BANGALORE: Bollywood has their unique ways of advertising. So picturesque are their ways, that they make your neighbourhood park the most sought after destination, if one of the Khans was seen rolling in it. Such was the case when Aamir Khan’s Aati Kya Khandala song hit the screen. Ironically, the song did not show the place, but the same catapulted these destinations (Lonavala and Khandala) to the top of the list for people in the region.
A bite into the famous peanut chikki (roughly translated as peanut candy), and there is only one name that comes to mind; Lonavala. One of the most reassuring places in Maharashtra, this hill station between Pune and Mumbai has a tale long before you get there and long after you leave.
Take the express way from Mumbai and leave the madness of never ending traffic and humidity behind as you embark on a journey filled with green surroundings and impeccable roads. The trip to Lonavala heads through Navi Mumbai, supposedly a sister city, yet seems a world apart from its busier sibling (Mumbai). But the irony in India’s highway is present here, as speeding drivers would be forced to break from 100 to zero in a flash to avoid bumping into ‘photo obsessed’ and ‘common sense challenged’ motorists.
Apart from the vulnerability of a million heart attacks en-route, the drive also gives an opportunity to miss a million beats as well. The highway seems flat for a distance, but in reality it follows high into the hills and facilitates a preview of what to expect when the destination finally arrives. Long and beautifully crafted tunnels is an experience by itself. Lonavala is midway between Pune and Mumbai, and hence people from both the cities are found here more often than in distant locations within their own cities for obvious reasons.
The place, which was famous for its farm house spaces for the affluent, is now frequented by tourists, trekkers and even plays host to some of the Indian Navy establishments. Lucky are those, who can call their uncles or family friends or even make new uncles in the Navy to get them to take you into some of the areas there, which has been cordoned off for civilians. Guides or locals will give you a quick peak and set the imagination rolling, when requested for directions or FAQs. Try finding the resemblance between the Duke of Wellington and the Dukes’ nose cliff or try to test your sanity by finding the illusion of a Tiger leaping from the Tiger’s leap. More often than not people do find the resemblance, even though they have never seen the Duke of Wellington or for instance making a few cliffs seem like tiger leaping. But for a tourist sanity is losing themselves in natures embrace and this place plays to their fancy.
Added to this are the Korigad Fort, which is a healthy trek from this place or a visit to the Lohgad waterfalls and fort. One of the must see places here would have to be Karla and Bhaja Caves, as they (according to archaeologists) are one of the earliest of Buddhist Temple art forms in India. Its wooden architecture includes a representation of Buddha. The local guides are useful (minus the fee), as they explain the caves not in its current state, but its glorious past.
The Bhaja caves have 18 caves and 14 Stupas, while an aisle in one of the caves with elephant heads is said to have had real tusks. The relic remains of the place is a reminder of the resplendence and sanctity the place represents. But the best time to visit these places would have to be when its not raining, as this region is said to receive one of the heaviest rainfalls in the country. Notwithstanding the wet T-shirt (owing to sweat), Khandala and Lonvala, is an abysmal trip to the Sahyadri belt.