Many towns and villages of Maharashtra are scattered around in the hills of Sahyadris. The mountain range of Western Ghats is called Sahyadri in Maharashtra. It begins near the border of Gujarat and Maharashtra, and then runs parallel to the western coast of India. Several towns present in these hills have turned into popular hill stations. The finest and the most sought after amongst them is Mahabaleshwar – the largest hill station in Maharashtra. The twin towns of Lonavala and Khandala owe their popularity as much to their picturesque location as to their proximity with Mumbai and Pune. The tiny town of Matheran, with its vehicle ban, is the most unique amongst all of these hill towns.
Mahabaleshwar is the highest (4500 ft) and the largest hill station in Maharashtra. Its wooded slopes and bracing environment attract travellers just the way they compelled Malcolm Marshal, British Governor of Mumbai, to form a sanatorium here in 1828. Several colonial-era structures dot the town and many lookout points have English names. While the town centre is dull and has seen some overdose of the concrete structures, the surroundings are pristine and beautiful. Here you can either do the touristy things like sightseeing, boating, horse-riding etc or just walk to your heart’s content and then sit and gaze at the verdant hills and valleys. Pratapgad fort makes for an interesting excursion out of Mahabaleshwar.
The hills and lakes of Lonavala were probably created for the overworked dwellers of the nearby cities of Mumbai and Pune. Several resorts and retreats doting the hills of Lonavala are frequented by the weekenders from both the cities. During monsoon, because many waterfalls come alive, the influx of travellers increase. Interestingly, the region around Lonavala has many heritage sites. There are many hilltop forts around Lonavala and a short-drive out of the town are Buddhist rock-cut caves of Karla and Bhaja.
Khandala and Lonavala are said to be the twin towns as they are just 5 km apart. Just like Lonavala, the proximity with the two biggest cities of Maharashtra has brought this place to the fore. Khandala is loved by the travellers for its picturesque vistas. And there are a lot of activities you can do here. Like you can go on short and long treks, visit caves, picnic by the lakes, or go out on excursions. Come monsoon and the scenery in Khandala turns mesmerizing, the hills turn greener and the waterfalls become livelier.
Matheran, a small town straddling a ridge, is the closest hill station to Mumbai. Covered with the thick evergreen forest, Matheran’s red mud tracks criss-cross the town like the veins in the body. The best thing about Matheran is that all sorts of vehicles are banned from entering here, even bicycles can’t be brought in. The only vehicle allowed is the small narrow-gauge train – known as toy train – that chugs right into the centre of the town. If you want to travel by car, you’ve got to leave it in the parking, 3 km below in an area called ‘Dasturi’. The best way to roam around in Matheran is on foot and when you get tired, hire a horse. For the old and not-so-fit, hand-pulled carts are available.
Panchgani is a small town near Mahabaleshwar. Surrounded by five hills, Panchgani is ideal for a quiet holiday. There are several walking trails around this lush green town. Despite being just 19 km from Mahabaleshwar, it has moderate climate. Hence, British utilized it during monsoons when Mahabaleshwar would become inhospitable. That’s the reason even today you see the town is dotted with many colonial-era bungalows. It also has several boarding schools. Once you are done with visiting all the lookout points of Panchgani, you should visit at least one strawberry farm.