Looking for a beach escape without the crowds? Go on a glorious drive along the Malvan coast to Devbagh. The fishing hamlet, near Tarkarli, is a narrow strip of land that juts out like a finger between the gentle Karli River and the Arabian Sea. It’s got plenty of modest resorts and homestays where the fish is fresh, the views are lovely, and you can be lulled asleep by the sound of the waves. Spend the morning on a boat ride down the Karli, and the rest of the day on the beach or exploring the island fort of Sindhudurg closeby. Then slip on a snorkel mask and swim around the waters near the foot of the fort, home to colourful coral and fish. Devbagh is only 15 minutes from the town of Malvan, where every other restaurant serves top-notch seafood thalis (there’s plenty for the vegetarians too).
Devbagh is 529km/9.5hr from Mumbai; the closest airport is Dabolim, Goa (190km/3hr).
Kamshet has two main attractions: paragliding and Buddhist caves that go back over two millennia. Feel the wind in your hair as you float over snaking green hills and sparkling lakes, looking down upon humans that resemble tiny ants walking through the countryside. It’s a breathtaking way to spend the weekend. For those more comfortable on solid ground, the nearby Karla, Bhaja, and Bhedsa Buddhist cave temples, are ideal for a day of discovery. The prayer hall at Karla is believed to be the largest in India. Kamshet’s rising popularity has resulted in a range of stay options from budget-friendly hotels to furnished bungalows that are available on rent.
Kamshet is 102km/2hr away by road and approx 3hr by train from Mumbai.
The next time you want a hill station holiday, skip Lonavala and Khandala and visit Panchgani instead. The town is straight out of an Enid Blyton book: a quaint hill station with strawberry fields, local legends, and old-school British and Parsi charm. Sitting pretty amidst five peaks of the Sahyadri range, Panchgani’s many panoramic view “points” give visitors ample opportunity to soak in the majestic Ghats and views of the Dhom Dam. Explore misty trails, the ancient Rajpuri caves, and let the kids ride the merry-go-rounds and mini trains on Table Land. There are colonial bungalow-turned hotels with roaring fireplaces (in the winter), and dinners of Parsi dhansak, rice, and kebabs.
Panchgani is approx 245km/4.5hr by road from Mumbai.
Learn to tell sauvignon from chenin blanc with views of the land where the grape was grown. Over the past two decade, Nashik has become synonymous with wine in India. Sula, Grover, and most recently, champagne-makers Chandon, all have wineries around Nashik city. Most are open to guests, offer wine tours, and have wine bars with tasting sessions that teach when to sniff, swirl, and spit. Stay at Sula, which has a boutique hotel on the property, or at one of the many hotels in Nashik city. Visit in the first three months of the year to stomp on freshly picked grapes.
Nashik is 170km/3hr by road from Mumbai; trains from Mumbai to Nashik take approx 3.5hr.
Located just beyond Maharashtra’s northern border, Saputara is Gujarat’s only hill station. The town is nestled amongst the Sahyadris and makes for an engaging getaway for the entire family. There are tonnes of activities to choose from: boating in the man-made Saputara Lake, visiting the Honey Bee Centre to learn how honey is harvested, or hiking up to Hathgad Fort nearby. Hotels and food options are modest and homely (with a heavy bent towards vegetarian fare) but are more than enough to keep you going through the day. Wrap up a busy day with a drive to Sunset Point on Governor’s Hill, and try spotting the fence that marks the Gujarat-Maharashtra border in the distance. If you’re feeling adventurous, ditch the car and take a cable car up instead—the views of the surrounding hills in the fading light are magical.
Saputara is 244km/4.5hr by road from Mumbai; trains from Mumbai to Billimora, the nearest railway station take approx 3hr; the nearest airport is Surat (166km/3hr from Saputara).
Pawna Lake is a great trip idea for big groups where everyone wants to do something different. Check into one of the lakeside campsites and spend the day swimming, canoeing, or jet skiing (equipment can be rented on the spot). Trekkers can make their way to one of the many forts that dot the nearby peaks—there’s Lohagad, Tikona, and Tung to choose from—or simply slow down from the hectic pace of Mumbai life with a book by the water’s edge. Evenings are for barbecuing under the stars, and for making new friends. Pawna draws water-lovers from nearby Mumbai and Pune, and there are almost always people around. Apart from camps, there are also comfortable hotels and homestays a short distance from the lake.
Pawna Lake is 110km/approx 3hr by road from Mumbai; the train from Mumbai to Lonavala, the closest railway station, is approx. 2.5hr.
Bhimashankar is an ideal break for those looking to commune with nature. The Wildlife Reserve near Pune is known for its sacred groves—pieces of forest that are protected and worshipped by local villages. Unlike many other sanctuaries, big animals aren’t the draw at Bhimashankar, and the reserve is best explored on foot. Scan the canopy in search of creatures like Malabar giant squirrel (Maharashtra’s state animal) and birds including paradise flycatchers, warblers, and sunbirds. Visit during the monsoon, when the call of the Malabar whistling thrush rings through the forests, and waterfalls small and large come to life. Those with a spiritual bent might pay their respects at the Bhimashankar temple near the reserve. There are a few decent hotels and homestays around the temple.
The Bhimashankar Wildlife Reserve is approx 250km/5hr by road from Mumbai.
Only a short flight and (a long-ish) train ride from Mumbai is one of India’s most breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the caves of Ajanta and Ellora. Ellora has Buddhist, Brahmanical, and Jain excavations, while Ajanta’s caves are filled with intricate Buddhist frescoes. Some chambers have larger-than-life meditating Buddhas, while others bear panels depicting mythological tales of Vishnu riding the winged Garuda, Shiva and Parvati playing dice, and the giant eagle Jatayu attacking Ravana. Some are amorous, too. The caves alone are worth the trip, but Aurangabad also has bustling khau gallis to explore, where haleem, biryani, melt-in-the-mouth kebabs and sticky malpuas are served until late at night.
There are daily flights between Mumbai and Aurangabad; Aurangabad is approx 350km/6.5 hr by road from Mumbai; the train from Mumbai to Aurangabad, is approx 10hr.
You don’t need to travel to Ranthambore or Bandhavgarh to see tigers. Maharashtra’s Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve has amongst the highest concentration of these big cats in the country. The sanctuary is also inhabited by sloth bears, wild dogs, flying squirrels, crocodiles, and about 200 species of birds. Even if the tiger eludes, Tadoba’s forest and grassland is a welcome break from the chaos of the city. Check into one of the many boutique safari lodges near the park’s various gates for a weekend of indulgence, or the no-frills MTDC resort which is easy on the pocket. A worthwhile pit stop in the area is Anandwan, a leprosy rehabilitation centre built by social worker Baba Amte in the late 1940s. Visitors can enjoy a simple lunch at the complex, and pick up souvenirs from the on-site store.
The Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve is 160km/3hr by road from Nagpur, which has the closest airport. Nagpur is approx 1.5hr away by flight from Mumbai. Warora is the closest rail head; trains from Mumbai to Waror take between 12 and 20 hours.
Despite being a bustling city, Ahmedabad still retains the charms of a small town. Devote a weekend to navigating the Old City’s pols, neighbourhoods that are a tight mish-mash of houses, havelis, and shops. Haggle for impossibly soft textiles, explore ancient stepwells, and tuck into thalis brimming with ghee-smeared rotlis and crunchy pea-stuffed ghughras. Architecture nerds might spend the day studying the spectacular Tree of Life jaalis at the Sidi Saiyyed Mosque, exquisite Arabic calligraphy on Jama Masjid’s colonnade, and Charles Correa’s beautiful Gandhi Ashram in Sabarmati. For the best street food—gathiya and fafda, sweet pedas, and tall glasses of chilled chaas—visit Manek Chowk and Law Gardens at dusk.
Ahmedabad is about an hour away by flight from Mumbai; the train from Mumbai takes approx 6hr.
The twin coastal villages of Murud and Harnai are close enough to escape to on a whim, but still feel eons away from muggy Mumbai. Dump your bags at any of the small resorts in the area and make a beeline for the beach, where hawkers weave in and out of ongoing cricket games. History geeks might explore the nearby Janjira fort, the battlements of which rise imposingly out of the waters, just a short boat ride from the shore. For a quieter day at the beach, take the ferry across Jog Creek to Anjarle. It’s the perfect place to laze after one of those hearty seafood thalis.
Murud is approx 150km/3.5hr by road from Mumbai.
Every year, between late June and early September, Kaas Plateau near Satara is carpeted with thousands of flowers: purple-hued Sita’s tears, bright green cobra lilies, and crimson lantern flowers. But these aren’t just pretty blooms—a number of the local species in Kaas are carnivorous flora, and have developed ingenious techniques to lure insects. Watching these predatory plants in action is a fascinating way to spend the weekend. Add to that, the monsoon views of the Western Ghats, and you have all the ingredients for a fine weekend away from the city. To really appreciate all that Kaas has to offer, visit with a naturalist and a magnifying glass. The town of Satara has decent hotels (nothing fancy) that are the perfect bases to explore Kaas. More here.
Kaas Plateau is 250km/5.5hr by road from Mumbai; trains from Mumbai to Satara take 7hr. From Satara, Kaas is 22km/40min by road.
Kamakshi Ayyar is a former member of NGT India's digital team. She is partial to places by the sea and desserts in all forms. When she isn't raving about food, she's usually rambling on about the latest cosmic mysteries. She tweets as @kamakshi138.