Verdant hills, scenic coastal plains and busy industrial centres make up the varied landscapes of Maharashtra, which covers an area of 300,000 The hills of the Western Ghats, source of many rivers, runs parallel to the narrow Konkan Coast, while being cradled in the centre is the Deccan Plateau, formed from black volcanic lava 70 million years ago.

This area saw a great flowering of art and architecture from the 2nd century onwards, and two famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located here- the Buddhist caves at Ajanta and the rock-cut temples at Ellora. Modern Maharashtra is a prosperous, highly modernized region, with a strong agrarian base. Maharashtra has some spectacular hill stations to offer. Go on, get lost in the scenic charms of the hills of this “unlimited” state.

1. Mahabaleshwar

The largest hill station is Maharashtra, Mahabaleshwar is situated 1372 metres from sea level. The wooded slopes are covered with typical colonial structures, among them Christ Church, Frere Hall. Government House, the Mahabaleshwar Club, and the ever popular polo grounds and race course.

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Due to its high altitude, the town has a cool climate and offers many pleasant walks. There are also several lookout points such as the Bombay Point, from where the sea can be seen on a clear day, the Arthur’s Seat, which offers panoramic views of the Konkan Coast. Venna Lake has boating facilities to spend a relaxing evening of leisure. In the old town is the sacred Krishna Temple, supposedly built on the legendary site of the Panchganga, the source of five rivers. The Temple has a much venerated, naturally occurring Shivalinga. There are also other temples in the vicinity. Several berry farms are located close by, where many visitors can help to pick strawberries, raspberries and mulberries.

Mahabaleshwar is situated 269km from Mumbai and about 117km from Pune.

2. Panchgani

Roughly about 18km from Mahabaleshwar is Panchgani, which is surrounded by five hills. The town is the starting point for many scenic trekking trails.

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It is also dotted with many charming old British and Parsi bungalows, some of which can be visited by tourists.

3. Lonavla

Situated on the main train line between Mumbai and Pune, Lonavla, once a sleepy town famous for its “chikkis”, has now become extremely popular weekend getaway for city-dwellers from nearby Mumbai. Spread across the bustling main street, lined with souvenir shops, the town offers pleasant walks and is a convenient base for exploring the surrounding hills.

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About 8km from Lonavla is another pretty town with panoramic views of the scenic Western Ghats, Khandala, the famous Buddhist rock-cut Karla Cave, 11km from Lonavla, dates from 2nd to 1st century BC. The splendid chaitya griha, the largest and the best preserved of the early Buddhist caves in the Deccan, is the most significant sight here. It has a magnificently sculpted courtyard, a towering 14m high façade with a horseshoe shaped window, and a large pillared hall, wooden beams with a monolithic stupa. The Bedsa Caves, situated 9km away, dates to the 1st century AD, with the roof of the main cave bearing traces of paintings.

Lonavla is roughly around 65km from Pune and 83km from Mumbai.

4. Matheran

The closest hill station to Mumbai, Matheran (which means “Mother Forest”) lies at a height of 803m (2635 feet) above sea level. The picturesque town is situated in the forested Sahyadri Hills. The Elphinstone Lodge, named after the Governor of Bombay, Lord Elphinstone, who visited Matheran in the year 1855, soon after which it became fashionable and popular, became his weekend retreat. A quaint railway toy train still winds its way up here slowly through the hills and forests from the junction at Neral. All motor vehicles are banned within the limits of the town, making it uniquely peaceful, despite the burgeoning crowds of visitors, particularly on the weekends.

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Matheran has as many as 33 lookout points, Porcupine Point or Sunset Point, a favourite among sightseers, is known for its spectacular sunsets. Louisa Point has views of the ruined Prabal Fort and a mountain trail called Shivaji’s Ladder. By far, the most impressive viewpoint is the Hart Point, from where it is possible to see, on a clear day, to see Mumbai in a distance. St. Paul’s Anglican Church, the pretty Lord’s Hotel and the Roman Catholic Church are among the many Raj-era buildings that are still around in Matheran.

Matheran is 83km from Mumbai and 120km from Pune.

All places are ideal weekend getaways from Mumbai and Pune and let one unwind from all the busy lifestyles and chaotic lives of the city. Leave all that behind and pack your bags and get going, because, the hills are calling!!

Happy tripping!

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17 June 2016

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