Nestled in the Sahyadri range of Maharashtra’s lush Satara district, the quaint town of Mahabaleshwar is many things to different people. Set on a verdant plateau and bounded by valleys, the summer capital of the erstwhile Bombay Province of British India is a versatile getaway.
To the avid trekker, it is a maze of paths criss-crossing rugged hills and emerald forests; to the spiritualist, it is a destination with quite a bit of divine provenance; to the nature lover and the photographer, it is home to some of the most splendid vistas in the country; and to children, both actual and inner, it is the source of almost 85 per cent of India’s strawberry production.
Here's our guide to spending a weekend in this pretty hill station.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Commissioned by the legendary Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, this fort was completed in 1656, just in time for the historic Battle of Pratapgad of 1659 between Shivaji and Afzal Khan, the mighty general of the Adilshah of Bijapur. The story goes that Shivaji was called to Afzal Khan’s tent for negotiations, but was ambushed by the general. Anticipating this treachery, Shivaji bested Khan and killed him using a hidden tiger claw dagger, which has become an icon in Maratha folklore. After a decisive victory, this battle became one of the fledgling ruler’s defining moments and precipitated the establishment of the powerful Maratha Empire.
Built in two levels upon a hill overlooking a deep gorge, the fort’s architecture is impressive. The fort, privately owned by Udyanraje Bhonsale, the current claimant to the Satara Chhatrapati title, is remarkably well-preserved. It is also home to two popular temples dedicated to Mahadev and Bhawani Mata, the latter being Shivaji’s family deity.
Close to the fort is the Dargah of Afzal Khan. The star attraction in the fort, however, is more modern – a 17-ft-high, 4,500kg bronze equestrian statue of Shivaji, which was unveiled by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1957. The fort is usually full of bustling activity and you can find plenty of food stalls around it. For some brilliant lemonade, head to the stalls near the main entrance. Entry Free Timings 8am-6pm
Though there are more than 20 view points around Mahabaleshwar, Arthur’s Seat is arguably the most popular and is referred to by locals as the ‘Queen of the Points’. Located at a height of 1,340m, with the deep Savitri gorge on one side of the point and a verdurous plateau on the other, the view point showcases the geological contrast between the Konkan and Deccan landscapes like nowhere else.
This point is named after Sir Arthur Mallet, the first British officer to build a house here. Arthur’s Seat actually comprises six different vantage areas, each affording a different perspective. These are Arthur’s Seat Point, Echo Point, Hunter Point, Tiger Spring Point, Window Point and Malcolm Point. One can get dazzling views of the Sahyadri range including the Pratapgad, Koleshwar, Raireshwar and Chandragad peaks from here.
Elephant’s Head Point
Around 7km from the main city, this vantage point affords splendid views of the Sahyadris. The reason behind this intriguing name is the natural rock formation at this point, which resembles the head and trunk of an elephant.
With a well-deserved name thanks to its bewitching sunset views, this point is an extremely popular place for horse rides. This picture-perfect vantage point also offers clear views of the Pratapgad and Makarand gad forts. Visitors can also head to Wilson Point for an equally exquisite sunrise. Some other vantage points one can explore are Lodwick, Elphinstone and Savitri.
On the road linking the town to its sister hill station of Panchgani (see pxxx), Venna Lake is an artificial water body commissioned by Appasaheb Maharaj, the Raja of Satara, in 1842. Visitors can indulge in boating here.
Tip It is advisable for tourists to head back to the town by 8.00pm because the area gets quite deserted by nightfall.
Boating Timings 8am–7pm
At a distance of 2.5km from the Mahabaleshwar Bus Stand, the captivating Chinaman’s Waterfall lies towards the south of the Koyna Valley. The waterfall cascades down from a height of 500 feet into a deep gorge. The calm, iridescent surroundings make this a perfect spot to unwind.
Entry Free Timings 7am-5.30pm
The ancient Mahabaleshwar Temple (Entry Free; Timings 6am-8pm) is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It was built in the 16th century and is an excellent example of the Hemadant architectural style of south India. The sanctum sanctorum contains a 500-year-old Shivalinga made of black stone.
Nearby, the Panchganga Temple (Entry Free; Timings: 7am-7pm) is set at the confluence of five rivers – the Krishna, Venna, Savitri, Koyna and Gayatri. It was constructed by Raja Singhandeo of the Yadava Dynasty, the ruler of Devagiri (present-day Daulatabad) in the 13th century.
The hill-top Krishnabai Temple, which was built in 1888 by a ruler of Ratnagiri, is close to the Panchganga Temple. A small perennial stream, which emanates from the mouth of a cow statue, flows through the temple and empties into a water reservoir, which is linked to the Krishna River. Inside, you’ll find some intricately carved stone columns and ceilings.
WHERE TO STAY
Amongst the popular hotels, MTDC Holiday Resort is a centrally located option. Pratap Heritage has decent valley-view rooms. Check them out here.
Hotel Shreyas is near the bus station. Anand Van Bhuwan is a good option with cottages and rooms, various indoor and outdoor activities and lawns for kids. Mango Hotels Valley View is on Valley View Road. Brightland Resort and Spa on Kate’s Point Road, Ramsukh Resorts near the Mahabaleshwar Temple, and Citrus Chambers near Aaram Chowk are high-end options.
WHERE TO EAT
Head to Imperial Stores for pizzas and burgers. Farmland Bistro serves superb Italian food and desserts. Try the kebabs at Meghdoot. If you’re looking for good Maharashtrian food, then Hirkani and Sahyadari are must-visits. Grapevine is famous for Parsi cuisine and Thai. Ice-cream fanatics, rejoice – Mahabaleshwar is your kind of place. And, strawberry is not the only flavour available!
WHEN TO GO
Best between September and May. Mahabaleshwar enjoys fair weather virtually round the year. However, the roads can get dangerous during the monsoon, and most buses and tour operators suspend their services at this time
Tourist Office MTDC Mahad Naka, Mahabaleshwar Tel: 02168-260318, 261318 STD code 02168
Air Nearest airport: Pune’s Lohegaon International Airport (121km/ 3.5hrs). A taxi to Mahabaleshwar would cost around Rs3,000–3,500.
Rail Nearest railhead: Pune (121km/ 3.5 hrs). Convenient trains on this route are the Mumbai CSMF-Pune Intercity and the Deccan Express. A taxi from the railway station to Mahabaleshwar charges between Rs3,000 and Rs3,500.
Road There are two equally scenic and popular routes to the town of Mahabaleshwar. The route that takes you via Pune, Shirwal and Panchgani, is longer but has better roads. The other is shorter but slower through the ghats down NH66 via Pen, Mahad and Poladpur. At Poladpur police station, take the road going left. Private vehicles need to pay for the entry permit, which is valid for a week.
Bus Neeta Tours & Travels, Krsna Travels, Swami Travels and others run Volvo, Mercedes AC Seater/ sleeper coaches daily, early mornings and night for Mahabaleshwar from many boarding points in Mumbai; the journey time is between 4 to 7 hours; fares begin around Rs500. Book online on neetabus.in and redbus.in.