Wondering which places to visit in Maharashtra besides Mumbai? Although the state has a diverse mix of attractions, it hasn't been developed and promoted as a tourist destination like Rajasthan or Kerala. Hence, most of them are not widely known. Here's where to go and what to see, including some offbeat places to get away from it all.
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For Heritage: Ajanta and Ellora Caves
The Ajanta and Ellora caves, in northern Maharashtra, are one of the most astonishing UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India and a must-see when visiting the state. These remarkable caves have been hand-carved into rock in the middle of nowhere, with some dating back as far as the 2nd century BC. Most of the caves were a part of Buddhist monasteries where monks lived and studied, although some caves are Hindu and Jain. They feature intricate sculptures, ancient paintings, and phenomenal architecture. The caves are most commonly accessed via Aurangabad, and it's possible to fly to the city's airport in an hour from Mumbai.
02 of 10
For Beach and Folk Art: Sindhudurg
Alibaug usually comes to mind as a beach getaway from Mumbai. However, if you'd prefer to go somewhere off-the-beaten-track, the Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra's Konkan Coast is ideal. This district has been named after the historic 16th century fort near Malvan beach, which you can explore. The district has some of the most pristine beaches on the coast (Tarkali, Malvan, Vengurla, and Bhogwe), plus some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in India. If you're interested in Indian folk art, head inland to the town of Sawantwadi, where artisans handcraft colorful wooden toys. Pinguli village, about 30 minutes away near Kudal, is home to artists of the Thakar tribal community who are renowned for their puppetry and unique Chitrakathi style of painting. It tells stories from the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
While there are plenty of inexpensive beach-side homestays and guesthouses in the area, up until recently there's been an absence of luxury... accommodations. That's changed now, following the opening of Coco Shambhala's new hotel, with four gorgeous villas overlooking the ocean.
An airport is in the process of being built in Sindhudurg and is expected to open by the end of 2017. Until then, the district can be reached in about seven hours by train from Mumbai (get off at Kudal station). Otherwise, the nearest airport is in Goa, about three hours drive away.
03 of 10
For Wineries and Temples: Nashik
A wine region probably isn't an attraction you'd expect to find in India. Although the country's wine industry is still in the nascent stage, it's growing rapidly. The biggest wine region is located in Nashik, about four hours northeast of Mumbai. Nowadays, many wineries there have tasting rooms, restaurants, and even accommodations. Sula Vineyards is the most well-known of these. Red Grapes, a company specializing in wine tourism, has also set up a Wine Information Center in the area. It offers camping stays, for those on a budget.
Apart from wineries, there are a number of other places to visit in Nashik. The town is a sacred pilgrim destination, where Lord Ram is believed to have lived during his exile from Ayodhya. It has an intriguing Old City and plenty of temples along the holy Godavari River.
04 of 10
For Serenity: Matheran
Feel like a break from the ubiquitous honking in India? All vehicles are banned in Matheran, a hill station a couple of hours from Mumbai, making it delightfully noise-free. To get there, it's necessary to take a toy train or ride up on horseback from the car park. Matheran is covered in forest, with long walking tracks leading to panoramic views. There are more than 35 viewpoints spread across the hilltop, including ones for sunrise and sunset. The hill station has some atmospheric Colonial heritage hotels too, such as the Parsi Manor, Verandah in the Forest, and Lord's Central.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
For Spirituality: Shirdi
Sai Baba is a revered Indian saint who lived in the small town of Shirdi, in Maharashtra, in the late 19th century. He passed away in 1918 and his body was laid to rest at the temple complex there. His teachings blended elements of Hinduism and Islam, and were centered around the equality of everyone and tolerance of all religions. Although not a lot is known about Sai Baba, including where he was born or his real name, many of his followers believed he could perform miracles. Plan a pilgrimage to Shirdi with this guide. The recent opening of Shirdi airport has made the town more accessible.
06 of 10
For a Rural Experience: Purushwadi
One of India's top rural experiences can be had in Purushwadi village, about 3 hours drive northeast of Mumbai. Eco-tourism company Grassroutes has adopted this tribal village and developed community-based tourism there. Accommodations are provided in simple village homestays with very basic facilities, or tents at a special campsite with western-style bathrooms. There are plenty of things to do including trekking, swimming in the river, and joining in daily farming activities (such as herding cattle and plowing the fields). Kids will love it! Depending on the time of the year, it's also possible to watch fireflies (May-July), help in the cultivation of rice (June-August), or participate in a festival.
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For Trekking: Sandhan Valley
The extensive Western Ghat Sahyadri mountain range, which runs through Maharashtra and all the way down to Tamil Nadu, draws a lot of trekkers. The most extraordinary trek is to the Sandhan Valley, not far from Purushwadi. The Valley, sometimes referred to as the Grand Canyon of Maharashtra, is a naturally-formed gorge that extends for about 2 kilometers (1.25 miles). In parts, it's nearly 500 feet deep, and so narrow that the sun's rays can't reach inside. Starting out from Samrad village (where homestay accommodations are available), what makes the trek unique is that it there's no ascent. Don't get the wrong impression that it's easy though! It requires jumping over boulders, crossing pools of water, and rappelling down canyon rock faces. The trek lasts for a day and is best undertaken from November to February. Various companies offer guided Sandhan Valley treks departing from Mumbai, and it's a good idea to go on one of them, rather than travel... independently. Try Treks and Trails or Mumbai Travellers.
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For Adventure: Lonavala
The huge appeal of Lonavala, located roughly halfway between Mumbai and Pune, is that there's something for everyone to enjoy. Hot air ballooning, paragliding, and bungee jumping are popular with adrenaline junkies. Dela Adventure Park offers more than 50 adventure activities, and has an adventure resort as well. Or, explore the historic Bhaja and Karla caves, and Lohagad and Visapur forts. The area is also renowned for its many lakes. Pawna Lake is a picturesque camping and fishing spot. Don't miss having a meal (and camel ride) at theme-based Kinara Dhaba Village for some added entertainment.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
For Jungle Safaris: Tadoba National Park
Maharashtra's most-visited national park, Tadoba has risen in prominence due to the frequency of tiger sightings there. If you want to go on safari and see a tiger in the wild, this park is one of the best places in India to do so! Tadoba is open daily except Tuesdays. It's most conveniently reached from Nagpur, three hours away, which has the nearest airport.
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For Nature: Tala Hills
The recent opening of the architecturally-designed Forest Hills by Ccaza Ccomodore eco-resort, nestled into the side of a mountain at Tala, will delight nature-lovers. The location, about three hours drive south of Mumbai and an hour inland from Murud, is close to the little-known Buddhist Kuda caves and Tala Fort. The property has accommodations to suit all group sizes and styles of traveling, including tree houses, mud huts, and a campground. The most spectacular of these is the Glass House—a sprawling 2,000 square foot tree house, built over two levels, with glass walls for seamless views. Various outdoor activities are offered. You can bring your pet too!