My first visit to the small and beautiful hill station of Lonavala, in the Indian State of Maharashtra, was in 2004 when I went with a group of friends. We went on motor bikes, the approximately 85 Kilometres journey from Mumbai a breeze.
Whatever little tiredness I had, vanished the moment I set my sight on the beautiful vistas all around, with hills lush with greenery, water drops glistening on the leaves and natural waterfalls formed due to the rains. The air was fragrant with the smell of rain and the trees around added to my happiness.
From then till now, I have been there many times. The place has a lot to offer, if only one would look beyond the touristy points. And its perfect for a 2-3 days break for recharging your exhausted batteries.
Though visited by people from different parts of the country, Lonavala remains most popular with people living in Mumbai (Bombay) and Pune, both the cities within easy proximity of this beautiful place.
Great at all times, the best time most of the people like to visit the place is November to February when the weather is pleasant and you can have clear views of the valleys. But I love Lonavala in the rains (June-September). The beauty of the place takes on a glow. The hills look greener and the lakes are full and beautiful. The best is the the waterfalls which get formed everywhere due to the rains.
Lonavala, with an elevation of more than 2000 feet was a part of the Yadava dynasty. Later, for some time, the Mughals kept the region due to its strategic importance. In 1871, Lonavala and the twin hill station of Khandala were discovered by Lord Elphinstone, the then Governor of Bombay Presidency.
The name Lonavala derives from Leni (Prakrit, A resting place carved from stone) and Avali (Prakrit, series). Lonavali in Prakrit is a place which has a series of such Lenis around it.
Read on to know about how to make the best out of your visit to this lovely hill station.
Things To Do in Lonavala
First and Foremost…Just explore
Just explore. Sometimes the journey is more important. Though I would be sharing my thoughts on the must have experiences in Lonavala, even a drive around the whole place refreshes the senses.
The drive on the Mumbai-Pune expressway is very scenic with breathtaking views of the Sahyadri Hills and the numerous waters falls you will see, especially during the monsoons.
There are enough reasons to fall in love with this pretty little hill station.
Lonavala is not only for nature lovers, but offers a variety of interesting activities like trekking, rock climbing, camping.
Tiger Point or Tiger’s Leap (Waghdari)
The Tiger Point or the Tiger’s leap, a cliff with a drop of over 650 metres lies on the Amby valley road, offering breathtaking views of the valley below. You will see lush greenery and waterfalls around. The place is named so since if you look intently, there is a cliff which looks like a leaping tiger. In the monsoon, you will be able to see a small waterfall that flows into the stream below.
The clouds heavy with rain surround the valley and sometimes it becomes very misty. It feels as if the clouds are caressing your face. On a clear day though, you can view the most amazing sunrise and sunset.
Have fun here but be careful of the monkeys around. They are quite naughty and would fancy your stuff.
A cup of steaming hot tea along with hot Vada Pao will make this a memorable experience for you. You can also have roasted Bhutta (Corn Cob) or the delicious Fritters the place is famous for, especially Maggi pakoda.
The Bhushi dam is a masonry dam (stone and brick dam) on the Indrayani River. This otherwise placid dam suddenly becomes very alluring and comes alive during the rainy season. A visit in the rainy season makes one truly appreciate the beauty of the dam.
In case you have your own car, you will have to park it on the roadside and make your way to the dam. Remember that the road is very uneven with stones and is muddy so be careful while walking towards the dam.
Enjoy the beauty and if possible, dip your feet in the cold and refreshing water for some time.
And yes, though the monsoons are the best time to enjoy the Bhushi dam, it gets really really crowded. So be prepared for that.
Rajmachi point comes between Mumbai and Pune. It offers some fantastic views of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and the beautiful valley below. You can see the Rajmachi Fort through the telescopes installed at the Rajmachi Garden.
The Fort belonged to the Maratha Warrior King Shivaji Maharaj. There are several monuments in and around the Rajmachi Fort.
Well, Lonavala is not all about relaxing and adventure activities. There is something for the History buffs too. For me, this the place I most enjoy visiting when I am in Lonavala.
Karla has 16 caves or excavations and was once a Buddhist monastery. These beautiful caves date back to the 1st Century BC and were cut in the rocks in the hillside above Karla village.
The caves may not be as famous as the Elephanta or the Ajanta and Ellora caves, but are unique since they have the biggest and best-preserved prayer hall in India known as the Chaityagriha.
The Chaityagriha has a beautiful roof made out of teakwood and the pillars are decorated with different sculptures. There is a large sun window at the entrance of the Chaityagriha which deflects rays of light towards the Stupa at the rear.
Exploring the caves has often made me marvel at the craftsmanship of the people of an era when there were no modern machines.
While at Karla Caves, you may also like to visit the Ekvira temple, a Hindu temple dedicated to a tribal Goddess and worshipped by the Koli Fishermen community. A lot of devotees come to visit the temple and it can get really crowded at times, especially the weekends.
|-There are around 300 steps to be climbed from the base of the hill. From the car park, its around 200 steps. The steps are a bit steep but okay for a person with normal levels of fitness.|
|-There is an entry fee for the caves, INR 25/- for Indians and INR 300/- for Foreigners. The booth is at the entrance to the caves.|
|-Be mindful of the environment. The caves are very old and have been preserved well so far.|
|-Try to avoid visiting on weekends, especially Sundays when it gets really crowded.|
Also read my blog on Mumbai.
The Bhaja Caves have great Buddhist architecture and are around 8 Kilometres south of the Karla Caves. They date back to the 2nd Century BC and are amongst the oldest caves in Western India.
The most unique feature of the Bhaja Caves is the Chaityagriha or the Prayer Hall which has 27 pillars around the hall with wooden beams fixed on the ceiling. The amazing part is that the beams are the same which the monks living here had installed 2200 years back.
The complex also has viharas where the monks used to stay and water cisterns since living up in the hills would mean requirement of water and accesibilty to the same. It is fascinating that even in such ancient times, such complex systems of rainwater harvesting and water management were maintained.
There is an entry fee for the caves, INR 20/- for Indians and INR 250/- for Foreigners.
Towering high above the Bhaja and the Karla Caves is the stunning Lohagad Fort (Iron Fort), built in the 18th Century and located at an altitude of 1050 metres. Perched atop a hillock and resembling the fangs of a scorpion, the fort separates the Indrayani basin from the Pawna basin.
It was built by Guru Govind Singh in 1564 CE to serve as a prison but later Shivaji Maharaj captured it and used it for keeping his treasury. Later during the times of Peshwas, Nana Phadnavis used this fort for living and built several structures in the fort such as a big tank and a step-well.
The climb to the fort is steep with winding hairpin bends and steps. The Fort offers amazing views of the the Karla and Bhaja Caves and the Pawna Lake. There is a Durgah near one of the doors known as Maha Darwaja.
The fort is very popular as great trekking destination because of its accessibility and the verdant surroundings.
A pretty park with lots of open spaces and spread over an area of 25 acres, Ryewood Park, close to the Lonavala Market, is known for a Shiva Temple and the different types of ornamental plants and old trees it houses. It is a good option to spend some time. There is a swing area which is quite popular with the kids.
Also known as the ‘monsoon lake’ , this artificial lake was built around 1876 to conserve water for the areas of Valvan and Shirota. The lake becomes absolutely lovely in the monsoons. The surroundings are beautiful and serene and this is a great spot to relax and reflect.
You can enjoy activities such as swimming and fishing or chose to just laze around with a book. What makes this place great is that if you are lucky, you can see some rare and exotic variety of birds.
Sunil’s Wax Museum
Well, this is no Madame Tussads but is well worth a bit of your time. Sunil Kandalloor, a gifted artist who specialises in wax sculptures established this Museum in 2005.
The museum has over 100 statues of prominent personalities like Amitabh Bachchan, Kapil Dev, Virat Kolhi, Anna Hazare, and even Hitler. The kids will surely like the place and you can take photographs with your favourite personality.
Tickets are INR 200/- per person and the place is located at the Lonavala junction.
Want some activity?
There is no dearth of activities in Lonavala. For starters, you can visit the Della Adventure Park. It offers a lot of adventure activities like Vertical Rope Challenge, Ball Fighting, Roller Zorbing, Ground Challenge, Shooting Range, Mountain Cycle etc. You can either book a day pass or book a stay there in their luxurious resort as we did. Either way, it is loads of fun.
Fancy spending a night under the starry skies? Do try the camping experience at Pawna Lake, a pretty lake brimming with water at most times.
You can enjoy activities such as kayaking, barbecue, camp fires etc. The winter months (November-March) are the best time to have this experience. There are multiple camp options you can choose from. You can get a good overview of available options along with ratings on Trip Advisor.
The chikkis (traditional Indian sweet made from nuts and jaggery) of Lonavala are very famous. The name chikki comes from the Marathi word “chikkat”, which means “sticky”.
MaganLal (inventor of Chikki ) Store keeps the best ones. You will find many Maganlal Chikki stores in Lonavala. The original has blue-and-white signage and is located just behind Lonavala railway station.
Have lip smacking food at the various dhabas (rustic Indian restaurants) in and around Lonavala, the best among them being ..
Sunny da Dhaba – I simply love the awesome chicken tikka masala here. They also have other good non vegetarian and vegetarian fare. The Mango Lassi they serve is one of the best I have had.
Sheetal Da Dhaba – offers great service. The chicken biryani is their speciality, with an awesome flavour.
The Kinara Village Dhaba – has a nice outdoor seating pagoda type structures. The food is good and they also serve authentic Indian food. Most of the food they serve is delicious.
Lonavala is easily accessible from the Indian cities of Pune (65 Kilometres) and Mumbai (85 Kilometres). In case you are flying in, the best airport with connectivity is Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, Mumbai. You can also take a flight till Pune and then take a cab to Lonavala.
|By Road||By Train|
|There are regular buses from both Mumbai and Pune, which take around 2-3 hours to reach Lonavala. |
Best way to go though is to drive down either in your own car or rent a cab to enjoy the fantastic views of the western ghats. Driving on the expressway is a breeze. One way fare from Mumbai to Lonavala is around INR 2000/- and from Pune to Lonavala is around INR 1400/-. You can book cabs on Makemytrip.
You can book bus tickets on Redbus.
|Lonavala has a railway station which has good intercity connectivity with both Mumbai and Pune. Trains are very reasonable and take less time too.|
You can book train tickets on Railyatri.
Places to stay
Fortunately, Lonavala has accommodations in all ranges, right from five star luxury to budget home stays.
You can choose to stay at the Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat and Spa, a luxurious resort located in the Sahyadri mountain range within the 320-acre Shillim Estate, to enjoy true five star luxury.
If you are an adventure buff, Della Resorts is a designer resort spread over 43 acres. It houses Della Adventures offering adventure activities.
MTDC Karla Resort is a good budget option which is convenient for people who wish to explore Karla and Bhaja Caves.
The Machan, Fariyas Resort, Dukes Resort and Cloud 9 Hills Resort are some good options for stay. You may like to check out the hotels on Booking.com.
Lonavala makes for a great weekend break and I have covered most of the things to do to make your trip a great experience. If you want to share any of your experiences, do share them in the comments section below.