Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mahabaleshwar - Land of strawberries and cream

Sunset at Mahabaleshwar
Drove to Mahabaleshwar yesterday from Pune. It is a wonderful drive of about 110 kms and very convenient as well because we just have to slide on to the Mumbai - Bangalore highway which is a few minutes drive from our house and that goes most of the distance. This is a brilliant road, four laned all through and an extension really of the Mumbai-Pune expressway. Even the Khambatgo ghat road is separate for to and fro traffic. .
People waiting for the sun to set

We hit Panchgani first and looked up the table top. Since this was a short visit and Sanjay had not been here before, we decided to have a look at all that needed to be looked at. So the tonga was a good option on the table top where they spoke of showing five points and nine points and off we went with Tarzan, our horse, and our dodgy guide, galloping over the gravelly roads much to Anjali's delight. Now the table top is pretty much what we get to see in Panchgani and there seems nothing else there and we went this way and that, ate some fine ice cream, saw the places where they shot some movies, looked at the spots from binoculars as if we hoped to see some magic remaining there and moved on. We reminisced our old friend from Osmania  University College of Engineering, the ruggedly handsome Ali Mumtaz, who studied in Panchgani during his school days and who disappeared off the radar after the college days.
360 degree views from the Connaught Peak, Mahabaleshwar

Off we went from there to Mahabaleshwar which is another 12 kms down the road, paying taxes and tolls all over. In Mahabaleshwar, every place was crowded with hundreds of cars and thousands of people keen to have a good time even if it meant running over the rest. But we had our plans set - strawberries and cream was the main item for me. Luckily the place where Sanjay had booked us in was a remote place on the road connecting Old Mahabaleshwar to Kate's point which is pretty far away (4 kms) from the rest of the town. It is a quaint little place called Honey Wood which is run by Mrs. Chenoy who was very helpful in terms of giving us directions and suggestions. I liked the way the place was built, simple and functional, away from all civilisation and wanted to have a chat with her before I left but I could not. I assume that she lives on the first floor with three rooms below, two cottages by the side with two bedrooms each, a living space etc. More info on the website on the net. I do think it is a place worth visiting again, perhaps in the off season because it is so far away from the rest of the crowd and out in the jungle.

After seeing some mandatory points etc, one of which was the less crowded Connaught Peak which was suggested by Mrs. Chenoy that gave us a fabulous view of the forest cover of Mahabaleshwar 360 degree almost, I took a walk along the tiger path at 5 in the evening which was lovely and managed to go further up than I did the last time. Since I was alone it was far more satisfying as I heard the bird sounds, the slithery sounds in the forest. Some time at the sunset point where the sun played truant but it was amazing for me just to see the number of people watching the sunset like it was a miracle that happened once in a lifetime. People gathered like believers waiting for the miracle to happen, cameras in hand to capture the moment.
Sunrise over the Savitri river at Kate's Point, Mahabaleshwar

Anyway from there we headed out to the Venna lake which always disappoints me because it is a very ordinary lake and not scenic at all because of all the work thats going on around it. Mahabaleshwar is also one place where they give all kinds of names that are completely far from reality. If I found the description of Little Kashmir to Tapola completely off the mark, the description of little Las Vegas to the little strip of shops near the Venna lake is even farther off. But it is here in these brightly lit shops that the Anarkali lies - the shop that serves some fantastic strawberries and cream, second only to the Mapro garden strawberry and cream  If there is one reason for you to go to Mahabaleshwar, it is for this strawberry and cream. Take it from me - it's heavenly stuff.

But it was the walk at night, in the quiet, the pitch dark of the road only lit by the moonlight, amidst the thick growth of Mahabaleshwar that I really enjoyed myself. The sound of the wind whistling through the trees, the quiet, the dark grew into me, and in a few moments I could feel why it was all part of me, and how I was part of it all. Once again I walked alone which made it all the more pleasurable.
Needle point, Mahabaleshwar

Today we headed out to the Kate's point and watched a mellow and ripe sun rise over the valley. It was a great sight and we sat and sipped chai in a small joint that seemed to be frequented by celebrities. Lots of photographs. Again on the way back we stopped at the Mapro garden on the way back to Panchgani. It is  a wonderful place with great views of the valley below and tons of terrific produce that includes jams, crushes, juices, honey etc.  Once again, one must gorge on the many delicacies that the Mapro garden serves, the fabulous grilled sandwiches, the cheesy pizzas,  the fresh ice creams. I gorged on another strawberry and cream and left Mahabaleshwar, content and fulfilled. 

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