Maharashtra has endless options for sightseeing. Its ancient history goes back more than 2000 years. A profusion of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain rock-cut monuments, some dating back to 200 BC, lie strewn across the state. The finest of these cave temples and monasteries, are located near Aurangabad about 400 km east of Mumbai. This bustling commercial city, named after the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, is the ideal base for a visit to the celebrated World Heritage cave sites at Ajanta and Ellora. Buddhist monks carved out the 30 caves at Ajanta between 200 BC and 650 AD and decorated them with the most wonderful frescoes and sculptures.
Even more remarkable, in terms of architectural excellence and sculptural detail, are the 34 Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monolithic temples at Ellora, made between 350 AD and 1000 AD. The temples are one of the best places to visit in Maharashtra. The temples come alive during the Ellora Festival, held in March each year, when they form a splendid backdrop for classical dance and music performances by leading artistes.
The landscape of western Maharashtra is punctuated with hilltop forts, a legacy of the vital trade routes that lay in the region and moulded its political history. This was the land of the legendary Maratha hero, Shivaji, who forged the local forces into a strong regional power to challenge the Mughals in the 17th century. Pune, the seat of power of the Marathas, is now a thriving industrial centre, academic and cultural centre and the second largest city in the state. It is also known internationally as the home city of the Osho Commune founded by the new-age guru, Bhagwan Rajneesh.
Visit Mumbai, the state capital, and a bustling cosmopolitan city which is the financial and commercial nerve centre of the country. Part of the Portuguese colonial possessions in India, it was a mosquito infested island given to Charles II of England as dowry upon his marriage to Catharine of Braganza in 1661. From those dubious beginnings, it developed into a thriving centre of economic and industrial activity.
The Sahayadri Range, which runs parallel to the coast, is dotted with hill stations presenting a wide choice of places for a cool retreat to beat the summer heat and humidity - Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani, Matheran (100 km from Mumbai), Lonavala, Khandala and several others. Amongst other places to see in Maharashtra are the beach destinations. If you prefer the sea and sand, the state has a number of beaches in the Konkan region – Murud-Janjira, Malvan, Ganapatipule and Kashid being the least frequented and relatively unspoilt. Some of these places have recently been developed as holiday resort complexes.
Maharashtra extends east right to the heart of the subcontinent, known as its Vidarbha region. The biggest city here is Nagpur, famous as the ‘orange capital’ of India, for its bountiful production of this citrus fruit. 75 km southwest of Nagpur is Mahatma Gandhi’s Ashram at Sevagram (‘The Village of Service’), set up in 1933, which later became the pivot of the Indian Independence movement.
About 195 kms northeast of Mumbai, on the banks of the Godavari River, is the pilgrim city Nashik. The riverbank here is lined with bathing ghats and temples. The city becomes a seething mass of humanity during the Kumbh Mela (held every 12 years), when upto four million devout Hindus come here for a holy dip.