Mumbai, situated by the Arabian Sea in Western India is also the largest and most populated city of India. The capital of the state of Maharashtra is a natural film set that is alive 24 hours a day. Lacing my now destroyed Reebok sneakers, I left the suitcase at the hotel and started my first venture in Mumbai. I hoped to see the city fast to make the most of the limited time available.
To travel as much as possible in Maharashtra, I relied on my iPhone and created a possible route that covered art, shopping, food, nightlife and outdoors.
You cannot breathe the atmosphere of colonial Mumbai without a visit to Gateway of India, an Arc de Triomphe in yellow basalt. Built in 1924 to commemorate the visit of King George V, it is considered the symbol of the city. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly known as Victoria Terminus since 2004 is a World Heritage site.
My next stop was the Crawford Market, the colorful indoor market. Some guides call it Phule Market. It was within walking distance from Victoria Terminus. It was certainly not what I see in other Indian markets. But it was certainly interesting for its colonial architecture. The Chor Bazaar, an increasingly crowded flea market was undoubtedly more fascinating. It is a paradise for those looking for second-hand items. Here you can find everything from old gramophones and records to electronic goods.
Although time was running out and the traffic and the crowds seemed to slow the race against time, in Mumbai you cannot leave without tasting the pav bhaji. I took advantage also to rest a bit.
Because of the benevolence of time and weather, the clock allowed me to travel to Borivali National Park. This largest park in the world located within a city is one of the main attractions in North Mumbai. We complete the tour in a safari with lions and tigers. Elephanta Island was also worth the visit. We continue to Kamla Nehru Park. Then from the slopes of the Malabar Hill, we enjoyed the magnificent views of the waterfront. We move to Chowpatty Beach, the Prince of Wales Museum, Mani Bhawan and Dhobi Ghat.
Next morning after breakfast, we drive to the historic town of Nasik. Nasik is located on the banks of the river Godavari. It is steeped in Indian mythology and is the home to numerous temples. It is one of the seven holy cities of India. According to the Ramayana, Rama spent most of his exile here. Here hundreds of families of priests live. Many of them are Upadhya, who were traditional priests of noble families.
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). 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 travel to a local winery.
Next morning after breakfast, we travel to Daulatabad. Also known as Devagiri, it was founded in 1187 by Bhillamraja. Thereafter we proceeded to the Ellora Caves. Here the three great faiths of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism can be seen side by side in the elaborate carvings. The 34 caves date back to 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 for young monks. It was supported by two dozen pillars. Of the group of Hindu caves, the sixteenth was the most interesting. The Kailasha is 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. It is worth wandering calmly with no one to put you on the anxiety clock.
Next morning after breakfast, we move to Aurangabad. It is the gateway to the world heritage sites of Ajanta and Ellora. In the afternoon we visit the Shivaji Museum and the famous Bibi Ka Maqbara. Bibi Ka Maqbara was built in 1660. It had elegant, refined sculptures in marble structure.
Next morning after breakfast, the day was dedicated to the visit to the Buddhist caves of Ajanta. Here we see fine paintings and sculptures from second century AD. Ajanta is considered the Sistine Chapel of Asia. These caves were formed by a steep ridge of rock. They were 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. They are smaller than Ellora, and date from the period between the second and fourth century AD. They are all Buddhist. The vihara (monastic apartments) and chaitya (stupa) were excavated in two phases.
The first phase is called Hinayana referring to Hinayana Buddhism. 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. Despite the incredible humidity, the frescoes in the caves were kept in excellent condition. I suggest traveling with a torch because the lighting was almost non-existent. Photos with flash, of course, are prohibited.
The wall frescoes were taken from the life of Buddha, religious legends, and scenes of daily life. 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 to live in caves. With the passage of time, the rock art was also accepted by wealthy patrons who subsidized many holy places.
The Ajanta caves were immersed in the green in a valley through which flowed a mountain stream. The setting was definitely spectacular. But, this site was much less attractive compared to Ellora.
Next morning after breakfast, we continue the trip to Shirdi. Shirdi is a holy city that exudes a great sense of spirituality and mysticism in contrast to its size. 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 visited the Kirkee War Cemetery. It was followed by the visit to the homonymous memorial that was built to commemorate the death of Indian soldiers during the World War I.
Next morning after breakfast, we travel to the hill station of Matheran. Upon arrival, we moved to the hotel, on horseback.
Next morning after breakfast, we drive to Lonavala. Lonavala was a beautiful town of valleys, hills, waterfalls and lush vegetation. In the afternoon we visited the Buddhist caves of Bhaja and Karla.
Accepting a challenge against time and 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.