The long winding road clings on to the rugged and lush green slopes, at times headed downwards, at times upwards, but slowly and surely taking you to your lofty destination. Driving up the road, I never fail to feel the elation of my coming back to a place that is so dear to us. The monsoons have just ended: crystal clear waterfalls punctuate the hairpin bends and steep inclines. Some enterprising fellow travellers create mini picnic spots around these waterfalls and even replenish their drinking water stocks. The older generation of vehicles, challenged by the task of hauling people and luggage up the steep slopes, seem to welcome the break with their open hoods fuming. Though the lush green scenery, especially the valley below, is breathtaking, it is not enough to distract me from trying to get to my destination as quickly as I can. The cars coming down the road, with children inside waving with gay abandon, remind me of the sinking feeling when its my turn to drive back.
Year after year, we come to Mahabaleshwar, only to be left pining for more. My friends and colleagues wonder what is so special about it for us to make it our annual holiday destination, almost a pilgrimage of sorts. For starters, the five-hour drive from Mumbai itself is a fascinating one, the open landscape, dotted with tiny villages. However, the joy of actually reaching our beloved holiday destination is incomparable.
While my family is not partial to any type of holiday destination, the Hill station of Mahabaleshwar appeals to us the most. The crisp air is so invigorating! The quiet, the sounds of birds chirping, the sights: the joys are endless. The hotel which we have been loyal to is simple and basic, cut off from hustle bustle of the tourist trappings.
Though we have practically no new place of tourist interest left to visit or discover in Mahabaleshwar, the comfort of familiar sights and sounds is enticing enough. The view from most of the ‘Points’ is simply breathtaking. Lodwick Point remains an all time favourite. Getting to the Point from the Car Park is a good half-hour walk. The pathway is a narrow one and is at most places covered by trees reaching out to each other above you. Many first time visitors, especially the elderly ones, reluctantly turn back midway because though the mind is willing, the body isn’t.
The effort is rewarding. The Point offers you a breath-taking, unrestricted view of the Western Ghats. Mountain ranges stretch in layer after layer till they merge into the horizon. As you look down the sheer cliff, the valley below reveals its secrets: the tiny villages, houses with thatched roofs, neat little fields, a clay coloured bus finding its way on a road which is barely visible.
Being Diwali (almost on all occasions our Vacation has overlapped the Diwali festival) , you see the fireworks going off sporadically in the miniature villages below, with the sound reaching you a bit later! The blue water in the lake is as still as can be. The view on the other side is the road winding down towards Mumbai. The Luxury Buses with their musical horns and cars plying up and down this road appear to be miniature toys. Straight ahead a shepherd expertly and fearlessly walks his way down a steep ridge.
Undaunted by the sheer drop below him, a monkey merrily jumps from one protruding tree root to another. A tiny bird stops its flight midway in front of us, to remain in animated suspension for what seems like eternity. Lost in the sights, one wishes this moment should last forever. The setting sun casts its own magic: creating shadows and vivid hues in the mountain ranges. It is also a reminder that we have to get back before darkness engulfs us in the heavily wooded area. The chatter of the insects and the sounds of the birds are now louder.
Driving back on roads without streetlights is also quite an experience. It’s a mystery how the locals manage to find their way in the pitch darkness without any lantern whatsoever!Though the sun has set, the evening activity certainly does not have to!Earlier, all of Mahabaleshwar used to land up at Venna Lake in the evenings.Though it still is a popular place for many, the on-going lake capacity enhancement project and road alignment works have cruelly robbed the scenic place much of its charm, hopefully not for long. Apart from the lake, everyone flocks to the marketplace. During the peak Diwali tourist season, the atmosphere there is quite remarkable. At times you have to jostle your way through the teeming crowds. Though some ghastly new hotels in this area do stand out for the wrong reasons, the same old dependable shops with familiar faces behind the counters selling wares ranging from delicious chikki (a savoury of nuts based in jaggery/sugar syrup), masala channa (gram) chocolate fudge to traditional crafts are very reassuring. Festive lighting, traditional lanterns makes it all the more alluring. Small children draw fascinating Rangoli patterns outside their homes and shops.
One could just go on and on about this haven in the mountains….the freshly plucked strawberries, the local taxies of vintage lineage, the long walks, the palmist trying to palm off your own future to you, the holiday cheer all around you, the cool and crisp air, the fluffy white clouds flirting with the mountains, the mystical mist, the serenity.. we simply can’t get enough of it.
These experiences cleanse and soothe the mind, though the body also obviously benefits from all the physical activity. The stresses and strains of the urban life are in stark contrast to the languid pace of life here. The sight of the red toy bus winding it’s way miles below, makes me say to myself- this is Life!
Now for the sinking feeling. Its time to drive back to Mumbai. From the highs to the lows- figuratively and literally. Mumbai might give me my subsistence, it is Mahabaleshwar, though, which allows me to celebrate my existence.
The long wait until our next visit begins.