A Unesco World Heritage Site, Ajanta, with its 30 extraordinary rock-cut caves, renowned for their Buddhist frescoes, sprawls along a horseshoe-shaped escarpment overlooking the Waghora gorge. Hidden for centuries, they were accidentally discovered in 1819 by a British officer named John Smith. Ajanta’s art falls into two groups—the Hinayana phase of Buddhism, when the Buddha was represented by symbols, and the Mahayana period, when artistic expression was more exuberant. The site is usually visited along with the Ellora Caves and accessed from Aurangabad, 107kms away.
An astonishing natural site, the Lonar Lake, located in the tiny hamlet of Lonar in Maharashtra’s Buldana district,
remains surprisingly untouched by tourism. It became famous when it was discovered that the lake bed was actually a crater formed nearly 50,000 years ago when a meteorite careered into the basaltic rock here. Its diameter of 1,800m makes it the world’s largest crater. Legend has it that Ram and Sita bathed in the lake during their exile from Ayodhya. Picnicking families explore the ruins of some Hindu temples on its shores. Tranquil and remote, the crater is rich in birdlife. It is best visited from Aurangabad, 150kms away.
Named after a tribal god, ‘Taru’, who apparently died fighting a tiger, Tadoba National Park is a gem of a wildlife preserve, consciously maintaining its pristine eco-system. Located in Maharashtra’s Chandarpur district, it is a Project Tiger
reserve. Tadoba is a magical place, and wildlife buffs can expect some wondrous moments tiger-spotting in this botanical haven. Other denizens here include the leopard, Indian bison, wild dogs and sloth bear, apart from 181 species of birds. The sheer profusion of animals, the close-quarter viewing and the abundant beauty of the reserve make this a special experience. It can be accessed from Nagpur, 3hrs away.