India is a country with one of the most diverse geographical features and one of those features can be traced in the Western Ghats the origin of which is older than the mighty Himalayas. Due to the immense geographical significance of the formations of Western Ghats when the Indian plate drifted from Gondwana the surface of the this natural phenomena provides some unique landforms that attracts numerous tourists and researchers all around the world.
Being near to Mumbai which is the financial capital of India ,the communication to the hill stations of these mountains are excellent which helps the tourists to visit this unique landmass throughout the year. But the perfect time to visit hill stations of these ancient mountains is when the monsoon arrives on the western coastal of India. Due to the drizzles and clouds changing with the patterns of sunlight and rainfall the road trip in the highway along the Western Ghats provides numerous view points with stunning views of the western valley.
TYPICAL GHAT ROAD ALONG THE WESTERN GHATS.
Apart from Lonavala,Khandala ,Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani are two other major hill stations in the western coast that becomes the prime spots for the tourists in the monsoons. Accordingly I chose the month of June when the monsoon just arrives in the western coast and I started the road trip from Panvel ,the centre of Navi Mumbai. While driving along Mumbai Pune express way we crossed the twin hill stations of Lonavala and Khandala and took our first break for lunch in Pune. Throughout the journey the just arrived monsoons accompanied us with slight drizzles and the landscape through the windows of our car looked even more enchanting as the grasslands of the mountains got drenched with the raindrops.
ROAD TO PANCHGANI AFTER PUNE EXPRESSWAY.
After 5 hour drive we took the diversion from the national highway towards Panchgani Mahabaleshwar state highway and crossed the town Wai. Wai is also a scenic gateway from Navi Mumbai due to it’s location in the Krishna river valley and its vicinity to reach Dhoom dam.
FIRST VIEW POINT OF TOWN WAI ALONG THE GHAT ROAD.
Just before entering Panchgani we came across a parachute gliding point called Harrison’s folly beside the highway which is not only a relevant view point but also a great spot for adventure lovers. In the monsoon though the pictures may not be clear due to less visibility but the clouds loaded with moisture provides an unique experience ,which is suitable enough to capture a mystic moment with the nature. Perhaps monsoon brings to us the best possible features of this unique geographical landmass and that is why a tourist must include this road trip to explore the best of Western India.
MOIST CLOUDS COVERING THE HIGHWAY.
VIEW FROM HARRISON’S FOLLY.
The twin hill stations of Maharashtra ,Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani are loaded with numerous resorts and homestays ,with some providing esteem luxury for the tourists. In the midst of such pool of accommodations it is really hard to choose the best location to spend the vacation surrounded by Western Ghats. My personal choice are always homestays than resorts or hotels owing to their superior scenic locations. Fortunately I found this homely resort tucked away in a hill ,only 2 kms from the famous Mapro garden in Panchgani. The resort is situated on top of a hill surrounded by lush greenery and grasslands creating a paradise for travelers seeking solitude amidst nature. The rooms are clean and food was relatively nice with sufficient options in the menu. The swimming pool and the park adds delicacy to the Grand backdrop of this resort ,thus an ideal retreat for a family coming here for vacation. Though the 1 km muddy road from the highway, to this hotel is a disadvantage but the location and hospitality that this resort provides overlooks this minimal stress. Just in front of the resort there is a huge strawberry plantation where tourists can get the idea of strawberry farming from the local farmers. A mixture of both a homestay and luxury like a five star resort ,this is perhaps the ideal retreat for accommodation in Panchgani or Mahabaleshwar.
IVY PARK HOTEL COMPLEX
The first significant view point of the Western Ghats valleys in the highway of Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar is the Sydney point which is near the Panchgani town. From the view point one can get a panoramic view of the Sahyadri range and the Krishna river flowing through the village Wai. So the beautiful village of Wai and the Dhoom reservoir built on the Krishna river can be seen from this majestic view point of the Western Ghats. Visiting the Sydney point in monsoon can be a disadvantage as the clear distant views of the Krishna valley will be obstructed by the clouds ,but on the other hand the mists and the clouds creates a different experience in the natural ambience of this tourist spot. The grass starts to grow in plenty and the valley looks green providing a more soothing image rather than the dry brown grasses in the summer and winters. According to the preference of a tourist Sydney point provides a memorable company with nature ,but the colours will be different according to the seasons.
VIEW FROM SYDNEY POINT.
The uniqueness in visiting the serene hill stations of the Western Ghats in Maharashtra is the combination of sunrays and the moisture ladden clouds that play hide and seek throughout the day ,in the months from June till end of August. Due to this the colourful contrast of rain and sunlight can be captured perfectly from the numerous view points in Panchgani. When I arrived at the Sydney point the moisture ladden clouds started to pour in the raindrops in the form of a drizzle and the whole area became invisible due to the dense fog. But unlike Sydney point ,Parsi point as shown in the picture ,the sky got cleared from the dark clouds and the rays of sunlight created beautiful reflections of the valley.
PANORAMIC VIEWS FROM PARSI POINT.
From both these view points we are able to see the town Wai ,the reservoir of the Dhoom dam and the Krishna river. From the view points we get to see the Sahyadri range and it’s valley created on the banks of the Krishna river. Local guides have set up telescopes in Parsi point ,guiding us the geographic details of the different points in the valley. The Parsi point derives its name as it was the favourite place for the Parsis in ancient times ,while Sydney point derives it’s name after Sir Sydney Beckwarth ,who was a governor of Mumbai in 1830. These two view points forms major tourist spots to visit in the Panchgani to Mahabaleshwar road and the best time to get the perfect views is during the sunset.
One of the most important and scenic destination in Panchgani is the Table land ,which is considered as Asia’s second longest mountain plateau which is at a height of 4500 feet. The spot is the highest point in Panchgani and due to this special feature there are several view points in this spot. There are horse carts available with the help of which tourists can take a complete tour of this volcanic plateau in 1.5 hours for just RS 500.
THE VAST TABLE LAND.
Among the important spots in this land the shooting point ,the Pandava caves and the footprints of pandava are the prime spots. From mythical stories it is believed that the legendary pandavas lived here during exile from their kingdom and the cave there was the kitchen where they used to cook their food. From the two opposite sides of the table land the new Panchgani and old Panchgani towns are visible ,and an important aspect can be seen from this plateau which shows the five flat mountains of the Sahyadri range meeting at a point and that is how the name Panchgani was given to this hill station where “Panch” means five and “gani” means settlement. From the shooting point the Table lake is visible which along with the scenic views of the shooting point has always been a prime location for numerous Bollywood films over the years.
ONE OF THE FIVE HILLS THAT SURROUND PANCHGANI.
VIEW OF NEW PANCHGANI TOWN FROM TABLE LAND.
My next destination was a relatively historical and mystical place which I discovered on a signboard while going towards the Table lake ,i.e Rajapuri caves. Finding the route to this cave is a bit tricky as the road leading to this spot goes mainly through the rural villages of Panchgani and there are no clear signboards. So after asking the locals I followed a narrow road and finally reached the entrance to the cave marked by a architectural designed gate. Through the concrete footsteps I reached down a cliff and to my surprise I saw structures and idols that resembles an age old civilization ,the mystery of which is till unknown to many and hidden away in a jungle but not far from a famous hill station.
ON THE WAY TO RAJAPURI CAVES.PANORAMIC VIEW OF NEW PANCHGANI TOWN.
ENTRANCE GATE TO RAJAPURI CAVES.
Perhaps people visiting Panchgani gets so much engulfed in the entertainment ,organic foods and view points of the Western Ghats ,that they have forgotten about this significant historical spot which is also divine for the local residents living here. I went inside the cave to see the rock cut structures of idols of Hindu gods.In one of the cave a water comes out from the nose of a bull that falls in a sacred well below. The water is perennial all through the year. No one knows the source of the water but according to the locals it comes from Ganga and thus a very sacred place for the Hindus.
STONE IDOLS INSIDE RAJAPURI CAVES.NOTE THE PERENNIAL STREAM COMING OUT FROM THE MOUTH OF A BULL.
Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani stands out as one of the most famous hill station of the Western Ghats because of the huge amount of entertaining activities that it provides for the tourists who are visiting with their families.
Panchgani is not only about the panoramic view points of the Krishna river valley ,this beautiful hamlet also includes delightful strawberry farms which are world famous for its organic products. Managed by MAPRO (Maharashtra Agro Products) the Mapro Garden and its outlets are one of the most frequently visited tourist spots in this hill stations due to the unique local organic products made by the local farmers. The products ranges from syrups,beverages,sauce,chocolates,jams etc which are unique in it’s variety and taste. The restaurants managed by MAPRO offers numerous options for breakfast and supper from local made cheese,fruit shakes and spices. Visiting the Mapro Garden and collecting the juice jam bottles is a must do activity to keep the memories of this enchanting hill station.
People in India mostly travel to the hill stations to enjoy the serene mountains and the soothing weather of the mountain valleys. Panchgani provides an ideal getaway for imbibing the healthy climate of the Western Ghats along with its numerous adventure parks,mapro gardens and the wax museum. The newly constructed Hollywood wax museum is a delight for tourists of all age as it provides a different experience of entertainment for the tourists visiting here for vacation. By paying RS 300 per head a tourist can see the numerous statues of famous celebrities and also a 9 D movie. The statues are quite similar with the actual faces and characters of our television and social personalities and thus attracts numerous tourists for capturing a different experience other than the mountains. The 9D movie is really exhilarating ,providing a perfect virtual experience unless the person watching the features of a multidimensional movie is not faint hearted. The 20 minute of thrilling experience is a must do activity in Panchgani as the wax museum and the 9D movie is first of its kind in any hill stations in India. The statues are mostly of actors belonging to Hollywood movies and that is why perhaps this wax museum is known is Hollywood museum.
The museum is located near Panchgani town on the highway of Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar highway which is quite significant as tourists visiting this part of the Western Ghats mainly travel to the famous view points towards Mahabaleshwar on the highway. So while returning from Mahabaleshwar towards our hotel in Panchgani ,I visited this place which concluded my trip in the most fascinating way.