Visual treat

Print edition : November 17, 2006

Cooking gas cylinders being carried on horseback in Matheran. This is perhaps the only hill station where all types of motor vehicles are banned within the town limits. - PAUL NORONHA

MAHARASHTRA, endowed with a large landmass and diverse physical features, has something to offer every visitor: heritage caves for the pilgrim tourist, wildlife sanctuaries for the nature lover and beautiful beaches for the itinerant vacationer.

The caves of Ajanta and Ellora located in the Sahyadri range of mountains in Aurangabad district have a massive visual appeal. The evolution of rock-cut Buddhist architecture can be traced in the 30 Ajanta caves gouged out of the horseshoe-shaped gorge of the Waghore river. It is believed that the carvings started in the 2nd century B.C. and ended in the 6th century A.D. Sculptural experiments by Hindu, Buddhist and Jain monks can be seen in the Ellora cave complex. It is believed that the structures were carved between A.D. 350 and 700. There are 34 Buddhist chaityas and Jain and Hindu temples in Ellora. The Kailasa temple in cave 16 is the largest monolithic structure and is known for its bold architecture. It is said that nearly 200,000 tonnes of rock were removed from the rock face to give shape to the temple and the effort took more than 100 years. The temple is twice the size of the Parthenon in Athens and is one and a half times as high. The Elephanta Caves on the Elephanta Island, 11 km from Mumbai, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and have been a commercial, military and religious centre for centuries. The caves have sculpted images portraying Siva in all his manifest forms. The colossal 20-foot-high image of the three-headed Siva, Trimurthy, draws attention as one enters the temple.

Trekking in Maharashtra is mainly centred around the Sahyadri range. The Rajmachi fort, a well-known trekking route, can be reached via Lonavla along the Khandala plateau. Fort trekking can be done at the Karla and Bedsa caves.

Mahabaleshwar, situated at an altitude of 1,372 metres in the Sahyadri in Satara district, is a favourite holiday spot, except during the monsoons from June to mid-September. The town's main attractions are its 30 `viewpoints' that provide a view of fascinating landscapes. From Mahabaleshwar, one can get a panoramic view of the Arabian Sea and the valley. Wilson Point or Sunrise point is the highest point in Mahabaleshwar from where visitors watch sunrise. Bombay Point is from where one can get the best view of sunset. The Lingmala Waterfalls is one of the most enthralling sights in the town.

Matheran, at 800 m, is the hill station situated closest to Mumbai and Pune. Vehicles are banned here. The journey uphill includes a two-hour ride in a toy train. Louisa Point, Panorama Point and Little Chouk Point in this hill station provide fantastic views.

Chaprala, Tadoba, Chikhaldhara, Dajipur, Bharmragarh, Navegaon, Tipeshwer and Bor are some of the must-visit wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in the State. The Tadoba National Park, spread over 120 sq km and at an altitude of 200 m, is located 100 km south of Nagpur and 45 km north of Chandrapur. It is the oldest national park in Maharashtra. The Pench National Park, located on the State's border with Madhya Pradesh, 70 km away from Nagpur, covers an area of 257.26 sq km. The Pench jungle camp provides special accommodation. Spread over 11 acres (4.4 hectares), it has 12 deluxe safari-style canvas tents and four spacious air-conditioned rooms. Beaches

Maharashtra has a variety of beaches that sweep along its 530-km-long coastline. The crowded beaches like Juhu, Marine Drive and Chowpatty of Mumbai give way to sleepy but pollution-free ones like Harnai and Bassein down south and up north. There are beaches like Velneshwar and Shriwardhan-Harihareshwar for adventure lovers. At the Vijaydurg-Sindhudurg and Dahanu-Bordi beaches, remains of ruined forts and remnants of Portuguese culture can be seen.

Murud-Janjira is a small village located on a hillock, 60 km from Alibag. Murud is a popular beach. There are regular ferry services from Ferry Wharf (Mumbai) up to Rewas (23 km). From Rewas, you can take a bus via Alibag and Chaul to reach Murud.

A Special Correspondent
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