Thursday, August 3, 2006

Monsoon Magic: Malshej Ghat

More images here.

"Have you ever wondered," a friend asked me with all the seriousness he could muster, "what is it that makes us humans travel a 100 Kms or more to soak ourselves under an ice cold waterfall on a rainy Sunday morning and then look forward fondly to going back home for a hot bath?" This deeply philosophical question was put forward last Sunday as we watched hordes of kids, teens, men, and women shiver under one of Malshej's numerous monsoon waterfalls. But by then I was too high on the fresh air and the cascading water to answer. Malshej Ghat is that sort of a weekend destination — the kind you travel to alongwith 10-15 buddies on a wet Sunday morning after cramming everybody in a car or two and then proceed to soak yourselves to the bone under sheets of cascading water. Come the monsoon, groups of people from Mumbai and its suburbs, drive 150 kilometers to the rain-soaked, gusty, and misty ghats of Malshej for a healthy dose of greenery, fresh and clean air and a taste of cold water as it runs down this bit of the Sahayadri in a series of waterfalls.

When the monsoon rain lashes Malshej, irrespective of the crowds, it has the kind of fresh and fragrant beauty that makes you wish that you had been a poet and not some lowly blogger. In the rains, Malshej ghat bursts into myriad shades of green that can be glimpsed through gray and white clouds that drift through the valley. As the clouds and the mist clear just long enough for you to catch a glimpse of a dense green paradise and when the wind-whipped-rain stings your face, Mumbai, its trains, and its traffic choked roads vanish and you know you are probably as close to heaven as you'll ever get to in this life.

The drive towards Malshej too is beautiful. Once you cross Murbad and make your way through small towns and villages with such quaint names as Saralgaon (Straight village), Vadachapada, Lihepada, and Tokewade you already start anticipating a treat. The road is bordered by rice fields on either side and occasionally a brisk brook runs parallel to the road you are driving along. Red tiled traditional homes are visible through bamboo thickets. It is the kind of drive that prompts you to go easy on the accelerator and drink it all in with your eyes. Switch off your vehicle's AC, roll down those tinted windows, and let the sights and the crisp fresh air work their magic on your senses.

There's no need to ask for directions to Malshej. The road from Murbad goes straight to the Ghats. After Tokewade the road takes an upward gradient and the rice fields gradually make way for thick woods on either side. Above the treetops you catch the first glimpse of the mountains and the waterfalls. Before you know it, you are already abreast the first waterfall and the first crowd of revelers soaking up all the water they can. About another kilometer or two of driving up the road and you find yourself standing below some majestic peaks. The waterfalls cascade down on the road itself. Stop the car and get out, soak for a bit and then make your way to the edge of the road to see the water disappearing down into the deep valley below. A gust of wind brings thick rolling clouds into the valley and all around you. For the next 5-10 minutes it is as dark as early evening. Visibility is reduced to a few feet. The wind eventually carries the clouds away and once again you can see the green forests in the valleys and the mountain peaks. And in the distance you see the new batch of clouds which has entered into the valley. On a good day, Malshej plays this kind of a game over and over and you never tire of it.

After you have had your heart's fill of drenching under the waterfalls, make way towards the MTDC resort at the head of Malshej ghat. Don't enter the resort (the food there is so bad that you have to taste it to believe it), make your way around and go behind it. The resort rests on a small plateau and from this bit of flat ground you can see most of the Malshej valley, the winding roads, and of course all the water pouring down the mountainsides. But this spot is more famous for another phenomenon. Water from the plateau makes it way in small rivulets over the edge and into the valley below. But it hardly ever reaches the bottom. Here the wind blowing through and up the valley is so strong that it blows all the water back upwards — what you get is not a waterfall but a "water rise." There are quite a few of these water rises in Malshej, but this is the only spot where you can actually stand above one. Beware of the wind though—it blows hard and is notoriously fickle. So while you may be feeling the water rise's spray in your face, the wind is quite capable of suddenly changing direction and nudging you over the edge into the valley below.

More images here.

Malshej is made for long walks along the twisting and turning ghat road. Park your vehicle at some convenient location and then walk up and down the 2-3 km stretch that has the most waterfalls and the best views. When the mood strikes, get under one of the waterfalls, get soaked to the core and then walk to the next waterfall. It will not be more than ten meters away. That's the best way to experience Malshej in the monsoon. If you are traveling in a large group, make sure that you reach early (especially on a weekend) and lay claim to one of the bigger waterfalls before the hordes of other revelers start coming in. It can get very crowded in Malshej on a Sunday, with hundreds of vehicles parked along one side of the road and the occupants of the vehicles shouting themselves hoarse and dancing under the falling water.

If you would like the ghats to yourself though, go on a weekday and barring an occasional State Transport bus and the odd car passing through, and maybe a few stray revelers, the ghats and its beauty will be on display only for you.

However, I believe in the monsoon, Malshej is the kind of spot that asks you to participate a bit to get a more fuller experience. It is not the kind of place that you go to, inhale the fresh air, pull out your camera and take a few pictures. Rather, it offers the kind of fun that can only be experienced by driving there with a small gang of close and very noisy friends, and then standing underneath the cascading water, squirming and laughing in pleasure.

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You'll find the photoset of Malshej Ghat here.

Update (August 07, 2006): A small video clip showing the wind scattering the clouds in Malshej Ghat here.

12 comments:

junoesque said...

hi mandar

this is quite superb. loved the pictures too. have myself discovered the joy of travel writing. have a piece coming up in next week's haftamag. its on the wonderful walks of dalhousie.

:))

Akshay said...

Mandar,

Fabulous post not to mention the great pictures. I should do this when I'm back in Bombay.

Swapna said...

Awesome pictures. Nice post.

mandar talvekar said...

Akshay -- many thanks. Do visit Malshej if you come down to Mumbai.
Junoesque, thank you. Will keep a close eye on haftamag next week.

mandar talvekar said...

Swapna, Much thanks.

solzaire said...

wow MT! wow!

Anonymous said...

HI...CAN U SUGGEST SOME FOOD ARRANGEMENETS FOR THE TRIP AS WELL...WE'RE PLANNING TO GO WID A GANG OF AROUND 40-50 PPL..
IF U CAN PLZ MAIL ME AT karishmalimaye@yahoo.co.in


KARISHMA.

darksunshine said...

hi. planning to go to malshej but cannot locate any other acco other than flamingo (which is sold out).
r thr mor hotels? pls tel.
ur description is lovely. n i can imagine the water-rise. had been to matheran last week n the mist was awesome (minus the crowd)

Apurva said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Globe Treader - Kiran Ghag said...

hi,
do you have any information about tunnel-top point near jamrung station on mumbai-pune railroad?

vijaya hariharan said...

Hi,

I am just back from Malshej and would not agree abt MTDC resort and food.It was awesome.The rooms are clean and Comfy.The resort is a sprawling area.Lastly the food was hot and tasty.You dont get a table cause of the crowd that comes to eat here.They have Buffets on Sat and Sun and it is good meal.

mandar talvekar said...

Vijaya, that is good to hear. Probably the contractor that caters to the restaurant has changed. I haven't visited the resort again since the trip described here.

Thank you for the update.