The former capital of the Bombay Presidency, MAHABALESHWAR, 250km southeast of Mumbai and rivalling Matheran as the most visited hill-resort in Maharashtra, is easily reached from Pune, 120km northeast. The highest point in the Western Ghats (1372m), it is subject to extraordinarily extreme weather conditions. The start of June brings heavy mists and a dramatic drop in temperature, followed by a deluge of biblical proportions: up to 7m of rain can fall in the hundred days up to the end of September. As a result, tourists tend only to come here between October and early June; during April and May, at the height of summer, the place is packed. There is a Rs20 per head entry fee for visitors, collected at toll booths at each end of town.
For most foreign visitors, Mahabaleshwar’s prime appeal is its location mid-way between Mumbai and Goa, but it holds enough good hiking trails to keep walkers here for a few days, with tracks through the woods to waterfalls and assorted vantage points overlooking the peaks and plains. One enjoyable route – along which you may well not see another soul – is the three-kilometre forested walk along the Tiger Path bridleway to Mumbai Point, which starts around 1km southwest of the bus stand opposite the Hotel Sathar, just south of the Christian cemetery. The sunset panoramas from here can be breathtaking. If there’s a group of you, you could rent a boat out on the Venna Lake, 2.5km north of town, though it’s not as peaceful a pastime as you might think. Otherwise, the main activity in town is to amble up and down the animated pedestrianized main bazaar (Dr Sabne Road) – which with its chip shops, amusement arcades and popcorn stands bears a passing resemblance to an English seaside resort – and graze on the locally grown strawberries and other fruits for which the town is famous.Read More
An hour’s bus ride away from Mahabaleshwar, the seventeenth-century fort of PRATAPGADH stretches the full length of a high ridge affording superb views over the surrounding mountains. Reached by a flight of five hundred steps, it is famously associated with the Maratha chieftain, Shivaji, who lured the Mughal general Afzal Khan here from Bijapur to discuss a possible truce. Neither, it would seem, intended to keep to the condition that they should come unarmed. Khan attempted to knife Shivaji, who responded by killing him with the gruesome wagnakh, a set of metal claws worn on the hand. Modern visitors can see Afzal Khan’s tomb, a memorial to Shivaji, and views of the surrounding hills.
Taxis charge Rs560 for the return trip to Pratapgadh. State buses also do the journey each day, leaving the bus stand at 9am and returning at 12.30pm.