People told me that my journey would be worthless. “Mahabaleshwar? In the April heat? The best time to go there is after the rains!! That's when blah blah blah.. extract maximum fun out of the place. We could all go there together when the time is right and when we have achieved...blah blah blah...” In retrospect, this indeed has been one of the biggest challenges for me whenever I try to escape from Mumbai and more specifically: my competition battered MBA campus. If there is a small thought pertaining to freedom, to do what I like, it is soon trampled by the cacophony and the pressure to comply (to ‘normalcy’- they claim). Thankfully my desperation and the disgust for the filth I’ve seen in my routine pushed my heart until it emerged victorious over the mind.
Slowly even logic was with me: Past experiences have proven that the very same critics and those promising to accompany me to Mahabaleshwar later in ‘better times’ would in all probability back out later.
So Mahabaleshwar was the destination and at 5:45am, I set off. After crossing Pune at 9, I stopped at the McDonalds beyond Pune at the NH-4 (Satara road). Some 40 Kms beyond Pune is a right turn to Mahabaleshwar. Now the greens, the winding roads start and this is a relatively slower but pleasurable drive. One may witness a jam at the toll collection centre at Panchgani, but otherwise the drive is wonderful with some serious climb and beautiful view-points 9including the confluence of rivers). The road between Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani is surprisingly full of ATV and go-karting tracks. They are not quite for the die-hard racing types, but I was alarmed by their sheer number.
I reached Mahabaleshwar at 11:15am and checked out the Mapro products (Jams, squash, etc) at the company outlet. Thereafter I headed to Arthur point: a lake with option of boating and horse-ride at the edge. Mahabaleshwar is famous for strawberries and I was ordered not to miss the fresh ones available here. Dutifully, I stopped at a restaurant and ordered the famous Cream-strawberry. I was not at all disappointed: the strawberries couldn’t have been fresher and the delicacy was quite filling. Another attraction of these small ‘garden’ restaurants is that they are literally Garden restaurants. The one I visited had a rich variety of plants and flowers. Though an illiterate in terms of identifying plants, I was nevertheless floored by the captivating landscape. I checked out hotels (for so called future plans). The tariffs are around what you’d expect at a tourist destination; slightly on the higher side.
I reached Pune around 4pm and headed for the Pune cantonment. Hard to explain; but I felt I was falling in love with the city. Great apartments, the glamorous yet spacious M.G. Road and the weather. Maybe because it reminded me of Bangalore J
The evening was spent in chatting, catching up, exploring the cantonment, the golf course and the snazzy M. G. Road market. The next morning I headed towards the other end of the town where Vaibhav bhaiya and bhabhi live. Again the heart felt heavy when I spotted the lovely airy housing societies and the clubhouses. Reminiscing the past?
The conversation never ended, there was so much we had to catch up on. The self imposed time boundaries were annihilated and I left Pune at around 5pm to greet dark clouds.
And soon after I crossed Hinjewadi road, the clouds started in full fury.
When had I last experienced this intoxicating smell of the wet earth? Nature has powerful forces and today I wanted to indulge. After waiting for the downpour to ease out for a couple of minutes, I decided to carry on in the rain. I had to clear the ghats before sunset. More importantly, when was the last time I had been this happy about my surroundings? How can I let these moments of joy pass by?
Traction on the wet tarmac scares me. So I deflated the balding tires a bit and set off. On a normal day in a city it would have been chaotic, but today it was ecstatic! The raindrops thumping your chest, the cool winds making you shiver and the vast shades of green, brown and grey skies in the horizon: feels heavenly. Thanks to the pouring rain, the traffic was disciplined. Erratic pedestrians, carts, etc were absent and mine was the only bike to be seen.
Reaching Lonavla was the sore point. Somehow the acrid smell of Mumbai was apparent from there itself and the desperate crowd killed the high given to me by nature sometime back.
My mind was laden with doubt and apprehension before making this trip. How would it be like to meet old friends? All of us change over years, so will our meeting be remotely close to the old times or will it be awkward?
Upon meeting everyone all these doubts vanished and I was overwhelmed by the love and affection I got from people. So I urge you to put such thoughts aside. To meet an old friend: make that trip..
Total distance travelled: 612 Km
The route via Pune is not the shortest way to get to Mahabaleshwar but it is definitely the fastest. If you are taking a cab and the odometer reading is crucial, take the NH-17
Fuel filled: Rs 1000 (15.9L)
P-200 Mileage: 38.5 Km/L
The drive is spectacular throughout. The NH-4 is well surfaced throughout and you can manage speeds of 100+ for most of the journey. The last 40 Kms off the NH-4 has narrow semi-mountainous drive. You might need 1.5- 2 hours to cover this leg.