Mahabaleshwar is one of the most popular hill stations of western India, and at 1372 m, the highest of the region. Situated in the Sahyadri range of the Western Ghats, Mahabaleshwar is also blessed with spectacular views of the Krishna and Koyna valleys.
For centuries this has been known as a holy place. The Sahyadri range is the source of many rivers including the Krishna which, as a main river of the Deccan, is considered to be one of India’s seven sacred rivers. Near the old village, a 5-km (3-mile) walk from the main post office, several temples, some dating from the 13th century, have been built near the source of this river. The Mahabaleshwar Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, and from which the town has derived its name, and Atibaleshwar Temple (roughly meaning the ‘Great Powerful God’) are but two where worship still takes place.
The famous Maratha leader Shivaji visited the temples at the source of the Krishna in 1653 and later built Pratapgadh Fort on the nearby Par Ghat. The fort passed to British hands after the last Peshwa was defeated in 1818. Subsequently, the fort and the hill were handed over to Raja Pratap Singh of Satara, a descendant of Shivaji. Although Sir Charles Malet in 1791 was the first Briton to visit Mahabaleshwar, the development of this place did not take place until over 30 years later. Sir John Malcolm, the then Governor of Bombay, visited Mahabaleshwar in 1828 at the invitation of Rajah Pratap Singh, and took an immediate liking to the place. The Rajah had already started developing the hill, encouraged by successive British residents, and after Malcolm’s visit, the new station was named Malcolm Peth. The name lasted for several y ears. Malcolm had the first Government House built there, and this is still known as Mount Malcolm. In fact Mahabaleshwar became the summer seat of the Bombay Government mainly because of the interest Sir John showed. All attendant facilities like telegraph and roads were quickly built, and several bungalows with names like Lily Cottage and Barchester sprang up, as well as churches, a polo ground, racecourse (now converted to a golf-course), Mahabaleshwar Club and Bazaar.
Some of the building and development work was accomplished through convict labour. Soon after the sanatorium was completed, a jail was built to house some 120 Chinese and Malay convicts. These convicts were allowed to move with complete freedom, and in their spare time they introduced potatoes and other English vegetables, and were instrumental in developing the various gardens of the resort. The jail was abolished in 1864 and some of the prisoners were allowed sttay ono here. Oene of the several nearby waterfals istil known as Chinaman’s Waterfall.