Have you ever noticed this funny side of human beings? We cut down nature; we cut down hills and forests without caring about the ecosystem, animals and birds in order to develop sprawling urban landscape and great cities. Once we are done with all that, we start searching for a natural holiday spot that can offer us calm environment and natural landscape that can make our heart smile and get rid of all that stress and fatigue. Life in Mumbai is as fast as in New York City and London and therefore locals here often need options that allow them to unwind and take a quick break. Over a period of time, Pune has swelled into a bigger city from just a small town known for reputed educational institutions in India. It has quickly garnered the reputation of being the Twin City, being not too far from Mumbai.
Somewhere between these two ever-growing cities lies Lonavala. A hill station that certainly had strategic importance during early historic times. It was discovered by Lord Elphinstone in 1871, who was then the Governor of Bombay Presidency. Lonavala was used by British soldiers as a resting place when they are holidaying. My earliest memories of Lonavala go back to year 1987-88 when I was just a kid watching a movie in a theater close to my home. This advertisement of Fariyas Hotel used to pop up on the screen. Back then, going to Lonavala was certainly an expensive and once-in-a-while affair. The rich class could afford it, but an average middle class might just drop the idea of going that far.
Compared to Mumbai, Lonavala is high up 622 meters, so till Karjat or Khopoli it’s a decent drive, but then vehicles had to climb up those edgy and dangerous serpentine roads. On the way, you can see some damaged-by-accident trucks, private cars and bikes that subconsciously warn you of what would happen if you press your accelerator too hard. The entire journey from Mumbai to Lonavala would take around 5-6 hours, but it was worth it. The landscape in Lonavala was nothing short of paradise. I have been visiting Lonavala since 1990 when I was just 10 years old and when my sister got married and settled there. In all these years, I have lost count on how many trips I’ve made here.
Before the Mumbai-Pune Expressway came up, things were pretty different. There are trains that can get you to Lonavala from Mumbai, but earlier there were not many trains available. Today, things are quite different. You can reach Lonavala, in just two hours or even less than that from Mumbai and the same amount of time from Pune as well. There are more trains that can take you there, so there is a vast improvement in terms of connectivity. However, on some level I feel this improvement has in some way led to the fall of Lonavala’s popularity. Not that, people don’t prefer it anymore, but this place has become a victim of rapid development. Surprisingly, there are traffic jams here, so if you think you can drive through those hills and valleys with complete peace of mind, let me tell you on weekends you might get stuck in traffic jams in the middle of nowhere.
Generally, I take the morning train “Mumbai-Pune Intercity Express” that allows me to reach Lonavala quickly. There are times when I also take the State Transport bus, also better known as ST. I love the entire journey from Mumbai to Lonavala early in the day because as soon as the train or bus is beyond the city limits you see great countryside landscapes with sun rising far away. I would also like to add, I am not an air-condition person, so I prefer fresh air instead. I hate to travel in AC Volvo buses that are so luxurious you can’t even pull up the side window glass. If I want things to be decent, I prefer train journey so I am not bouncing in my seat, there are no road accidents to witness climbing up the mountain and you are practically still on time. Oh yes, you also get some snacks and toilet facilities which you might not get while traveling through ST bus.
Lonavala is packed with hotels, resorts, affordable lodges and other accommodation options, so you don’t have to bother about where you will stay. You can find hotels that suit your requirements and budget. On weekends, the rates are higher, even on national holidays and during peak seasons. To be honest, the concept of peak season has diminished in the last few years. Earlier, you would find visitors here only in certain time period. For instance, from June to September you will find married couples and girlfriend-boyfriend youngsters, from October to March you will find family types, mother, father and the kids or uncle, aunts and nephew and niece types. From March to May, you will find people who live in cities, but they have their cottages, farm houses and vacation homes here. Today, it’s all mixed up throughout the year, courtesy better connectivity.
However, it is the monsoon period from June to October that still manages to pull more crowd. During the rainy season, people from all walks of life come here to enjoy the cool breeze, foggy landscape and thundering rain. Lonavala receives plenty of rainfall, so there are multiple waterfalls all over the hill station. Most people today love to visit the Bushi Dam where they get the opportunity to splash in the cold water for hours non-stop. I would certainly not recommend Bushi Dam to someone looking for peaceful holiday on weekends. The place is crowded on weekends and even on weekdays like a beehive, so instead of splashing into waters for hours you might find yourself being pushed around.
Basically, it’s too much commercialized to give you the feel of being in a rural area. Right behind Bushi Dam there is a hill and you will find many people climbing up where they will find some sweet spot to sit and relax and get those few moments of privacy. In fact, as you climb up you will find the river that flows into the dam. If you want you can splash a little bit here, but be careful of the wet rocks that can turn your enjoyment into disappointment with just one slip. One of the reasons, I believe why Bushi Dam receives so much crowd is because the other Valvan Dam is closed for public. Earlier, Valvan Dam was the biggest crowd-puller in Lonavala and many people would flock to this place to enjoy some quality moments with their loved ones. It was only after series of unfortunate events and accidents that authorities decided to step in and keep away the public. This dam is bigger than Bushi Dam and the landscape here is great.
Surprisingly, most attractions that are listed in Lonavala on the internet are not exactly in Lonavala. For instance, Pavana Lake, Tiger Point, Lion Point, Rajmachi Point, Duke’s Nose, and Lohgad Fort are either in Khandala or Malavli. On papers, that portion of land might be under Lonavala administration, but in terms of distance and accessibility they are quite far away which means you need to keep good amount of money for traveling from one destination to the other.
I would certainly recommend Rajmachi Point, Lohgad Fort and even Karla Caves all of these are at some distance, so it’s better to leave early, have fun for the day and return early. In the evening, I would recommend a stroll in the local market. It has that small town appeal to it with local shops selling local items and food. You can even buy the much popular “Chikki” which is an Indian sweet made from groundnut and jaggery. Here in Lonavala, you will find this sweet in variety so you have chikki made from chocolates, almonds, pistachios, cashews, grams, and much more. The immensely popular Maganlal Chikki store is right opposite the railway station so you don’t have to search hard.
You can also ask for Ryewood Park and have an evening walk here. Not too far from here you will find McDonalds and KFC, so if you’re hungry you can buy something. At the other side of Ryewood Park, you will find a small food stop where you can enjoy meals at great prices. Lonavala certainly serves as a great weekend destination for most people in Mumbai and Pune and therefore it is always recommended that you book your hotels in advance. On a personal level, I would recommend visiting this place in October because there’s greenery around, less rainfall chances so you get better climate to enjoy the landscape.
So, share your experiences of Lonavala and let me know what you think about this tiny hill station.