Mumbaikars believe in living life to the hilt. After slogging through the week, they just want to escape from the city, to a peaceful hideout with their loved ones. And, Mumbai does not disappoint. It offers several getaways, and a visit to each one of them proves to be worth its while. While we shall bring you the more offbeat destinations soon, let us take you through the most popular weekend getaways from Mumbai.
Located about 285 km from Mumbai, a visit to Mahabaleshwar is a visual treat to nature lovers with its thick forests, rugged hills, vast lakes, several waterfalls and breathtaking valleys. Due to its location and beauty, the place offers almost 30 designated sightseeing points including Wilson Point (the highest point in Mahabaleshwar offering fabulous view of the twin peaks of Makrandgad), Arthur’s seat (often compared with the Grand Canyon of Colorado in the US because of its stratification of rocks), Elphinston Point (the place overlooks the grand Koyna and Savitri valleys), Malcolm Point (named after its first citizen) and Hunter Point (offering magnificent views of the famous Pratapgarh Fort). Boating in Venna Lake is a must for all tourists for its serene and beautiful surroundings.
Hiring a guide is a good idea because he will pepper your journey with interesting legends and charming tales associated with the main points of tourist interest.
Apart from being a nature lover’s bounty, the place has religious importance. It is the origin of five rivers including Krishna, Venna, Koyna, Savitri and Gayatri. While River Krishna is believed to be Lord Vishnu himself, Venna and Koyna are said to be incarnations of Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma respectively.
Mahabaleshwar is also the land of strawberries and mulberries. Several strawberry gardens like Mapro and Archies’ take their visitors through the process of making jams, crushes, syrups, juices and jellies. They even allow you to sample the products before you decide to buy.
Located just 20 km from Mahabaleshwar and nestled between the five hills of the Sahyadri mountain range is the small quaint town of Panchgani. Also called the ‘Switzerland of India,’ it lures travellers with its charming colonial setting amidst silver oaks and undulating valleys surrounding the famous ‘Table Top,’ which is the second highest volcanic plateau in Asia after the Tibetan Plateau. The famous Sydney Point near Panchgani bus stand offers spectacular views of the sparkling waters of Dhom Dam on River Krishna. The place, which boasts of cool weather all the year round, is home to several reputed residential schools, which attract students from across the world. The monsoons transform both Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani into a lush green haven and the mist adds a surreal touch to the beautiful scenery.
If white sandy beaches, sparkling waters and green swaying palms are not enough to lure you, add vibrant atmosphere, rich culture, adventurous water sports and pulsating nightlife to your weekend rendezvous. Goa offers a complete package to its visitors and leaves them wanting for more.
Owing to its vast coastline, Goa offers numerous options for beach lovers ranging from abundant white sand beaches in both North and South Goa to rocky beaches like Anjuna and Vagator majorly in the North. While all the beaches are unique in their own way, the beauty and grandeur of it churches including Basilica of Bom Jesus, which houses the tomb and mortal remains of St Francis Xavier, and the famous Panjim Church with its ornate architecture, stunning entrance and a beautiful view of the Panjim city, adds indescribable charm to the visit. The Chapora Fort, where several Bollywood flicks like Dil Chahta Hai have been filmed and Fort Aguada are the testimonials of the state’s rich historical past.
Or you can indulge in adventurous water sports including parasailing, dolphin spotting, banana rides, shopping and bargaining in the popular flea markets at Anjuna and Baga, experiencing Goan’s nightlife to your heart’s content and trying your luck at the casinos. The popular river cruises in the Mandovi River offer a sneak peek into the vivacious Goan culture with a live music band and dance performances.
If you want to soak yourself in Goa’s true spirit, Goa Carnival, slated between February 18-21 this year; is an opportunity not to be missed. It is a three-day extravaganza of fun, enjoyment, feasting, dancing and merry-making. The Carnival was introduced by the Portuguese and is being celebrated for the last 500 years.
Shirdi, seat of the popular saint Sai Baba, is one of the most popular religious centres in Maharashtra and a visit to the place rejuvenates mind and soul. Though weekends, holidays and Thursdays (which is a special day for Sai Baba) are thoroughly crowded and one should expect waiting for almost 3-4 hours before they come face to face with the saint, all the stress and pain vanishes the moment you look into the eyes of his life-sized white marble idol.
Popularly known as the ‘Child of God’, Sai Baba attained Samadhi on October 15, 1918 after staying in the town for 60 years but Shirdi still breathes his presence in everything ranging from hotel names to the inhabitants of the town, whose livelihood depends on the pilgrims. Shri Shingnapur or Shani Dham, located at a distance of about 75 kms from Shirdi, is another popular haunt, especially for the religious minders. It is believed to be the abode of Lord Shani, or planet Saturn, on earth. The inhabitants of the place believed that the Lord will protect them from all evils, including thefts, and thus no house even had a door. The advent of commercialisation, however, has now forced the people to lock and protect their houses.
A trip to Aurangabad enables you to revisit history and marvel at the beauty of our heritage. The city, named after the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, houses the illustrious Ajanta and Ellora caves, the Daulatabad Fort and the poor man’s Taj Mahal, the Bibi Ka Maqbara.
Carved between second century BC and eighth century AD, the Ajanta Ellora caves have been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites. They lie amidst the Sahyadris hills over the Waghora River.
The facades and the finely carved interiors of the caves are one of the finest examples of temple architecture. While the Ellora caves depict the three faiths of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, Ajanta caves have a purely Buddhist influence and are colourfully painted. Some of the caves have been beautifully illuminated with the help of optical fibres. Hiring a guide is a must to take you through the history and relevance of these sculptures. Also, they make sure to point out the interesting highlights which may be missed on a casual glance like 3-D effect in paintings on ceilings which have different effects when seen from different angles.
The Kailasa temple in Cave 16 of Ellora is believed to be Lord Shiva’s abode. It is one of the greatest architectural wonders and probably the world’s largest monolith where pavilion, gateway, assembly hall, sanctum and tower have all been chiselled out of a single block.
The Ajanta caves also offer a good trekking opportunity. It is from here that these caves were discovered by John Smith — a British Army officer — in 1819. The ‘seven waterfalls’ on the way offers beautiful backdrop to the trek.
Ghrishneswar is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas in India and is located about 29 km from Aurangabad near Ellora caves. These Jyotirlingas are shrines where Lord Shiva is worshipped in the form of pillar of light.
Lonavala – Khandala
The best part about the twin cities of Lonavala and Khandala is that they are so close to home. Located at a distance of about 110 km from Mumbai, the destination makes for a perfect weekend getaway even if you decide to take a break at the spur of a moment. And, you will not be disappointed. The lush green plateaus and hills, rugged terrain, picturesque waterfalls, exciting treks and majestic forts offer beautiful backdrop to your spending quality time with your loved ones.
The Karla and Bhaja caves, dating back to the second century BC, have interesting architecture by the Hinayana sect in India. Lonavala boasts of beautiful forts including the Lohagarh Fort since it was considered impregnable, Tikona, Koregad and the Tung Fort.
Sitting on the steps at the Bushy Dam with water touching your feet, taking a walk across the Ryewood Botanical Park and a trek along the Duke’s nose are other popular activities. The place also offers angling and bird watching opportunities to nature lovers. Do not forget to pick up some ‘chikki’ on your way back to treat your tastebuds.
Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons