Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Mahabaleshwar: A Holiday in the Hills

Mahabaleshwar is a place we had fallen in love with as children and our love affair with it continues to grow. I wouldn't call it a holiday destination because that does not not do justice to the affinity we have developed for it over the decades.

Our reasons for adoring it have changed. From a fun place which meant horse riding, boating and adventures as kids, our relationship with it has evolved. It is now more of an escape to nature, to mother Earth herself. For nowhere else have I felt that connect with such intensity as here.

So, Diwali time it was and a time to escape the firecrackers into the welcoming arms of this green haven. Everything about our visits is so right...It begins with the pleasant six hour drive Mumbai via the expressway to Pune and thereon from the scenic Wai onward to Mahabaleshwar. The monsoons have just ended and the landscape is lush green for most of the journey. We halt at one of the food courts for Maharashtra's favourite snack, the Wada Pav with its spicey chutney. A warm welcome awaits us at our hotel which is located just right~ amid a thick forest yet not too far away from the main town area either.

In fact, our hotel rooms housed in a bedroom apartment were quite massive with the high ceiling typical of older M'war hotels. The secluded, spaced out rooms and our being among all the trees was reassuring in a tourist town where demand for rapid expansion has changed entire hotel layouts. It had all the trappings of a resort such as a swimming pool, games and activities..not that I care much about these. Give me serenity and nature any day! And for that I didn't have to look far. There's an old world simplicity about the place, the innocence of the locals and honesty in dealings with travelers. Despite rapid development (Mahabaleshwar is a top 10 tourist destination of India), it retains its quintessential hill station charm, thankfully because it falls under a protected zone. The locals continue to live in tiny, picturesque villages, some of them miles away from the main town.

And what does one do if not a lover of the trees, birds, clear blue skies and cool, fresh mountain air? Well, there's a lot to suit everyone. So you have para-gliding (seasonal), water sports at two places, Dhom dam (Wai) and at Tapola, the fair by the Venna Lake and even Go Karting. For me, however, long walks among the words, listening to bird calls and spotting them, letting my camera lens talk and just dissolving into the serenity is my nirvana! We just can't get enough of the lavish views of valleys, rivers and the rugged Sahayadri ranges which melt into the distant horizon.

As the town does not have much of street lighting, the action shifts to two night spots after sun down~ the Venna Lake and the Market place. The lake is a shadow of its former self, what with the work done to increase the capacity of the reservoir. However, a walk down the Market place remains a favourite activity for the aroma of roasted channa, corn, food stuff and bright sight of familiar street vendors and shops. The leather shops are famous for their handmade shoes, bags and belts. Just window shopping and ambling along is such a rich experience. Vehicles are debarred from this street, which makes life easier.
And while walking along, munch on roasted corn or pick up fresh strawberries~ the fruit that empitomises Mahabaleshwar. Also, so many dishes have either corn, strawberries or mulberries as ingredients~ corn patties, strawberry/mulberry with fresh cream, ice creams, milk shakes and other such concoctions. In fact some desserts are so rich, they are meals by themselves! The roadside eateries on the Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani road are our choice for dining. From local Maharashtrian cuisine to delectable berry based desserts, nowhere else have we eaten such good stuff! 

After a week of being spoilt by good food, the quiet and freshness, on the last day of our holiday we experience withdrawal symptoms. We linger at a viewing point overlooking the valley, watching the sunset paint the skies in glorious hues.. one positive is that the drive back is also a joy. Just past Wai, we halt at a roadside sugarcane juice stall. The cane is fresh produce from an adjoining field.

Divine! What begins well ends well too.






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