores are
more famous of the whole lot.
So don't draw an itinerary, don't book hotels or lodgings, just simply take your walking shoes and adequate other necessary resources and give in to the magic of the
place and discover it unhindered unencumbered. Follow the birdsong and
watch birds in their virgin habitat and do some flower-watching; it
will be a holiday to remember, we promise.
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- The Indiaparenting Team