Lonavala and Khandala are popular weekend getaways from Mumbai. During the monsoons, Lonavala looks spectacular with its lofty mountains, lakes, thick mist and clouds. One of the best ways to experience Mumbai monsoon is to take a walk in the clouds at Lion Point in Lonavala, while having Vada Pav and sipping piping hot Tea. Not many experiences can beat this feeling! Beyond the natural beauty, Lonavala also has a set of spectacular Buddhist caves in the form of Karla and Bhaja caves. The sculptures in these caves reflect fine workmanship. No trip to Lonavala is complete without shopping for Maganlal Chikki and Cooper's Fudge the local delicacies.
For a value for money hotel in Lonavala, look no further than MTDC. MTDC provides cottages in Karla that are frill free and cost effective. Contact number is 02114282230
Kamat for breakfast and Ramakrishna for lunch is the ritual at Lonavala! Kamat hotel located just at the entrance of Lonavala below the eexpresswayis a must visit for steaming idlis and dosas with filter coffee. Ramakrishna Hotel in the main signal at Lonavla market is the recommended place for Lunch.
Lion Point is one of those places where the proverbial walk in the clouds can actually be done. Come monsoons and Mumbaikars start their annual ritual of visiting Lion Point to catch the mist covered valleys and mountains as well as to grab a bite of Vada Pav and piping hot Tea. It is an experience difficult to beat!
Lion point can be reached by taking a right turn at Lonavala market signal while coming from Mumbai and passing Lonavala lake, Bushy Dam and INS Shivaji. Lion Point will appear on the right after 4 Kms beyond the Naval training centre after a steep climb.
There are also camel rides available at Lion Point for kids and those young at heart.
Karla caves are a set of 16 magnificent Buddhist caves dating back to 2nd century BC. These caves are located on an ancient trade route between Arabian Sea and the Deccan. In fact the Buddhist monks used to provide shelter to weary travelers on this route. The first set of caves were built by Theravadas, an ancient sect of Buddhists. Mahayana group of Buddhists built the later set of caves.
The sculptures in the Caves are remarkable. Horse shoe shaped windows bring in the sun light into the cave providing a refreshing environment.
The prayer hall in the main Cave is one of the largest rock cut structures in India. The object of worship is a Stupa right at the end of the prayer hall.
Cave no 12 has a very interesting characteristic. The ceiling of this Cave has wooden ribs on the ceiling. The wood has survived for 2 millenia! There is also a Hindu temple in the front of the Cave complex dedicated to Goddess Ekvira.
Karla caves are located on the National Highway-4 between Mumbai and Pune. You can reach the caves after travelling for 8 Kms after leaving Lonavala town. There are a series of 350 steps to be climbed before you can reach the Caves. There are a few shops on the way up for refreshments and temple offerings.
Bhaja caves are a set of 22 caves located 400 feet above the village of Bhaja, dating back to 2nd century BC and built by Hinayana group of Buddhists. While 10 of these caves were Viharas or residences for the monks, the other 12 are Chaityas or prayer halls.
Cave 12 is a splendid specimen of wooden architecture and vaulted horseshoe ceiling. It also has a pillar which shows Buddha in different forms like Bodhi tree, lotus, elephant, wheel and throne. One of the carvings at Bhaja caves show a woman playing a Tabla the classical Hindustani musical instrument. This has pushed back the current understanding of origin of Tabla as an instrument in Ancient India.
Bhaja caves can be reached by taking the right turning towards Malavli station from the NH-4 highway between Mumbai and Pune. The turning is located roughly 8 Kms after Lonavala. After passing the Malavli railway crossing, take the road over the Express way and Bhaja will appear after a couple of Kms.
Bushi Dam located between Lonavala and INS Shivaji is a scenic picnic spot which also has a waterfall. While it is a beautiful spot in the rains, Bushi Dam can get very crowded and poses a risk of drowning. In fact every year there are a few cases of drowning at this place and hence one needs to exercise extreme caution and avoid slippery rocks.
Lonavala Lake is another picnic spot worth a visit during the monsoons. While the Lake dries up in summer, it is teeming with bird life during the rains.
Lonavala and Chikki go hand in hand. Seth Maganlal made Lonavala famous for Chikki. He had a small sweet shop in the early 1900s when work on the Mumbai Pune railway line was ongoing. He used to sell a simple variety of Chikki called Gud Dani to travelers. The Railways then asked Maganlal to package it and sell it in the station. The rest is history. While there are 40 brands of Chikki available in Lonavala, every other shop is called Maganlal Chikki!
Chikki making is a labour of love and doesn't involve machines.
Ingredients requires are 1/2 cup ground nuts, 1/3 cup jaggery, 1.5 teaspoon ghee.
The procedure is to start roasting the ground nuts till they turn green. Peel the skin after the groundnuts are cooled. Keep aside a portion and grind the other portion to powder. Take the ghee and heat it in a pan. Add jaggery to it. Use a slow flame and let it simmer till it gets caramelized. Add the portion of ground nut powder and mix it with melted jaggery after turning off the flame. Pour the mixture over a greased plate and add more groundnuts. Using a greased rolling pin, roll it out into thin sheets and then cut out square pieces. Lo and behold, Lonavala Chikki is ready to be served and eaten.
Coopers is the best place to buy Fudge at Lonavala. Founded by Parsi entrepreneur Rusi Irani many decades ago, it is located at the beginning of the old Lonavala market ahead of the circle and opposite the Railway Station. Chocolate Walnut Fudge is their specialty. Many say Lonavala is worth a visit just for Chocolate Walnut Fudge from Coopers.
Lonavala and Khandala are famous for many trekking trails of the Sahyadris. Over a decade i have enjoyed hiking up many of these pinnacles. Here are my hiking guides to popular treks from Lonavala.
Lohagarh is a majestic fort near Bhaja Caves. Refer Loharagh Trek
Rajmachi is a Satvahana fort located between Khandala and Lonavala. Refer Rajmachi Trek
Martana is a pinnacle which can be esily hiked from Bhambhurde village. Refer Martana Trek