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Mahabaleshwar: Epic Scenery and Natural Beauty
From colonial health spa to twenty-first century honeymoon spot, the hill station of Mahabaleshwar has long been a favoured destination for residents of the Indian state of Maharashtra. Surrounded by sprawling evergreen forests and vast mountain ranges, the small settlement has emerged as a favourite with travel-savvy tourists looking for epic scenery and a natural beauty. Venture to this remote corner of the world and you can expect breath-taking vistas, peaceful solitude, and a warm welcome from the locals.
A Brief History of Mahabaleshwar
Dating back to the thirteenth century, Mahabaleshwar has long been something of a secret hideout. Located in the Sahyadri Mountain range at the source of the River Krishna, the settlement would gain religious significance over the years and would also become a political stronghold fiercely fought over.
Pratapgad Fort, found approximately 14 miles west of what forms the town centre today, was constructed by the Indian warrior king, Shivaji Maharaji, in 1656. The battles fought at the historic site would be crucial in the emergence of the Maratha empire. That empire stood strong until India fell under British rule in the nineteenth century. Today, travellers make their way to the fort, which stands high up in the mountains and offers magnificent views.
Mahabaleshwar would become a health resort of sorts during the British Raj and actually served as the summer capital of the Bombay province, thanks in no small part to the great weather. After the British ceded rule of India, the hill station remained popular with in-state residents, becoming a popular honeymoon spot. Today, Mahabaleshwar continues to enjoy a level of popularity, not only with locals but also global travellers and Hindu pilgrims.
A Place of Pilgrimage
Approximately four miles north of Mahabaleshwar lies the village of Old Mahabaleshwar, or Kshetra Mahabaleshwar as it’s also known. This historic locale is home to a series of temples, including the renowned Mahabaleshwar Temple. The sixteenth century temple is dedicated to Shiva and is said to house the deity’s bed. As such, it has become a site of pilgrimage for Hindus from across the country and beyond.
Just steps away from the Mahabaleshwar stands the Panch Ganga Temple, a temple that some believe to be more than 4,500 years old, although scholars only date it back to the thirteenth century. Meanwhile, the Krishna Temple is again just steps away. The source of the River Krishna is said to flow through the gomukh (cow’s face) within the temple.
All three temples appear high on must-see lists of attractions in Mahabaleshwar. As such, you’ll find a select number of hotels and residences nearby, while a regular bus serves the historic location.
A Setting of Natural Beauty
Although temples and historic buildings prove popular with visitors, it’s the natural scenery around Mahabaleshwar that leaves most travellers short of breath. The entire region is a hiker’s paradise. Those that find long treks less endearing can take advantage of taxis, buses and local tour guides, some of who will pick you up from your hotel.
It is said that there are no fewer than 14 designated viewpoints from which to take in the picturesque scenery around Mahabaleshwar. Perhaps most famous of these is Elephant’s Head Point, or Needle Hole Point as it’s also known. Taking the shape of an elephant’s head, this natural rock formation is a travel brochure favourite and the ideal spot for the perfect holiday snap. Head for Kate’s Point to see the elephant’s head in all its glory.
Other popular viewpoints include Arthur’s Seat, named for the British officer, Arthur Malet, and Connaught Peak, which looks out upon the lake. For a truly awe-inspiring experience though, make a beeline for Wilson Point. At 4,710 feet above sea level, the vantage point is the only spot in the region where you can take in both sunrise and sunset. Both are well worth waiting for.
In addition to mountain terrain and lush forests, Mahabaleshwar also offers splendid aquatic scenery. Venna Lake, a man-made lake/dam that dates back to 1942, proves a popular destination with travellers and locals alike. The lake is entirely surrounded by forest, making for pleasant strolls, and also offers a host of water-based activities, including fishing and boating.
If you’re up for a little trek, the region is also home to a selection of picturesque waterfalls. Dhobi Falls, to the north, and Chinaman Falls, to the south, are both within two miles of Mahabaleshwar town centre, while the Lingmala Falls are 3.5 miles away. All are said to feature picturesque waterfalls as well as tranquil settings in which to walk and rest. The best time of year to visit the waterfalls tends to be April and May, when monsoon rains see the local rivers rise.
By no means a bustling metropolis, the town of Mahabaleshwar still manages to house a number of modern-day amenities. Resorts, hotels, restaurants, and shops make up a good portion of the town Meanwhile, take a stroll through the streets and you’ll even come across the likes of the Hollywood Wax Museum and Domino’s Pizza, a sure sign that tourism is big business here.
Travellers seeking an authentic side to the town should stop by Mapro Gardens, where delicious strawberries – the local specialty – are produced. Held in May, the local Strawberry Festival proves very popular. Meanwhile, the town’s main market is still a great place to pick up a souvenir, grab a bite to eat, or simply browse.