With the number of mobile apps coming up for hiring taxis, booking hotels and planning your perfect holidays, the only thing you have got to think about is your definition of “vacation”. And the idea behind that particular trip: is it a romantic getaway or a group of friends wanting adventure? Solo travel or the desire to spend quality time with family? OR is it just another place to finish that booze hidden in your closet?
Fortunately for you, Mahabaleshwar covers it all! Landscapes, temples, fruit parks and umpteen number of resorts welcome you to this hill station, which brings with it hill station no. 2 which is just 20 minutes away! Yes that’s right. Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar are twins: inseparable yet possessing idiosyncratic traits.
Hire a cab from Mumbai/Pune using makemytrip/savaari.com. Both websites have a range of cars for outstation travel and experienced drivers who will act as tour guides as well. Although a couple of other websites were also available, I found these 2 as the cheapest options. The journey from Mumbai is approximately 5-7 hours depending upon your appetite for in transit McDonalds stop points. To be on the safe side leaving around 6-7am is a good idea. Once you reach the hills, Panchgani (hillstation no.2) comes first (Twins I tell you, always fighting :p). Anyway so if you’re travelling with kids the first pit stop is Sherbaugh, a water park in a botanical garden setup. If you’re an adult who loves rain and plants, this one’s for you! But be prepared for giving this an hour or two. I was short on time and travelling with parents so decided to give this a kip.
What came next, LITERALLY made my day. The beautiful view of the Krishna River and the Dhom Dham ( never thought the site of a dam would be appealing) from what they call Sydney Point makes you wonder how much beauty India has: in corners and in hidden valleys, in empty spaces and open minds J Before I give this a philosophical touch, I should not forget the mouthwatering jamun ice cream a local vendor was selling at this point. Jamun is the Indian blackberry fruit, though purple in colour :O The fruit gets your hands purple but the ice cream was ofcourse a better deal 😀
Next up, was Table Land, one of the longest mountain plateaus in the country! It’s a good way to burn those calories you just took in with that icecream! A long walk, a great view, a restaurant inside the caves, some gorgeous looking horses, some naughty monkeys, fresh sugarcane and some flavoured ice juices are the tangibles of this place. The intangibles include emptiness, openness and heart breaking beauty! What it checks off from your bucket list is a trip to a mountain plateau where a lot of, and I mean, A LOT OF movies have been shot!
The next hopping point is Parsi Point: its really the same view as Sydney Point, except slightly zoomed so wouldn’t recommend a long stop except for photography on a moving bridge overlooking the Krishna River!
The next stop is probably the most crowded and the longest one! Mapro Park has the tastiest strawberry cream made from home grown strawberries. So what I haven’t mentioned before is that as we’re moving forward towards Mahabaleshwar which is the land of strawberries, you will find plenty street vendors catering to your demand for this pinkie 😉 however, wait till you reach Mapro. Although they offer fresh mango cream, brownies and some amazing grilled cheese sandwiches, their most selling product is the fresh strawberry cream with icecream. I don’t need to spell out the ingredients for this one coz that’s pretty much clear from the name but I have to say it’s one of those things you HAVE to hog on, no matter what your excuse is to ignore those few extra pounds! Fresh fruit jams and juices are also available off the counter. Mala’s Jam is another famous brand if you’re looking at purchasing these lovelies!
You’ve finally reached Mahabaleshwar. Look around and ensure you know your home for the night, so you can move forward for boating! I picked a cottage with a forest view in the Saj Resort. Although we were just three people, the cottage was good enough for a couple travelling with 2 kids since it had 2 rooms and a forest view balcony with a swing! A typical resort with 2 restaurants (I loved the Chinese one), buffet breakfast, swimming pool and wifi ; the distinguishing factor was a toddler room for couples travelling with smallies!
So back to the road, the next stop is a boat ride in Venna Lake. The water here, changes colours from sea green to dark blue to silver depending on how far you are in the lake, what you’ve left behind and what lies further J The water is cold, deep and sweet (its drinkable REALLY, I tasted it ) 😀
The last stop for the day was Sunset Point/Bombay Point, which was crowded with tourists and locals only to see what the name suggests: the sunset! The wait was worth it and I hogged on some fresh spicy corn in the meanwhile, while some handsome horses obeyed their masters and entertained the crowd. At last it was 7pm. For the next 15 minutes, the only thing that moved was the sun. Undoubtedly, one of the most intricate, beautiful, gorgeous sunsets and the following orange sky made the whole city clap! (yes there were a few whistles too 😉 )
Head back to your hotel for a good night’s rest J
After a hefty breakfast, head out to Mahabaleshwar Temple, which has its roots deep into Indian mythology, and offer prayers to Lord Shiva. The temple is quite unlike other temples in India where you pay your respects to idols. A mystical energy is felt the minute you enter the premises which hosts the Shiv Linga in rudraksh form. I’d have to go too much into mythology and botany to explain this, so I hope the photograph covers up. But honestly, not all of you will relate to this form of God, which is more than 600 years old. Nevertheless, experience, hope and move on.
The second stop is perhaps my favourite. They’re really stops and not just one :p
Arthur’s Seat, Kates Point, Savitri Point and Echo Point (all 4 within 4-5 kms of each other offer some of the best views for landscape photography). The Queen of Points, Arthur’s Seat is located at a height of 1470m and even though I don’t have a phobia of heights, this one got to me. It overlooks mountain ranges with rock stratas similar to that of Grand Canyon and makes way for an overpowering experience. The tales of the origin of its name are best heard from the local tour guide.
Moving forward, the Echo Point will have tourists screaming out their name just to hear it echo in the entire valley! In the vicinity you will also find Tigers Point which used to be a spring water point for my favourite animals: the big cats! Also, beware of monkeys throughout this stretch. One more animal that I’m missing here is the elephant. I’m not gonna say too much. Just look at the pictures. The point is called Elephant’s Point but they also offer a camel ride :O
So after you’re done zoo-ing around, make your way back towards your car. On the way out, there are tonnes of local vendors selling some spicy “Chaat” which comprises of fresh raw mango, onion, tomato, chillies and a few local flavours. Hog on it. Its not as fattening.
The last stop for the trip is Pratapgadh Fort, which narrates tales of battles between Shivaji, the Maratha ruler and his opponents. The fort is also called valour fort and hosts a separate section for weapons and arms used by the ruler himself. Beware, there’s a lot of walking you’ve got to do, unless you know your way around the secret caves which connect the boundaries of the fort. Monkeys will be happy to help 😀