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Magnificent Maharashtra
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Magnificent Maharashtra

Magnificent Maharashtra

Pride of India

Magnificent Maharashtra

A state that redefines india’s Magnificence

Maharashtra – Nation within a Nation is the third largest state in the country, both in terms of population and area. The state capital city of Mumbai, one of the largest and most vibrant cities in the world is also the financial and entertainment capital of the country. Maharashtra is one of the few regions in the world which offers multiple types of destinations for its tourists. It has long coastline of 720 kilometres along the lush green Konkan region. The Western Ghats and the Sahyadri mountain range offer hill stations and water reservoirs with semi-evergreen and deciduous forests. And, the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, with its dense forests, is home to several wild life sanctuaries and nature parks.
The state is also blessed with rich history, tradition and culture, which is evident through its world class ancient forts and monuments, ancient cave temples and pilgrimage centres. The state is the leader in the country with respect to foreign tourist arrivals (20.8%) into India and one of the leading states for domestic tourist visits (7.2%). There have been widespread, interrelated global developments and advancements, which have had a strong bearing on the Tourism sector in India (and in Maharashtra). These include, amongst others:
  1. Increased desire and financial mobility for travel of the middle classes (domestic and international)
  2. Steep-change increase in air access (airlines, airports and route development) in tandem to decreases in the cost of travel
  3. Growth in the quest of travellers for immersive experiences rich in cultural and natural exposure
  4. Path-breaking innovations in the field of Information Technology, including mobile usage, digital content creation and sharing 6 C/Rebecca/2016/Tourism Policy 2016 Final 4.5.2016
  5. More importantly, appreciation of the tourism economy amongst heads of state and policy makers and,
  6. Increasing tourism-related infrastructure investment
All of these together present a promising possibility of substantially increasing the Tourist attractiveness in the State, both, for International as well as Domestic tourists.
Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) has been established under the Companies Act, 1956, (fully owned by Govt. of Maharashtra) for systematic development of tourism on commercial lines, with an authorized share capital of Rs. 25 crore. The paid up share capital of the Corporation as on 31st March 2013 is Rs. 1538.88 lakhs.
The Corporation receives from the State Government financial assistance in the form of share capital and grants. The State Government has entrusted all commercial and promotional tourism activities to this Corporation.
MTDC has, since its inception, been involved in the development and maintenance of the various tourist locations of Maharashtra. MTDC owns and maintains resorts at all key tourist centres and having more resorts is on the plan.
Over the years, the tourism industry has witnessed steady growth and has become a crucial cog in the soci oeconomic progress of any country. Today, the sector offers far more diversified services than ever before, and it has become imperative to incorporate th ese services in the mainstream industry. As a consequence, these new and traditional tourism services are closely linked with the development of new destinations. Tourism has become one of the major sectors in international commerce, and represents, at the same time, one of the main income sources for many developing countries. Today, the sector contributes to 9% of the world GDP – through direct, indirect and induced impact and accounts for USD 1.6 trillion of world exports (6% of th e world exports). In addition, the tourism sector has the potential to generate high employment opportunities and at the same time, the spending of both domestic and foreign visitors produces a cascading effect of new money through the economy via the multiplier effect. The multiplier for Travel & Tourism is 3.2 that is for every dollar spent, 3.2 dollars are generated (including indirect and induced impacts). Travel & Tourism is one of the top two job creators with an average of 50 jobs generated per USD 1 million in sales. The beneficial economic impacts can be summarized as below:
  1. Generation of foreign exchange
  2. Creation of new job and employment opportunities
  3. Stimulation of trade, income and entrepreneurship – especially in the service sector and SMEs
  4. Provision of new infrastructure for non-tourism use
  5. Increased regional development – particularly in isolated areas
  6. Greater tax revenues permitting greater government spending – or reduced taxes on other activities
  7. Cascading of new money through a multiplier effect
Thus, keeping the global as well as local developments in perspective, the Government of Maharashtra understands the importance of the Tourism Sector and the opportunity it presents. The state has identified Tourism as a priority sector. Government of Maharashtra proposes to launch the New Maharashtra Tourism Policy which will replace the existing Tourism Policy of Maharashtra released in 2006. This policy will be a part the state’s over arching strategy to attract private sector investments in the tourism Sector. Further, this policy will help the state in creating a pro-growth, pro-environment and pro-jobs ecosystem in the state of Maharashtra.
Highlights of the 2016 Maharashtra Tourism Policy are as follows:
  1. Designate Tourism as a priority sector since it holds the potential to usher in economic development and generate high employment opportunities in Maharashtra – change—the policy will establish.
  2. Achieve sector growth of 10% per annum and share of 15% in GSDP through tourism and tourism related activities.
  3. Generate fresh investments in the tourism sector to the tune of INR 30,000 crore by 2025
  4. Create 1 million additional jobs in the tourism sector by 2025
  5. Incentivize tourism units in the state by linking it to the Package Scheme of Incentives, 2013 of Industries, Energy and Labour Department or any modifications thereafter. The incentives under this policy are designed as per the needs of the tourism sector in the state.
  6. Key strategic interventions are identified and special incentives for respective intervention have been laid out.
  7. Strengthening of tourism infrastructure especially in the form of PPP model, special tourism infrastructure Tourism Infrastructure development fund, CSR, etc. are defined in this policy.
The state has several tourist destinations including the popular Hindu places of pilgrimage, Pandharpur, Dehu and Alandi. Other places that attract pilgrims from other parts of India and beyond include Hazur Sahib Gurudwara at Nanded, and Sai Baba shrine at Shirdi. Maharashtra is the second most urbanised state in India, after Tamil Nadu, with large cities besides the capital Mumbai such as Pune, Nagpur, Nashik and Aurangabad.
Maharashtra is one of the wealthiest and the most developed states in India, contributing 25% of the country’s industrial output and 23.2% of its GDP (2010–11).
Let us explore the various places and attractions of Maharashtra at length.

Forts

On land and ocean, the strength of stone stands mighty over years. The Maratha heartland is fortified by over 350 forts – the largest number in any state in India. Here, the crimson-edged sword of the Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s gleams with the pride of a victorious warrior.
The once-proud bastions of army, today stand silent and dignified. Battered by the weather gods, often plundered, walls crumbling in sections and roofs blown away, yet the forts of Maharashtra exude power and inspire awe.
Maharashtra’s forts speak of vision and authority. Whether it’s the mountains that call out to you or the ocean, Maharashtra has a fort for all seasons.
Hills beckon
The Ajinkyatra Fort, Satara, stands tall at 3,300 feet, offering visitors a sprawling view of the city. The Daulatabad fort around Aurangabad dates backs to the 12th century hilltop fortress era. In the Harishchandragad fort famed for its height, remnants of Mesolithic man have been discovered. While the Lohagad and Visapur forts, are trekkers’ delights.
Mahabaleshwar offers views of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s famous . Shivneri the birth place of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s is sacred for his followers and one of the best maintained forts in Maharashtra today. While Raigad, the capital of the Marathas, has an enchantingly quaint but technically sound ropeway to pull you up to its taunt peak.
Fortresses of the seas
The Arnala islands around Vasai are sheltered by the Jaldurgs, as the sea forts are fondly referred to. Janjira the invincible fort near Murud sits majestic lashed by the churning ocean on all sides. Take a little boat and make a trip like the locals: bags full of fish, chickens in cane baskets and even motorcycles consider the ferry a daily ride home.
Maharashtra’s coastal splendor is magnified by Sindhudurg, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s ocean fort on a rocky island makes a lovely picnic spot as you imagine horses and armies marching forward. Built in the 12th century Vijaydurg fort was named Gibralter of the East by the British for its sheer invincibility.
Forts that built cities
Whether it’s the 500-year-old Ahmadnagar Fort or the Portuguese Bassein that had a European city within it, forts have built localities. And an old British fort, lent Mumbai’s fort district its name. Kandhar in Nanded District was the seat of power of the Rashtrakuta dynasty in the 9th century CE. Maharashtra’s many forts speak of supremacy, command and muscle combined with intellect. Visits that remind you of the legacy you have been passed on to use and preserve for future generations.

Caves

Deep, dark and mysterious — there is a secretive lure to ancient caves that eludes the brightness of sunbeams and radiates ancient history. Maharashtra, home to the largest number of caves in India, snuggles within its awe-inspiring Sahyadri Range caves of all sizes, shapes and hues. From ancient rock-cut ones to ones with intricate sculptures that have housed reigning deities since time immemorial, these caves are fascinating archeological legacies.
Walk into the aura of times forgotten, eras lost in the passage of rites of yore. Testimony to the fact that the land has always been benevolent to a variety of different religions, whose monks made these caves their homes and shrines.
The Elephanta caves, on an island 11 km from Mumbai, are proud to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site as also those of Ajanta and Ellora near Aurangabad which boast of the glorious architectural experiments for Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks and devotees. The creation of the World Heritage Monuments at Ajanta, started in 2nd century BCE and was completed only in the 5th – 6th century CE, tracing the entire journey of the evolution of Buddhist architecture.

 

The Kanheri caves, around the outskirts of Mumbai, hidden in the lush green hills, are considered to be very important to understand the development of Buddhism in Western India. The interesting sculptures of Yaksa figures on the walls of the Pitalkhora caves in Aurangabad also pay tribute to the master craftsmanship of legends.

 

 

The Bhaja and Karla caves date back to the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE too. Just like the Pandavleni caves near Shahada which were created for the Jaina monks and devotees. Today, the Maharashtra state government is in a continual process of preservation of these historic deep, dark rock –cut caves.

 

 

Adventure Sports

Maharashtra is blessed with tapering mountain ranges, raging rivers and deep oceans. What more does an outdoor adventurer need? Though the state is still in the germination phase for adventure sport, the authorities are spin-balling the procedures. For the adrenalin rush junkie, Maharashtra already has a bundle of joy.
Water babies: Tarkarli, the Konkan’s oceanic gem makes the postcard-perfect water sport capital of Maharashtra. Here, the state government is encouraging you to come discover the unique marine life under the pristine waters of the gentle Arabian Sea. Whether you are a first-timer or a professional, the Sindhudurg coast with its warm clear waters, is inviting. Try snorkeling or scuba diving with professional trainers for assistance. You will be mesmerized by corals, the wide Sargassum forest, the rockscape and the sheer colourful diversity of marine life. Apart from Tarkarli, Ganpatipule too offers a range of adventure marine sports from water-scooters to jet-skiing.
If it’s the rush of the rivers that beckon, you don’t need to go the Himalayas to raft. At Kolad, when the Bhira dam opens up each day, the serene Kundalika river transforms itself magically into full-blown river rapids. Apart from the breath-taking river-rafting here, companies also offer waterfall rappelling and trekking.
For the airborne: If you like to spread your wings and fly, Maharashtra’s hills and skies welcome you. The Sahyadri ridges such as Panchgani, Kamshet, Bhandardara and Chikhaldara make for perfect lift and landing sites – with panoramic views. There are trained professional fliers to your free flights to abandon.
If touching the skies seems too much, try parasailing. Here you are airborne with a balloon but leashed to a moving jeep. Parasailing is a common sport across most Konkan beaches. Come along, spark the adventure bug!

Beaches

Bordered by the Arabian Sea on its west, Maharashtra has as many beaches as the colours of the ocean. Here, the translucent waters of the Konkan gently lap onto pristine white sands. There, the azure blue-green of the Shreevardhan belt encourage the adventurous to plunge in. While Mumbai’s plush waters dictate real estate prices even as they turn an angry grey and lash the city with salt waves during the monsoon. The state’s 700 km stretch along the Arabian Sea, makes you experience love at first sight.
If you respect your peace but, need doses of energy, Vasai, Dahanu and Bordi are perfect weekend getaways. Lined with chickoo orchards and buzzing with the energy of coastal commerce. The Konkan which is picturesquely cradled between the Arabian Sea and the Sahyadri range, offers the best beaches. Harnai, for example, is calm yet busy with its famous loud fish auctions every evening.
If you wish to completely escape the chaos, Maharashtra’s beaches will soothe city-weary souls. Kihim, Marve and Madh are just an hour’s drive from big-city Mumbai but, they transform the landscape. Breathe in fresh, pollution-free oxygen. Take a de-stressing languid stroll amongst dense coconut trees on Vengurla’s fine white sands with cashew, jackfruit and mango orchards. Indulge in village banter over crisp, fried fish at Shivaji’s Sindhudurg or Murud-Janjira.
The adventurous could water-scooter or snorkel in the clear waters of Tarkarli to watch sea creatures. Or swim in the sandy, calm Velneshwar’s picturesque beach for hydro-therapy.
For those who find spirituality in the rhythmic movements of the ocean, Maharashtra offers pilgrim-centric beaches: lush green Ganapatipule and Shreevardhan’s divine presence.
If it’s glamour you desire, Mumbai’s beaches befit. The star-spangled sands of Juhu shimmer. The glitterati at Marine Drive make the Queen’s necklace come alive. Don’t miss the young buzz of Bandra taking in the cool ocean breeze.
Whether you enjoy bustling promenades or the serenity of secluded alcoves, Maharashtra has them all.

Heritage Site & Palaces

A nation is known by its history. To that extent, Maharashtra has some of the most well-preserved ancient heritage sites which continue to provide a link to the past. The caves at Ajanta and Ellora near Aurangabad, for example, are a striking reminder of an age of Buddhism at its peak. There are about 800 caves spread across various districts but of these the 32 caves at Ajanta stand out distinctively because of their architectural splendour, legacy, and artistic masterpieces. The caves include paintings and sculptures representative of Buddhist religious art with figures of the Buddha and depictions of the Jataka tales.
So is the case with the caves of Ellora which date back to the Rashtrakuta dynasty, about 1,500 years ago. The 34 caves are actually structures excavated out of the vertical face of the hills of Charanandri and you will find here evidence of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain ‘viharas’ and ‘mathas’ that tell the story of how social and economic order was often represented through religion. Elsewhere, there are as important heritage sites, including the huge crater at Lonar which is ranked among the world’s five largest craters and the third-largest salt water lake in the world.
But if it is a profusion of colour and natural beauty that you wish to see, head to the Kaas Plateau, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nestled in the Sahyadri range of mountains, this unique ecosystem bursts into a landscape of flowers during the monsoon season. And if its peace you seek, there can be nothing better than a visit to the Global Vipassana Pagoda near Gorai in Mumbai, which also has Asia’s tallest stone structure rising majestically against a background of the shimmering waters of the Arabian Sea.
And just off the city of Mumbai is the Elephanta Island, which is not only an island playing host to a bounty of nature in the form of lush plantations of palm, mango and tamarind trees but is also home to ancient cave temples carved out of rock. In fact, the heritage sites of Maharashtra will leave you spellbound and have you turning the pages of history tomes to know more.

The Deccan Odyssey

The Deccan Odyssey is a special luxury train based on the model of Palace on Wheels to boost tourism on the Maharashtra route of the Indian Railways. The route starts in Mumbai and travels to Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Goa, Kolhapur, Belgavi, Solapur, Nanded, Aurangabad, Ajanta-Ellora Nasik, Pune and then back to Mumbai.
It is a venture of the Maharashtra Government and the Ministry of Railways, Government of India. In addition to being a train that touches tourist spots, this aims to be a complete 5-star hotel on wheels, with two restaurants and a bar, a sauna, business center and other such amenities on board. The coaches fitted with special amenities were manufactured by the Integral Coach Factory in Chennai.
Deccan Odyssey comprises of 21 luxuriously appointed coaches. Out of these 21 coaches, 11 are to accommodate guests and the rest are used for different purposes such as dining, lounge, conference car and health spa. Inspired by the imperial carriages used by the Maharajas of the yore for traveling, each of the coaches of this luxury train is inspired from a different royal eras of Maharashtra ruled by diverse dynasties.
All the cabins of Deccan Odyssey are fully equipped with facilities like air-conditioning, internet connectivity and personalized guest amenities that make sure that your journey would be a comfortable and memorable one. Moreover, the multi-cuisine restaurant, well stocked bar, high-tech conference cart and a spa & massage cabin onboard add on the colors of merriment to your entire jaunt.
“In 2013-14, the Deccan Odyssey had seven trips and carried 264 passengers, while 2014-15 saw an increase to 16 trips with 422 passengers. In 2015/16, we will operate a total of 23 departures in the entire season, which ends in May this year. The passenger count has gone up by 40% compared to the previous year,” said an official from Cox and Kings.
In fact, the positive response to the train is such at present that the official said there is an increase of 30-40% in passenger flow every year and it is expected to maintain the tempo in the times to come. The ticket prices, which fluctuate along with the exchange rate of the rupee to the US dollar, have been steady for some time now and a cabin in the luxury train for an eight-day journey costs around Rs2.25 lakh.
The improved fortune of the Deccan Odyssey is a welcome change for the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation — which operates the train — at a time when legendary luxury trains such as the Palace on Wheels, run by the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation, are finding it tough to attract patrons. In fact, for the first time since it was launched in 1982, the Palace on Wheels had a trip cancelled, on March 30 this year, since not a single ticket was sold for the journey.
The Deccan Odyssey, a luxury train that belongs to the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC), has announced a special discount offer during the Diwali holidays later this year. However, the offer is limited to bookings done on or before June 15, 2016. According to MTDC officials, travellers get to stay for seven nights at the cost of a six-night stay, paying Rs 4, 60,037 per couple instead of Rs 5, 36,710 per couple.

Wildlife Sanctuaries Step Into The Wilder Beyond

Honestly, there is nothing to beat the sight of a tiger crossing the very path on which your jeep has been travelling. It can actually make your heart skip a few beats. And just as fascinating can be the sight of a bird high up in the branches, dazzling the surrounding landscape with its bountiful colours. Nature, which controls its flora and fauna, has in that sense been very favourable to Maharashtra, which has some of the largest wildlife sanctuaries located in ecological hotspots that attract both the researchers and tourists in huge numbers.Of these, the Melghat Tiger Reserve is one of the best known in the country. Located at the border of Maharahstra and Madhya Pradesh, you may not only come across the majestic tiger in this reserve but also a wide variety of other animals and birds, including the very elusive forest owlet. The giant flying squirrel is also a rare sighting here. Another interesting destination is the Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary which offers a perfect escape from the pressures of urban living. This is one place where the grasslands and wetlands come together and provide shelter for a wide range of floral and faunal species.
If it’s blackbucks that you want to see at close quarters, drive down to Rehekuri where a deciduous scrub forest lays out interesting exploration trails. The Radhanagari Sanctuary is yet another getaway that will fill you with the immense thrill of walking along a pathway in a dense forest while anticipating the sighting of wild animals in their natural habitat or absorbing the fantastic and myriad range of colours that the area’s flora has to offer. You could even see turtle hatchlings take their first baby steps out of their eggs and make a rather wobbly beeline towards the sea at Velas.
And if you think Mumbai is just an ever-buzzing congested sprawl, take a day off to explore the Sanjay Gandhi National Park which provides a window to the fascinating world of animals and birds. The park is home to 274 species of birds along with 42 kinds of mammals, of which the most renowned is the elusive leopard.

LAKES & WATER BODIES OF MAHARASHTRA

Given a choice, would you like to sit by a lake under a tree and watch birds going about their activities in the unruffled waters or would you prefer to stand under a gushing waterfall and feel the thundering water striking your body with force? Actually, you can do both. Maharashtra has an abundance of lakes and waterfalls (especially the ones that come alive during the monsoon) which can make your trip that much more exciting.
Like Bhandardara, close to Nashik. It’s a monsoon beauty. Packed with picnickers, the Randha Falls plunging into the valley are a huge attraction. The same goes for Malshej near Pune which also happens to be popular with trekkers. At an altitude of 625 meters, the twin hill-stations of Lonavala and Khandala have green valleys and spellbinding waterfalls.
Then there are the waterfalls at Thoseghar, just 20 kilometers from Satara. You will find here a series of amazing torrents cascading down the hill faces, one of which is about 500 meters in height. The best time to enjoy their full power is during heavy rains. There are other such waterfalls, all of which promise fun aplenty. Like the Chinaman’s Waterfall located in the Koyna Valley near Mahabaleshwar. Apparently it got its name from Chinese convicts who used to cultivate the fields surrounding these falls.
But if it’s just a bit of lazing around that you would like to indulge in, and perhaps enjoy a boat ride, visit any of the state’s 23 lakes. Thane, near Mumbai, is popularly known as the ‘City of Lakes’ with Talao Pali Lake and Upvan Lake being the most frequented. The Rankala Lake in Kolhapur, said to be the oldest in Maharashtra, has a ‘Padpath Udyan’ for a lakeside walk and is close to the Mahalaxmi Mandir. A favourite with both locals and tourists, it provides a true picnic ambience with a garden besides it and snack vendors selling local delicacies.
At Nashik is the Ramkund Lake and according to mythological tales, Lord Rama and Sita used to take bath in this lake during their exile. Then there are the other lakes such as Mulshi near Lonavala, Venna in Mahabaleshwar, Khindsey and Ambazari near Nagpur, Lonar in Buldhana district, Pashan in Pune, and Tansa, Tulsi, Vihar and Powai Mumbai which make for perfect getaways.

Museums

Let History Come Alive

Museums, some say, are for those who have a penchant for history. That is true to a certain extent but there also are museums which are delightful for the curiosity they generate and the way in which they offer a window to how people before our times lived. One such place is the Central Museum at Nagpur which is 150 years’ old. And what makes it a perfect tourist draw is the huge and priceless collection of memorabilia it holds.
Then there is the astounding collection of artefacts at the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum of Pune which is also remarkable for the fact that all the items were collected by just one person during his lifetime. The museum is delightful for its curios, ranging from beautifully embroidered textiles to sculptures and antique copper vessels to the swords of the Peshwas. At Kolhapur is the Town Hall Musuem which has relics of the Brahmapuri settlement and paintings and portraits of some of the best known artists of the country.
Have you ever visited a museum of money? If not, go to the RBI Monetary Museum in Mumbai which offers an informative peep into the evolvement of currency right from the days when emperors used gold coins to our era of plastic money. And when in Mumbai, include a visit to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum. It has a representative collection of various forms of art from India, China, Japan and some European countries along with a collection of natural history specimens.
At Aurangabad, the Department of History and Ancient Indian Culture of the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University has set up a unique museum that has a collection of miniature paintings, sculptures, texts, coins, weaponry, pottery, textiles, etc. which, put together, take you on a journey of India’s rich and diverse past. And of course there are many smaller museums too across the state, as for example the one on Parvati Hill in Pune which has swords, pistols and utility items from the time of the Peshwas. Fascinating indeed!

Temples of Maharashtra

Maharashtra is a land of temples. Whether it’s the torrential waterfalls at Bhimashankar or hot water springs at Trimbakeshwar, it’s all in the name of god.
Of the 12 jyotirlingas in India, Maharashtra boasts five: At Aundhya Nagnath, Parali Vaijnath, Bhimashankar, Trimbakeswar and Grishneshwar. God prevails across the state. At Solapur, seas of people join the palkhi procession, some barefoot, others with no possessions. They come, from various routes, all heading to the home of the supreme god of the universe, Pandharpur’s Vithoba. This gigantic temple dates back to the 13th century. Here, the banks of the river are flooded with faith in the incarnation of lord Shiva and Vishnu – they too ensure that caste and class are no barrier.
In Ahmednagar, the black stone god of Shani Shignapur protects his village. No homes have locked doors or windows; there is no reported crime. Apart from the resident god Shaneshwar, goddess Laxmibai, god Dattatraya, Ganesha, Shankar, Vishnu and Vitthoba in his Pundalika temple, all guard this land.
Around Pune, the much-loved remover of obstacles, Ganesh, manifests himself in eight natural stones within 20 to 110 km of each other. Devotees take tours or state government transport buses between Pune and the Ashta Vinayak temples.
In Mumbai, spirituality enshrines commerce. The Mahalakshmi temple is devoted to the goddess of wealth. At the famed Siddhivinayak temple too, the black stone Ganesha with his trunk turning right in the sanctum, is known to be over 200 years old. Tuesdays see thousands of devotees walking in barefoot. From old stalwarts to every new-comer, this gorgeously carved temple, has blessed most celebrities.
In Mumbai, spirituality enshrines commerce. The Mahalakshmi temple is devoted to the goddess of wealth. At the famed Siddhivinayak temple too, the black stone Ganesha with his trunck turning right in the sanctum, is known to be over 200 years old. Tuesdays see thousands of devotees walking in barefoot. From old stalwarts to every new-comer, this gorgeously carved temple, has blessed most celebrities.
Finally, there is Kolhapur – dotted with religiosity. At Mahalakshmi or Amba Bai temple royalty drops in to seek blessings of various deities. Construction apparently started in the seventh century, around this idol weighing 40 kilos. There is much more spirituality to Kolhapur. The Narasobachi Wadi, at the confluence of Krishna and Panchaganga rivers, is revered for Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh’s incarnation’s holy slippers. Ramteerth, graced by the river, a coffee plantation and orchards, houses ancient temples. Mythology states that Rama lived here during vanvaas (exile); today, picnickers frolic around. Seventeen km north-west, at 3,100 feet, Jyotiba is cocooned in the mountains near Kolhapur. Supposedly another incarnation of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, Jyotiba sees much festivity during full-moon nights.

Hill Stations

The Western Ghats, blessed by the altitude of the Sahyadri Ranges, envelop little sleepy hollows. These petite hill-stations, popularised by the British Raj to beat the Indian heat, are jewels in the hills. In the mornings, sunbeams play hide-and-seek through the rolling dawn mist. By afternoon, they are still cool thanks to their height. As evening falls, they bundle up in blankets of fog, toasty aromas wafting from local pots.
From north to south, the Western Ghats rise steep. Some ranges dip straight into the Arabian Sea, while others meander around, jumping over waterfalls and lakes. Each of the major cities in Maharashtra has the bounty of a hill-station within a few hours’ driving distance. So rich and varied is the state’s topography that each of these homes in the hills is unique. Let no cynic tell you that two hill-stations are similar; each have their characteristic charm, charisma and allure

Pride of Maharashtra

Maharashtra has been rated on top in terms of tourism potential by a recent survey compiled by World Travel and Tourism Council. The ranking has been done by assessing the relative competitiveness of over 30 states in India. Maharashtra has moved up one position from the previous edition of the survey done last in 2013.
In comparison, national capital Delhi — which topped last time’s rating — stood second on the list. Similarly, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu won the third, fourth and fifth place respectively.
According to the Tourism Highlights 2015 Edition report by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the total number of International Tourist Arrivals (ITA) worldwide was 1,133 million in 2014, India attracted 0.67 per cent of the world’s international tourist arrivals out of which Maharashtra attracted 4.5 million tourists from foreign countries and over 8.4 million domestic tourists, which is largest than any other state in the country.
The ranking was highly dependent on a strong economy, good infrastructure, presence of a sizeable quantum of branded hotel rooms and a variety of demand generators to occupy these rooms. “In line with these factors, Maharashtra has recorded perfect scores in four parameters – tourist visits, GSDP per capita, effectiveness of marketing campaign and aircraft movement. The state has performed well across all other parameters with the exception of its expenditure on tourism,” said an official from state tourism department.
India’s travel and tourism economy is poised to grow 7.5 per cent in 2015 over last year, exceeding the 6.9 per cent growth that the global forum has predicted for the South Asian region. By the end of 2015, the travel and tourism sector will contribute Rs8.22 trillion or 7 per cent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 37.4 million jobs — almost 9per cent of total employment, the report said. In comparison during the year 2014, the industry contributed Rs7.64 trillion and 36.7 million jobs to the Indian economy.
The Maharashtra Government is also looking into a proposal to convert sections of select forts into heritage hotels and also make forts available as “exclusive wedding destinations”.
The proposal is part of the state government’s ‘Consultation Paper on Tourism Policy- 2016’ which among other things plans to exploit the tourism potential of over 350 forts that dot the state.
The draft tourism policy, open for stakeholders’ suggestions before final cabinet approval, aims at developing a strategy for creating one million jobs and attracting investments of Rs 30,000 crore in five years.
However, the idea has not gone down well with environmentalists, historians and conservationists. The major concern is that this will lead to commercial exploitation of forts which in turn will lead to ecological imbalance of the area around the fort. Majority of these forts are situated in and around forest areas and making forts available as wedding destination means loud music, crowd, chaos, party which will not only disrupt the wildlife, but also create nuisance. So many other rules under Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) have to be followed for forts which are surrounded by water bodies. The idea of handing over these citadels to private entities to revamp and convert into a heritage hotel is not good for the structure. As it is, the forts in Maharashtra are not conserved the way they should have been.
In nutshell, the state of Maharashtra is an ideal place for leisure tourists. There are a number of exotic destinations in the state many of which are situated in serene and peaceful environments, offering travellers the perfect ambience to relax and unwind.
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