That is exactly what Mahabaleshwar is all about in the Indian summer! A place to escape the torrid heat that grips Mumbai, a place to romance strawberries and mulberries, a place to cool off in the thunderous hailstorms that shower the hot tin roofs and plunge the temperatures for lovers to revel in!
Mahabaleshwar has something for all – young and old, trekker and stroller, shopper and foodie or maybe someone who just loves to laze around. Therefore, you will find families, backpackers, moony honeymooners, all doing their own thing and generally having a good time.To ensure that we beat the crazy traffic, we set out from Mumbai at 0600hrs and it sure was a breeze driving on the broad, traffic free roads. The roads all along were in great shape and we covered the 230kms in just under 5hours including a leisurely halt for breakfast at Vithal Kamaths in Mahad which is about 180kms from Mumbai. After an excellent breakfast, we moved on and soon were at Poladpur – the turning point for Mahabaleshwar! Then the ghat section began with narrow roads and continued right through to Mahabaleshwar. As the traffic was sparse, the narrowness of the roads did not pose much of a problem. Just had to look out for the mini-trucks that were driven by F1drivers! The ghat is steep at places and is winding which could pose problems for people suffering from motion sickness.
The road to Mahabaleshwar on the ghats.
Before you know it, you will be facing a checkpoint where they collect ‘Pollution tax’ from all vehicles entering Mahabaleshwar. It is at a T-junction. If you want to stay in MTDC or the PWD cottages turn right, otherwise for all private Hotels, turn left.The MTDC reception office
We had our reservations in MTDC (which always has the best locations at all destinations), so turned right and checked in. You can make your room reservation at MTDC online at http://www.maharashtratourism.gov.in. The MTDC cottages are very close to the sunset point or Bombay point and just a couple of kms away from the main market. Therefore, you have the convenience of the market place, yet away from it all, in the peaceful environs of the wooded hills.Our cottage in MTDC
Drove down to the market place for lunch. Vehicles are not allowed on the main market street; however, there are a couple of parking lots near the bus stand, which is quite convenient. Having parked, we set out to do a recce of the restaurants in the area. There were quite a few vegetarian restaurants and a couple of restaurants serving non-vegetarian fare. Having walked the distance, munching strawberries, mulberries and chickpeas we settled for a moghlai lunch. It was okay, nothing to write about, just about average.
On the way back to MTDC, saw a board directing towards Lodwick point. Though we were not very keen on visiting many points as had been there done that, on an impulse, got onto the road towards Lodwick point.
It is named after a General, the first European to set foot on the Mahabaleshwar hills, who reached this point in 1824. A monument has been erected in his memory.
Beyond Lodwick Point is the extreme end of the mountain range known as Elephant's Head. From Lodwick point, the overhanging cliff looks like an elephant's head and trunk, and hence the name. The views were breathtaking.
Suddenly, the sky started filling up with dark rain clouds prompting us to beat a hasty retreat. We had just entered our cottage, and we were treated to a heavy hailstorm, which lasted for about half an hour. This effectively brought down the ambient temperature to a very pleasant level.
Had a disastrous dinner experience at the MTDC restaurant. It looks good but looks are deceptive. The service was good but the food atrocious.Our friendly neighbours!
The options of early morning activities are numerous ranging from walking, jogging to horse riding or just plain strolling on the MTDC campus. On the other hand, there is Wilson point where one can go to catch the sunrise. This is very close to MTDC. Actually all points, numbering 30, are within a radius of ten kms and all motorable with a bit of walking now and then.The view from Kate's point is......as above!
In old Mahabaleshwar, there is the Shri Shankar Mandir. The Mahalinga of lord Shiva is in the form of Rudraksha and believed to be 'self-bodied' (swayambhoo). It is called Trigunatmaka meaning Brahma-Visnhu-Mahesh are on it for ever. On the head of the Mahalinga, you see the marks of the five holy rivers (Panchaganga). Shivaji weighed his mother Jeejabai against gold in this temple and then distributed the gold in charity. No photography at the temple.
After a visit to this temple, we drove towards ‘Arthur’s seat’ and ‘Kate’s point’. Both these points are worth a visit. Plenty of photo opportunities are provided at both these points.
For lunch, we discovered a wonderful five-table restaurant ‘Grapevine’ behind Imperial stores in the market place. It is parallel to the market street. A lovely cozy place and the only restaurant that actually serves a wide range of wines along with some delicious Italian or Thai food!These are the quaont little seats at Grapevine restaurant. Not very comfortable but the food and the ambience makes it worth the while.
Next morning, we checked out at 0900hrs, had a leisurely breakfast at Shreyas Hotel. After some wonderful masala dosas and uttappas, we set out towards Panchgani. On the way stopped at ‘Deepak strawberry farms’ and picked up some real delicious strawberries, fresh from the fields!
On the return trip took the Panchgani-Wai-Pune-Lonavala-Mumbai trip. This route is longer by about 50kms but due to the expressway is quick and the roads right through are very good.
Even the ghat section is gradual and no steep tight turns. We took a break at Lonavala at Sunny-da-dhaba, a very popular eatery on the highway serving some authentic Punjabi food with a typical village ambience.
Reached Mumbai at 1700hrs after a leisurely drive following a rejuvenating holiday in Mahabaleshwar.
The total amount of toll both ways that we had to shell out was Rs.301/-.
If anybody is interested in staying with the locals, you may visit http://www.maharashtratourism.gov.in/mtdc/html/MaharashtraTourism/Default.aspx?strpage=../MaharashtraTourism/Bed_Breakfast/Mahabaleshwar.html for further details.