India, Maharashtra, Mumbai, and Bollywood immediately brings in mind the chaos, traffic, pollution, crowds, spices, music and sounds. Everything is true! Mumbai is a bustling concrete jungle that will not disappoint the expectations of those who, know India only thanks to National Geographic documentaries or Bollywood musicals. And Mumbai is also the largest and most populated city of India, the capital of the state of Maharashtra and is a natural film set that is alive for 24 hours a day.
Lacing my now destroyed Reebok sneakers, I left the suitcase at the hotel and started my first venture in Mumbai situated by the Arabian Sea in Western India, hoping to see the city fast to make the most of the limited time available.
You cannot breathe the atmosphere of Colonial Mumbai without a visit to Gateway of India, an Arc de Triomphe in yellow basalt considered the symbol of the city built in 1924 to commemorate the visit of King George V in 1911 and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly known as Victoria Terminus, which is since 2004 named a World Heritage Heritage.
Our next stop is the Crawford Market, the colorful indoor market that some guides call Phule Market and are within walking distance from Victoria Terminus, which is certainly not what I imagined thinking of other Indian markets but it was certainly interesting for its always colonial architecture. More fascinating is undoubtedly the Chor Bazaar, an increasingly crowded flea market, a paradise for those looking for second-hand items where you can find everything from old gramophones and records to electronic goods.
Although time is running out and the traffic and the crowds seem to slow the race against time, in Mumbai you cannot leave without tasting the pav bhaji, so I took advantage to rest a bit.
Because of the benevolence of time and weather, the clock allowed me also to make a jump to Borivali National Park, one of the main attractions in the north of Mumbai, the largest park the world located within a city, complete with a safari with lions and tigers. Elephanta Island was also worth a visit. We continue to Kamla Nehru Park, and then from the slopes of the Malabar hill, we could enjoy magnificent views of the waterfront. We move to Chowpatty Beach, the Prince of Wales Museum, Mani Bhawan and Dhobi Ghat. I slept very little and had seen but much so so as to think in the end that it was mission accomplished!
Next morning after breakfast, drive to the historic town of Nasik, steeped in Indian mythology and home to numerous temples. Nasik, one of the seven holy cities of India, is on the banks of the sacred river Godavari and where Rama, according to the epic of the Ramayana, spent most of his exile. Here live hundreds of families of priests and many of them are Upadhya, traditional priests of noble families, who also take note of all the lineages.
In this city, there are many temples and shrines, mostly on the left bank of the river, in the neighborhood called Panchavati (5 banyan trees). Upon arrival, we go to our hotel. We visit the ghats on the river Godavari and the Naroshankar Temple. Nasik is also the wine capital of India and we take the opportunity to visit a local winery.
Next morning after breakfast, we move to Aurangabad, gateway to the world heritage sites of Ajanta and Ellora. In the afternoon we visit the Shivaji Museum and the famous Bibi Ka Maqbara built in 1660, with elegant, refined sculptures in marble structure.
Next morning after breakfast, the day was dedicated to the visit of the Buddhist caves of Ajanta where see fine paintings and sculptures from 2nd century AD. Ajanta is considered the Sistine Chapel of Asia. These caves were formed by a steep ridge of rock and discovered by chance in 1819 by a group of British officers who were hunting in the area. The monastic complex of Ajanta consists of 29 caves, smaller than Ellora, and date from the period between the second and fourth century AD and are all Buddhist, with the vihara (monastic apartments) and chaitya (stupa) were excavated in two phases.
The first phase is called Hinayana referring to Hinayana Buddhism, while the second phase of excavations began after a break of three centuries. This phase is usually called, Mahayana referring to less severe Buddhist school that encourages the representations of Buddha through paintings and sculptures, on this second phase. Despite the incredible humidity, the frescoes in the caves are kept in excellent condition. I suggest you visit equipped with a torch because the lighting is almost nonexistent. Pictures with flash, of course, are prohibited.
The reasons of the wall frescoes are many from the life of Buddha, religious legends, scenes of daily life, etc. The most beautiful paintings were found in caves 1, 4, 17, 19, 24 and 26. The excavation of caves in the rock resumed an ancient custom, still practiced by Indians, to live in caves and with the passage of time rock art was also accepted by wealthy patrons who subsidized many holy places. The Ajanta caves are immersed in the green, in a valley through which flows a mountain stream. The setting is spectacular but definitely, the site for my taste was much less attractive compared to Ellora.
Next morning after breakfast, we visit Daulatabad, also known as Devagiri and was founded in 1187 by Bhillamraja. Thereafter we proceed to visit the Ellora Caves where the three great faiths of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism can be seen side by side in the elaborate carvings, offering 34 caves, many of which date from the seventh century. Of these, 12 are of Buddhists, 17 of Hindus and 5 of Jains.
The fifth group of the Buddhist cave was probably an old classroom study for young monks and is supported by two dozen pillars. Of the group of Hindu caves, the most interesting are the sixteenth, the Kailasha, probably the largest monolithic structure in the world. The area of the caves is really very large, so we recommend you not to organize the tour through anyone, and it is worth wandering calmly with no one to put you the anxiety clock. We later return to Aurangabad.
Next morning after breakfast, we continue the trip to Shirdi, the holy city that exudes a great sense of spirituality and mysticism in contrast to its size. Upon arrival, we move to the hotel. Here, we visit the center and walk in the bazaars around the temple.
Next morning after breakfast, we move to Pune. On the way, we visit of Kirkee War Cemetery, followed by the homonymous memorial built to commemorate the death of Indian soldiers during the first world war. Upon arrival, we move to the hotel.
Next morning after breakfast, we continue on to the hill station of Matheran. Upon arrival, we move to the hotel, on horseback.
Next morning after breakfast, we drive to Lonavala, the beautiful town of valleys, hills, waterfalls and lush vegetation. Upon arrival, we move to the hotel. In the afternoon we visit the Buddhist caves of Bhaja and Karla.
Accepting a challenge against time but also against my principles because I do not like doing things on the run, I decided to make the most of the week available to explore this region. To visit as much as possible in Maharashtra, I relied on my iPhone and created a possible route that covered art, shopping, food, nightlife and outdoors.