Ekvīrā Mātā (Kārla Caves, Lonāvla)

Location: ~110kms from Mumbai (map).

Timings: Since the temple is located on hill, visiting during day is preferable.

Kṣhetra Purāṇam: This temple was constructed by the Pāṇḍavās during their Araṇyavāsam. Once when Pāṇḍavās visited this holy place, Ekvīrā Mātā appeared before them. She instructed them to build a temple for her. To test the kārya dīkṣha of the Pāṇḍavās, the Goddess laid a condition that the construction must be done overnight. The great Pāṇḍavās then indeed built this beautiful temple in one night. Impressed by the bhakti of Pāṇḍavās the Goddess blessed them and granted the boon that they will not be discovered by anybody during their ajñātavāsam. The Goddess is an avatār of Goddess Reṇukā Devi.

About the Temple: The temple is located on a hill. One needs to ascend around 500 steps to reach the temple. The temple is surrounded by ancient caves known by the name Kārla caves, which are now protected by the Archeological dept. While the main deity is Ekvīrā Mātā, to her left is Jogeśvarī Devi. One gets a excellent view of the surrounding from the hill top. Half way down the hill, there is a temple for the holy feet of the Goddess (shown in the picture on left).

Chakreśvar Mahādev Mandir (Nalasopara, Thane)

Location: ~70kms from Mumbai (map).

Timings: All Day.

About the Temple: This is a very ancient shrine of Lord Śiva. The era of construction is not clearly known. However this is a siddha pradeśa, where many great sages attained mokṣha by serving the Lord.The temple was attacked by invaders and many of the idols were thrown into the near-by Chakreśvar Talao (lake). Many such old and rare idols were recovered later and put up in the current temple structure. The present structure is relatively new and small. This is the holy place where Svāmi Samarth performed dhyānam, pratiṣhṭha of a Rām Mandir near-by and blessed a śiṣhya who undertook a sajīva samādhi at this very place.

This place is so holy that even normal people (some of whom are alive now) were able to see the baba riding on a horse (in the left picture), who resembles Lord Śiva.

Near-by Temples: Chandika Devi Mandir, Tungareshwar Mandadev Mandir.

Chaṇḍikā Devī Mandir (Naigaon, Thane)

Location: ~55 kms from Mumbai (map).

Timing: All day.

Kṣhetra Purāṇam: This is the divya kṣhetram where Goddess Mangala Chaṇḍikā, after slaying the Sumbha and Nisumbha rākṣhasas, came here in her ugra rūpam. The Goddess here appears in three forms: Mangala Chaṇḍikā, Mahiṣhāsura Mardini and Kālikā Devi. After being pacified here, the Goddess went to Nāśik and appeared as Saptaśṛuṅgi devi.

About the Temple: Though the Goddesses here are svayambhu, the temple structures are renovated and are fairly new. The three Goddesses appear on a rock of a hill inside a cave. One needs to ascend around 200 steps in order to reach this cave temple. It is very interesting that the honey bees here, many times, naturally construct their honey combs in the form of Śiva liṅga (see picture on left). Perhaps even the bees know that the place is sacred!

Near by Temples: Tungareśvar Mahādev Mandir (11kms;map), Chakresvar Mandir (20kms;map).

Jogeśvarī Mandir (Jogeshwari, Mumbai)

Location: In Jogeshwari, Mumbai (map).

Timing: All day.

About the Temple: This is a very ancient cave temple from the times unknown. The modern historians consider it to be one of the first cave temples in India. The main deity here is Jogeśvarī Devi. The cave temple is so ancient that the near by area itself is known by the name Jogeshwari. There are also temples of Jogeśvar Mahadev (Lord Shiva), Gaṇeśh, Hanumān and Dattātreya.

The cave temple has excellent carvings and the style of sculpture is very close to that in Elephanta caves. Infact, the Dvarapālakas in both the temples look exactly the same.

Presently the caves are in a very poor condition with illegal encroachments and seepage from them into the temple premises. This is the state of affairs even after the temple is declared as protected monuments by Archeology department. We are fortunate that even till date regular pūjas are performed to the Devi and Devatas here.

Other Links: Wikipedia link1, an excellent article on current state of caves link2.

Durgā Devī Mandir (Durgaḍi Fort, Kalyaṇ)

Location: At Kalyan, ~50km from Mumbai (map)

Timings: All day.

About the Temple: This Durga temple is from the times of Chatrapati Śivāji. The temple is on top of a hillock surrounded by a fort, called as Durgaḍi fort. The original idol was stolen and is now replaced with a new one. The temple and the surroundings also have been renovated. Unfortunately, this temple went through many controversies and sometimes even had to withstand unethical and biased enforcements  by the police and the government. For details please refer: link1, link2. We are fortunate to witness this ancient monument atleast in the current state, with regular poojas being performed to the Devi.

Other Links: More pictures of Dugadi Fort.