Hills and mountains have always had a special place in our heart since our childhood. Remember, as kids, how we all used to commonly draw a picture of a house by a river and with mountains in its backdrop! While many poets and authors in Europe have drawn their inspiration from the Sun, for their Indian counterparts it has been the mountains. From many of our pilgrim sites perched on top of the hills to the Bollywood romance blooming in the lap of mountains through its many melodious and scenic songs… Hills indeed take our spirits as high as themselves! And of course, then there’s the pleasantness of weather which we always associate with our many hill stations which provide that perfect respite from the pollution and the daily grind of an urban life. No wonder, the British discovered, developed and popularised most of the famous hill stations in India, to escape the scorching Indian summer.
We the people of Maharashtra are indeed very fortunate in this sense. The Western Ghats and their Sahyadri Ranges have blessed Maharashtra with many a charismatic and charming hill stations. And the best part is we are bound to find one, within a few hours driving distance from almost all the major cities in the state. So whether we are looking for a weekend family getaway, a much needed rendezvous with blissful nature, or that long-overdue romantic long drive…. Mountains are calling!
So, here’s a list of top 10 hill stations in Maharashtra that you should go to at least once.
Literally meaning, ‘forest on the head’, Matheran is the nearest eco-friendly hill station from Mumbai. While many hill stations are falling prey to over-tourism which leads to excessive pollution, Matheran is spared, thanks to the law that doesn’t allow motorized vehicles on its roads. This Asia’s tiniest hill station is indeed big on all that it offers to travellers, which includes scenic viewpoints, long treks through forested areas, and a quaintness of its own. The cherry on the cake is the famous toy train ride (remains suspended during monsoons) which takes you up the hill through serene vistas. As you explore the hill station on foot or on a horse, the various trails lead to several vantage points from where you can have stunning views. Must try over here is the chikki, fudge and honey and must buy are walking sticks along with other paraphernalia. What’s more, in winters or post-monsoons, the misty silent walkways and forests indeed transport you to a world that seems absolutely fictitious.
For most of the grandparents in Maharashtra, Mahabaleshwar has been their honeymoon destination. Such is the legacy of this Maharashtra’s favourite hill station. Literally meaning, ‘God of great power’, Mahabaleshwar is located some 285 kms. from Mumbai and 120 kms. southwest of Pune. There are many things that make Mahabaleshwar so popular…. Right from winding roads up to the hill station to cool breeze at all times; jaw-dropping vistas of hills and valleys – along with that of sunrise, sunset and anytime in between; an ancient temple of Lord Shiva; an adorable shopping street; the picture-perfect Venna lake, strawberries, and more… Don’t miss out on visiting the nearby Panchgani for adding on to your holiday fun and even Pratapgad, which is the witness to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Afzhal Khan’s historic meeting that took place at the footsteps of this fort.
‘Aati kya Khandala?’ this question had indeed become an anthem for every youngster, especially in Mumbai and Pune when Aamir Khan asked it to Rani Mukherjee in the movie Ghulam. Mumbaikars and Punekars are indeed blessed with the twin hill stations of Lonavala and Khandala, which are just hop, skip and jump away from both the cities. Both Lonavala and Khandala are known for their pleasant and rejuvenating weather and beautiful green cover during the monsoon. Famous for chikki and fudge, just like Matheran, Lonavala and Khandala also boast some breathtaking sights of the valley and hills with tiny picturesque villages tucked in the folds. The very famous Bhushi Dam at Lonavala is a major draw during the monsoon. Places to visit nearby include, the Karla and Bhaja caves and the temple of Goddess Ekvira. Also, do not miss out on Sunil Kandaloor’s celebrity wax museum, a first of its kind in India, where you can click yourself with your favourite celebrities.
4. Malshej Ghat
People throng Malshej Ghat in the monsoons to feast their mind, body, and soul on the verdant landscape and the gushing waters descending from the waterfalls. Located near the borders of Thane and Ahmednagar districts, Malshej Ghat is indeed a perfect place to experience how beautiful rains can actually get. The heavy downpour blended with morning fog, chilling air, and lush greenery all around, makes for a picture, which indeed seems to have escaped a painting. The region is also home to a variety of rich flora and fauna and especially to many different kinds of birds, especially flamingos which migrate here all the way from Rann of Kutch in Gujarat. Malshej Ghat is therefore as much a paradise for budding ornithologists too. Also, the icing on the cake is the nearby Naneghat – very popular for stargazing (given that the skies are clear) and two of the eight Ashtavinayak temples – Ozhar and Lenyadri, which are in close proximity.
With its hills, waterfalls, forests, and an ancient temple housing one of the twelve Jyotirlingas…. Bhimashankar is a perfect place to blend spirituality, nature’s bliss, and adventure. Again, monsoon is the best season to indulge in the stunning natural beauty this hill station has to offer. Bhimashankar is also the place, where you can find the state animal of Maharashtra – Indian Giant Flying Squirrel or ‘Shekaru’ as it is locally known in Marathi. It is believed that the original Bhimashankar Shiva temple was built in 12th century AD and since then the temple has undergone many alterations over a period of time. Today, the temple is nestled in dense forests and serene environs, adorned by the cool breeze and the occasional chirping of birds, making it every pilgrim’s and traveller’s delight.
If a picture-perfect setting is what you are looking for on your weekend break, head to Bhandardara, located to the north of Ahmednagar district. Its landscape with a roaring waterfall, gushing waters from a dam, towering hills in the background and greenery all around, make it all look like the manifestation of a poet’s imagination. Bhandardara indeed makes you experience nature at its best. Favourite with families wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of urban life, it is also a hot-spot for the religiously inclined who visit the ancient Amruteshwar Shiva temple, famous for its uniquely interesting architecture. Other major attractions at Bhandardara include Wilson Dam and Arthur Lake.
Although far away from Mumbai and Pune, all the way in the Vidarbha district, Chikhaldara is definitely worth its lost distance travelling. This one’s a roaring hill station, quite literally, for it has tigers in its vicinity! It indeed transports you a serene zone of rich flora and fauna, just perfect for you to unwind and reconnect with yourself. Chikaldhara is blessed with good rainfall as compared to other parts of Vidarbha. What makes Chikaldhara really special is the Melghat Project Tiger Area spread over an area of about 1,676 sq. kms. that surrounds it on three sides. The Project Tiger area is divided into several smaller wildlife reserves. The Melghat Project Tiger is home to about 700 species of plants, belonging to 400 genres and 97 different families along with a rich fauna which includes over 70 tigers and leopards each, 200 sloth bears, 1800 Indian gaurs and also several rare animals like the Flying Squirrel, Pangolin, Mouse Deer, Ratel, and Honey Badger.
A popular hill station in the Western Ghats located in the Nashik district, Igatpuri boasts some of the highest peaks in the Sahyadri range. A big draw for nature lovers and thrill-seekers, Igatpuri is home to the Vipassana International Academy, the headquarters of the world’s largest Vipassana meditation institute. Historic forts, waterfalls, rivers, mountains, and some magnificent vistas together make Igatpuri a hot favourite of trekkers, photographers, nature lovers, and all kinds of holidaymakers and also a popular weekend getaway from both Mumbai and Pune, especially in monsoons.
Being one of the most beautiful hill stations in Maharashtra, it’s no wonder that Gaganbavda is attracting filmmakers from the Marathi and Hindi film industries big time. Located in Kolhapur, it offers a fantastic view of the Konkan coastal region and is also emerging as a favourite trekking destination. With quite a few villages in the state ending with the word ‘bavda’, Gaganbavda has been named so, owing to its great height from the sea level, as ‘Gagan’ means sky. In the monsoon, the chilling winds and a blanket of fog take over this scenic hill station. What’s more, just spice up your moments with a plate of hot ‘Bhajiyas’ (Pakodas) and a steaming cup of Chaha (Tea). Also, you can trek up to the Gagangad fort through dense forest, visit the mutt or monastery of Gangangiri Maharaj, a saint and also visit the artistic and mysterious cluster of Palsambe monolithic temples nearby.
One of the greatest hill station delights awaits you at the southernmost tip of Maharashtra in Sawantwadi, Sindhudurg. Amboli’s nickname as the ‘Queen of Maharashtra’ is just enough to give us an idea of its natural splendour. An ecological hotspot, cool, calm, and serene… Amboli turns majestic during the monsoons. Located at an altitude of about 690 meters above the sea level, its topography comprises dense forests together with a large number of waterfalls that multiplies in the rains. Amboli offers many vantage points to take in those magical vistas of hills and valleys around. What adds on to the beauty of Amboli is its very rich flora and fauna which includes many species of trees, plants, wild animals, birds, butterflies, frogs, reptiles, and more.
So, these were the top 10 hill stations in Maharashtra that you should go to at least once. Mind you, this isn’t an exhaustive list though. Maharashtra has many popular as well as lesser-known hill stations hidden in its various pockets and which definitely need to be on your bucket list, the next time you chalk out your Maharashtra tour package. This year in the wake of the pandemic and the resultant lockdown, although we are missing out on all the monsoon fun which we would have otherwise indulged in at these blissful hill stations, let’s hope those happy days will be back very soon. The mountains will call again and we’ll head to them for sure. Let’s keep our spirits as high as our favourite hill stations