Duration of trip: 2 days
Start of Journey: Mumbai
Total Expenditure: Rs10,000
Food: 500 (packed most from home)
Tolls, taxes, tickets: 900
Car (on hire) expenditure: 5,100
You can wrench your head high because you take young morning walks or meditate ascetically, or because you think you admire trees more than others, which makes you a nature-aficionado. But it doesn’t. It really doesn’t. Not unless you’re on a trip where you take on a redemptive, almost home-grown adventure where you explore, admire and log your experience. This was Mahabaleshwar for me.
Each new green-adventure erases my past green-adventures. This trip to the mountains, I saw that rolling hills are shades of shadows and light, mellow with ripe greens of great ups and lows. Velvety lavenders carpeted both sides of the road and ever-so-often a thread of delicate stream sprung down—whistling a white sonnet.
Mahablaeshwar is completely underrated — at least on the internet. The pictures I scrapped up on my online search were more average compared to how picturesque and charming it really is! Well maybe I shouldn’t judge the photography of others, right?
At 10:30 am (about 5 hours drive from Mumbai), Sydney Point was a fantastic first stop. The grand, almost overwhelming view of the city and the dam below and you can’t help but pull out your selfie-stick! The point was clean and well-maintained though I think the authorities can add more flower beds around to make the point as amazing as the view. Just a touristy-suggestion!
Honestly, we were almost going to skip the Table land (again because of the internet). What’s great about a plateau and horses right? But it’s the view! It’s all about the vistas from different viewpoints in Mahabaleshwar. They’re just so gorgeous! Apart from that, I got to do a little horse-riding (for some reason I couldn’t stop imagining myself as the Bollywood actors in the 70’s who did their numbers on horses). But it gives you that celebrity feeling- trust me. If you whisper to a horse close enough and caress its neck, you can almost fathom how happy he is to be in the plateaus of home.
And then down south the plateau—couple flights of twirly, cavey-steps (sorry about the made-up adjectives) were the Pandvgadh Caves and the Devil’s Kitchen. Candid opinion? You can skip the caves but just because it’s like two flights down of twirly stairs, I went anyway.
Okay — the Mapro Garden. This was the famous, delicious Mapro. So I had this stop all starred and circled on my diary because I made this my highlight even before the trip (the enormous sweet-tooth junkie that I am). But maybe it’s because we visited right at the end of the off-season that I didn’t drool over this (they wouldn’t allow it either ways, so don’t). No strawberries but the advertising! Mapro everywhere—the signs and boards and what not—ended up there to find a garden without strawberries (except the ones which were selling by the exit). Since I was disappointed to not get a view of the planted strawberries, I tasted ALL of the flavors of crushes they were offering at their store. All. Super sugared up and ready to take a move on.
Waterfalls. Here’s the thing. I like a waterfall I can actually dip and dive into. Not one to see and admire. I actually hate that. But I didn’t expect the Lingmala falls to have a mini waterfall 800 meters away and boy was I happy! The stunning walk to the fall (amidst other falls) surrounded by this wild beautiful forest was a marvelous walk! The frigid waters were a reminder to leave no tracks behind but its gracious summoning came to be powerfully endearing. It was like drinking chilled coca cola on a hot summer’s day. The pristine water, the gorgeous surroundings, the few people (advantages of coming in the off-season) was super, super! The main waterfall nearby rightfully its mamma—a roaring force of nature and a dangerously beautiful creation.
Venna Lake is so, so hyped. It really didn’t fancy me too much. Of course, the lake and the surroundings are beautiful but I rather get tired hiking and walking in adventurous lanes of the city than pedaling a boat around. 2/5 stars from me.
At 4:30 pm, we visited two temples located right by each other: Shiv Temple and the Panch Ganga Temple. The latter one is the meeting point of five rivers—a major religious significance.
The Hollywood wax museum wasn’t on the list but the sign told us there was one so we went! And lord the terror. There are about 20 statues of Hollywood and Bollywood stars—quite hilarious and horrendous—an easy, humorous finish to the evening. There is another one inside a village which we missed (and this one was supposed to be the good one)!
That was day 1. The hotel suite was this warm, accommodating, cozy place which was just what I needed to jump onto the springy bed and doze till morning broke. And when it did, I stepped out for a chilly walk, cuddling the fog and the nature around (that’s why resorts are better than hotels).
Today was Tapola. Also known as “Mini-Kashmir” – it was a looong drive but who notices when you have such a magnificent view? There were a couple more points on the way: Shive Sagar and Shiv Kaline where we stopped to hold our breaths admire the scenery sipping tea. I also spoke with the owners of the tea stall—the mother and the daughter (father was out farming). Here’s a snippet of my conversation:
Name: Ujwala (daughter)
Her school was 2.5 kms away and she took the bus to and fro school. She was 15 years old and loved Mahablaeshwar (well, who wouldn’t!). She did visit Mumbai earlier and complained about how bad the weather is there ((well, who wouldn’t!). After school, she helps her mom in the tea stall and plans to continue even after studying. Her father grows rice as food for the family (not commercial) and goes to the city every now and then to pick up supplies for the tea stall. She told me that at nighttime, there are animals come out free such as panthers, bears and snakes but they usually don’t harm them (I liked how easily she said zyaadyatar pareshaan nahi karte). Wooh!
Out and about, finally reached tapola and we took a boat ride. So here’s how that works. Each boat owner gets to take tourists to their village around the lake (which is actually a dam) and this happens once a day (at least for off season). They release the dam water once every year. When we reached the village, there was a tea stall at the banks which belonged to the boat owner. The rest of the family was there ready to bring us tea. Once again I started the camera rolling and spoke to the members. Here’s that:
A family of five (mother, father, daughter, brother, and the boat owner, a relative perhaps). They also farm just to eat (millet) and buy the other supplies from the city. A rent of 15,000 is paid every year for the land. They come every morning, farm + sell there, then return home across the river at the end of the day. The children study in a school and return to come help their parents with the work. The son was enthusiastic about the farming and tea business and wants to do just that even after studying. He had never stepped outside Mahabaleshwar and doesn’t want to. He didn’t know what internet was and told me that they had one phone—the basic model with his father.
It touched me on how passionate the locals were with the means of their livelihood—no whatsoever. They just wanted to continue what they were doing for each generation. The entire trip back, I kept thinking about how satisfied they were with so little wants and needs.
Pratapgarh fort was out last stop (25 or so kms from the city). On the way, we stopped at the Shivkaline village—which was a re-construction of the village from the time of Shivaji. The village had a tour guide for each group and he explained the different corners of the village—the works, the dressing, models of people and tools, the livelihood etc. It was a pleasant stop and a good effort (privately done). I do have suggestions to make the village a little more fascinating however like adding music, mechanical movements to figures, samples of food etc. Just my two cents!
The evenings in Mahabaleshwar were where the forest fog and clouds come close enough to kiss the vapor off of each other and disperse without a trace.
Out last stop was pratapgarh fort at 5 pm. This was built by Chatrapati Shivaji to control opposing forces nearby. We did see the fort but by the time we made it to the top—a good uphill climb for a couple kms—it was pouring. I had a cup of coffee and that marked the end of the trip. And what a liberating trip it was! The waterfalls, the mountains, the people, the fauna, the fog, the forts! Ammazingg down to every leaf.
The only sanctity of these woods is that they are largely untouched—the self-sustaining, uninterrupted and breath-taking piece of the planet. The prolific soil and the fruiting trees and the hunting deers needed each other and every time one of them fell short because of external dynamics, the cycle was pricked. So I made sure.
I came, I saw and I left no trace.