This is second round of my journey from Mumbai to Mahabaleshwar and further ahead to Kolhapur, Panhala and then to Coorg and Kerala. We planned to cover entire distance by road in the car.
I started from Mumbai and after lunch at Pune with my good old school buddy Dinesh Apte, I moved on to Mahabaleshwar. By evening I was at Panchgani; which is just 18 km from Mahabaleshwar and is home to most famous public schools in Maharashtra.
The climate was pleasant and journey was great. The road to Pune was expressway and hence was very comfortable. The road after Pune to Wai was also very comfortable. Climate at Panchgani was exceptionally good with bit of chill in the evening.
I stopped for tea at stall of Parameshwar Gole; he was talkative and nice person. He showed me homestay of his cousin by name of Shubham Niwas.
I stayed there for the night. The next day I explored Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani. Like other hill stations around Mumbai; even Mahabaleshwar was popularized by British. They also made it summer capital of Bombay Presidency. Being at altitude of 1372 mts from mid sea level; it has very pleasant weather in the summer.
In the area around Mahabaleshwar, five rivers flow (Savitri, Gayatri, Krishna, Koyna and Venna) thus making it agriculturally advanced. The mountains around are covered with thick forests of Javali. This was one the areas where Marathas fought fierce battles with Mughals by taking benefit of the terrain.
Needle Hole Point captured from Highest Altitude spot of Mahabaleshwar - Triveni
Panchgani Table Land on right and Valley of Krishna river - from Triveni
While you go Mahabaleshwar keep in mind that Panchgani weather is as good and it is not crowded. So if you want peace, and privacy then better to stay here. Mahabaleshwar has shopping areas and lots of budget as well as premium hotels. Panchgani mostly has homestays; there are some with pretty nurseries around and some with strawberry farms. These can be ideal for few days of peaceful stay.
There are many sight seeing points in Mahabaleshwar; but few of the very good ones are given below. In fact my advice is not to see every place; you would waste time and energy. Also as is the case with every hill station; many points are generally created to make the list longer; and one can do away with some.
Few of the best ones are as follows:
You would find them every where
Arthur Seat: This is probably the best of all points. It is approx 10 km away from new town, but it is worth visiting. Named after Mr Arthur Mallet, this point gives splendid view of the Savitri Valley right below you. You can also see Pratapgadh; from here on a clear sunny day. On the way you may also enjoy view from Marjorie Point and Tiger Springs (apparently tigers used to come here to drink water!!!).
Needle Point/Elephant Head Point: It is called as needle point, as a rock is standing maintaining some gap from cliff making to look like Needle hole. The shape of the rock is such that it also looks like elephant head and trunk, thus called elephant head point. One can get breathtaking view of the mountains around and Krishna River in the valley. While visiting this point you can also see Lodwick point on the way.
Kate’s Point and Echo point: Both these points are towards Panchgani; overlooking Krishna valley. As the name suggests you get clear echo from the valley here. If you are interested in echo then only visit this point.
Venna Lake: Just, as you enter Mahabaleshwar from Panchgani, you are welcomed by buzz around Venna Lake. You can enjoy boating, riding etc., along with eating as there are many stalls of all kinds of food stuff here. This is probably the most crowded point after Malcom Peth (i.e. main market of Mahabaleshwar)
Temples: Mahabaleshwar Temple: Temple of Shiva referred to as Mahabali (all powerful) is the presiding deity of the town. This Shivalinga is considered to be swayambhu (lord has appeared himself) and fulfilling wishes of the pilgrims.
Panchaganga Temple: Dedicated to the sacred five rivers in the area around, which bless this area is Panchaganga temple. Springs coming out of Gomukh(cow’s mouth) is considered to be representing five rivers.
Pratapgadh: At 24 km from Mahabaleshwar stands this invincible fort built in 1656 by the Founder of Maratha Empire, Chhatrapati Shivaji. This is one of the toughest forts to conquer; as the approach consists of small winding roads with steep gradient. This made it virtually impossible to carry heavy artillery or even big battalions. This also made it the chosen spot by Shivaji, to meet his one of the biggest adversary Afzal Khan of Bijapur, who met his fateful end here. Make it a point to see the graves of Afzal Khan and his bodyguard Sayyad Banda (legendary fighter of that time) built and maintained with grants given by Shivaji. There is a tunnel on the fort which supposedly opens few kms away and was used as escape route in times of trouble.
Tapola lake: At approximately 30 km from Mahabaleshwar is Tapola situated on banks of Shivsagar lake (backwaters of Koyna dam – the biggest in Maharashtra). The journey is especially breathtaking with scenic beauty of valleys, river and mountains. As you suddenly drop altitude from Mahabaleshwar, the flora and fauna changesalong with weather; this can be of special interest to nature lovers. Tapola, has boating club where you can enjoy boat rides - right from small rides in a paddle boat to a long journey around Shivsagar lake in speed boats (total expanse of lake is 80 km). Adventure seekers can also plan, overnight tour to Vasota fort. However, it would need permission from Forest Department as it is a part of Koyna Nature Reserve. Please reach Tapola, early in the morning, carry enough consumables and learn topography well before you start; as there are no support systems around and the terrain around Vasota is confusing. There are tents where you can plan overnight stay as well.
On the way to Tapola
Shivsagar Lake (Backwaters of Koyana - on the way to Tapola)
Mahabaleshwar and Panchagani have lot of options for stay. Budget hotels are mostly in the town and near main market, they are easy to reach but do not give really a great experience. You can opt to stay in bunglows or in strawberry gardens; there are options of bed & breakfasts/homestays in both kind of stays and they are especially good if have few days to spare. Good quality hotels and resorts are also there but they are really expensive. Hence I advise to stay at homestays and also help common men earn their living; find them on www.mygreatstay.com
Mahabaleshwar now is a good place to visit even for people from Mumbai. Due to better connectivity of roads one can reach in 4 hrs and driving is pretty easy with 6 lane roads. In fact its is easier to visit Mahabaleshwar than Alibaug which 2.5 hrs by road but where driving can be real pain.
I decided to leave Mahabaleshwar, by the next day afternoon and reach Kolhapur by night. However I got late, also on the way I changed my plan decided to stay at Panhala Fort. Kolhapur is at higher altitude and Panhala fort is visited by most as the climate here is really nice.
Coming up next Panhala the mighty fort……………………….