Give a man a hammer and chisel, and he’ll create art for posterity. Come to the World Heritage Site Ellora cave temples, located 30km from Aurangabad, and you’ll know exactly what we mean. The epitome of ancient Indian rock-cut architecture, these caves were chipped out laboriously over five centuries by generations of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks.
Located on the banks of the holy Godavari River, Nasik (or Nashik) gets its name from the episode in the Ramayana where Lakshmana, Rama’s brother, hacked off the nasika (nose) of Ravana’s sister. Today this large provincial city’s old quarter has some intriguing temples that reference the Hindu epic and some huge bathing ghats.
Superbly set in a remote river valley 105km northeast of Aurangabad, the remarkable cave temples of Ajanta are this region’s second World Heritage Site. Much older than Ellora, these secluded caves date from around the 2nd century BC to the 6th century AD and were among the earliest monastic institutions to be constructed in the country.
Way off the main tourist routes, the isolated city of Nagpur lacks must-see sites but is an important gateway to several reserves and parks including Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve and Pench National Park. It’s also close to the temples of Ramtek and the ashrams of Sevagram. Summer is the best time to taste the city’s famous oranges.
The picturesque village of Bhandardara is nestled deep in the folds of the Sahyadris, about 70km from Nasik. A little-visited place surrounded by craggy mountains, it is one of Maharashtra’s best escapes from the bustle of urban India. Most of Bhandardara’s habitation is thrown around Arthur Lake, a horseshoe-shaped reservoir fed by the waters of the Pravara River.
About 40km northeast of Nagpur, Ramtek is believed to be the place where Lord Rama, of the epic Ramayana, spent some time during his exile with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana. The place is marked by a cluster of temples (open 6am-9pm) about 600 years old, which sit atop the Hill of Rama and have their own population of resident monkeys.
About 85km from Nagpur, Sevagram (Village of Service) was chosen by Mahatma Gandhi as his base during the Indian Independence Movement. Throughout the freedom struggle, the village played host to several nationalist leaders, who would regularly come to visit the Mahatma at his Sevagram Ashram.
One of the best places to see tigers in India, the seldom-visited Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, 150km south of Nagpur, is now much more accessible thanks to the upgrading of state highways. Seeing fewer visitors than most other forest reserves in India, this is a place where you can get up close with wildlife without having to jostle past truckloads of shutter-happy tourists.
Time permitting, take a pit stop in the scruffy-walled settlement of Khuldabad (Heavenly Abode), a quaint little Muslim pilgrimage village just 3km from Ellora. Buried deep in the pages of history, Khuldabad is where a number of historic figures lie interred, including emperor Aurangzeb, the last of the Mughal greats.
Lonar Meteorite Crater
If you like off-beat adventures, travel to Lonar to explore a prehistoric natural wonder. About 50,000 years ago, a meteorite slammed into the earth here, leaving behind a massive crater, 2km across and 170m deep. In scientific jargon, it’s the only hypervelocity natural-impact crater in basaltic rock in the world.