Southern Maharashtra provides the get-away-from-it-all laziness that Goa used to be famous for. Traversing the sleepy fishing villages of the Konkan Coast, one can envisage the culture that gave rise to Mumbai’s humble beginnings. Pune, one of the state’s larger cities, is the hub of the region.
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.
Up in the Western Ghats, Mahabaleshwar – founded in 1828 by British governor Sir John ‘Boy’ Malcolm – was, at one time, the summer capital of the Bombay presidency. However, what was once a pretty hill station oozing old-world charm is today a jungle of mindless urban construction.
In the middle of Mumbai Harbour, 9km northeast of the Gateway of India, the rock-cut temples on Elephanta Island (Indian/foreigner Rs 10/250; caves 9am-5.30pm Tue-Sun) are a spectacle worth crossing the waters for. Home to a labyrinth of cave-temples carved into the basalt rock of the island, the artwork represents some of the most impressive temple carving in all India.
Despite being flanked on both ends by two of India’s top urban centres, it’s laudable how the Konkan Coast manages to latch on to its virginal bounties. A little-developed shoreline running southward from Mumbai all the way to Goa, it is a picturesque strip of land peppered with postcard beaches, vivid green paddy fields, rolling hills and decaying forts.
A little-visited town, Kolhapur is the perfect place to get intimate with the flamboyant side of India. Only a few hours from Goa, this historic town boasts an intensely fascinating temple complex. In August, Kolhapur is at its vibrant best, when Naag Panchami, a snake-worshipping festival, is held in tandem with one at Pune.
Literally ‘Jungle Above’, Matheran is a tiny patch of peace and quiet capping a craggy Sahyadri summit within spitting distance of Mumbai’s heat and grime. Endowed with shady forests criss-crossed with foot trails and breathtaking lookouts, it is easily the most elegant of Maharashtra’s hill stations.
In the heart of India’s orange country, Nagpur is located way off the main tourist routes. Apart from being at its festive best during Dussehra, the city – as such – is hopelessly devoid of sites. Nonetheless, it makes a good base for venturing out to the far eastern corner of Maharashtra. First up, it’s close to the temples of Ramtek and the ashrams of Sevagram.