Crater calls!

I had been planning on a weekend outing for quite sometime. This translated into endless hours of browsing for all the places that could be scaled in a weekend from Mumbai. Between those doable and next time kind of treks, managed to find this nugget called Lonar. The more I read about it the more my enthusiasm grew for the place. The only basalt meteorite site in the world, green waters, alkaline PH and amazing crater etc are just words on paper that fall short of describing what the place looks like during dusk.

I realized that Lonar is a 3 hour ride from Aurangabad. The economist in me got thinking of getting the best out of this trip by chipping in a few places from Aurangabad. So I drafted a trip containing a couple of must visit places of the city.

The initial draft

The Itinerary (1 Day, covers Ellora, Bibi ka Maqbara, Lonar Lake)

Mumbai Friday Night Train Dadar: Devagiri Express 9:22 PM
Reached Saturday Aurangabad : 5:00AM
Fresh up and Rent a Taxi for the day : 5 - 6:45AM
Reach Ellora and quick Breakfast (Poha & Upma): 7:30AM
Tour the caves: 7:30–10:00AM
Reach Bibi ka Maqbara: 10:40AM
Leave the Maqbara for Lonar: 11:10AM
Reach Lonar: 2:30 PM
Lunch and Table Talk: 2:30PM -3:45PM
Descend and spend time at crater: 4PM- 6PM.
Leave for Partur to catch 8:50PM Devagiri train.

Trip estimate

Train cost ₹ 1140
Food and refreshments: ₹ 600
Car rent : ₹ 3500 (among 3 people) ₹ 1200 per person
Other cost (Guide Lonar, entry fee) : ₹ 333 per person
Total ₹ 3300

Trip estimate “the broke way”

Train cost : ₹ 540 Booked in advance (Sleeper class)
Food and refreshments: ₹ 600
Car rent : ₹ 900 per person (Group of 4)
Other cost: ₹ 300 per person 
Total ₹ 2400

Note : You can bargain a little more with the taxi guy, if you tell him you would want to be dropped return to Aurangabad instead of Partur. Since Partur was an hour away from Lonar I chose it rather than enduring the 3 hour ride back to Aurangabad. Devanagiri express goes through both towns.

Contact numbers

Syed Mahmood Ali : 9623416421 for private cars. By far he was upfront about the cost and was the most cheapest option.

Raju (Lonar Guide): 7798516844 , A humble chap could be contacted directly.

Trips and Tips

  • Ellora opens early on sunrise ~7am, unlike what Google suggests( 9Am) so getting there early means you can absorb more of the caves.
  • If you are short on time in Ellora, make sure you don’t miss #10,#11,#12,#15,#16,#21,#29,#32.
  • If you are a non vegetarian, there is a unique dish made of a meat “that shall not be named”. Good food places are a rarity en-route Lonar so either find something good to eat in Aurangabad or settle for the unreliable MTDC hotel. We had to settle eating for a sub standard place near MTDC as it wasn’t serving lunch on the particular day.
  • Bibi ka Maqbara’s history remains unclear as a lot of articles suggest it was erected by Aurangzeb for his wife, whereas the ASI block near the monument suggests it was made by Azam Shah in the memory of his mother.
  • If you are comfortable with just visiting Lonar, you could take bus to Sultanpur and then there are cheaper modes of commute from there to Lonar as suggested by a local.
  • Take a few moments to sit inside the temple next to Lonar Lake in case you land there in summer, its surprisingly cooler than the periphery.
  • There is a “forest officer” and guides who roam around the crater, try skipping forest officer and directly go to the guide to skip his unnecessary commission.
  • There is a tiny cylindrical well a few yards into the lake that acts as a store for sweet water whereas the rest of the lake is salty.
  • Unlike the online articles which suggest lake of life form in the lake, there are a few bamboo like shoots which grow in the lake during monsoon when water fills up, but don’t survive for long.
  • Carry some turmeric powder and an empty bottle if you want to see some colour effects of the alkaline water in Lonar.
  • The descend from the top to the lake is about 100m and the terrain is bad so avoid visiting during monsoon.

Ellora was interesting despite the centipede infested walls. Some of the carvings in the buddhist caves are so intricate and clandestine one may easily stop short of noticing them, especially the ones at the top. We ended up spending around 2 hours exploring, climbing and snapping the scenery in and around the caves. I think large part of the awe about this place is due to monstrous effort and skill needed to execute these single stone carvings.

Bibi ka Maqbara is a beautiful monument at the heart of the city. Ata Ullah who designed the Taj manage to mirror it in a remarkable way. In fact if you’ve been to Taj Mahal, you’d find remarkable similarities, right from the design of the two monuments to the pillars set at an angle for optical conformity. Sadly though the structure holding the tomb is wearing out and is ill maintained, I hope they give it the attention that this masterpiece deserves.

Lonar just feels like a different place altogether. The forest cover leading up to the lake is a habitat for peacocks, rabbit and panther, although Panthers are extremely rare according to the guide. The lake has this vintage green color that scales in magnificence as you go closer. The locals believe bathing in the lake gets rid of skin diseases. There is an elevated viewpoint at the path leading to the foot of the crater which makes for an awesome pedestal to scan the horizon.

1 day, 3 places, 3 distinct landscapes; If you have a day to spare and are looking to head out for pocket friendly places around Mumbai, bump this place right up your bucket list. Below are a few cool snaps we captured.

Lonar Lake “The cake”
Bibi Ka Maqbara “The icing”
Ellora “The cherry on top”
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