A couple of weeks ago, me and my entire family decided to go to Lonavala for the long weekend. Anyone living in Mumbai has gone to Lonavala atleast once in their lifetime because of its location. Easily accessible by road, colder weather compared to Mumbai, scenic views, general greenery and next to another hill station Khandala. Lonavala – Khandala were places where you could catch a break from city life, breathe in fresh mountain air and go back home relaxed. However in the last one and a half decades these two places, especially Lonavala have undergone massive changes which have ruined everything that made Lonavala famous in the first place. There are several reasons why this place which was blessed with lush green spaces and lakes has become just another city like Mumbai and Pune.
Ease of access – One can reach Lonavala in under 3 hours thanks to freeways. This is why this place is very popular among tourists on weekends. Lonavala is so popular during weekends and long weekends that it causes massive jams. Such is the traffic that it makes it to the local papers almost every month. Ease of access is a good thing. It keeps the economy of Lonavala – Khandala alive and flourishing. But it has lead to a huge number of tourists coming in, trashing and leaving the place. Too much of anything is bad and this is true for tourists as well. This phenomena is not new and unique. Dubrovnik in Croatia, National Parks in the US, Amsterdam and many more cities around the world, all suffering from “too many tourists”. This affects not just local residents but also impacts local economy too.
Trash and Garbage everywhere – This is a problem almost everywhere in India. But Lonavala is a prime contender for one of the most unclean tourist destinations in India. The city itself is clean though, but the trash I saw at the tourist points was unbelievable. Especially at Karla Caves, Tiger Point. It was filthy and these places have made it to my blacklist of never visit again. There is tourst trash everywhere on the roads – Disposed packets of water, food and plastic cutlery and tableware thrown out all around.
Unregulated attractions – Lonavala’s attractions were mostly natural. Places like Tiger Point, Lion Point, Duke’s Nose, Rajmachi, etc. Tiger Point was extremely saddening because it is infested with food stalls which serve you instant noodles, pakodas and what not and each stall makes their own sitting arrangements within the point itself. The moment you get out of your car you will be hounded by tens of waiters hounding you to with their menus which are all the same. If you agree to any one of them, they immediately shout to their chair and table guy to set up a table right next to the view point! The things you order are then served in disposable tableware which are dumped, you guessed it, over the cliff. On one hand, you have a breathtaking view of the ghats and the moment you look down, all you see is piles of trash. Did i mention there are free roaming cows too? This has to be one of the most abused tourist attractions i have ever seen in my life. This is true for pretty much all the other places too.
The same was true for Kalra Caves. The caves themselves are fantastic. But years of neglect and abusive tourism has eroded much of the history and turned it into a picnic spot. There is a temple there right in front of the caves now built in the last few years which was never there and blocks the entire view of the main caves. I asked a few locals and they said it was sanctioned by the local government. Applause for that.
The climb to the Kalra Caves deserves another mention. The entire climb is extremely unsafe. The steps are dangerous, railings have been removed either by the hundreds of shops that have come up on the stairs to fit their shops or have been destroyed by neglect. There are so many shops on both sides that you cannot get a view of the vista surrounding these caves at all for major parts of the climb. You get a few glimpses here and there when for some reason there is no shop! These shops sell food packets, bottled water and cooked food. All of which is fine except there is no place to dump these once done so its either dumped by tourists right there or over the cliff. Or right near the caves. Caves carved out between 2nd and 5th Century BC are being abused by tourists who don’t give a fuck about anything beyond ticking off places on their list, taking pictures and going back home and unregulated shops who don’t give a fuck about anything other than wanting to sell their wares.
Catering to demanding tourists – The typical Indian tourist wants food they eat everyday with a little bit of variety here and there (because they’re out on holiday), wants to shop for whatever is famous locally (even though its not made locally and its on their list of things to buy because someone told them its good) and doesn’t want to get out of their bubble and explore the place for what it is, understand the culture. Rather they want to make it a home for the time they are there. This is how demanding tourists force local hotels, restaurants and shops to stock things they normally would not or make things they never did. Hotels and Restaurants bend over backwards to cater to these tourists just because its their bread and butter. Fast food joints are everywhere. There is a sea of sameness everywhere. The only difference that exists now is that the typical tourist is in Lonavala and not Mumbai or Pune. That’s it. They’re eating the same things, they’re paying for the same things. They just paid for these things in a different city.
I could go on and on about all this but there are many articles on this already. This was a personal experience i decided to share. Never go to Lonavala during public holidays. Take some time out on a working weekday if you need to go there for a short vacation. Or better yet, find somewhere else to go because there is nothing to see here.