Located in south-west Maharashtra, Kolhapur is one of the oldest cities of Maharashtra and a former princely state. While pilgrims crowd here to pay respect to the presiding deity of Goddess Mahalakshmi, the city is also known for its forts and lakes. Kolhapuri cuisine, especially its mutton Rassa and pickle, makes the city a must visit for foodies. And with the GI tag earned by its famous handcrafted leather slippers, you have to be here to buy an original pair.
Make an early start to the day, with a visit to the famous Mahalakshmi Temple. Patronised by rulers of the various dynasties who ruled Kolhapur, the temple has seen many additions and beautifications through the ages. Hence, the star shaped temple is not only a popular pilgrim centre but also reflects the evolution of the architectural style of the region. The sanctum sanctorum, which contains the idol of Ambabai or Goddess Mahalakshmi, is flanked by shrines dedicated to Goddess Mahakali and Goddess Mahasaraswati. On the floor above the main sanctum is a shrine dedicated to Ganapati, which is fronted by a Shivling. Do not forget to take a look at the sculptures on the pillars and the decorated screens as you pass through the gateways and halls to reach the main shrine. The outer walls of the temple also bear rich carvings. For timings and other details visit their website.
After the spiritual venture, it is time to start on the culinary journey through Kolhapur. Many restaurants and road-side stalls serve the typical Missal Pav of Kolhapur. While Missal is found throughout Maharashtra, in Kolhapur it is relatively more spicy and topped with a load of salty savouries (‘farsan’) and served with two slices of thick square bread instead of the regular ‘pav’. You may also try the batata vada pav.
Then it is time to decide on your day’s itinerary. You may choose to go for some local sightseeing or head to the Panhala hill fort about 20km from Kolhapur.
The 12th century Panhala fort, which is known to have hosted the Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji, overlooked one of the key passes on the trade route that connected interior Maharashtra with the coastal region in the olden time. Although in various stages of decay, there is plenty to see here, including fortifications, bastions, gateways, Andhar Baoli or the Hidden Well, Ambarkhana or the granaries, Dharma Kothi, etc. There are also several temples, mausoleums and statues in and around the fort. A closer look at the fort will reveal architectural motifs and styles belonging to the various ruling dynasties who occupied the fort at different times. Taking a look at the sprawling fort can be a little tiring. You may rest a while by stopping at any of the eateries here who serve local snacks.
On your way to or from the fort, you can stop at the Jyotiba Temple (17km from Kolhapur). According to local tales, when Mahalakshmi decided to settle in Karveer (an old name of Kolhapur) after defeating demon Kolhasur, she appointed four guardian deities to protect the four cardinal gates of her kingdom. Jyotiba, the most powerful, was appointed to guard the north.
Depending on the time in hand, you can visit the museum in the Town Hall reminiscent of neo Gothic architecture of late 19th century before or after lunch. Displays include artefacts belonging to the Satavahana, Shilhara and Bahamani periods, other archaeological remains, bronze articles, weapons and artillery, paintings, etc. Open on all days except Mondays, from 10.30am to 5.30pm. Ticketed entry.
One of the key Kolhapuri dishes to try at lunch (or dinner) is the mutton-based gravy dish. This spicy dish comes in two varieties – the red Tambda Rassa (red chillies imparting the colour) or the white Pandhra Rassa (coconut imparting the white colour). If you are looking for a dry mutton curry, then there is Kolhapuri Mutton Sukka. The mutton dishes are best enjoyed with steamed white rice or bhakri (bread). Don’t forget to ask for the pickle made of deep fried goat meat.
Post lunch, you can visit the New Palace (completed in 1884). Built of black polished stone, the palace with a central tower, sits in the middle of a pleasant garden. A few of the rooms have been converted into the Chhatrapati Shahaji Museum. Open on all days except Mondays, from 9.30 am to 11 am and 2.30 pm to 5.30 pm. Ticketed entry.
Before you head for the Rankala Lake, it is time to browse through the shops selling Kolhapuri Chappals. These handcrafted designer leather slippers, which has virtually introduced the rest of India to Kolhapur, can be matched with a lot of ethnic dresses. In July 2019, it earned the coveted Geographical Indication GI) tag.
As evening approaches, head for the city’s most famous gathering spot, the Rankala Lake. Hedged with a lot of greenery, it is one of the most picturesque corners of Kolhapur. Rub shoulders with the local people out for their evening strolls. If you have kids in tow, they may enjoy a short pony ride. There is a temple in the middle of the lake. A lot of food kiosks spring up during evening giving you an excuse to try the spicy bhel as a pre-supper snack.
Information: Kolhapur is around 380km from Mumbai by road and takes around six to seven hours to reach. There are a few trains running between Kolhapur and Mumbai. The overnight Mahalakshmi Express connecting Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus of Mumbai with Shri Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj Terminus of Kolhapur is one of the most convenient trains.