Whenever I heard the clichéd question ‘Are you a beach person or a mountain person?’ I found myself afloat on a never-descending stream of thought. What a difficult choice! How will I never know which of the two I am?
That was only until I went to the mountains. With my two best friends A and D. We were at the tapering end of this year’s monsoon and utilized the country’s Independence Day to live out and celebrate our own freedom with a weekend getaway to Mahableshwar and Panchgani.
To say it was beautiful is to call the Sun a bulb. To lose my heart to such beauty was beyond my control and I left my heart there in the hope that I will be back in the mountains soon to look for it.
This is my travelogue.
Our bus reached our destination sooner than we’d expected and with sleep still weighing heavy on our lids, we alighted to a sharp chill and soft drizzle on a yet to rise morning. It was 6 a.m. and after freezing all the way in the air-conditioned bus full of strange smells from mysterious sources, I felt privileged to shiver in the fresh mountain air. That is when we met Ravi who would be our cab guy and guide for the rest of the trip. We were dropped at the hotel which would not allow us to check in until 11 a.m. and when we reached the reception hoping to work our female charms into an earlier check-in, an empty desk welcomed us. After a few minutes of calling out for someone, anyone, we waited quietly like civilized people. But Ravi, he knew the ways of this part of the world. He crawled into a small opening behind the empty desk and two minutes and a few kicks and shoves later; a sleepy hotel employee emerged from under what looked like a foot-high pile of blankets. He checked his records for our reservation and stated plainly that we can check-in only at eleven. We exchanged panicked looks; our bladders were heavy from the long and cold journey of the bus. The sleepy man then led us to what was a hut with two tables and a few plastic chairs which was to be our abode for the next FIVE HOURS. D asked for a washroom and the sleepy and increasingly annoying man informed us that even he did not have a washroom. Okay, no problem. So we’ll let our bladders know that for reasons of fairness of treatment between employees and customers in this TreeTop Hotel, you shall burst before you are emptied today. *angry growl*
Thus began the long wait with the three of us each had at least one pee-related nervous breakdown. We tried everything, hopping around, sitting tight with crossed legs, distracting ourselves, telling ourselves we did not need to pee that badly. In one dark moment we even considered peeing in the corner of the hut. But with the grace of the Gods responsible for continence, we held our ground (and bladders) and spent the next few hours eating packed food from D’s house.
Lola. She offered us Lola. A wheat and sugar flat bread. The word hung around us like a vulgar stalker for the rest of the trip. A added in a matter of fact manner that the Parsis call the penis ‘Lolu’. As I bit into my piece of Lola rather gratefully for this would be the extent of ‘action’ I would get on this trip anyway. We stuffed our faces with thepla and Lola and poked fun at D.
At one point all three of us also had the privilege of a nap on the extremely uncomfortable plastic chair.
Somewhere after ten, some blessed customers checked out early and we could check-in to our rooms. We were expecting the worst after reading reviews that reported insects and dirty bathrooms but were greeted with a spic and span cozy room. There were adorable bedside lamps and a large mirror facing the bed (wonder what kind of kinky stuff happens here) What’s more even the washroom was clean! We started washing up and fooling around in the room. We had a couple of hours before the cab would come to take us to Mapro and sight-seeing in and around Panchgani. After an extremely cold but liberating bath, we decided to take a stroll in the vicinity. As soon as we stepped out of the hotel premises on the Mahableshwar-Panchgani Road, we saw a beautiful view and attempted to click a few snaps, but within minutes passing vehicles started cat-calling and whistling at us and we returned back to the hotel premises and decided to stroll there. Indian men will never quite learn to behave in a civilized manner with female travellers.
At one-ish in the afternoon along with the cab came rather loud hunger pangs from all our three travel-weary stomachs and we decided to head to Mapro for their famed sandwiches and Pizza before launching into sightseeing. But as we approached Mapro, we realized something; most of Mumbai has arrived here for the long weekend. Mapro was overstuffed with people! Light-headed with hunger and averse to crowds, we did not like what we saw. We were informed that the pizza we order would take an hour. A whole freaking hour. After atrocities on our bladder, now our growling tummies were next in line. They opened another counter on the other side and we had slightly better luck there. We ordered sandwiches, Pizza and strawberry milkshake.
Since it wasn’t the season for strawberries we could not partake the pleasure of Mahableshwar’s famed Strawberry and Cream but given the level of hunger we were experiencing by then, anything was good. My Mumbai Local Commuter Instincts kicked in and in thirty minutes, there was finally food in our bellies and really tasty food at that. I could now understand the hype and rush for Mapro. With full bellies we then splurged on Mapro Products available there and clicked a few more snaps.
Before we continued to the sightseeing at Panchgani, we spent a few minutes wildly gesticulating outside a decrepit ATM to two guys who were working on the machine (read: rolling up the receipt paper roll which was longer than the bloody Nile) slower than anyone’s Grandmother. After a long wait and some cash, we followed a rather impatient Ravi for our sightseeing to begin.
The first place we visited was gorgeous Parsi Point. The scene was breathtaking and for a few moments we forgot the trials that led us there and were completely mesmerized by nature’s Beauty.
Table Lands was our next stop and the breeze that made our hair dance was amazing. I felt like staying there and just marveling at the view that lay before me. I was transported to another world, high on the mountain breeze.
We spread out our arms and imagined we were flying, it felt rather liberating. Because of the vast open space and the view around it, it felt like a playground in the sky. There were many horses there and we amused ourselves by reading out their thoughtfully anointed names aloud. There was a Chulbul Pandey, BMW and even a Chhota Bheem (poor guy was a tad short).
We made the next pit stop at Bhilar water falls that appears only during Monsoons.
The next day we were dressed to kill and had a small photo-shoot in the hotel room.
Then we were picked up by Ravi-jee for our most anticipated meal of the trip at Hotel Dina. We gorged on sumptuous Parsi Dhanshak and left with full bellies for the adventure of another day.
The first stop of the day was the gorgeous Needle Hole point or Elephant’s head point as it is also called. It was beautiful and we were quite excited to find the rock that actually looks like an elephant’s head.
We splashed around in the water spring close by and felt an instant energy throb through our veins as our skin touched the pleasantly cool water.
We also stopped by Echo point and no we did not shout into the valley to be assured of its validity.
The next spot was waterfalls and though it was much hyped, we found the place rather crowded and not as much fun. Although we did feel the urge to jump into the water, the only people enjoying the waterfall in experience were pot-bellied uncles in white banyans mandakini-style. *barf*
The last place we visited was aptly the climax of the entire trip. King’s seat.
It was a long climb up and the guide who was taking us there was mocking us by walking up as if he was strolling the garden and we were holding onto every tree, branch, bush, twig and leaf to keep ourselves upright. At one point I had a matrix moment when my pink shoes decided to do moon walk without my consent and I went gliding down the wet mud. Thanks to D who grabbed onto me and the blueness of my jeans was safeguarded, for now.
But the climb was worth it. The view that greeted surpassed everything we had seen on the trip yet and I felt like I had found myself in a bubble that was drifting towards the sky. The breeze that whipped around us was intoxicating. I could spend days here doing nothing, it was that peaceful. I could hear all my thoughts clearly and I could experience every atom in my being. And those few moments I spent up there became the ‘cover’ moments of the entire trip.
And though I began by saying that I left my heart in the mountains, I must also add, I found new pieces of myself as well.