A visit to the tranquil and scenic Lonavala during the rainy season makes for an exhilarating holiday experience
“Aatikyakhandala” – Aamir Khan asks Rani Mukherjee in the late 90s movie ‘Ghulam’ and says “Jhoomenge, nachenge, aishkarenge aurkya”. Since decades the twin hill stations of Lonavala and Khandala have been the getaways that people from Mumbai have chosen, in order to spend a couple of days away from the grind of the city; so much so that pretty much every well-to-do Mumbaikar, and for that matter many from across India, own a guest house in Lonavala.
While anytime is good enough time for travel, there can never be a better time than monsoons to visit Lonavala, when one can experience the romance of the rains in its full glory. Nestled in the Sahayadri range, 64 km from Pune and around 96 km from Mumbai, the once upon a time favoured retreat of the rich and the famous comes truly alive during the rainy season, when the hills around attain lush green hue, and rains bring with them the hitherto non-existent waterfalls that beautifully dot the surrounding valleys.
The rivers brim with water dancing to the monsoon winds, the place in itself is teeming with tourists making it lively in spirit. One can travel to Lonavala by road from Pune (the nearest airport) and the drive on the Mumbai-Pune express highway is amazing. One can also reach the hill station by train; the journey in itself is touted to be quite an experience. Either way, you will be travelling through some of the most beautiful sights that set the tone for the trip.
Those Exhilarating Treks
Being the hotbed of Maratha empire, one can find several historic forts around the hill station, built atop the hills most of which can be reached only by foot. No wonder Lonavala is famous for trekking enthusiasts. The historic Lohagad, Visapur and Sarasgad forts provide enough challenges in terms of their terrain, and in addition provide for amazing views of valleys and waterfalls, flora and fauna making for exhilarating trekking experience. There are professional trekkers, who provide infrastructure and assistance for the treks. What one needs to take care of is, however, basic fitness and appropriate gear.
Mihir Dudhat, a Pune resident, hardcore traveller and heavily into adventure, runs his company that also organises treks. He says, “There are one-day treks, two-day treks that include an overnight stay and even night treks. There are around 20,000 to 25,000 trekking enthusiasts, who frequent the trekking tracks in the area. However, tourists without much experience should take the help of an experienced and reliable guide, need to have basic fitness, ensure they have good shoes and a mindset to complete a trek.
If they are going to a trekking agency, they must check with them the years of experience, basic mountaineering certificate and ATOAI certificate. Most importantly, they should understand the dangers and should not take nature for granted.” In the hands of the right guide, the treks can turn into exciting experiences– no wonder those who get a hang of it keep coming back for more. Some of the hotels and resorts in Lonavala also provide for easy treks to leisure travellers staying with them. For instance, Novotel Imagica that in addition to being a beautiful resort property and having one of the largest amusement parks at Khopoli (around 13 km from Lonavala), also has explored and created the not-so-difficult yet picturesque trekking destinations for the beginners.
I personally have been on one such trek to a nearby lake, walking through one of the oldest villages, climbing up the hill, walking past rural folk carrying back firewood, listening to the chirping of birds, and finally reached the lake that felt quite a victory. And, the quietness of nature around you, the calmness of the blue waters of the lake and the hills around throwing up a green background – I did not feel like leaving the place, just wanted to hang around as much as I can. The trek took less than an hour and was devised for dummies with trained adventure enthusiast guiding the way.
High on Food
Food brings us to the amazing options Lonavala has for food lovers. There are restaurants, eateries where you can taste different cuisines. The Golden Vada Pav is a roadside shop that makes some amazingly spicy Vada Pavs. One can also try the Moong Bhajiya with the Maharashtrian classic chutney Thecha.
While there is an overdose of Chikki shops in every nook and corner, look out of Maganlal for an amazing array of chikkis of every kind – it is not just the traditional groundnut one – there are the dry fruits, cashew nut, til and more. The Cooper’s Fudge is to die for, so do not miss it.
One of the oldest residents of Lonavala, Cooper’s opens at around 11 and closes when the stock finishes. While here, one can also try the Pragathi down the road for its Cold Coffee. Do check out for a Malwani restaurant for the Sol Kadi, Kombdi Vade, Bhakri and Usal and the Kolhapuri for the spicy fish fry and curry. The spicy and delicious Misal at Sainath Canteen alongside Fariyas must not be missed too. Lonavala also has many good options for vegetarians.
Weekends at Lonavala
Lonavala is an addition to being a favourite destination for honeymooners, is currently one of the most preferred weekend family destination, and the corporate groups, who like to mix business with pleasure. The hill station is being increasingly sought after for destination weddings too. To provide for these requirements the hotels and resorts are re-inventing themselves to offer a bouquet of facilities that will keep the guests engaged. And the place is teeming with stay options – each trying to outdo the other.
With the Clouds
Upper Deck is touted as the highest point of Lonavala; nestled amidst greenery and hills, overlooking the much famed Rajmachi Fort on one side, the Tungarli Lake and Valvan Reservoir on the other, facing the green hills dotted with waterfalls that come alive during the peak of the monsoon is this resort property.
True to its name it has a strong deck built over an iron platform that when you stand on and look around allows you to become one with nature, and as the tantalisingly cool breeze touches you, the green vistas take you into their fold; add to it the pitter patter rain drops and you can define heaven.
The rooms at Upper Deck are minimal, no-fancy ones, but clean and large enough, and most of them with a balcony from where one can enjoy unhindered views of the valley, and there are days when you open the door and are greeted by the passing clouds. There are inter-connected rooms for large families.
Be it the restaurant with its long glass windows for walls all around as you relish the dishes from across India, and which stretches into a balcony where one can sit endlessly sipping hot masala tea and the crispy Kandabhajji (onion pakodas) as you feast on the view; or the poolside that makes you feel you are on the top of the world albeit surrounded by spectacular hills – Upper Deck is pleasure to the eyes and senses. The restaurant also served Maharashtrian cuisine with specialities like Bhakri, Pitla, Gauti Chicken Curry, Coconut Poli, Poha etc. While the mornings throw up beautiful views, the nights turn out to be equally pleasure-filled, especially if you are the type to revel in the serenity of a jungle with only the sounds made by the night beings and the resplendent moon for company.
Upper Deck too has its own treks; a simple morning trek to a nearby hill, night treks, jungle treks to keep its guests engaged. There is a trek that goes up to the historic Rajmachi fort, a little more strenuous, but extremely enriching one. The best part of the monsoon magic at Upper Deck is the beautiful waterfalls that appear on a hill that oversees the resort – it’s as if the nature’s resplendence has unfolded before you.
Fariyas on the Frichley Hills
One of Lonavala’s picturesque locations is Frichley Hills, where the popular resort property Fariyas is built. The resort with its wooden interiors warmly beckons you into its fold, and the feeling continues as you enter the rooms, which are tastefully decorated and with all modern amenities, but with the old-world charm.
The 5-Star Deluxe resort in Lonavala appeals to guests of all ages -with an in-house water sports facility – Wild Water and a sprawling property stylishly landscaped, an indoor pool, play area around the pool, where families get together over a board of caroms or snooker, and above all well-facilitated rooms. Even though Fariyas has three categories of rooms, all the rooms of the luxury resort are spacious with bath areas replete with bathtub.
While a family staying at Fariyas is well-tended to thanks to the entertainment options, the Sana Spa offers well-trained professional to rejuvenate and re-energise the guests with amazing therapies. This is an in-house spa, not a fancy brand; so you get the advantage of a therapy that’s not offensively priced, and the expert masseur will ensure you exit the spa totally revived physically, even as the mental makeup is already on a reset mode the moment you entered the hill station.
The coffee shop at Fariyas is spacious and forever buzzing. The buffets take care of the vegetarians with as many options as the non-vegetarians and the breakfasts too are extensive affairs here. I love wooden interiors and feel some how the wood appeals to your inner soul, calming you with its warmth. And the coffee shop, an extension of the lobby also has interiors that relax you. Do try an spend time here over some tea post-lunch when it is reasonably quiet and see what I mean. There is also a specialty restaurant ‘Fusion’ with a menu that offers Asian cuisine with a touch of creativity appealing to the local palates.
Fariyas has mastered the art of taking care of its guests who come in with their families, and this experience they are extending to corporates, who come up with a different set of challenges. The Hotel organises sightseeing trips and the staff go out of the way to ensure a comfortable stay, a job that they seem to do with all honesty and geniality – that makes the guests feel at home.
There are other popular stay options in Lonavala that include Della Resorts that boasts of adventure activities within the resort and a night club to speak of; The Dukes Retreat, Shireen; the latter enjoys the advantage of being a hilltop resort.
One may also just explore the many guest houses that ensure all the facilities minus the trappings to ensure a comfortable stay at an economical price.
Sights of Lonavala
The spectacular entrance has standing Buddha, carvings of giant elephants – and an Ashoka pillar at the entrance symbolises the continued support of successive dynasties in maintaining the Buddhist shrine. However, there is also the Ekveera Temple in the precincts that do attract many local visitors. Bhaja caves share the architectural design of Karla, including the horseshoe entrance and the wooden ceiling; and is known for its many stupas. Both these ancient protected monuments leave you spellbound with their brilliance in terms of craftsmanship.
Then there is the Sunil’s Wax Museum – a must visit to India’s very own Madame Tussauds. Sunil Kandalloor, the wax artist created amazing replicas of celebrities that have become so popular that a couple of other imitation museums have cropped up in Lonavala. And needless to say, this one is by far the best.
A hill station is incomplete without its viewpoints – Lion’s Point and Dukes Nose in Khandala are quite famous here. One can also visit dams like the Bhushi and Valvan or temples including the Narayani Dham that’s beautifully built in marble and the Jain shrine Shree Munisuvrat Jain temple.
In short, Lonavala has all the trappings of a perfect monsoon holiday – picturesque locales, historic and man-made tourist sites, adventure activities, treks and amazing food; and rain adds the right amount of romance to the fun trip.