Misty forest trails and a weekend out with friends
Trip Start Jun 09, 2012
1Trip End Ongoing
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Not minding the disgusted looks that we got from the taxi drivers(What kind of tourists use public transport in Mahabaleshwar ??!!). The bus was an hour later, we used that time to have breakfast at a stall across the bus stand and look around. We found two useful things: one- a taluka wise map of Mahabaleshwar on a wall of the bus stand. Second was a map of Mahabaleshwar at the book/news paper stall across the bus stand. The map marked the trails that could be done by foot or a horse ride and which "points" they would lead to. Wanting to do exactly this, visiting the typical tourist points, not by taxis, but through the trails in the forest that surrounds Mahabaleshwar, we were happy have got such a map.
Old Mahabaleshwar is around 6kms from the bus stand, the road is quite narrow without any clear view of the approaching traffic. The mist was still very thick and it was everywhere. It was a very pleasant 15 minute drive.
Old Mahabaleshwar is also referred to as "Kshetra". This is where the main temples in Mahabaleshwar are. I have commonly observed, for reasons still beyond me, that places of any religious significance are not really very clean. Hotel Savera run by the Mahabaleshwarkar family was..well, a place to stay. The family stays on the ground floor and they run a restaurant there as well. They have rooms for rent on the first floor. The room could have done with some more cleaning especially with the linen(which we didnt use).
After freshening up, we set off for a walk toward the Arthur's seat point. There's a forest check point at the start of the road where vehicles have to pay a tax to the forest department. We asked the guards if we could go walking through the trails. They advised us to do that, only if we knew the way. It could be dangerous because there were panthers in the forest. But they also said we would have to be extremely lucky to spot one !!
We proceeded ahead along the road. At one point we saw an opening in the forest along the road and it led into a trail. We started following this trail. At most parts, it was parallel to the road outside. The fog would clear out for a while and then it would rain for a while, and it would be so misty we would hardly see the way. We heard a few birds and saw a few fresh droppings, indicating a mammal had been around a while back. Our constant companion was the whistling thrush, though we couldn't spot it that day. It was refreshing, walking though the misty forest to the melody of the whistling thrush.
After a walk of over a couple of hours, we suddenly found ourselves on the road again. Since that seemed the only way ahead, we continued walking on the road and found another opening into a trail on the opposite side of the road. We started walking down this trail. It wasn't parallel to the road, like the previous one, it moved away from the road. So the feeling of "deep into the forest" was even more. It was around 2PM then, the forest had become quieter and the sound of the traffic had disappeared. The mist had also become denser. After around an hour, we came to a fork, and relied only on our judgement to decide in what direction to proceed. Our phones were low on battery, so we didn't use it to find our way. So we had no way of knowing if we were proceeding in the right direction. After this realisation, the sense of being in the middle of nowhere creeped in, and everything just started to look even more beautiful. We saw a flock of jungle fowl running across, a bharadwaj(or someone else that size), fly into a thicket. It was the most mystical feeling ever.
Soon after this we found the road ahead and realised we had reached Marjorie point. (Had we taken the other route at the fork, we would have reached Arthur's seat point). The valley was covered in clouds and mist, and there was nothing visible. We were really hungry by then. After finishing all our refreshments, we had some coal roasted buttered corn from the lady who was selling it there. The closest point to get lunch was in Kshetra, which was some 6kms away. Since we had walked upto this point, we had to walk back as well. Mahabaleshwar doesn't offer you the option of hiring a cab on the way.
This time we walked through the road, which went uphill and downhill and repeat. We saw some interesting flowers on the roadside.
We reached the Kshetra area at around 5PM, starving. To our shock and great disappointment, there was no food available anywhere around. We just had some tea, juice and biscuits and headed back to the hotel.
We decided to head to the main market area for the evening. Took a bus from Kshetra and reached the market in 15minutes. There was a long queue of cars, waiting to enter the parking lot. Times like these make us feel real good about using the public transport when we travel. It was chilly inspite of the crowds in the market. The first thing we did was book our return tickets from Pachgani. We managed to get one, thanks to an extra bus released by one of the travels. Strolling through the market, we came across a cute little eatery called Elsie's Dairy and Bakery. It had the most inviting swing on the porch, and a delectable collection of goodies on display.
While waiting for our order, we got a peek into the backside. An elderly lady was busy baking and boy would get out all the lovely stuff that was coming out of her kitchen. Chocolate cakes, rolls, a variety of muffins, biscuits, they had it all. We ordered for some carrot and tomato soup. It was, what a soup should be. One sip and you felt all warm and cosy and fuzzy inside. It was a perfect remedy to the chill that I was experiencing. They have been around since ever, and probably have seen the evolution of Mahabaleshwar more than anyone else.
Further ahead, the display in a shop selling syrups and squashes caught our eye. The guy let us take pictures of the shop, and Chetan decided to have some fun with the pictures.
We then had some dinner and took a taxi back to Kshetra. It was like driving blind folded. The mist was so thick now, that absolutely nothing could be see. the driver had to put his head out of the window and drive. It is a scary road to be on, if you are unfamiliar with it. We asked him, how do they manage to drive in the monsoon like this. He said, he would be run the taxi till maybe the first week of June. After that he just locks the car in the garage. There isn't too much business in the rains, so its expensive maintaining the car then.
Early the next morning, we came back to the Mahabaleshwar market with our bags, to do one more trail. We wanted to go on the Tiger Path trail and a signboard outside the Mahabaleshwar bus stand pointed us in the correct direction. the signboard, our map and asking a few local guys set us in the correct direction. The forest here was not as dense at the previous day and you could tell people ventured here more often. It was raining more as well.
A short walk brought us to the end of this path to reach what is known as the Chinaman point. It is a big muddy waterfall. Behind it is a village through which the trail actually continues all the way to Tapola. Its a 14km long trail, we decided to bookmark it for another time, with a bigger group. This time, we were lucky to see in clear view the Whistling Thrush nicely perched on a stone closeby.
After spending some time at the waterfall, on the way back, we saw another diversion on what was a trail to the Falkland point. But after walking walk just a few minutes, we realised leeches had crept up on our shoes. We ran out of that trail made sure there weren't any leeches on our legs and headed back.
Next, we proceeded to the Polo grounds. We asked a local guy and made sure there weren't any leeches there. He assured us, since this wasn't though a forest, there was nothing to worry about. The scene at the Polo grounds was surreal.
We couldn't see the beginning or the end of the ground. The horse would just appear out of no where. We spent some time there and then headed back to the bus stand.
On the way we bought honey, gulkand and such goodies from Madhusagar. They have a variety of honey, depending on what the season is. If you ask them, they ll explain what the different types are, and their specific qualities. The guy there, also gave us tips on identifying pure honey.
We then headed to Pachgani and met a few friends. After a sumptuous lunch, we headed to a charming bungalow, run by a couple who stay on the same property. They also rent out tents, but had taken them off for the monsoon.
Big airy rooms, lovely verandah and the view of the entire Krishna basin was a perfect setting for a get together with a few close friends. We spent a long time there taking advantage of this precious setting.
In the evening we stepped out to have some tea. In the Pachgani market, we found this cafe run by a Bahai guy. It was an intriguing cafe. They had a group photo of the Bahai community from the 1950s with over a hundred people. We had some delicious mawa cakes, chocolate muffins, cream rolls, tea and coffee.
The market had some old school shops, like a saloon we tried very hard to get a picture of. In the vegetable market, we were stunned by the variety and the freshness of the produce. We were even more stunned when the guy told us that this was the low season, what they had was nothing compared to what they would in the winter. Cooking with stuff like that would be every cook's dream come true !
After doing the rounds of the market, had a light dinner, said goodbyes to our friends and headed to the bus stop. We reached back in Mumbai by around 3.30AM, giving us just enough time for a quick nap, before getting on with the week ahead.