Vast and rugged, the modern state of Maharashtra is the third largest in India and one of the most visited by foreign tourists. While many venture no further than its port capital, Mumbai, as soon as you leave its concrete estates, industrial works and swampland, you enter a different world. Plan your trip to Maharashtra with our guide to Maharashtra - based on The Rough Guide to India, your travel guide for India.
The best travel tips for visiting Maharashtra
Undoubtedly, Maharashtra’s greatest treasures are its extraordinary cave temples and monasteries. The finest of these are found near Aurangabad.
The busy commercial city is the obvious base for visits to the Buddhist caves at Ajanta, with their still-vibrant murals, and the monolithic temples of Ellora. Here the astonishing Hindu Kailash temple was carved in its entirety from one single rock. Despite Maharashtra’s early importance as a centre of Buddhism, Hinduism is very much at the core of the life in the state.
Balancing modern industry alongside ancient associations with the Ramayana, Nasak has always been the main pilgrimage centre. This is a handy place to break journeys en route to Aurangabad. One of the four locations of the Kumbh Mela, the city is always a hive of devotional activity, and lies close to one of India’s most sacred Shiva shrines.
In the state’s far northeastern corner, the city of Nagpur lies close to Sevagram. This is where Mahatma Gandhi set up his headquarters during the struggle for Independence.
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Why you shoud visit Maharashtra on your next trip
Away from the cities, one of the most characteristic features of the landscape is a plenitude of forts.
Rising a short distance inland from the sea, the Sahyadri Hills — part of the Western Ghats — form a series of huge steps that march up from the coastal strip to the edge of the Deccan plateau. These flat-topped hills could easily be converted into forts where small forces could withstand protracted sieges by large armies. Today, visitors can scale such windswept fortified heights at Pratapgadh and Daulatabad.
During the nineteenth century, the mountains found another use. When the summer proved too much for the British in Bombay, they sought refuge in nearby hill stations. The most popular of these, Mahabaleshwar, now caters for droves of domestic tourists. Matheran, 800m higher, has a special attraction — a rickety miniature train.
South of Matheran, a series of magnificent rock-cut caves clustered around Lonavala. This provides the main incentive to break the journey to the modern, cosmopolitan city of Pune, famous for its Osho resort founded by the New Age guru Bhagwan Rajneesh. Pune's atmospheric old town and restaurant and bar scene offers additional appeal.
To the west, Maharashtra occupies 500km of the Konkan coast on the Arabian Sea, from Gujarat to Goa. The little-explored palm-fringed coast winds back and forth with inlets, ridges and valleys. Highlights here include Murud-Janjira, whose extraordinary fortress was the only one never conquered by the Mughals.
Ganpatipule, the region’s chief pilgrimage centre, and home to kilometres of deserted, palm-fringed beaches, is another gem around these parts. By the time you reach Kolhapur, the main town in the far south of the state, famous for its temple and palace, Mumbai feels a world away.
What to do in Maharashtra
Most of Maharashtra’s attractions revolve around the region’s cave temples, monasteries and forts. Add to that fine wine, sophisticated cities, a plethora of palm-fringed beaches, and Ghandi’s last ashram, and Maharashtra adds up to a distinctively diverse — and rewarding — region.
#1 Visit Mumbai
As the powerhouse of Indian business, and the source of its most seductive media images, Mumbai, the Maharashtrian capital, can be a compelling place to spend a day or two.
Nowhere reinforces your sense of having arrived in Mumbai quite as much as the Gateway of India — the city’s defining landmark. Nearby, the Prince of Wales Museum should be on your list of sightseeing priorities, as much for its flamboyantly eclectic architecture as for its art treasures.
#2 Enjoy ancient culture and fine wine in Nasik
Lying at the head of the main pass through the Western Ghats, Nasik makes an interesting stopover en route to or from Mumbai. One of the four sites of the world’s largest religious gathering, the Kumbh Mela, the ghat-lined banks of the River Godavari here are always animated.
According to the Ramayana, Nasik was where Rama (Vishnu in human form), his brother Lakshmana and wife Sita lived during their exile from Ayodhya. This is also where the archdemon Ravana carried Sita to his kingdom in an aerial chariot. The scene of such episodes forms the core of the busy pilgrimage circuit – a lively enclave packed with religious specialists, beggars, sadhus and street vendors touting puja paraphernalia.
However, Nasik has a surprising lack of historic buildings, and its only real monuments are the rock-cut caves at nearby Pandav Lena. Excavated at the peak of Buddhist achievement on the Deccan, these 2000-year-old cells hark back to the days Nasik dominated the trade routes linking the Ganges plains with the ports to the west.
In addition, with its temperate winters, rich soil and gently undulating landscape, Nasik’s arid and dusty hinterland is ideal for growing wine grapes. As a result, the city has established itself at the centre of India’s fast-expanding wine industry.
#3 Explore Ellora Caves
Among Maharashtra’s most visited places, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it'll come as no surprise that visiting Ellora Caves is one of the best things to do in India. 29km northwest of Aurangabad, these might not enjoy as grand a setting as their older cousins at Ajanta, but their amazing wealth of sculpture more than compensates.
In all, 34 Buddhist, Hindu and Jain caves line the foot of the 2km-long Chamadiri escarpment as it tumbles down to meet the open plains. The site’s principal attraction — the colossal Kailash temple — rears from a sheer-edged cavity cut from the hillside. A vast lump of solid basalt has been fashioned into a spectacular complex of colonnaded halls, galleries and shrines.
Going it alone? Read our tips for backpacking India.
#4 Be awe-struck by Ajanta caves
Move captivating cave experiences wait at Ajanta, home to the finest surviving art gallery from any of the world’s ancient civilizations. Hewn from the near-vertical sides of a horseshoe-shaped ravine, the caves occupy a site worthy of the spectacular ancient art they contain.
Less than two centuries ago, this remote spot was known only to local tribespeople — the entrances to its abandoned stone chambers lay buried deep under a thick blanket of jungle. In 1819, the chance arrival of a detachment of East India Company troops brought the caves’ obscurity to an abrupt end. Led to the top of the bluff by a young scout, the tiger-hunters spied what has now been identified as the facade of Cave 10.
Further exploration revealed a total of 28 colonnaded caves chiselled out of the brown and grey basalt cliffs lining the River Waghora. More remarkable still were the immaculately preserved paintings writhing over their interior surfaces.
In addition to the stone Buddhas and other sculptures enshrined within them, Ajanta’s excavations are adorned with a swirling profusion of murals.These depict everything from battlefields and sailing ships, to animal-filled forests and snow-capped mountains.
#5 Visit Gandhi’s ashram in Sevagram
Sevagram, Gandhi’s model “Village of Service”, is deep in the serene Maharashtran countryside. The Mahatma moved here from his former ashram in Gujarat during the 1936 monsoon.
At the centre of the Subcontinent, within easy reach of the Central Railway, it made an ideal headquarters for the national, nonviolent Satyagraha movement.
These days, the small settlement is a cross between a museum and a living centre for Gandhian philosophies. Interested visitors are welcome to spend a couple of days here, helping in the fields, attending discussions and prayer meetings, and learning the art of hand-spinning.
Once past the absorbing visitors’ centre, which documents Gandhi’s life, the focal point of the ashram is the sublimely peaceful main compound.
These modest huts – among them the Mahatma’s main residence – have been preserved exactly the way they were when the great man and his disciples lived here.
#6 Explore the unspoiled Konkan coast
Despite the gradual appearance of a string of resorts aimed at wealthy urbanites, the coast stretching south from Mumbai, known as the Konkan, remains relatively unspoilt.
Backed by trees and coconut plantations, and framed by the distant Western Ghats, empty beaches regularly slip in and out of view. At the same time, fortified towns preserve a distinct coastal culture, with its own dialect and fiery cuisine.
The number of rivers and estuaries slicing the coast meant this little-explored area was difficult to navigate. These days, the Konkan railway, which winds inland between Mumbai and Kerala via Goa, now renders it more easily accessible.
#7 Take a miniature train to Matheran
With fantastic views across the Western Ghats revealed during the train ride up to this former British hill station, Matheran is well worth the journey.
108km east of Mumbai, Matheran is set on a narrow north–south ridge at an altitude of 800m in the Sahyadri Range. From evocatively named viewpoints at the edge of sheer cliffs that plunge into deep ravines, you can see way across the hazy plains.
The town itself, shrouded in thick mist for much of the year, has, for the moment, one unique attribute. Namely, cars, buses, motorbikes and auto-rickshaws are banned. That, added to the journey up on a miniature train that chugs through spectacular scenery, gives the town an agreeably quaint feel.
#8 Potter around Pune
Known as the “Oxford of the East”, the sophisticated city of Pune is home to an absorbing old town, a riveting museum, and some excellent places to eat and drink.
Since the colonial days, Pune has continued to develop as a major industrial city. It's also one of India’s fastest growing business and tech centres. Signs of prosperity abound, from multi-storey apartment blocks and gated estates, to coffee shops, air-conditioned malls and hip boutiques.
Pune, recently voted India’s most “liveable city”, also has a couple of spiritual claims to fame. Koregaon Park is home to the famous Osho ashram, while on the outskirts you’ll find yogarcharya BKS Iyengar’s illustrious yoga centre.
Best places to stay in Maharashtra
It’s true to say travellers are spoiled for choice when it comes to finding the best places to stay in Maharashtra. You have a fair few options to consider no matter what your budget — from luxurious colonial era mansions in huge grounds to affordable hotels.
Below we highlight to what expect from places to stay around the region. For detail on where to stay in the state capital, read our guide to Mumbai.
Most of Nasik’s hotels, stretching along the Mumbai–Agra road en route to Pandav Lena, are pitched at business travellers. You'll find a few more budget-friendly exceptions around the Old City Bus Stand chowk. As this is wine country, you could explore staying near, or in, a vineyard.
Explore places to stay in Nasik.
Planning to visit Ellora Caves? Most visitors use Aurangabad as a base for day-trips to the caves. Aurangabad’s proximity to some of India’s most important monuments, together with its “boom-city” status, ensures a profusion of hotels, though standards are variable.
If you prefer to take in the caves at a more leisurely pace and climb Daulatabad Hill, either spend the night at Ellora or leave Aurangabad early in the morning.
Search for places to stay in Aurangabad.
Matheran has plenty of hotels, though all are pricey – particularly at weekends, when rates almost double (book ahead), and during peak periods when they become astronomical.
Most are near the railway station on MG Rd. Note that 10–11am checkouts are standard, and many places close down during the rainy off -season.
The town’s hoteliers almost universally refuse beds to “stags” (single male travellers). Most places only have hot water in the morning. Many provide full or half-board at reasonable rates, and there are also numerous thali joints near the station.
Check-out accommodation in Matheran.
While top-end hotels are springing up all over Pune, there’s a chronic shortage of budget and mid-range places. As a result, prices are high and vacancies like gold dust, so book as far in advance as possible.
Browse places to stay in Pune, and more places to stay in Maharashtra.
How to get around
Easily accessible by air, rail and road, once in the state, Maharashtra is also easy to get around by train and road. The extensive train network connects all Maharashtra’s cities and towns, with several fast trains operating from Mumbai.
In addition, reliable roads connect Maharashtra with other parts of India. National Highway 6 and National Highway 17 are the major highways, with State Highways and National Highways connecting Maharashtra to neighbouring states.
How many days do you need in Maharashtra?
At the very least, we’d suggest spending at least five days in Maharashtra. While you might not want to linger long in busy Mumbai, it’s worth spending at least a day here to get a feel for the place, and to see its top sights.
Add to that visiting at least some of the region’s top attractions, especially Ellora Caves and Ajanta caves, and those five days will fly by. In fact, if you have more time, plan to visit for at least a week.
What is the best time to visit Maharashtra?
The best time to visit Maharashtra is the October–February period, when it's typically hot and dry. That said, the eastern side of the state may get a few showers.
Temperatures ramp up from March to May, when it can get uncomfortable, and thunderstorms are not uncommon. Months to avoid — the monsoon generally hits in June and lasts till September, with July the wettest month. Most hotels in the hill station of Matheran close during this period.
It's also well worth trying to coincide your visit with one of the state’s many festivals. For more on that, read our guide to when to go to India.
How to get here
Maharashtra is easily accessible by air, rail and road.
The state of Maharashtra has numerous domestic and International airports. These include Santa Cruz domestic Airport, Chattarpati Shivaji International Airport, Aurangabad Airport, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport, and Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji Airport.
The state also has a great rail network connecting all cities of Maharashtra. Several speedy trains operate from Mumbai.
Getting to Nasik
Gandhinagar airport is around 5km southeast of the city and has irregular flights to/from Delhi.
Buses from Mumbai pull in at the Mahamarga Bus Stand, 10min by rickshaw from the city centre. Aurangabad and Pune buses terminate at the central New City Bus Stand.
The Old City Bus Stand is around 500m north along the Old Agra Rd and is primarily useful for buses to Trimbak. It’s an easy walk from either stand to several budget hotels and restaurants.
Nasik Road is the nearest railway station, 8km southeast of the centre. Local buses regularly ply the route into town, and there’s no shortage of shared taxis and auto-rickshaws.
Getting to Pune
Pune is very well connected, but demand for seats on planes, trains and buses far exceeds supply, so book onward transport as soon as you can.
Lohagaon airport Pune’s airport, 10km northeast of the city centre, is a major hub, with regular direct flights to cities throughout India. It’s a 15–30min journey to/from the city centre, depending on traffic.
The railway station is in the centre of the city, south of the river. One of the last stops for numerous long-distance trains to and from Mumbai, rail services are excellent. Reservations should be made as far in advance as possible online, either via a travel agency, or at the reservation centre next to the station.
By shared taxi
For Mumbai, 24hr shared taxis leave from agencies at the taxi stand in front of Pune railway station. They’re quicker than the buses, but only take you as far as Dadar.
Pune has three main bus stands. If you’re unsure which station you require for your destination, ask at the enquiries hatch of the City Bus Stand. More comfortable private buses depart from offices throughout Pune. Tickets can be bought from travel agencies in Koregaon Park.
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