Mumbai is a chaotic city. Lots of noise, pollution and a pace of life which sometimes makes even New York’s lifestyle look relatively slow. With such an environment, there is a strong demand for quick getaways or short trips to calmer, more peaceful locations which are within a few hours drive from Mumbai. Lonavala, a hill-station located in the Sahyadri mountain rage bordering the Deccan Plateau of India, is one such destination. It is a famous stop along the Mumbai-Pune road trip and is best known for its nut-based hard candy called Chikki. However, as we found out, Lonavala is a lot more than just Chikki and deserves some more time than just a quick pit stop. We went there for a short 2 day trip and found some interesting places to visit.
While most people often drive to Lonavala from Mumbai, we decided to do things a little differently. We took the Intercity Express train from Mumbai to Lonavala. Tickets in second class sitting for this 2 hour journey were super economical at Rs.90 per person, so we decided to give it a try. The train left Mumbai early morning at 6:45 am and we reached Lonavala around 9:00 am. The train ride got a little interesting (although it got absolutely crazy on our return via Deccan Express about which I will blog in the next post), because there were lots of people traveling without tickets. Indian Railways has turned a blind eye over this issue, as ticket checkers happily collect paltry sums as “fine” rather than discourage ticket-less travel. These ticket-less travelers sat on pretty much any seat they could spot, and then refused to vacate them when paying customers showed up! Luckily for us, since we boarded the train from the starting point of the journey, we were able to sit in our seats without any issues.
On reaching Lonavala, we headed straight to our hotel The Chandralok, which was a shot 5 minute walk from the station. Our hotel, besides having a fantastic central location, is also famous for serving the best Gujarati thali in Lonavala. Check-in took a few minutes and after dropping our bags, we headed back out to explore Lonavala Lake. As we were walking through the main bazaar road, we came across Cooper’s Fudge & Chikki, the most famous and one of the oldest shops that sell fudge and chikki in Lonavala. It is run by a Parsi family and if you plan to buy any chikki/fudge, then this is your place. We did not want any, so we continued walking towards Lonavala Lake. We walked and walked, for almost 40 more minutes, before we reached the edge of the lake. As it was January, the lake was almost dry and there was nothing to see. Lonavala Lake turned out to be a disappointment. Apparently, it fills up only in the monsoon season after June, and goes dry by winter.
After a brief stop, we walked back towards our hotel trying to figure out what we should do next. While checking-in at our hotel, we had spoken to the hotel taxi driver about places to visit, and he had suggested Pawna Lake and Tiger Point as must visits. However, his pricing for the taxi service was quite steep. So we figured that we should get some quotes from the local auto rickshaws that were lined up along the main bazaar road. We asked about 3 of them for an afternoon trip to both Pawna Lake and Tiger Point. They gave us encouraging numbers, so we bargained a bit, and in the end managed to close the deal at half the price which the hotel taxi had quoted us. I very much recommend you take a rickshaw if it is possible, as you will save a significant amount of money.
Now that our afternoon was sorted, we were getting hungry from all the walking around. So, we headed for some lunch at the Triose Mall, which had a food court with a variety of cuisines. After lunch, we walked past Ryewood Park and back to our hotel for some rest. After an hour or so, our rickshaw driver was at the hotel to pick us up for our trip to Pawna Lake. We hopped on board and drove through Lonavala, before hitting a stretch of rocky unpaved road. The bumpy stretch lasted for about 10 mins and then we were back on smoother hilly roads. Some section of the hills had very steep gradients, but the auto rickshaw was surprisingly strong enough to motor through those. After a few minutes, we got our first glimpse of Pawna Lake. It felt like we had made a great decision in visiting Pawna Lake, because the views were great.
(approaching Pawna Lake)
(Pawna Lake seen from the hilly road)
We reached the lake about 45 mins after we had left the hotel. There was nobody at the lake as it was off season, and the boating service was not available. Apparently, there was a dispute between two rival boating companies and so the service was not available since a few months before we went. That was a shame, because it would have been quite spectacular to boat around the picturesque lake, with amazing views of the water and the small hills surrounding the lake. We roamed around, took some pictures and dipped our feet in the water. The water was very clean.
(The path to the lake shore)
(small green tinshacks are basically places to grab a meal)
(looking toward the other side of Pawna Lake)
(another shot of Pawna Lake)
(the reddish sand is a common site across the Sahyadri range)
(very calm and peaceful environment)
(the sun was shinning bright at 4 pm)
(the clear & clean water of Pawna Lake)
After about 30 minutes, it was time to head back to our auto rickshaw and drive to our next destination – Tiger Point. Tiger Point is a viewing point, where you can watch sunrise and sunset with mountains and a valley in view. Most hill stations across India have one of these points and Lonavala is no different. But no visit to a hill station is complete without visiting one of these “points”. Tiget Point is also known as Lion Point as the two names are used interchangeably. It was a bit of a drive going to Tiger Point, because it is situated to the west of Pawna Lake, and we were on the north (Lohgad) side of the lake. However, you can also try and go to the south side of the lake from Lonavala, as this route may have Tiger Point along the way. We reached Tiger Point from Pawna in about 40 mins, and we were a little early to catch the sunset. So, we decided to sit and relax for a bit, waiting for the sun to go down.
Tiger Point is not a very well developed tourist area. It basically has plastic tables and chair set out by folks selling bhajji or fritters, along with the usual hot and cold beverages. The idea is that you visit in the monsoon, check out the amazing view and eat hot bhajjis, or have your evening tea while watching the sun go down. There were a few wild monkeys hanging out at the Point and people were enjoying feeding them with snacks and biscuits that they had with them. But you have to be careful with wild monkeys, as they can snatch your belongings. The views were pretty decent, but it was very hazy and so visibility was not the best. Pictures came out alright though.
(a monkey sitting at Tiger Point)
(a food provider with some chairs)
(view at Tiger Point)
(another view at Tiger Point)
(the sun slowly going down)
We waited for more than an hour for the sun to set. But, after taking lots of pictures and soaking in the fabulous view, we decided that it was time to head back. All in all, both Pawna Lake and Tiger Point were excellent choices for our first day in Lonavala. I can only imagine how much more spectacular these two places will look in the monsoon, with green cover and lots of waterfalls. Apparently, Lonavala gets super crowded (almost like Mumbai) during the monsoon weekends.
We had dinner at our hotel’s famed restaurant. Their thali was really delicious, and they had really awesome natural home made strawberry shrikhand to go with the thali. The strawberrys that they used were grown in an area nearby, so it was great to eat local produce.
(A gujarati thali, always colourful and flavourful)