“Aa bhi jaa, aa bhi jaa… Ae subah aa bhi jaa…” Lucky Ali’s silky voice was the best compliment to the rather welcome dull 6.45am Friday skies. The fiery summers had almost made way for the soothing monsoons in Mumbai, and the showers had already begun in the Western Ghats. There was something remarkably different about this weekend getaway. With Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar being the most sought after summer destinations in Maharashtra, we had given up on finding decent reasonably priced hotels and decided to try Airbnb instead. It was rather surprising to find the perfect place – it took care of all our needs and was decently priced. Our host Ami of Sweet Memories Homestay had shared the GPS location a couple of days before our stay. She also confirmed the news of the cool showers the night before the journey and reminded us to carry umbrellas.
We had spent quite some stuffing the car with all sorts of treats we could think of. It took only an unsatisfying breakfast at Vithal Kamath restaurant near Pune to finish a quarter of the treats. I cherish the family mini-vacations we take – it’s a break from routine and reminds us how lucky we are. As instructed by Ami we got in touch with the local caretaker Mr. Dharmesh once we reached the Panchgani Market area. He met us at a pre-decided point and guided us to the homestay location as it was difficult to locate on Google Maps. Guiding us down the precarious-looking slope to the building entrance Mr. Dharmesh spoke to us in general about the place and the weather. He mentioned that the weather was really pleasant and that there had been heavy rains the day before. He warned about the pesky monkeys nearby and reminded us to be extra careful with the car’s side view mirrors.
After a quick recce of all the available apartments, we chose the one on the ground floor as it was easily accessible for my grandparents. The apartment, although cozy, turned out to be more than enough for us. With two rooms, a kitchenette, brand new utensils and cutlery, we had practically everything we would need. For everything else, there was the grocery store less than a hundred metres away. It took us less than 10 minutes to fall in love with the amazing weather that welcomed us – the dark cloudy skies, cool unpolluted breeze and the first showers of the season. The thing I loved the most about the place was the majestic fruit-laden Gular tree that overlooked the misty lush green valley.
After a couple of hours of settling in and waiting for the rains to pause, we decided to explore a bit. We started our journey exploring with the nearby Devrai Art Village, and were completely blown away with the craftsmanship they had there. The owners provide skill training and livelihood to the local tribal people.
The place really inspires creativity. Almost all of the art pieces they had were about mixed media art – especially the marriage of rock with brass. We spent a while interacting with the artists working there and they took us through their entire process – right from the designing, moulding and finishing process. We interacted briefly with the proprietors too – they were really sweet people. We bought souvenirs on our way out – my favourite being my sister’s honey-comb inspired necklace.
With no specific itinerary in mind we drove towards Mahabaleshwar, stopping at the Pure Gold Cheese Factory. As we waited for our snacks to be prepared, the employees took us through the cheese production journey which ended with a brief yet delicious cheese tasting session.
From the strawberry cream to the pizza fries and the pani-puri shots, almost everything they offered was impressive. The rest of the evening we spent taking a walk near the apartment, and visiting the Ganapati temple close by. We bought some rice on the way back and ended up cooking it for dinner.
We were awoken the following morning by the caretaker who had brought us our breakfast (which was included in the package). We left for the Mahabaleshwar Temple soon after. The route to the temple was an adventure in itself. The connectivity issues made it difficult to navigate, and the road was greeted by dense greenery on either sides. Built in the 16th century by Chanda Rao More, the majestic temple is flocked by thousands of devotees on the weekends. There are a couple of more temples nearby – the Panchganga Temple and the Atibaleshwar Temple. The Panchganga Temple is at the confluence of the five rivers – Koyna, Krishna, Venna, Savitri and Gayatri. It was built by Raja Singhandeo, the Yadav of Devagiri in the 13th century, and was renovated by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
We stopped by at a restaurant briefly before going to the main attraction of the weekend – the Mapro Gardens. Full of greenery and bustling with people, it hadn’t changed much since the last time I had seen it. We saw the story of the founders, the Vora family, in the auditorium. It is just amazing how humble their beginning was, and the extent to which they have impacted so many people – right from supporting the local population with employment to providing a happy environment to the thousands of families who visit the hill station.
We spent the evening gorging on the most delicious food and getting drenched in the rain. It was rather sweet of the helpers at the Gardens to assist my grandparents to the car. The ride to the apartment was eventful as well. The remainder of the evening was spent relaxing in the room, listening to old songs, and devouring the last packs boxes of treats.
Mahabaleshwar has this effect on me every single time – I end up stuffing myself with strawberry and cream multiple times in a day for multiple days. Although I end up with disapproving rebukes from mom, I have absolutely zero regrets. Needless to say I had strawberry and cream from Pure Gold Cheese Factory the following morning after we checked out.
Here are a few things we learnt from this trip –
- I found that Airbnb is a decent choice. There are quite a few reasonably priced options available if one books well in advance. A special thanks to Ami and Mr. Dharmesh for making our trip so eventful.
- The early monsoon is probably the best time to visit Mahabaleshwar. The beauty of the cool air and the greenery is at its peak at this time, and the temperature isn’t too low either
- The Devrai Art Gallery is definitely worth visiting – a lot of creativity and artistic expression there.
- Do visit the Pure Gold Cheese Factory. The cheese there is just lovely. The pizza sticks at the café are worth a try, and so is strawberry with cream.