Although summer season is preferable for visiting hill stations like Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar, this time we decided to try them out during monsoon. Monsoon definitely adds greenery to otherwise bare mountains, so wanted to give it a try and it turned out to be a good experience. One advantage is avoiding the huge crowds. It came out to be a sweet surprise, as it was pleasantly cold and we could get the glimpse of the seasonal Potato and Jawar fields, typically grown, in steps, on the slopes of the mountains, giving a spectacular view of this mountainside.

What I missed was the strawberry fields. Panchngani and Mahabaleshwar has the best weather for it and it’s a rich business in here. Most of the influential landlords reap this profit and companies like Mapro and Mala have set up great businesses based on these fruits. Food products like squash, syrups, juice and jams are the hot selling deals and have reached India wide markets.

Although we were reluctant to get the Club Mahindra membership earlier due to few reservations about this concept of buying holidays in advance, our first holiday with them in blue country resort came out to be a nice choice. We had rooms in the form of some of the well designed country cottages with landscape garden, pool side view and a large variety of flowers and plants.

A wide sliding window opening up to the soothing view of the garden, swimming pool and the closely mountains on the horizon made the whole scene quite dreamy and the fog had added a bit of mystery to the whole trip and making it much more interesting. Next day morning, we woke up to the chirping of birds and later had a chance to capture their foreplay and romances, as they flew over the trees and beautifully maintained garden.

Before becoming a member to Club mahindra, we had a huge brainstorming and debate, but finally being an ardent traveler and having prolific love for this way of being one with the nature and adding some more oxygen to the hectic life, making new friends, getting to know cultures. I just ended up signing up these 25 years of holidays with them. This does not mean that I have closed my other options of traveling at all, my trekking is still on and I do intend to visit places, which are not covered by Club Mahindra.

The Rajapuri caves has three distinct fountains called “Datta Kunda”, “Mallikarjun Kunda” and “Vishnu Kunda” and the devotees come down here on Fridays and bath in these three fountains. Bathing in these “Kunda”s is considered to be sacred and according to belief it relieves you from all your diseases as well as sins. This place is really quite and takes you a step closer to the nature.

Mahabaleshwar is famous for its points, some of them for their beautiful valley views, few for the waterfalls and some of them for their historical significance. Echo point, Needle View Point and Kate’s Points are quite closely to each other and one can over-see the spectacular Krishna Valley from the top, especially from the Kate’s point. The cluster of quaint, villages, spread on the wide span of this magnificent valley keeps you glued to this point for some while. The Dhond dam backwaters on the left and then the Krishna River much humbler, after being controlled by the dam, flows down Satara, truly being a life line of those villages in the valley.

A visit to Mapro factory is must, especially for all the fruits and juice lovers. Racks of squashes, syrups, juices, jams, candies etc. are stacked very much at the entrance and you have a wide variety to choose from. The dexterous sales girl showed her skills of serving the groups of juice lovers, huddled up around her, by juggling between, getting the squash from the bottles adding water or milk, and then shaking between the two glasses, well quite interesting watch. The trick really worked as the customer did end up picking up one or two more exotic varieties along with the famous ones. The orchid garden was one more point of attraction and exhibited exotic and rare varieties of orchids. The color combinations were exquisite and good treat for some flowery photography.

Both the drivers-cum-escorts that we got for our sightseeing seemed to have retired from pilot’s job and zoomed around on the roads with a speed of a jet. Most of the roads were empty out here, but going through the foggy roads was quite dangerous. My wife’s feeble attempts to scale them down to a normal car driver, were unsuccessful. The road from Panchgani to Pratapgadh was covered in less than an hour; I guess it could have taken at least two hours for a driver, driving on the grounds. Thankfully both the trips were completed, without any crash landing, but an experience in itself.

The visit to any of the Shivaji‘s forts fills you with some kind of amazing enthusiasum and you are overwhelmed by shear though of events that might have happened there. Visit to “Pratap Gadh” was one of such instances. As you step pass each step, each door, the history keeps unfurling itself and you start reliving those moments, transporting you to that era.You can feel those moments. The way Shivaji might have considered the various options while the mighty, cruel and wicket Afzal khan was sitting there at the “Javali”, who had sweared to kill Shivaji.

As I passed each door and each step my mind was floating in the past trying to hear out those “Har Har Mahadev” war cries. The secret and diplomatic meetings before facing afzal khan. Must have got number of important decisions made here. Afzal Khan‘s ultimate goal being to the destroy the Swarajya, the result of so many efforts and blessings of so many Maratha mothers, who sacrificed their sons for this long sought freedom. The freedom to worship your God, the freedom to live dignified life, the freedom to reap benefits from your own land and the freedom to sing happily your own songs. The things that seem so obvious today were rare novelties of those days.

Would the fear have touched his mind for a moment? What would have been his conversation with all his well wishers, his close ones? How was the plan drafted and later cleverly executed? The key elements and key people in the whole plot and the “Will” to come out of any situation no matter what, to protect this kingdom, the kingdom which was based on Dharama, not the Hindu Dharma, the Dharma of taking care of the poor and those who can’t protect themselves, to protect the indigenous culture and traditions and religious places and even the devotees who held these places higher than their lives.

Apart from Shivaji and his brave Maratha’s, I think “Sahyadri” was one more hero of the “Hindavi Swaraj”. The intimidating peaks, formidable valleys and the wild forests, the daunting cliffs, the virtually nonpenetratible jungles, all this was instrumental in establishing a kingdom that was surrounded by mighty and cruel “Sultanates”. Even the thought of having your own kingdom could have been considered a great folly, leading to not less than losing ones life. That was the destiny every person every human born in the land of “Hindustan” of those times had. It was Jijavoo , who could dream of “Swaraj”. Jijavoo’s vision, Shivaji diplomacy and valor and gallantry of lean, but tough and sharp Maratha’s could make this possible. I was reliving all the history and immersing myself into this glorious past.

Maratha’s were meant for this tough life. They never had the luxury of those mansions, villas and fancy looking forts, akin to the ones in Rajasthan. Their major weaponry and arsenal was not the swords and guns, but those unreachable and tough cliffs, the vertical pinnacles and the valleys and passes and the thick mass of jungles.

There have been many fans, of Sahyadri, right from Babasaheb Purandare to Milind Gunaji (Writer of Bhatkanti) and Bhagwan Chile (Writer of Gadcoat Aani Kille) . They were fans of Shivaji, The phenoneno that happened few hundred years ago. He never knew no and he valued his positivism above everything else and snatched those impossible looking victories.

I have been to Shivneri, Sajjangadh, Raigadh and Sinhagadh earlier through my 8th standard school picnic, but didn’t feel the same kind of ecstasy, that I felt now. May be this was because of getting the right understanding of those situations and grasping the importance of politics of those times. Imagine Shivaji would never have born, we would have got probably a largely Muslim India by now. Understanding of those days and the contribution of this great man have now gotten into my awareness and conscience.

The forts Shivaji built were strong, intimidating and were build to fight every enemy and protect the fort and the people living in the fort. They were never constructed as fine architectural monument or a lavish looking mansion to spend the holidays with queens and other near dear ones.

The secret compartment to hide a company of infantry in case of emergency, the strategic baalekilla, the chor darwaja in case if even the “Baalekilla” falls to the enemy, retreat to a secret hiding in the jungles using this path. All examples of dynamism and strategic intelligence of those times. Different kind of challenges as compared to today, but a well thought about approach and sincere effort to achieve what is in the interest of the masses.

These were build to combat the deadliest attacks; these were not mahals of luxury but fortresses of freedom, dignity and fierce patriotism. They were build to create fear or “jarab” in the minds of enemy who dare not even have a look at them with bad intensions….. This visit to Pratapgadh, for me, was too overwhelming and demanding to live up to the expectations, the expectations build by these ancestors of mine. The feeling was of pride and at the same time responsibility. Lot of vision and clearer thoughts….

On the way to Kate’s point you get astonishing views of the Mahabaleshwar valley. The “Lingmalla” and “Bhilar” waterfalls are amazing. I had read earlier that this place is famous for high oxygen content in air. I can actually feel that, because even after a night’s journey, I was quite fresh and the air was quite rejuvenating and adding more freshness and energy.

The road to Lodwick point and Sydney point was mystified by thick mist and we were part of some mysterious travel right in the middle of thick jungle. “Lodwick” and “Elephant Head” point are at walk able distance from Sydney point. But the fog was so thick; we dare not go more than a few steps, with the road being virtually invisible and little too scary as the place was complexly deserted. We suppressed our curiosity and got back to our cab, little charmed by the unique experience of this thick fog and cloudy and humid weather.

The Panchaganga temple gives you that peace of mind. The sacred atmosphere calms you down as you are at your spiritual high. The place wasn’t in my original itenary, but decided to get there, as our escort, Mr.Jadhav insisted on this place. This is also called Shetra Mahabaleshwar. The five rivers Krishna, Koyana, Gayatri, Savitri and Venna originate from this place and the temple seems to be quite ancient, probably even older to Shivaji Mararaj’s times. A broad “Gaabhara”, narrow carved our resting chambers on right and left sides, two “Kundas” one after the other, in the middle and a stream of five sacred rivers pouring down into the first “Kunda”. All the five rivers have their tiny mandirs along with a ganapati mandir. The usual Mandir crowd was missing and the quiet of the place, proved to be a quite spiritual experience.
Panchgani Photos

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