Towards the end of October last year, a couple of my friends (ya, the same ones I accompanied for trips to Matheran, Uttarakhand and Corbett early last year and to Bandhavgarh, Kanha and Pachmarhi before that) decided I needed some cheering and a break. Add to it that one of them had just acquired a Fiat Punto and wanted to notch up some decent long distance driving. So after some initial discussion we headed to Mahabaleshwar on a Thursday afternoon in the 10th month of the last year. That this post is coming now tells you how busy, pre-occupied, or lazy I have been all this while.
Mahabaleshwar is a wonderful and salubrious place — but it is quickly becoming a tourist trap. We typically avoid such places. However we felt that our timing (after Diwali) would ensure we miss large crowds. And we planned to use Mahabaleshwar as a base (tourist place = better hotels) to explore some of the non-touristy places around.
We found an excellent place to say (Soonder Villa — totally recommended) about a kilometer from Mahabaleshwar's market. Soonder Villa is tucked at the end of one of the lanes which branch off the road that eventually goes toward Elephant Head, Lodwick, and Sunset points. It is wonderfully secluded and the property is covered with thick trees.
On our first day in Mahabaleshwar, we drove out and a bit down the ghat to Panchgani (excellent breakfast at the New Lucky Moon Cafe — try their Chicken Salami sandwich) and then further down to explore the quaint town of Wai. Wai is on the banks of the river Krishna and a number of temples line the river's ghats. The temple of Dholya Ganapati — so called because of the huge stone idol of Ganapati that it houses — is the most well known. After walking around the ghats we ventured inside the town looking for old Maharashtrian Wadas (bungalows). We did find one but it turned out to be the a restricted access area — it currently houses a Maharashtra Government Press. The security there were the most helpful however and directed us to drive a further 3 Kms to Menavali. The village of Menavali has a wada of Nana Phadnavis — an influential minister of the Maratha empire during the reign of the Peshwas.
We duly arrived in Menavali to find that it is the "Charanpur" village from the movie Swades directed by Ashutosh Gowariker. Nana Phadnavis' wada adjourns a ghat on the Krishna river. A lovely temple dedicated to Lord Shiva stands at one end of the ghat. This ghat (and many other areas of the village) feature prominently in the movie. From Menavali we drove a further 7 Kms to the Dhom dam and spent a quiet hour walking along the embankments of the dam's catchment area. We spotted some Drongos and even Indian Rollers here.
The drive from Wai to Menavali and on to Dhom is lovely — small single lane road bordered by thick trees and farms. It is the kind of drive where you roll down your car's windows and breath in the fresh scent of ripening crops and leaves. On our way back, we stopped for a very late lunch at a farm just outside of Wai which was advertising "Shetavarcha Jevan" — literally a meal at a farm but also means a meal cooked (for want of a better word) "farm-style." The meals were served at a table under a couple of mango trees with farms bordering one side of seating area. The freshly-prepared meal was simple but tasted awesome and after about 30 minutes of hogging, we leaned back sated. We budged out of our seats only after about another 10 minutes or so.
That evening we walked to the Elephant head point about 3-4 Kms away from where we were staying. It is a lovely walk passing through thick woods and Elephant's Head at the end of it is wonderful. Elephant's head is a bit further from the Sunset and Lodwick's Point — to which people throng in the evenings to view the setting sun. Consequently Elephant's Head is relatively free of crowds — often there is no one else in the evening and it is wonderful place to sit, view the sunset, and talk. The walk back is even more wonderful. The crowds that throng Sunset and Lodwick's Point and their cars leave right after the sun sets. So it is only in you and your friends walking through thick woods which have just about started to make all sorts of sounds. And did I mention there is only one solitary road light at a junction till you hit the main road? You have only the moonlight to light your way. (An earlier post about the same walk from about 5 years back: The Road)
The next day, Saturday we visited the touristy points in Mahabaleshwar — Kate's Point, Needle-Head Point, Arthur's Seat (very nice views) and a few others. In the evening we headed back to Elephant Head point, this time in a car. My friends planned to try some evening and night-time photography and we didn't fancy carrying a heavy tripod and cameras and lenses and walk 10 Kms. After we reached there, much experimentation and talk of "exposures," F-focus, apertures (much of which didn't make any sense to me) happened. But a thoroughly good time was had by all. We then drove down to Venna Lake — to a small restaurant called "Hirkani" and sampled their fabulous all-you-can-eat Maharashtrian dinner.
On Sunday we started early from Mahabaleshwar and headed back for our homes. En route we stopped at the MAPRO factory and outlet just outside of Panchgani and stocked up on jelly sweets, orange marmalade, syrups, and jams. The place also serves humongous sandwiches and huge helpings of strawberries and cream which makes for an excellent (and heavy) breakfast. Thereafter we drove leisurely to give us enough time to digest our breakfast and were back home by late afternoon.