Lonavala and Khandala
The most popular week end get aways from Mumbai
Lonavala and Khandala are two twin hill stations in Maharashtra eight kilometres from each other. They are just over a hundred kilometres from Mumbai (Bombay). The National Highway No. 4 from Mumbai to Bangalore passes through these two hill stations offering travellers a most enjoyable two hour motoring from Mumbai.
Lonavala was discovered in 1811 by Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone, then Resident of Pune and later Governor of Bombay. Elphinstone virtually founded the state education system in India, that too, at a time when British opinion was against educating the “natives”. The Elphinstone College of Mumbai was named after him. He refused the high post of Governor-General of India twice, to finish his authoritative two-volume work History of India.
During that time, Lonavala was thickly forested, had a very small population and was known as “Lonali”. No authentic records are available which explain why the place was called Lonali. But Lonali of the past became the present day “Lonavala”.
During the 12th century, the Yadav Kings ruled Lonavala. Moghuls invaded the region and ruled for a long time. Later, Marathas, and after them, the Peshwas ruled the place. The Marathas and Peshwas built inaccessible, strategically located forts to protect their territory. The British started to rule this region from 1818.
The two hill stations are situated on the western slopes of the Sahyadri hills. Lonavala is located at an altitude of 625 metres and is also known as the “Jewel of the Sahyadris”. Khandala is located slightly lower.
Both hill stations are famous for their scenic beauty, green hills, deep valleys, several lakes, historic forts and ancient caves. During the rainy season, the entire area becomes lush green with myriads of glistening waterfalls. Clouds sweep down to kiss the dense mist which seems to envelop everything.
Lonavala and Khandala have a number of sanatoria and are famous health resorts.
Lonavala and Khandala are extremely popular week end getaways amongst Mumbaites particularly because of their nearness to Mumbai. Many wealthy Mumbaites own flats or bungalows there. Many others try to spend their week ends there.
Places to see
There are plenty of places to visit and explore.
This is the most famous lake. Also called Bushi Lake, it is located about a kilometre from Lonavala.
This lake is owned by Central Railway and is on the way to INS Shivaji.
Constructed in 1876, it is a very beautiful picnic spot.
The Indryani River is supposed to originate from this lake. There is also a dam here. Unfortunately, the lake practically dries up in summer.
Ray Wood Park
The Ray Wood Park is located inside the town near the Lonavala market. This is a sprawling botanical garden which has now turned into a large picnic garden with large lawns, tall trees and cool shades.
This lake is at the north of the bus stand near Tungarli village. It supplies water to Lonavala. The hills offer beautiful views of Rajmachi, Lohagad, Visapur forts and Lonavala City.
This is very close to Lonavala. Here a Tata Company has constructed a beautiful dam. There is a well maintained garden and a centre for pisciculture.
This fort was used by the Maratha warrior Shivaji.
It is a place worth visiting but can be reached only on foot as it is surrounded by deep valleys on three sides and by a thick forest on the fourth side.
If you have time, you can visit a few other forts - the Manoranjan Fort, Shrivardhan Fort, Visapur Fort, Lohagad Fort and the Tunga Fort.
Rajmachi Point and Monkey Point
These are two other places worth visiting.
MTDC Holiday resort and Boating
There is a MTDC ( Maharashtra tourism development Corporation ) holiday resort at Karla spread over 30 acres of land. It is located on the Indravani river. Here you can hire paddle boats, motor boats and water scooters.
Far more interesting, much less known and rarely visited are the ancient and historical caves in the region.
Some of the oldest and most magnificent Buddhist caves in India lie scattered in this region.
Malavali is on the main road about 8 km from Lonavala (towards Pune).
The Karla and Bhaja caves are both about 5 km from Malavali, but on opposite sides of the road.
Karla, 12 kms from Lonavala, has the largest chaitya griha (Buddhist chapel) in India. There are several viharas (monasteries or dwelling caves). These were built around 160 BC.
In terms of purity of design, the Karla caves represent the zenith of the Satwahan school of Hinayana style of temple architecture. They are the biggest and best preserved Buddhist cave temples in India.
The entrance to the chaitya griha is in the shape of a “Peepal” leaf. As one enters the magnificent hall, he is spell bound by the beauty of the stone pillars which are carved with life-like figures of elephants and human forms which represent different forms of Gautam Buddha.
The pillars are surprisingly smooth. The high majestic roof is semicircular.
There is adequate provision for storage of drinking water in the tanks around.
There is a small temple of Ekvira Devi at the entrance.
Of the 18 caves in Bhaja, Cave No. 12, the finest of the cave complex, is an open chaitya constructed earlier than the Karla caves. This cave has sculptures of Surya and Indra with a Yaksha below Surya. The pillars here have centaurs.
Cave No. 1 is the dwelling house of the master architect.
Nine caves are viharas and the remaining 7 caves contain inscriptions about the donors.
The Bhaja caves are similar to the Karla Caves but on a much smaller scale. These caves are so constructed that the rays of the setting sun enter these caves.
On the southern side, there is a place where one can see carved figures of Gods and Goddesses.
Below the mountain is Mukkai, the site of the pre historic Mother Goddess. Even today, the villagers offer sacrifices once a year.
On one side of Bhaja is Lohagad Fort. On the other side, the Visapur Fort.
16 kilometres south of Karla close to the Kamshet Railway Station is the village called Bedsa. A 3 kilometres walk up a stiff hill takes one to the Bedsa caves.
These caves have a huge chaitya, and numerous small resting chambers or cells for monks. The vihara has 9 cells and couple of side cells. In one of the larger cells is a non-Buddhist deity Yamai.
The caves have huge pillars, lions and human figures. The arched roof of the chaitya is supported by 2,000-year-old woodwork.
Under a tree in the village below is the Tandula stone of Bedsai. Every year, a palki (palanquin) is taken from this village to Yamai’s shrine and then to Vaghoba (deity of the pass) up the hill.
Lonavala to Mumbai 108 Kms
Lonavala to Pune 66 Kms
Lonavala to Khandala 8 Kms
Nearest international airport Mumbai
Nearest domestic airport Pune
Both Lonavala and Khandala have railway stations and are well connected to Mumbai and Pune.
The National Highway No. 4 from Mumbai to Bangalore passes through the two
hill stations. All kinds of private and public transport are available.
There are a large number of hotels in Lonavala and Khandala -
from affordable budget class to the star luxury class hotels.
The MTDC holiday resort at Karla also offers very good accommodation
at reasonable rates.
Best Time to Visit
These hill stations can be visited throughout the year, but the best time to visit them is during the monsoons.
During the rainy season, the rain clouds hover around and the place gets covered in dense mist. You can see many waterfalls all around.
Try to avoid weekends and holiday season, unless you like crowds.