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The Western Ghats, blessed by the altitude of the Sahyadri Ranges, envelop little sleepy hollows. These petite hill-stations, popularised by the British Raj to beat the Indian heat, are jewels in the hills. In the mornings, sunbeams play hide-and-seek through the rolling dawn mist. By afternoon, they are still cool thanks to their height. As evening falls, they bundle up in blankets of fog, toasty aromas wafting from local pots.
From north to south, the Western Ghats rise steep. Some ranges dip straight into the Arabian Sea, while others meander around, jumping over waterfalls and lakes. Each of the major cities in Maharashtra has the bounty of a hill-station within a few hours’ driving distance. So rich and varied is the state’s topography that each of these homes in the hills is unique. Let no cynic tell you that two hill-stations are similar; each have their characteristic charm, charisma and allure.
Panhala, near Kolhapur, rises up to an awesome 3,177 feet at the tip of its fort. Mahabaleshwar sits at an altitude of 1,372 meters– chilly enough to need a sweater in summer. Its twin, Panchgani, the five-landed table mountain, rises 1,334 meters. Unexplored Toranmal in the Satpura Hills is a serene green. If it’s a dash of family fun, try Matheran’s toy train, horse-riding (Matheran allows no vehicles) and point-hopping.
The hills of Maharashtra are also host to an amazing number and variety of forts, making them popular destinations for avid trekkers. The Pratapgad Fort, for example, is the most popular since it is from here that the history of Chatrapati Shivai Maharaj took a decisive course after he scored a victory against the mighty Afzal Khan, commander of the Bijapur Adilshahi forces. Similarly, for stunning scenic views and links to the state’s rich historical legacy, Rajmachi and Raigad are unbeatable. The latter was the capital during Shivaji’s rule and it was here that his coronation took place.
Majestic indeed are these hill-top destinations – it’s like being on top of the world!
Winding roads, a cool breeze at all times, vantage points offering breathtaking views of hills and valleys, plenty of strawberries to gorge on and a main street full of shops offering all kinds of curios and snacks.
If it hadn’t been for the constant search of the British for scenic hill stations with invigorating climate, Panchgani probably wouldn’t have been discovered.
Matheran, is Asia’s tiniest hill station and remains pollution free because no motorized vehicles are allowed on its tiny roads or the pathways that lead into deep woods.
Those living in Mumbai or Pune consider it a blessing indeed that they have the twin hill stations of Lonavla and Khandala almost a hop, skip and jump away.