After an eventful Day 1 in Lonavala, we had time for some more sightseeing on Day 2 before our return train to Mumbai in the afternoon. Check-out time at our hotel was 10 am. So, after breakfast, we pretty much packed up and headed for the reception. After completing the exit formalities, we walked to the Lonavala ST Bus Stop, which was literally 50 steps from our hotel. We inquired at the bus information window about what places we could visit, and they recommended going to Khandala or Karla Caves. However, the bus for Khandala had apparently left just 5 mins before we had reached. We had only one option left – Karla Caves. ST buses (state run transport buses) aren’t exactly state-of-the-art service providers, and our bus to Karla was not very clean. The drivers were having their breakfast inside the bus and they had left bits of food on the bus floor. But we managed to find a clean place to sit, and within a few minutes we were off.
(Lonavala Bus Station)
(Lonavala Bus Station waiting area)
(Lonavala Bus Station information window)
We had asked the information window lady at the bus stop about how we would come back to Lonavala once we were done at Karla. She had said that there were two buses, one that came back at 12:30 pm, and another that came back at 4:30 pm. We had to take the earlier bus, because otherwise we would miss our afternoon train. However, while buying tickets on the bus to Karla, we were in for a surprise when the bus conductor informed us that there was no 12:30 bus! We asked him twice and even mentioned that the lady at Lonavala station had talked about a 12:30 bus. Then at the second time of asking, he “suddenly remembered” that there indeed was a bus at that time, but it stopped on the highway and not at the caves. At that point, we felt a sigh of relief, as we had no idea how else we would get back to Lonavala. We bought our tickets and handed the driver the money – it was extremely economical at Rs. 17 a piece.
(Our bus to Karla Caves)
After about 10 kms of driving, the bus suddenly halted on a narrow 2-way road and apparently that was the stop for Karla Caves. The actual caves were on a hill top, which was a further 1km from where we were dropped. One has to either drive or walk up the hill to get to the caves. Factoring in this extra walking, there was no way that we could have gone up the hill, and then made it back to the highway bus stop for our return trip. So, we had two options at that moment, either walk around for a bit and then walk back to the highway bus stop, or go see the caves and trash out a deal with one of the auto rickshaws near the caves to take us back to Lonavala. We tried walking up the hill on the winding road, but it was quite steep. So, we decided to hire an auto to take us up to the caves, and then back to Lonavala. After some bargaining, we managed to close a reasonable deal and then hopped on board. The ride up the hill lasted only 5 mins, but it was pretty steep.
Once at the hill top, we found out that we had to further climb some more steps for about 15 minutes. It was a good workout for sure and the climb was interesting, because there were vendors selling various kinds of food and other wares along the way. Once at the top, we finally got a glimpse of the caves. We had to buy tickets at the entrance. Once inside, we headed to the main prayer hall, which is also known as Chaitya. The Chaitya at Karla is actually one of India’s largest rock cut Chaitya, with a height of 46 ft and a length of almost 150 ft. The main Chaitya had a beautiful arched entrance-way and carvings of gods and animals on the sides. We had to remove our shoes to go inside, as the prayer hall is considered holy and spiritual.
(climbing up the steps to Karla caves)
(the view got better as we went higher)
(finally we made it to the caves)
(heading into the main prayer hall or Chaitya)
(beautiful arched design of the prayer hall)
(stone carved columns line up the sides of the prayer hall)
(various gods are carved onto the columns)
After visiting the Chaitya, we headed to a temple situated next to the Chaitya. We offered our prayers and then headed to a smaller cave next to the temple. It was really dark inside this smaller cave, and there were winding steps with no lighting. We used our phone flashlight and climbed up to get a nice view of the nearby surroundings. The prayer hall, temple and small caves were pretty much the only things to see at Karla, and we were all done in about 40 minutes. So, we headed back down the steps to our auto rickshaw. The auto then drove us back to Lonavala, and we were back at the Lonavala bus station in about 20 minutes, just in time for lunch.
(view from the smaller cave next to the Chaitya)
(these steps were quite narrow and dark)
(view from behind the temple)
The Mumbai-Pune old highway runs through the heart of Lonavala, and there are some interesting places for food on this road. Since we had already eaten at Triose Mall and at our hotel, we decided to head to Ram Krishna, which is located on the old highway and very close to the bus station. It used to be a well-known Dhaba (traditional roadside eatery). However, nowadays it has grown into a full fledged restaurant. Ram Krishna is clean, hygenic and quite famous for its Punjabi and South Indian food. They also have a long list of milkshakes and cold beverages on their menu. We went for some Veg Kofta, stuffed Paratha and sweet Lassi. Food and service were both great, and I very much recommend this place if you want to grab a bite in Lonavala.
(delicious lunch at Ram Krishna, Lonavala)
After lunch, we still had a few hours before our train was to arrive. So, we decided to try out some dessert at the German Bakery, which was located across the street from Ram Krishna. There is a German Bakery in Pune which is quite famous, and the same owner had opened a branch in Lonavala. They had a good selection of pastries, cheesecakes, brownies, and food. The food looked tempting, with burgers, mid-eastern dishes, Italian, pizza and many other items on the menu. Since we were already finished with food, we decided to try the Mango Cheesecake. It was really good, as the quality and taste were excellent. It did not feel like an essence-based cheesecake, rather it tasted natural.
(Mango cheesecake at the German Bakery)
After finishing our cake and watching some cricket on the big screen that was laid out at the seating area, we headed to the station to catch our 4:30 Deccan Express back to Mumbai. On reaching the station, we found out that the train was delayed by an hour. We waited and waited, and after almost 90 mins the train finally arrived. It was a complete nightmare to get on the train, as there were a huge number of ticket-less travelers in every coach, blocking all entrances and walkways. We somehow made way to our seats only to find out that it was being occupied by more ticket-less travelers. After some arguing, we managed to find seats to sit down. One of those seats was not ours, but we were somehow forced to sit in that seat as the people occupying our seats could not sit in their seats. Its just a domino effect, where if one person cannot sit in his/her seat, then he/she sits in somebody else’s seat, and then that somebody else has to go and sit in someone else’s seat, and then there are arguments of all sorts throughout the journey. Our train ride also kept getting worse because more and more ticket-less travelers kept boarding the coaches at every stop along the way. The ticket checker came by just once, collected the usual “fine” from a few handful ticket-less folks before disappearing again, leaving genuine paying passengers to fend for themselves against a swarm of ticket-less travelers.
We reached Mumbai a bit exhausted from the sightseeing and the uncomfortable train ride. My learning from the experience is that if you do decide to travel back to Mumbai by train, then try to get an AC Chair car ticket rather than second seating, because the second seating will be packed with all sorts of legal and (mostly) illegal passengers from Pune itself. This apparently won’t happen in the AC coaches. It is either that or take a bus back to Mumbai. It is ok to take the train to Lonavala from Mumbai, since the train starts from Mumbai. But the return journey is a total nightmare. Having said that, the train experience in no way takes away anything from what Lonavala has to offer. It is a great place to spend a couple of peaceful days outside of Mumbai, while enjoying awesome food and nature.