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Kolhapur is iconic in many ways - an ancient city which traded with the Romans, the erstwhile capital of the powerful Maratha Empire, the land of spicy Kolhapuri food and iconic Kolhapuri chappals, the abode of goddess Ambabai at Mahalaxmi Temple, and above all its home to some very warm people who go out of their way to help. Here's a detailed travel guide to places to visit in Kolhapur. The guide is based on my personal experiences, but I have also included recommendations from friends from Kolhapur, especially on Kolhapuri food :)
The first time I even considered travelling to Kolhapur was when I was still finishing my design education. My classmate and close friend, Kiran, was from a small town close to Kolhapur and he was the first person who told me anything about the place. It's funny to look back now, but back then Maharashtra seemed far (though it was the neighbouring state to Gujarat where I studied) and Kolhapur seemed like a hot, old (interesting), dusty town with very spicy somewhere far away and visited only by the pilgrims. Ah, and who can miss the rather famous Kolhapuri chappals - though back then I had no clue what these actually were.
Anyway long story short, recently when I had a long weekend at hand, I finally decided to make my much delayed trip to Kolhapur. Most of my incorrect pre-conceived notions about the city were cleared already, and I was actually looking forward to it. I pinged a few friends from the city, got some must-visit recommendations (only two were common - Mahalaxmi Temple and Kushti Taleem), booked a hotel room on MakeMyTrip, and I was all set to go! Choosing to travel by the local bus, I caught one from near the Railway Station, and my journey started at 5.30am. Being a ST (State Transport) bus, it stopped everywhere and the journey was rather slow, but I absolutely enjoyed the ride.
I reached Kolhapur just before noon and started my city expiration almost right away. Over the next two days I traveled a lot within the city, often on foot, as well as a little outside as well. The morning and evenings were pleasant and days hot, quite similar to the weather in Pune. But I kept on.
So here are the top experiences I recommend in and arund Kolhapur. It's a mix of everything - culture, food, faith and more. Do let me know if I missed out on any, I will make sure I will experience it next time!
Mahalaxmi is Kolhapur's most visited site for hundreds of years and even today this is what brings most tourists to the city.
I am not religious but very intrigued by places of worship, so a visit to Kolhapur would be completely incomplete without spending sometime at the iconic Mahalakshmi temple. In fact I picked my hotel right next to the temple and this allowed to me even go there early morning when it was not crowded and really peaceful.
Timing: Starts with first aarti is around 4 am and it's open till late night
Built between 1877-1884, the New Palace is a stunning example of the royal architecture of the time. Even today it's a residence to Chhatrapati Shahu, Shivaji's direct descendent.
However a part of the palace is open and accessible to visitors. It's almost like a living museum, giving a sneak peek into the lives of kings back in the days.
Timing: 9.15am to 5.30pm
Fee: Adults: Rs 30, Foreigners: Rs 80
The old palace is where the Maratha royalty resided before the construction of the New Palace. Once the royal family moved to their new home, they generously converted the old palace into a Center of education and the Rajaram College was established there.
It's right next to the old entrance to the city, and access is restricted as it's a college now. However, I managed to convince the guard and made my way inside and even took some pics. Though not as large as the New Palace, it's still a beautiful place.
Timing: College hours
Bhavani Mandap might look like an old and grand entrance to the old city, but it's importance is much more than that. It's believed that it's the home of Tulija Bhavani who is a guest to her elder sister Mahalaxmi, who lives in the nearby Mahalaxmi temple.
In my opinion and space between Bhavani Mandap and Mahalaxmi gives something to Kolhapur which most others cities don't have - a city square. It's a place where locals and visitors meet, greet, and enjoy the evening hours. Many local families with kids come here everyday and just enjoy. The Mandap usually lit up late in the evening and makes for some great shots too!
Timing: open through the day
A visit to a new city is incomplete without some shopping, right? Being such an old an heritage city, there is lots to buy there, but there are a few distinct things which are found only in Kolhapur.
Kolhapuri Chappal - these leather chappals originated here and even today are only made here. Options for both men and women are available.
Saaj - a saaj is a small necklace with a pendant, often ruby.
Sarees - another must buy for women are the Kolhapuri sarees. From regular to the 9 feet long ones, there is something for all!
My friend Amit suggested a few places for shopping - Mahadwar Road in front of the Ambabai temple is famous for street shopping especially. For jewelery, try out Gujarai Peth and for chappal, visit the Chappal lane near Shivaji Chowk.
Timing: Each market has different hours, though typically from 10 am to 8 pm
Fee: No fee to visit the markets
Built by Charles Mant in the 19th Century, Town Hall was recently renovated and is now open to public as a museum.
It's a small and beautiful building and the museum gives some really interesting insights on ancient trade, and how Kolhapur used to be a part of it.
Timing: 10.30am to 5.30pm
Once a friend told me that Kolhapur is like Punjab of Maharashtra and food is one thing where it's clearly seen. It's often very spicy (not so good for me) and the most popular dishes are non-vegetarian, however you can still survive even if you don't eat any of the above, like I did.
However, if you do enjoy non-vegetarian food, try Tambda & Pandhara Rassa and for veg try the Kolhapuri bhel, vada-pav and Misal-Pav (very spicy).
Kolhapuris are very particular about their food, so I actually asked my friend Shilpa Avate, who grew up in the city and loves it to the core. She in turn asked some of her local friends and here are some of their Kolhapuri food recommendations :)
By the way, in Kolhapur they often say that it's the non-vegetarian food that's special and so special places are recommended for that. For vegetarian food, you can simply go to any vegetarian hotel :)
Though Rankala lake has some religious significance and there is a Shiv temple on its banks, it's actually more well known today for food. During the evening food stalls come up everywhere and the area is called Chowpatty, just like the one in Mumbai.
Lots of tasty (and often veg) food options are available to try from. Don't miss out on this typical Kolhapuri experience.
Timing: Evening, post sunset it's most alive
Jyotiba temple is dedicated to Jyotiba, who is believed to be the reincarnation of the trinity of Hindu gods - Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. Two major festivals also takes place here on the full moon nights of Chaitra and Vaishkha months.
Located at a distance of about 21 kilometres, it takes about 45 minutes in your own car. Regular buses also take pilgrims to the temple and back, especially during the festivals.
Kolhapur is known as the centre of Kushti pehalwani in Maharashtra and has numerous akharas, or Taleem as is called in Maharashtra, across the city. You can easily visit Motibaag Akhara close to the Mahalaxmi temple for photography or simply to interact with the wrestlers - they are all very friendly and welcoming.
Timing: Early morning (6am) or afternoon (4pm)
Located at a distance of about 18 km from the city, Panhala is the smallest city in Maharashtra and is a beautiful half day trip from Kolhapur.
The main attraction here is the Panhala fort and water tank. It's the only fort where Shivaji spent more than 50 years in his adult years.
Kaneri Math is a popular open museum located close to Kolhapur, and is known as Siddhagiri Gramjivan museum. The museum captures the life of local population, including farmers, artisans, barbers and so on.
I skipped visiting the museum due to limited time but I have been told by many that I missed out on something special. Maybe next time I am there, I will make a trip to Kaneri Math as well :)
Lord Dattatreya purna avatar (complete reincarnation) is known as 'Shri Narasimha Saraswati' and that's why the town is known as Narsobawadi. It's a significant pilgrimage centre for the follwoers of Lord Dattatreya, especially during the festival season.
It's a very simple and humble temple right next to river Krishna. The devotees cleanse themselves at the ghat and then come visit the temple. It's also very close to Kopeshwar temple in Khidrapur.
Timings: Sunrise to sunset
Located on the banks of Krishna river and right on the border of Maharashtra and Karnataka, Kopeshwar temple at Khidrapur are a beautiful reminder of what our ancestors left back for us as cultural, religious and architectural heritage. I made a completely unplanned visit to the temple and came back impressed and inspired.
It's about 2 hours from Kolhapur and 5 hours from Pune by road.
Timing: Sunrise to sunset
Kolhapur is very well connected with all cities of Maharashtra and neighbouring states by government State Transport buses. It is also well connected by private transporters, like Neeta and Mohan. I haven't always had good experiences with Neeta (read more), but it's always not so bad. I travelled using the local bus and it was just fine as well, except that it stopped everywhere and took really long to reach.
Kolhapur also has an active railway station and you can easily come here in trains as well.
When you are in Kolhapur, travelling within the city is fairly easy. It's not a large town but still you need to use local transportation. I used Ola cabs most of the time, simply for it's convenience and affordable rates. I had no idea how to negotiate with the auto-rickshaw guys, so didn't use them at all. However, that might be the cheapest mode of transport.
I also used local bus to commute within the city and it was fairly decent and predictably extremely affordable. Make sure you check with someone before you take the bus.