Fresh red strawberries during winter is just one of the attractions of Mahableshwar, a hill station in Maharashtra. Situated among the scenic Sahyadris, Mahabaleshwar has become a popular destination all year round. About 120 kms to the south of Pune, the winding road up to Panchgani (also a popular hill station) and then Mahableshwar, is half the fun because of waterfalls, deep valleys and thick foliage. It is a five-hour drive from Mumbai. Once up the 1,353 metres (4,439 ft), stop, get off from your car, just take a deep breath and enjoy the crisp mountain air.
A hill station, popular since British times, Mahableshwar offers great weather throughout the year and a laid back feel.
Our driver Vishnu says that one can spot wild buffalo and even deer on the narrow roads at dawn. “Once the traffic starts moving, the wild life moves into the interior of the jungles,” he adds. What is magical is the mist that begins wafting in at 5 in the evening or so. It gets cold, windy at times and the setting is ethereal.
In the morning hours, it’s best to visit vantage points offering breathtaking views of hills and valleys. Come evening however, it’s best to sit in the balcony of your room and enjoy the weather with a cup of tea.
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A quaint town
Mahabaleshwar comprises three villages: Malcolm Peth, Old ‘Kshetra’ Mahabaleshwar and part of a village called Shindola. The name of this quaint hill station is derived from Sanskrit and means ‘god of great power’. The river Krishna has it’s source in Mahableshwar – from a spout in the mouth of a stone cow in the ancient temple of Mahadev in Old Mahabaleshwar. During the day one can visit various points to soak in the natural beauty of the hills like the Arthur’s Seat, Lodwick Point, located almost 1,240 meters above sea level. General Lodwick’s memory is preserved here in the form of a monument dedicated to him.
Kate’s Point allows one to get a view of the Dhom and Balakwadi dams, if the day is clear; while Wilson Point, which is the highest point of the hill station, gets its name from Sir Leslie Wilson and is a favourite with tourists for splendid views of sunrise and sunset.
The Venna lake offers boating and you cand bite into fresh carrots, beets and strawberries. A must is a visit to the old market that offers jams and jellies but not to be missed is the strawberry-flavoured icecream or fresh strawberries with whipped cream.
Where to stay
Le Meridien is the talk of town. The hill station’s newest finest five-star is tucked away in privacy, in the midst of lush greenery. Choose from a classic forest view room or valley view room, that is if you are not going for the tranquility or sanctuary suite. The lush green tree tops just spread in front of you for miles together creating a green carpet below the blue skies.
A bright yellow and white exterior lends a summery look to the villas. Recreation is serious business at Le Meridien with a full building dedicated to activity. Choose from the library to board games, or the heated infinity swimming pool on the higher floor that looks onto the valley below. For children there is an activity room with trained attendants conducting interesting activities and games.
Meals and more
Not to be missed is the Signature breakfast that combines the local cuisine with international favourites at the all day dining restaurant, Latest Recipe, done up in white with a unique English decor.
For dinner, check out the Indian cuisine at Chingara, where you can savorur lightly spiced kebabs, soups and local specialities in a luxe modern decor.
Unwind and rewind
Pristine white decor, interspersed with cane furniture makes the Explore Spa a great addition to Le Meridien Mahabaleshwar. The Swedish massage by experienced staff totally relaxes you and the USP is the steam-cum-shower room attached to each room, allowing for total privacy. Book into the hamam if you are looking for a rejuvenating experience, or the water jet treatments for total relaxation. Off beat – destination unlocked Art in Panchgani – Devrai Art Village
A day trip to Devrai Art village is enriching. Situated about 20 kms away on scenic roads, this art gallery houses an amazing range of unique art. Mandakini Mathur, founder, met Suresh Pungati, an artist from Gadchiroli. Impressed by his art, Mathur set up Devrai Art village where five adivasi craftsmen under the guidance of Pungati began creating beautiful works of art out of river pebbles and brass.
Beautiful fish, trees, leaves, women’s faces are made from rock and brass. Devrai Rock Dhokra, is a fusion of rock and brass, although Dhokra is an ancient art form. This marriage of two mediumsof metal and stone has brought a new aesthetic dimension to this traditional art form that had its beginning in the Indus Valley Civilisation, dating back to 2000 BC. You could pick up a wall piece or two or even a piece of jewellery that is so unique, that it would surely turn heads. The village strives to empower the craftsmen by giving them new designs and the unique and distinctive style of the product range comes out through combinations of different mediums such as iron, brass, stone, wood, bamboo and fabric.
How to reach:
Air: The nearest airport is at Pune about 120 kms from Mahabaleshwar.
Rail: Nearest railroad is Satara, around 55 kms away. Nearest major railway junction is at Pune, 120 kms. There are regular state transport buses plying and even private transport is easily available to go to Mahabaleshwar.