Monday, July 8, 2019

Mahabaleshwar - The Queen of Sahyadris



Our journey onwards from Konkan...

We continued our trip through Konkan to Mahabaleshwar. While the Konkan stretch of our journey was all about tranquil beaches, heritage sites and home-style food; Mahabaleshwar was all about the breathtaking landscapes in the Sahyadris.

We reached Mahabaleshwar from Guhagar in under 4 hours. The road conditions were broadly good but a good part of the stretch was under construction for road widening. Nevertheless, once we hit the ghats, the Sahyadris mesmerized us with its sheer expanse and volcanic rocks. I was too excited to be back to the hillstation which I visited once with my parents as a kid.

Reaching Mahabaleshwar, we checked into Le Meridian and put our feet up for the remainder of the day enjoying the amenities of the resort.The temperatures dropped drastically after sunset and made us pull out our jackets. The verdant chilly weather was a perfect ode to the festivities of the Christmas season. We wound up the day with a nice and warm dinner at an in-house restaurant.


@ Le Meridian - Enjoying the Christmas Decor


We already had chalked our plans  for the next 3 days of our stay there.  Two to three days is a good enough time to explore this hill station. There are so many places of interest on this single hill station that there is never a dearth of things to do atop this verdant mountain. Scenic vistas, age-old temples, Venna lake, the busy local bazaar, fresh, luscious strawberries, Asia's second largest tableland in Panchagani, adventure sports like paragliding, parasailing, trekking and many more. You name it and this place offers it all.


@ Pratapgad:

I am a big history buff and was longing to tick off our trip with a visit to this historic fort. So we started driving towards Pratapgad at around 9 in the morning,  stopping on the way to pick some farm-fresh strawberries from a roadside vendor. There are a quite a few strawberry farms on the way  with the farmers selling their fresh produce to  the passers-by. Strawberries are the local produce of this region and is found in abundance here.

We hired a guide at the base of the fort and set forth to refresh our history lessons. Pratapgad literally translated as the Fort of Valour, is one of the must-see places around Mahabaleshwar which stands a testimony to the courage and determination of Shivaji Maharaj. Shivaji had disemboweled Afzal Khan with his wagh nakh (tiger claws) on this historic fort and had vanquished the threat to his pursuit of Hindavi Swaraj.


The entry door to the fort


One of the numerous buruz(s)


The Bhavani Mata temple in the fort was built by Shivaji in the 17th century. The ashtabhuja (eight-handed) idol of Goddess Bhavani, draped in a saree, graces the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. Alongside it, is the legendary sword of Kanhoji Jedhe, Shivaji's captain, who single-handedly killed 600 soldiers of Afzal Khan in the battle of Pratapgad.

Afzal Buruz



Shivaji had ordered a dargah to be built at the fort, known as Afzal Buruz. The fort has two parts to it, namely the lower and the upper fort. The upper fort housed a number of important building including the Mahadev temple. The royal court used to be held right in front of this temple so that no would dare to lie in such a holy place. The fort is still owned by a scion of the Maratha empire and is a popular tourist spot, being just 24 kms from Mahabaleshwar.

It took us a little under 4 hours to explore the fort and have a leisurely lunch at the restaurants/dhabas inside. Lunch was fabulous with a healthy, rustic spread of pithala, bhakri, bharit and thecha. Oh god! It was truly spicy yet quite a gastronomic experience.


The spicy and rustic (and super healthy too!) lunch at Pratapgad


Tip: Try and visit this fort in the morning hours for it gets really crowded in the afternoon.


The lively Market Road


@ Local Market:

In the evening we visited the local market to check out the local fare. It was a big, long street, hustling with tourists, numerous restaurants and eateries on the side and yet very very clean. This is something which really impressed me there - everything in Mahabaleshwar was spectacularly clean and maintained. :) The entire place just became all the more inviting with its crowded, yet clean surroundings. At the end of the day, we ended up buying a few funky ear warmers, some lovely, gooey fudge and again more strawberries ;)

The ubiquitious Strawberry vendor


The must-try dessert of Strawberry n Creme'

Tip: Do try the Strawberry Cream dessert here at the local market!





@ Panchagani Plateau:


Panchgani Tableland

The drive to Panchgani plateau took us an hour from our resort. On the way, we stopped at Mapro Gardens and ended up buying lots of flavoured syrups, strawberry crush, honey, jams, etc. The place houses a restaurant as well and has good arrangement for parking with all the crowds thronging in there.  Breakfast options are plenty here. The Vitthal Kamath restaurant opposite too is a crowd puller.


@ Mapro Gardens



Resuming our ride, we stopped just short of the tableland at a point named Parsi Point.  We were glad that we decided to stop there as it is really popular scenic point with amazing views of the Krishna valley and Dhom dam. It has a small temple within its premises adjoining a games area. Not to mention the food vendors out there who were doing a brisk business with all the tourists vying for their quick service.


The fruit vendor @ Parsi Point


Finally, with all our stops in between, we reached the tableland, Asia's 2nd  highest plateau after the Tibet plateau. It has an astonishingly flat volcanic surface nestled amidst five surrounding hills. That's how it gets its name - Panchgani. One can easily spend a couple of hours on the tableland. Horse riding is a very popular tourist activity there. A visit to the caves situated under the tableland is also interesting. All in all, it makes for a nice walk around the place taking in the scenic views of the Deccan plateau.





Tip: Enjoy horse riding on the plateau and do stop at the Parsi Point to take in the scenic views.


Venna Lake 

On our way back, we stopped enroute our hotel at Venna Lake. The evening around the lake was bustling with enthused crowds queuing up for the boat rides and horse riding.  We indulged in some gaming activities for a while like shooting balloons and ring toss and then diverted all our energies on gorging on delicious corn pattices and pav bhaji!

Tip: Do not miss the corn pattice there for anything else in the world! 



@ Old Mahabaleshwar:

Our last day in Mahabaleshwar was spent exploring the local temples and view points in Old Mahabaleshwar also known as Kshetra Mahabaleshwar. Photography was not allowed inside the temple premises. So there are no photographs to capture our moments but the memories are still fresh in our minds. We visited the Mahabaleshwar temple, an ancient temple where the shivling is in the form of a rudraksha. It is a well-preserved temple said to be more than 400 years old. The hill station owes its name to this very temple. The Panchganga temple in the vicinity, as its name suggests, is said to be situated at the confluence of five rivers - namely, Gayatri, Savitri, Krishna, Venna and Koyna.

Both the temples were well-maintained with ample of shopping and eating stalls lined up on the way to it. It was a serene experience visiting the temples inspite of the thronging crowds. The Kshetra Mahabaleshwar with all its positive vibes, is a lovely religious place to visit.

With half a day still left, we decided to visit a few popular view points of Mahabaleshwar and ended up visiting Arthur's Seat and Tiger's Spring. Arthur's Seat is said to be the place from where Sir Arthur, a British officer, used to stare at the mighty Savitri river which drowned his wife and daughter. Inspite of the tragedy, the point does offer a scene to behold.

Tiger's Spring is a natural, thermal spring near river Savitri. It is a 10 minutes walk from Arthur's point. The water is claimed to have spiritual powers. We did not try drinking it though. :) There are many points in the vicinity which could be reached by walking some distance. However, we decided to skip them as it was getting very crowded with queues of cars piling up on the narrow roads.
We got lucky by a few minutes to avoid the long, serpentine car queue in either directions and could escape the mad rush!

Mahabaleshwar can get really crowded during holidays, especially because of its proximity to Mumbai and Pune. Excess crowds can be a  disappointer; however, it is a gem of hill station in the Sahyadris, to be visited at least once in your lifetime.

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