Smorgasbord of delights

Print edition : December 17, 2010

The Kailasanatha temple at Ellora is a favoured tourist spot.-

MAHARASHTRA is a tourist's delight. The State leaves a holiday-seeker spoilt for choice. There are golden beaches to relax on, mountains to trek through, forts to visit, wildlife sanctuaries to discover, fabulous old ruins and ancient sites to explore and holy sites to worship in.

The State has a 720-kilometre coastline, which boasts several beaches. The local cuisine and culture form a special part of any trip down the coast. Ganapatipule is a particularly spectacular beach, and the State government has been promoting it as the top spot for a beach vacation. It is said the area derives its name from the temple of Swayambhu (self-originated) Ganesh, which thousands visit every year.

The Western Ghats traverse the State from the northern part to the southern tip. Although the mountains are not very high, they are still great for trekking and are home to many popular hill stations, including Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani, Lonavala and Matheran. In recent times, Chikhaldara, Bhandardara, Jawhar, Toranmal and Amboli have been added to the list. Toranmal, tucked away in the Satpura mountains at an altitude of 1,461 metres, has been attracting a lot of tourists. Apart from trekking, they can visit the beautiful Yashwant Lake, the waterfalls at Seetha khali and the charming temples in the area.

Shivaji's forts

Nowhere in the country does one find such a profusion of forts. There are a staggering 350-odd forts in Maharashtra, all of which are distinctive in character and style. Some are on islands, such as Murud-Janjira, or on seafronts, such as Bassein. Most of the well-known forts are in the Sahayadris and most are associated with the great Maratha warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji. There are travellers who are passionate about uncovering all of Shivaji's forts.

Among these wonderful treasures is Vijaydurg. Situated 48 km south of Ratnagiri, it is one of the strongest marine forts on the western coast and is an excellent harbour. Built on a hill on the mouth of the river Vaghotan, the fort was protected on three sides by the sea and on the eastern side by a ditch, now filled up.

Raigarh, Shivaji's capital, is another treasure. This is the hill fort where he was crowned (A.D. 1674) and where he died (A.D. 1680). There is only one pathway to Raigarh, probably in keeping with Shiviaji's strategy that the fort's approach should be easy for friends and impossible for foes, says the Maharashtra Tourism Department. Raigarh is worth a visit because the plateau is covered with a large number of the remains of buildings and reservoirs. On a low mound at the centre of the site is Shivaji's throne. Further north is a two-row marketplace, the Jagadishwar temple in an enclosure and the samadhis of Shivaji and his favourite dog, Waghya.

National parks

Of the four declared national parks in Maharashtra, the Pench National Park and Tiger Reserve is the most popular. It extends over an area of 257 sq km in the lower southern reaches of the Satpura hill range, along the northern boundary of Nagpur district. It received the official status of Tiger Reserve of India in February 1999. The park covers four different forest regions and is home to 33 species of mammals, 164 species of birds, 50 species of fish, 10 species of amphibians, 30 species of reptiles, and a wide variety of insect life.

Holy sites

The Shirdi Sai Baba Ashram at Shirdi near Nasik, the Ashtavinayak (eight Ganesh) temples around Pune and, more recently, the golden pagoda built near Mumbai draw people from across the world. The other revered sites that tourists flock to are the Elephanta Cave temple near Mumbai and the Kailasanatha temple at Ellora, both dedicated to Siva; the Trimbakeshwar temple, at Nasik; the Vitthala temple at Pandharpur and the Bhavani temple at Tuljapur.

The Moreshwar temple in Morgoan is one of the most popular of the Ashtavinayak shrines. And the Siddhi Vinayak temple in Mumbai is the only modern shrine visited by thousands throughout the year.

In recent years Shirdi has attracted millions of people of all religions, castes and creeds. They come to pay homage to Sai Baba at the beautiful shrine that was built over his samadhi.

By A Special Correspondent

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