NEAR MUMBAI: HILL STATIONS, URBAN NATIONAL PARK AND ELEPHANTA CAVES

NEAR MUMBAI

There are many fascinating places to go around Mumbai, including the beach resorts of Madh Island and Manori. A boat ride from the Gateway of India to Elephanta Caves is a good start. There are also many Hindu, Jain, and Muslim shrines to see. Vasai (outside Mumbai) is a pleasant place with lots of trees. Sometime referred to as the lungs of Mumbai, it is being developed with Soviet-style concrete apartment buildings. New Mumbai (40 kilometers east of Mumbai) is an area with modern state office buildings. Popular day-trip destinations outings include trips to the Buddhist temple caves on a jungle-covered hillside at Kanheri; the Portuguese fort city of Bassein; and the Kanala bird sanctuary with a fort perched atop a jungle-covered hill.

The three hill stations of Lonavala, Matheran, and Mahableshwar make pleasant weekend excursions. Lonavala has the Karla and Baja Buddhist temple caves and two interesting old hill forts. Matheran has pleasant views, walks, and bridle trails. Mahableshwar is the coolest of all, with attractive views and walks. Goa, about a 45-minute flight from Mumbai (about $100.00 round-trip), has clean beaches, luxury resort hotels, and historic Portuguese towns. Reservations usually must be made well in advance. Aurangabad, 30 minutes from Mumbai by plane, has the temple caves of Ajunta and Ellora and an old fort at Dalaudabad.

The Warli tribe is among the largest tribes of Maharashtra region and lives on the outskirts of Mumbai, in the North Sahyadri region. The women of this tribe paint indigenous paintings and art known as Warli tribal wall paintings. These are generally done on the mud walls of their houses. This art form can be traced back to 10th century but was first discovered and appreciated for its distinctive style only in the early 1970s. It generally takes inspiration from normal life routine and surroundings. The tribes of this region living across the cities from Dahanu, Mokhada, Talasari and pockets of Palghar district believe that nature is the best teacher and also their biggest benefactor. Activities from daily life like farming, food gathering, village life and elements from nature and wildlife are typical characteristics of this ethnic art. The colors and materials used for the paintings are derived from nature like brown and orange from henna, indigo from dye, red from bricks and white from thick rice paste. Cleverly modified bamboo sticks are used as paint brushes to create the paintings.

Its proximity to the sea gives Mumbai an edge over many other Indian cities when it comes to water sports. Sea kayaking is enjoyed in Mandwa and scuba diving and snorkeling are done in Malvan. Sahyadri is a haven for nature and wildlife enthusiasts. People trek and camp here. The Coastal Marine Biodiversity Centre in Airoli, near Thane, is a good place for birdwatching and offers flamingo safaris. An hour-long tour takes visitors in a speed boat across the mangroves of Mumbai. There are several sea forts along the coastline of Maharashtra, which are accessible by boat during high tide. Murud Janjira, one such fort is a few hours drive from Mumbai. One can trek through a maze of old walls, gates, mosques, tombs, palace quarters and 60-ft-deep freshwater lakes inside the fort.

Sanjay Gandhi National Park

Sanjay Gandhi National Park (northern Mumbai) covers 103 square kilometers (39.8 square miles) and is located partly in the Mumbai suburban district, and partly in the Thane district. Also known as Borivali National Park, it is noted for palm trees and birds. Rufous-backed shikes, black-headed orioles, racket-tailed drongos and palm swifts can all be spotted here. It is also the place a Jerdon courser, a ground dwelling bird, was spotted that was last seen in the year 1900.

Sanjay Gandhi National Park was established in 1996 with its headquarters in Borivali. It is as one of the few major national parks existing within a metropolis and one of the most visited parks in the world, with more than 2 million visitors every year. One of the biggest draws is 2400-year-old Kanheri caves sculpted out of the rocky cliffs within the park.

The region is hilly with elevations between 30 meters (98 feet) and 480 meters (1,570 feet). The park has two lakes, Vihar Lake and Tulsi Lake, which meet a part of the city's water requirements. The park is said to be the lungs of the city as it purifies much of the air pollution of the city. The karvi (or karvy) shrub, as it is locally called in the Marathi language, only blooms once in eight years in a mass flowering covering the forest floor in a lavender blush. It grows in abundance in the Western Ghats hills near Mumbai and throughout the Sanjay Gandhi National Park as in other parts of its natural range. In the Sanjay Gandhi National Park its last blooming occurred in 2016, and it is scheduled to bloom here again in late August–early October 2024.

The forest cover in the park helps provide the ideal habitat for many wild animals. Chital (or spotted deer), rhesus macaque and bonnet macaque are some of the wild mammals often spotted inside the park. Other large mammals found in the park include black-naped or Indian hare, muntjac (barking deer), porcupine, Asian palm civet, chevrotain (mouse deer), Hanuman or grey langur, Indian flying fox, sambar deer and leopard. One can also spot striped hyena or four-horned antelope. Reptiles living here include crocodiles in the Tulsi Lake, pythons, cobras, monitor lizards, Russell's vipers, bamboo pit viper and Ceylonese cat snakes. In 2003, pugmarks and droppings of a Bengal tiger were found in the park. Although the tiger was not sighted, it did generate some excitement as it was the first evidence of a tiger in the Mumbai area since the 1930s.

A total 172 species of butterflies have been reported here, of which the spectacular ones are blue Mormon, the phenomenal artist of camouflage, blue oak leaf, bright Jezebel and large yellow and white orange tip, tiger butterfly, eggflies and sailers. There are a number of moths too. The largest moth is the size of a sparrow (30 cm). On a tiger and lion safari at Sanjay Gandhi National Park. One person posted on Trip Advisor in 2017: “We were rather disappointed on this 20 minute safari as the bus was driven round in a fenced off area to see two lions and two tigers both in further fenced off areas which looked a little small. I felt sorry for the animals as I expected to see them roaming free and would have been happier if it looked like they had more space to roam around in. We went through a double set of gates in a bus with caged windows as if we were entering Jurassic Park.”

Nala Sopara

Nala Sopara (30 kilometers north of Mumbai) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site as one of the Silk Road Sites in India in 2010. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The site represents a Buddhist settlement which came up around the trading mart or maritime silk route. The cultural center developed on the sea coast at a safer and secured place where Buddhist relics were enshrined in a mahastupa. [Source: Archaeological Survey of India]

“Nala Sopara finds mention in the Mahabharata (1400 B.C.) as a very holy place that the Pandavas rested enroute from Gokarn in north Kanara to Prabha or Verval in Kathiawad and was also an important and one of the oldest ports and ship building yards. Also known as or Shurparaka, it was also an important province and a cultural center in the Satavahana period. One of the first Buddhist centers in western India, the remnants of its original antiquity survive over here in the form of Stupa which has yielded Buddhist relics in excavation and inscriptions belonging to Maurya period, and archival records mention a rich and architectural vibrant town with fine details. The most significant monuments of this region are the Buddhist stupa or relic mound about a quarter mile west of Sopara town.

“It was an important holy city and trade point in Aparanta (Ancient name of Konkan) from 250 B.C. to A.D. 1500A.D.This is evidenced by the different religious Buddhist, Jain and Brahminical old literature classical literature of Greek and Rome and also by the epigraphical records. It was an important Buddhist center on the west coast where Buddha himself is said to have visited. Sopara remained the place for cultural evolution of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism in different periods.”

Elephanta Island

Elephanta Island (an hour boat ride from the Gateway of India in Mumbai) is where caves have been hollowed out by pounding surf and sculpted by Hindu and Buddhist artists. The most impressive sculptures are a massive representation of the Hindu trinity—Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva and a 20-foot high Shiva, featuring the god in three moods: angry, contemplative and subdued. The island was named by the Portuguese for an elephant statue that welcomed visitors to the island.

Elephanta Island is colloquially known as Gharapuri or the Fortress City. The scenic island stretches across 10 to 15 square kilometers of land and has a dense foliage of mango, tamarind and palm trees. Perfect for a weekend excursion, the island provides good trekking as well as picnic opportunities in addition to Elephanta caves, with their wall carvings and sculptures, dedicated to Hindu and Buddhist gods. The walls of the caves, which are located on top of a hillock, are lined with rock art that experts say, dates as far back as the mid- 5th and 6th century. There are two main hills on the island – Gun Hill and Stupa Hill. The former gets its name from the two British-era canons perched on it and the latter because of the remains of a Buddhist stupa that was excavated here. The most intricately detailed and architecturally majestic cave, among the Elephanta network is situated on Gun Hill. The panels on these caves depict the lives and beliefs of the esoteric Pashupati sect of the Shaiva system. A 7-meter-high sculpture called Sadashiva lies at the entrance of the cave.

According to UNESCO: The Elephanta Caves are located in Western India on Elephanta Island (otherwise known as the Island of Gharapuri), which features two hillocks separated by a narrow valley. The small island is dotted with numerous ancient archaeological remains that are the sole testimonies to its rich cultural past. These archaeological remains reveal evidence of occupation from as early as the 2nd century B.C.

“The island of Elephanta, the glorious abode of Lord Shiva and an epitome of Hindu cave culture, consists of seven caves on an island in the Sea of Oman close to Mumbai which, with their decorated temples and the images from Hindu mythology, bear a unique testimony to a civilization that has disappeared. Here, Indian art has found one of its most perfect expressions, particularly in the huge high reliefs in the main cave.

“The island of Gharapuri, the 'City of Caves', situated about 10 kilometers from Mumbai on the east side of the harbour, owes its name to the enormous stone elephant found there by Portuguese navigators. This elephant was cut into pieces, removed to Mumbai and somehow put together again. It is today the melancholy guardian of Victoria Gardens Zoo in Mumbai, the great metropolis of Maharashtra State and India's second city population-wise.”

Elephanta Caves

Elephanta Caves (on Elephanta Island) is a network of ancient rock-cut caves that boast artistic wall carvings and sculptures, dedicated to Hindu and Buddhist gods. These caves were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. According to UNESCO: “The rock-cut Elephanta Caves were constructed about the mid-5th to 6th centuries AD. The most important among the caves is the great Cave 1, which measures 39 meters from the front entrance to the back. In plan, this cave in the western hill closely resembles Dumar Lena cave at Ellora, in India. The main body of the cave, excluding the porticos on the three open sides and the back aisle, is 27 meters square and is supported by rows of six columns each.

“The 7-meter-high masterpiece “Sadashiva” dominates the entrance to Cave 1. The sculpture represents three aspects of Shiva: the Creator, the Preserver, and the Destroyer, identified, respectively, with Aghora or Bhairava (left half), Taptapurusha or Mahadeva (central full face), and Vamadeva or Uma (right half). Representations of Nataraja, Yogishvara, Andhakasuravadha, Ardhanarishwara, Kalyanasundaramurti, Gangadharamurti, and Ravanaanugrahamurti are also noteworthy for their forms, dimensions, themes, representations, content, alignment and execution.

“The layout of the caves, including the pillar components, the placement and division of the caves into different parts, and the provision of a sanctum or Garbhagriha of sarvatobhadra plan, are important developments in rock-cut architecture. The Elephanta Caves emerged from a long artistic tradition, but demonstrate refreshing innovation. The combination of aesthetic beauty and sculptural art, replete with respondent Rasas, reached an apogee at the Elephanta Caves. Hindu spiritualistic beliefs and symbology are finely utilized in the overall planning of the caves.

The caves are the most magnificent achievement in the history of rock-architecture in western India. The Trimurti and other colossal sculptures with their aesthetic setting are examples of unique artistic creation. The date of the famous Elephanta Caves is still very much debated and varies from the 6th century to the 8th century according to different specialists. They constitute one of the most striking collections of rock-art in India. There are two groups of caves. To the east, Stupa Hill (thus named because of a small brick Buddhist monument at the top) contains two caves, one of which is unfinished, and several cisterns. To the west, the larger group consists of five rock-cut Hindu shrines. The main cave is universally famous for its carvings to the glory of Shiva, who is exalted in various forms and act ions. The cave consists of a square plan mandapa whose sides measure about 27 meters.

The interior is divided up into smaller areas by rows of supports. The whole shape carefully imitates a building; false profiled beams have been carved in the roof of the cave and the supports, which are complex structures, combine, from bottom to top, the shapes of the pillars, columns and capitals found in bonded stone architecture. At the very entrance to the cave, to the north of an esplanade reached by a steep flight of steps, the pilgrim or visitor to this high place of Shivaism is greeted by two large carved panels depicting, on the left, Shiva Yogisvara (Master of Yoga) and, on the right, Shiva Nataraja (King of Dance), both treated in a monumental style still close to that of the Gupta period. In a chapel on the right of the entrance stands the cylindrical lingam, symbol of the Supreme Being and principle of all energy.

“This chapel has four doors, each flanked by colossal figures of dvarapala, those mediator guardians whose task was to admit the faithful and keep out ill-intentioned visitors. On each wall of the mandapa, enormous high-reliefs (maximum height 5.70 meters) present further pictures of Shiva. Opposite the entrance, on the south wall, is the famous and unforgettable three-headed bust of the Mahadeva, whose three faces are the incarnation of three essential functions; to the east, Aghora or Bhairava, terrifying destroyer; to the west, Vamadeva, creator of joy and beauty, incarnated by a woman's head; and in the centre, Tatpurusha, master of positive and negative principles of existence and preserver of their harmony.

“On either side of this central figure there are two other reliefs depicting, on the left, androgynous Shiva (Ardhanarisvara) and, on the right, Shiva receiving the waters of the Ganges (Gangadhara). Ten other reliefs, placed in each angle of the main hall and in the aisles to the east and west, depict further episodes from the legend of Shiva, such as the marriage of Shiva to Parvati, Shiva killing the devil Andhaka, etc. The 15 large reliefs surrounding the lingam chapel in the main Elephanta Cave not only constitute one of the greatest examples of Indian art but also one of the most important collections for the cult of Shiva.”

Between Pune and Mumbai

Bhimashankar Temple (90 kilometers north of Pune, 70 kilometers east of Mumbai) is a Shiva temple known for its ornate carvings and ranked sixth among the 12 jyotirlingas (devotional shrines of Lord Shiva) in India. Rajasthani and Gujarati influences can be clearly seen in the Nagara (or Indo-Aryan) architectural style of the garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum) and shikahara (tower) of the temple. You can view scenes from Indian epics including Mahabharata, Ramayana, Krishna Leela and Shiv Leela on the outer walls of the sanctum. In the courtyard, the records of grants given to the temple are inscribed on the walls. Constructed by Nana Phadnavis during the 18th century, this temple also boasts a sabhamandap. While the structure itself is fairly new, the shrine as well as the Bhimarathi river find mention in literature dating back to as early as the 13th century. Bhimashankar is also the source of River Bhima, which merges with River Krishna near Raichur.

Malshej Waterfall (near Malshej Ghat, 70 kilometers north of Pune, 60 kilometers east of Mumbai) is nestled in the picturesque Sahyadri range. The area around the falls offers good trekking. In the rugged hills are several forts, temples and ancient caves. The best time to see the falls is during the monsoon months (from July to September) when it cascades at full flow. Close by is the Pimpalgaon Lake. A short distance away from the lake are the Lenyadri Caves and Shivneri Fort. There are some options for accommodation if you want to stay for a while.

Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary (40 kilometers north-northwest of Pune, 60 kilometers east of Mumbai) is a favorite weekend getaway for the people of Mumbai and Pune. It is covered in deciduous forests and has been identified as an IBA (important bird area) by Bird Life International. The Shekru or giant flying squirrel, Maharashtra’s state animal, is found in this wildlife sanctuary, apart from other flora and fauna. There is also has a library in its Forest Interpretation Centre. The sanctuary is one of the 12 biodiversity hotspots of the world. Located in the Western Ghats, it is also a catchment area that supplies water to the Bhima and Ghod rivers. The best time to visit is from October to February.

Hill Stations Near Mumbai

Lonavlva and Khandala (100 kilometers from Mumbai) are a pair of 600-meter-high (1,900-feet-high) hill stations in the Western Ghats. The cool climate is accented with picturesque waterfalls and large expanse of forests. Popular destinations near these towns include the Duke's Nose, a rock formation named after the Duke of Wellington's nose; and Tiger's Leap, located at the top of a cliff with a 650 meter (2,000 foot) drop. Reversing Point and Sunset Point are famous for their views. Tungarli Lake is a favorite picnic area and Mohatt's Zoo has an interesting collection of monkeys and rare birds.

Lonavala and Khandala are popular weekend and holiday getaways for Mumbai residents. Lonavla is about a 10-minute drive away from Khandala. Both places are well known for chikki (brittle sweet made with jaggery and peanuts) and fudge. Lonavala offers many picnic spots options like Ryewood Park and the garden adjacent to the Valvan Dam. Sunil Kandaloor’s celebrity wax museum is popular attraction for tourists who like to take selfies with popular Indian and international celebrities, including Sachin Tendulkar and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. Karla Caves (10 kilometers from Lonavla) date back to 160 B.C. Filled with sculptures of Hindu deities, they are the largest Chitya caves in India.

Matheran (90 kilometers from Mumbai, 120 kilometers from Pune and about 320 kilometers from Surat) is one of India's smallest and most quaint hill stations. One of the coolest spots in the Karjat Tahsil, Raigad District of Maharashtra, it is located in the Western Ghats at 800 meters high. Matheran literally means forest on top or woodland overhead and the name aptly fits. Vehicles are banned here.

Deolali (16 kilometers from Nashik and 262 kilometers from Mumbai) is a popular getaway. Also known as the Deolali Camp, which is one of the oldest military centres in the country, it was set up the British in 1861. Deolali is nestled amidst the beautiful Sahyadri range, surrounded by lush gardens, spacious grounds and trees. There are many military establishments here, including, the Military psychiatric hospital, the School of Artillery of Indian Army and the residential Barnes School. For the spiritual traveller, Deolali hosts many temples like the Muktidham Temple, Pandava Caves and Khandoba Temple. Shoppers would also have a delightful time in this quaint hill town, as the markets are lined with stalls selling various souvenirs and knickknacks, and have a very lively ambience.

Matheran Light Railway (MLR)

Matheran Light Railway was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The MLR is a linear Property about 19.97 Kilometers long and 0.61 meter wide, which runs from Neral (located at an elevation of 39.31 meters) to Matheran (located at an elevation of 803.98 meters), in the Sahaydri Range, entirely in Raigad district in Maharashtra, India. Neral is the interchange station, near the city of Mumbai, of the broad-gauge main line in Western India running towards the south and central parts of India across the Western Ghats. Trains run via Neral from Mumbai, and have about 3 pairs of connecting narrow gauge services to Matheran. Matheran means “The Wooded Head” or the jungle topped. It is a mountain table top in the Sahaydri Range of about 20 square kilometers with two thickly wooded ridges, rocky promontories jutting into mid air and commanding views of valleys over 2000 feet below. As the morning mist clears, these are revealed gradually. The native inhabitants were wild forest races of non-aryan origin and predatory habits such as Dhangars, Thakurs & Kathkaris. Matheran was explored as a summer resort at the same time as India’s first railway company (the Great Indian Peninsula Railway now the Central Railway) was formed in 1849. After the construction of the MLR, it became a popular resort of the British Raj in India and still remains a well known resort near Mumbai (India’s financial capital). [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The MLR ascends at an average gradient of 1 in 25 (maximum gradient of 1 in 20 i.e. limit of an adhesion railway and any steeper gradient will lead to slipping). The MLR has over 121 bridges (mostly minor), only one tunnel (the one-kiss tunnel), a steep winding gradient and incredibly sharp curves and in the longer trains, the train can be in the form of a semi circle. There is a signage on one of the curves “Ah, what a sharp curve”. Over its length of 19.97 Kilometers, there are 221 curves, the sharpest being 1270 equal to 18.25 meters. This little railway was inaugurated on 22nd March 1907 to enable visitors to avoid the heat of Mumbai area and escape to Matheran (elevation 803.98 meters). It is still extensively used for this purpose today. There is also a heritage steam train services available for chartered train operation. Trains are run at a maximum speed of 20 kmph but on the sharp curves, their speed may be restricted to 8kmph.The railway can be divided into three sections as follows:-

“1) The first section, about 5.57 kilometers long from Neral (elevation 39.31 meters) to Jumapatti (elevation 241.81 meters). Neral was a small village and it gained importance as a railhead only after the MLR was envisaged. Neral has the workshops, locomotive shed, carriage depot and wagon depot of the MLR and all the locomotives, carriages and Wagons are maintained there. Starting from Neral, the narrow gauge line runs parallel to the main broadgauge line, leaving the road to the west of a hill, then turning sharply east and the ascent begins. The road and the rail almost meet at Jumanpatti station. This station is of heritage significance. The sharpest curve 127° equal to 18.25 meters is located in this section.

“2) The second section is about 11.57 kilometers long from Jumapatti (elevation 241.81 meters) to Aman Lodge (elevation 758.95 meters). Significant locations along this route include inter-alia Bhekra khud, horseshoe embankment, One-Kiss tunnel, Water-Pipe Station (elevation 484.63 meters), backward-forward curves under Mount Barry and panorama point. The tunnel in this section is located at 10.25 kilometers to 11km. The stations are all of heritage significance. This is the curviest section. There are also four ordinary sidings and four catch sidings as safety precautions against runaway trains. The road to Matheran terminates at Aman Lodge and no motorized road vehicles are permitted entry to Matheran beyond Aman Lodge.

“3)The third section is about 2.83 kilometers long, from Aman Lodge (Km. 17.14) to the end of the line i.e. Matheran station. Matheran, being the highest point of the line (elevation 803.98 meters), is a sought after destination for tourists. There are no intermediate stations along this route. The Matheran rest house, Matheran railway stations and turnaround shed at Matheran are structures of special heritage significance.

“Trains on this Railway run efficiently for the benefit of the tourists as well as the local communities and offer a rich and scenic expanse of the Mountain area and its associated eco-sensitive zone.

Karnala Bird Sanctuary

Karnala Bird Sanctuary (52 kilometers from Mumbai) is a popular stopover for birdwatchers. The biodiversity of the Western Ghats makes it a great habitat for birds and the sanctuary was especially favoured by renowned Indian ornithologist Dr Salim Ali. Its proximity to the Patalganga river and the richness of the woodland vegetation ensures that this park boasts an extremely diverse flora and fauna with over 150 species of resident and 37 species of migratory birds, which visit the sanctuary in winter each year.

Around 23 water dishes made of cement are kept at strategic places to provide water to animals and birds. The Hariyal Nature Trail in the sanctuary offers great bird-sighting experiences, especially during the monsoon. For those seeking a more in-depth insight into the fascinating life of birds, the 6-kilometer-long Mortaka Trail is an amazing spot with its fascinating array of bird and butterfly life.

Apart from the many hiking trails and picnic spots, this sanctuary is also known for the Karnala Fort that rests on top of the hills. Located at an altitude of 445 meters above sea level, this fort was built in the 12th century as a vantage point to govern the trade route between Bhor Ghat (a mountain passage in the Western Ghats) and Mumbai. At the bottom of the funnel hill of the fort there are 12 water storage tanks built with basalt rock to collect and retain rain water all around the year. The Karnala Bird Sanctuary is home to exotic bird species like the peregrine and shikra and also invites many trekkers who come here to escape the city and soak in the tranquility and isolation of this region.

Bhandardara

Bhandardara (185 kilometers from Mumbai) is a trekker’s paradise A beautiful village nestled amongst the vast and green hilly ranges of the Western Ghats, .it boasts bright blue skies, green paddy fields, cascading waterfalls and surrounding blue-green hills, this quaint hamlet acts as a perfect retreat for families seeking to escape the bustle of the city for a long weekend. Located at a distance of about 185 kilometers from Mumbai, Bhandardara lies to the north of Ahmednagar district.

The Wilson Dam in Bhandardara and its adjoining Arthur Lake, add to the scenic beauty of the village and provide some good camping opportunities for adventure-seekers and astronomy enthusiasts. A circular waterfall called the Umbrella Waterfall because of its distinctive shape, can be seen forming at the dam during the rainy season. There are many cosy resorts in Bhandardara that offer glorious views of the dam and the lake.

Another highlight of this region is the majestic 2,000-year-old Ratangad Fort, which has a distinctive natural rock formation at the very top with an arch-like cavity that overlooks the valley below. The four gates of this fort called Ganesh, Hanuman, Konkan and Trimbak are noteworthy. The availability of water at this height, once made this fort precious to Chhatrapati Shivaji. There are many wells in the fort and the River Pravara, on which the Wilson Dam is built, also originates from this fort. A trek up the ramparts of the fort gives you a bird's eye view of the entire Bhandardara region. The village at the base of this fort, Ratanwadi, can be accessed by boat from Bhandardara. The main attraction in the village is the Amruteshwar Temple that dates back to the 8th century. This ancient Shiv temple draws many tourists annually, both pilgrims and those who are archaeologically-inclined.

Igatpuri

Igatpuri (45 kilometers from Nashik and 130 kilometers from Mumbai) is one of the most beautiful towns of the Western Ghats, with its green mountains, grand waterfalls, ancient complexes and a prominent spiritual centre. Nestled in the lap of the green Sahyadri Hills, Igatpuri is conveniently located on the busy Mumbai-Agra highway. The best time to visit Igatpuri is in monsoon season when its hills turn lush green and its waterfalls look truly majestic. The town attracts trekkers and hikers with the Tringalwadi Fort trek and the Camel Valley and has emerged as a popular hub for enjoying adventure sports.

Igatpuri is also famed as an important centre of meditation. The town is home to the Vipassana International Academy, popularly called Dhamma Giri, meaning hill of Dhamma. One of the world's largest Vipassana meditation centres, the Vipassana International Academy was established in 1976 and offers courses for people seeking spiritual healing. Today, thousands of students study meditative sciences here. Vipassana is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation that is based on self-purification with the help of self-observation. Housing 400 cells for individual meditation, the centre conducts courses in English and Hindi.

Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport is Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport in Mumbai. By Road: The state transport bus stand at Igatpuri connects the city with all other districts in the state. By Train: Located at the head of Thull Ghat, Igatpuri Railway Station is a changeover location for many trains.

Sights in the Igatpuri Area

Camel Valley is a scenic camel-shaped valley, lying a few kilometers ahead of the Bhatsa river, with fog-shrouded mountains, crisp fresh air and splendid views welcome you to this. One of the major attractions of this valley is a roaring waterfall that gushes down from a height of 325 meters (1,000 feet), creating a deafening melody. The valley lies on the popular Mumbai-Nashik route, which makes it one of the most visited attractions in Igatpuri. Monsoon is the best time to visit the Camel Valley when it explodes with greenery and its waterfalls turn even prettier. With mesmerising views of the mountains and pure air, the valley is truly a great place to relax and rejuvenate. For adventure lovers, there are opportunities for river rafting and river crossing. Tourists will find many picturesque photography spots as well. Tringalwadi Fort is situated at an elevation of 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) above sea level and overlooks a vast area of the Sahyadri Hills. The fort is quite popular among trekkers and hikers, who find their way through challenging trails to get to the majestic structure. En route there are many ancient caves and temples that make for intriguing exploration sites. The initial 1 kilometers of the trek involves walking through plain fields and crossing small streams to reach the ancient Pandav Leni caves. On reaching there, an outer verandah will lead you to a building that used to house Buddhist monks and the garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum). The verandah or vihar also houses a statue of Lord Buddha.

On proceeding further, you will come across dry cisterns and a large cave near the foothills of the fort. A short walk from here leads to underground cisterns carrying drinkable water. The beautiful designs carved on the pillars of these cisterns are sure to catch your attention. At the entrance of the fort stands a Shiva temple, from where one gets to see majestic views of Talgad and Igatpuri in the south, Kalsubai sanctuary in the east and Harihar and Basgad in the north. Visitors can pay respects at the Lord Hanuman temple, located near the Tringalwadi Lake, a few kilometers away from the fort.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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