Mahabaleshwar is still a beautiful hill station
Trip Start Oct 21, 2012
24Trip End Ongoing
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Thanks to an early start, getting there was a smooth drive along the Bombay Pune Express way and NH4 to Surur phata, bringing us to Wai in exactly 3 hours.
The key to it is to get out of Mumbai city before 6am, preferably earlier and to do the journey without a break. At Wai, after a nondescript but nonetheless reviving cup of roadside chai, we followed the scenic diversion along the emerald waters of the Dhom Dam, enjoying the vista of buffaloes bathing in the lake.
Those who are interested can go even further to avail of assorted water sports facilities.
Mutton Biryani Anyone??? Seen on the road at Wai!
The road from Wai to Panchgani is a gentle ghat, lined with pretty wildflowers.
A particularly lovely spot was a cosmos filled grassy slope overlooking the Dhom waters, near the Ravine Hotel.
A small gipsy tent and cute donkeys enhanced the picture.
Having heard so much about the famous Panchgani Mapro Gardens and its much touted Grilled Sandwich, we arrived there with much enthusiasm. What a terrible let down ......... a very cruel joke to say the least, more so considering that we had not had any breakfast.
Now, the key ingredient in any sandwich is the bread. This bread was the poorest quality ordinary commercial slice bread, over grilled to imperfection. "Crispy" acquired a new definition here. The cheese filling was undoubtedly generous but without any taste whatsoever. The less said about the chips or so called French fries, the better. Not surprisingly, even the stray cat on the premises did not show enthusiasm for the 'bait'.
To be fair, I must admit that Mapro Gardens offers a stupendous range of processed fruit products which are hard to resist. Jams, squashes, crushes, jujubes, chewy sweets ……. they have the works. Customers may sample the wares before buying, which is an excellent sales strategy. We too, bought some deliciously sour raw mango sweets and some squashes. Despite the crowds, service at the sales counters is swift and courteous.
Another negative point was that the local Mahabaleshwar Map which we purchased from Mapro, turned out to be obviously used and tattered, something we discovered too late, quite a few kilometres down the road. All this does not leave a good impression on the customer. Never again to Mapro Gardens. The same squashes and other products are available at every second shop in the Panchgani Mahabaleshwar area.
I was far more impressed with the unpretentious Madhusagar at Mahabaleshwar http://madhusagar.com/ which is a local cooperative supported by the Khadi Gramodyog Mandal, producing a decent range of local Honey, Jams, Squashes, sweets and other products. I finally got Karvy Honey here which I had wanted for so many years but just could not find. The lady at the service counter was very courteous and pleasant. Madhusagar is located opposite the Satkar Hotel.
Who can visit Panchgani and not go to the Table Land? We were no exception. The initial disappointment with the clutter of tacky stalls at the entrance, soon gave way to wonder at the vastness of the still beautiful mountain plateau. This is the perfect place for a long, leisurely walk.
Most of the 'tamasha' takes place around the horse wallas at the entry point.
A colourfully bedecked camel merrily chomped away at his greens.
Baby monkeys at play at the Panchgani Table Land
The further you move away, the better it becomes.
Wildflower clusters appeared, the same happy yellow Smithias, blue Utricularias, purple Pogostemons and little white Eriocaulons that are found at Kas.
Two beautiful ponds perfectly reflected the azure sky.
A rather handsome looking brown horse was gently grazing while another lighter coloured horse was gently lazing on the grass. Picture postcard perfect.
The sun at this altitude [1300m] was intense although the temperature was not that high. It was time for a cool local strawberry ice-cream sold by an Ice Cream Walla rather ingeniously doing his rounds of the table land with an insulated box on his shoulders.
Resuming our journey towards Mahabaleshwar, we stopped to meander down a grassy cliff edge near the Surya Resort where a pleasant young boy called Sagar offered to guide us to the Lingmala Waterfalls for a small fee. It turned out that Sagar was a Std. IX student at the local school who earned pocket money as a guide on holidays. A 2km walk down a slippery mud path lined with light purple wildflowers, brought us to a place just above the first big drop of the pretty falls.
Some Karvy shrubs nearby had buds about to bloom. From here, Sagar took us further upstream to a smaller cascade of the same Lingmala falls where local villagers were immersing their Ganpati idols on this, the final Visarjan day [Anantha Chaturdashi].
A local lady offered us some prasadam. This simple village immersion was light years removed from the pomp and politicised fanfare of the Mumbai idols ……..
A signboard on the way read "Kate's Point" so although we are not really enamoured of "Point to Point" tourism characteristic of all hill stations, we decided to have a look. A light drizzle commenced but not before we enjoyed the view of the Dhom reservoir and another water body from the Point.
The drizzle soon increased and a poor monkey could be seen cringing on a tree branch in the rain.
So much for Kate's Point. By this time, we decided that we needed to refuel urgently so the priority was to find a petrol station. The nearest bunk was also near our hotel so after tanking up, we checked in at the MTDC Hotel, serenely located in a sprawling property with resident monkeys in their many trees.
After freshening up, we walked down a road through the forest to the Bombay Point, more for the walk than for the view.
A large Red Helen butterfly surprisingly stayed still long enough for a picture. The many Blue Mormons were not so obliging!
An old bandstand at the Bombay Point, an obvious survivor from colonial days, was surrounded by rubbish.
The Tiger Path ride – a broad bridle path through the surrounding forest looked more interesting.
It was indeed lovely. No one had obviously been on this in a long time – evidenced by the absence of rubbish. Little paths off the main ride, led to grassy clearings strewn with tiny wildflowers and views from the edge of the cliff.
Trees were covered in orchids, though none in bloom at the moment. A few kilometers further, we decided that we had to get out of the forest and hit the road before it became dark. Eventually we found the road – at the Polo Grounds!
A kind shepherd pointed out a very short cut along a water pipeline in the forest which soon enough brought us back to the MTDC.
Mahabaleshwar has several such "Rides" through its many forests.
This facet alone, is sure to bring us back again.
Dinner and breakfast the next day at the MTDC's restaurant, was absolutely delicious. Why is it that food always taste fresher, tastier and just plain better, out of Mumbai? The resident monkeys were lurking at the entrance door of the restaurant, not quite daring to venture within, but pretending to be cute enough to entice diners into parting with the occasional hand out. Who can resist a cute monkey?
The Fitzgerald Ghat road [Ambenali Ghat] is one of the trifurcations near the MTDC. It is a good motorable road winding its way to the Pratapgad fort, with pretty waterfalls, and splendid views of the craggy mountains of the Western Ghats and the Savitri river valley.
After Pratapgad, the road condition deteriorates as it winds its way down to Poladpur at the junction of the horrible NH-17 [Goa Bombay highway], notorious for its high incidence of accidents.
A Giant Squirrel – Ratufa indica Elphinstonii – regaled us with his antics the next morning, on a tree within the MTDC compound. He was not in the least bit bothered by our watching him. These giant squirrels have white bushy tails compared to the redder tones of their Malabar cousins. The local name for them here is Shekru. Delightful creatures!
Earlier that morning, we had walked to the top of the MTDC compound and into the erstwhile Governor's estate, now a PWD property. The view of clouds trapped between the mountain ranges was simply breathtaking. The best of the "Points" was right here, literally in our own backyard.
Same view an hour later with the forest.
The old Governor's bungalow was typically colonial with a large red oxide verandah.
Some portions of the walls were covered in thatch.
We had noticed these thatch covered walls earlier in some of the villages.
The friendly watchman, a local, explained that the thatch prevented damp seeping into the walls during the heavy monsoons.
He made us touch portions of wall that had been covered with thatch and those that had no cover. Sure enough the thatched portions were bone dry whereas dampness was palpable in the uncovered section. These days, a lot of people prefer plastic or metal sheeting [patra] he said, but these materials were not as effective as genuine thatch. That is certainly true. At the MTDC, the walls were damp. They had thin metal sheeting outside which simply cannot absorb the moisture as traditional thatch does.
Kshetra Mahabaleshwar and the Arthur's Seat sounded interesting. The drive there certainly was. The laterite hillside around the Venna lake was carpeted with blue Utricularia flowers.
An easy walk led through light forest to a clearing at the top of the gently rounded cliff giving a good view of the lake, and more wildflowers!
A young village lad who suddenly appeared out of nowhere, told us that the Wilson Point had even more of those Utricularia flowers than were here.
The road to Kshetra Mahabaleshar passes dense forest with grassy clearings appearing every now and then by the side of the road.
A few rambles through some of these revealed hundreds of arrowroot flowers, ground orchids, balsams and daisies.
What a sight. If only it were not so excruciatingly sunny. The sun in mountainous regions can be incredibly intense.
Kshetra Mahabaleshwar [Old Mahabaleshwar] turned out to be disappointing with nothing much to hold our interest.
Arthur's Seat which comprises a number of cliff edge Points was another story altogether.
Thick fog concealed the view when we got there, but every now and then the mist lifted to disclose a stunning vista of craggy mountains and deep valleys. Truly a "Point" worth visiting.
A friendly monkey was busy clearing the garbage, helping to KEEP MAHABALESHWAR CLEAN !!!
A short distance on the road back was a signboard pointing the way to Connaught Peak, the second highest “Point” in all of Mahabaleshwar at 1401m - according to Google Earth. The not so good side road went on for a couple of kilometres from where a flight of broad old stone steps went up.
The cheerful yellow of thousands of senecio daisies awaited us at the small clearing at the summit.
A juvenile giant squirrel hastily jumped through the trees, too fast alas for a photograph. A scenic view of the lake unfolded - and of huge rain clouds moving at an ominously rapid pace towards us. With matching speed we hastened down the slippery old steps making it to the car, just before a short lived drizzle. The Connaught Point is not that popular on the tourist circuit, going by the relatively low volume of litter.
A lucky mistake took us along the old road skirting Venna lake which ends shortly before the dam head. As in the morning, the laterite slopes here were chock full of wildflowers. An easy walk led to the lakeshore. An ideal place for a picnic. The mist and a rainbow lasting a few seconds created a pretty ambiance.
It was time for us to slowly commence our journey to Satara. We drove upto Wilson Plateau, the highest “point” in Mahabaleshwar at 1437m, dominated by BSNL and other telecom towers. As the young boy from the morning had rightly pointed out, the plateau was carpeted with Utricularia and Eriocaulon flowers.
Subsequently looking at Google Earth, it is clear that the morning path we took from the lake, comes all the way up to Wilson Plateau! Surely a worthwhile walk for another visit.
The Mahabaleshwar Medha Satara road traverses large sections of good forest and the picturesque Kelghar Ghat. The forest trees alongside the road were laden with orchids.
The best view of the Lingmala Falls is from a viewpoint at the end of a 2km walk beyond the Forest Department Quarters along this road.
A rainbow, actually a double rainbow, covered the valley between Kelghar ghat and Panchgani.
A troop of shy langurs appeared by the roadside but scampered away as soon as we stopped.
This peacock was visible in the distance preening himself on a tree stump.
A few waterfalls were still flowing on the ghats. The hillsides soon gave way to the fertile fields of Medha and the pretty Kanher reservoir below the Kas plateau. Our glorious day ended at our hotel in Satara, shortly after sunset.
All of this was more of an introductory visit to Mahabaleshwar. We will surely return.