INDIA. Western Ghats, Maharashtra: Karla – Khandala – Lonavala in Maharashtra are the most popular, beautiful, and romantic hill stations of India. They are all part of the famous Western Ghats and are just 114 km from Mumbai and about 65 km from Pune and are easily accessible on the Mumbai Pune highway. The region is very popular amongst fun seekers, love birds, young couples, and families especially from Mumbai and Pune for a short holiday and it is very difficult to find a hotel room on normal weekends. The western Ghats offer you plenty of time to walk in the rains, get wet, write poetry, smell the wet earth, lie back or just let it go. Whatever you do – the Ghat’s magic sure works on you.
The best time is during the rainy seasons, but other times are equally enchanting in the Ghats. I also chose to visit the romantic destinations during monsoons and rain gods accompanied me all the way from Mumbai, up to Khandala. The rains in fact were at their best (or I would say at their worst).
As I was chalking out my itinerary, the manager at the MTDC resort helped me with information about the possible tourist attraction I can cover. The places like the Pavana Dam, Lohagad Fort, Tungarli Dam, and a few trekking points in the area were not approachable, so we prepared a list of alternative points.
The rains in the area had come after a gap of a few days and the manager in fact said that I was the lucky one, who had gotten a chance to enjoy the beauty of this place in rains. When I said let me wait for the rain to stop – or at least subside, he said that this will now continue for a month, and it will get worse. So why wait and waste your time, just go out – and get wet!!
And in the morning, I headed for my first destination, the Karla caves. Of the two historical sites in the area – the Karla Caves and the Bhaja Caves, the Karla Caves are the largest Hinayana Buddhist cave temple carved in 80 BC and are one of the best-preserved Buddhist shrines in India.
Considering the location the caves are quite surprising. The main cave had a very sickening smell, but considering the fact that this cave is 2000 years old and also that it happened to be in an area that has a very high rainfall, the stench was acceptable. The cave was definitely worth all the trouble I had gone through. The Chaitya hall (40m long, 15m wide) has wooden teak beams supporting the ceiling. These teak beams have been there all of these 2000 years and still holding strong. It also contains thirty-seven pillars and outside the cave, there is a pillar with four lions standing back to back at the top.
The temple just outside the cave, dedicated to goddess Ekveera also attracts a number of locals for worshipping. And even torrential rains could not stop them from coming in groups – in fact, there were more worshippers in the area than the actual tourists.
Breathtaking views at Lonavala
The next stop was Valvan Dam near Lonavala. This dam is now managed by Tata Power and is now almost off-limits to tourists. My next stop was the Rajmachi point or the Khandala Hills viewpoint. The drive to Rajmachi point passed through some dense woods and it a beautiful drive even with the visibility down to a few meters in the rains. The Ghats begin at Rajmachi point, and hence it attracts a lot of tourists to enjoy the breathtaking views of the Ghat. From the Ghats, I could see the twin cities of Khandala and Lonavala up on the hill with dark clouds rumbling on the horizon – it was a breathtaking sight. The Duke’s Nose – a natural formation in the hills is supposed to be an impressive viewpoint from here – but was invisible at this moment.
With the rain in its full flow, countless waterfalls, both small and big – filled up the canvas in the valley and on the hills across the valley. The view just can not be described in words – and this was when the visibility due to the dense clouds were restricted to a few meters only. So I could just virtually visualize – how beautiful it will look just after the monsoon. In between for a while, as the cloud cover got away – it was like heavens. I decided to come back to this point again later on – when (and if) the rains stopped and cloud cover got watered down.
It started to pour heavily now, and I had to call off my plans for the day and be content to enjoy the waterfalls, so I settled down in a nearby teashop, and securing my cameras, bought a roasted bhutta (sweet corn) and did what Mumbaikars do at the Ghats – got drenched in rain.
Don’t be disheartened folks, details of my explorations of the rain-soaked ghats following up as soon as I dry out my wet outfits…