The former capital of the Bombay Presidency, Mahabaleshwar, 250km southeast of Mumbai, is easily reached from Pune, 120km northeast. The highest point in the Western Ghats (1372m), it is subject to extreme weather conditions. Early June brings heavy mists and a dramatic drop in temperature, followed by a deluge of biblical proportions. Tourists tend only to visit between October and early June; during April and May, at the height of summer, the place is packed. For most foreign visitors, Mahabaleshwar’s main appeal is its location midway between Mumbai and Goa, but it has some good hiking trails, and a boating lake, and is close to the Pratapgadh fort (see below). Otherwise, the main activity is to amble up and down the pedestrianized main bazaar (Dr Sabne Road) and graze on the locally grown strawberries for which the town is famous.
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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 (now Vijayapura) 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. Today visitors can see Afzal Khan’s tomb, a memorial to Shivaji, and views of the surrounding hills.
Top image: Pratapgad Fort, Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra, India © Kevin Standage/Shutterstock