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Old 8th January 2008, 23:25   #1
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Default To the land of the 5 Table Lands

It had been quite some time since I took my family (my wife & 1 year – 2 month old daughter) out on a vacation. The kid was too young and the pediatrician advised us to refrain from taking the kid out on long journeys, until she was a year old. With the kid completing 1 year on Oct 13th 2007, I started looking at options for a quick 3 to 4 Day holiday near hyderabad.

Casually checking out the availability of Holiday Homes on our company’s intranet site, I was pleased to find out that rooms in the Mahabaleshwar Holiday home were available on the 18th to 21st December slot. I blocked the slot, booked to & fro Hyderabad – Pune train tickets, and informed a friend, Apurva in Pune about our arrival at Pune by the morning train from Hyderabad.

The journey in the 3rd A/C compartment of the train was good – to a certain extent. The baby couldn’t quite get enough of ventilation, so I had to fold up the middle berth by around 04:00 am and sit on the lower berth with my wife, as my kid went back to sleep. A group of devotees headed for the Prayagdham Ashram had gotten off the train at Uruli, and had inadvertently taken along with them, a young Techie’s laptop bag and a suitcase as well! The young guy got an FIR from the TTE, and was advised by other passengers, to get off at Pune and take a cab back to Uruli.

Apurva was on the platform waiting for us, and gave us a warm welcome. We briskly walked across to the main platform, for some hot coffee and light refreshments at the Comesum restaurant. We then headed to the adjacent ST bus stand to wait for the Asiad 2 * 2 bus to Mahabaleshwar in which Apurva had already booked a couple for seats for us. Earlier, while planning the trip, I had enquired for better travel options from Mahabaleshwar to Pune, but drew a blank. Raj National Express had Mumbai – Mahabaleshwar VOLVO services, but there was no mention about a Pune pickup. I had no idea of other Volvo services, and the taxi to Mahabaleshwar at Rs 2500/- sounded exorbitant. I was to regret this decision later, during the course of the journey.

It took quite a while for the Asiad bus to make its way out of Pune’s crowded environs, but once we hit the expansive NH4, things got better. At Wai we halted for about 15 minutes and the Kid all too fed up by the continuous journey started bawling inconsolably. It took us all our patience to silence the kid. Radha (my wife) was also tired from a sleepless night, and I felt sorry for having got them in the bus. I was absorbed in all these thoughts and couldn’t quite catch the action outside, as the bus was laboriously making its way up the ghat road towards Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar. By the time we got down at M’war’s ST bus stand, it was close to 02:00 pm that means a good 4 hours for a 120 Kms journey.

I was expecting a raucous reception, by the Auto/Taxi guys while alighting from the bus at M’war, but thankfully, I was proved wrong. Only a couple of people came up and enquired politely if we want a room and a taxi. Since I had already booked accommodation (our company guest house (Honey Woods) was at Nakinda village on the old Mahabaleshwar road), I asked a Taxi guy to drop us at our place.

As the black Premier Padmini made its way to old M’war, the genial Taxi driver chatted us up, asking if we could commence the sight seeing trips from the evening itself. He pulled out an ID cum tariff card and gave it to me.
Apparently all the Taxi folk in Mahabaleshwar have an association of their own (Mahabaleshwar Proper Taxi Owners’ Business Association or something like that) and all the taxi drivers are members. Each one of them is given a serial number and a badge. The serial number is printed on the tariff card that each driver carries in his pocket. The association charges fixed rates for hotel/bus stand drop and various sight seeing tours. The typical fare for a bus stand to hotel drop was Rs 150/-.

There was no one around when I reached Honey Woods, and I had to do some searching around before an old lady emerged from the servants quarters and summoned a small boy, who quickly ran in, got the keys, ran down all the way to our room and unlocked it.
Our accommodation consisted of a veranda and a huge bedroom with an attached bath. Hot water was available round the clock thanks to LPG water heaters.

Having paid the driver and taken his contact number, I now had to arrange for quick lunch as we were felling very hungry indeed and the baby too needed something different to eat. It being close to 03:00 pm, the guest house’s kitchen was closed, so I walked down the road to Hotel Anand Van Bhuvan’s restaurant to check if something was on offer. Negative. The restaurant served lunch only till 02:30 p.m. Seeing my bedraggled condition, the manager consented and arranged for two unlimited Maharashtrian meals for the both of us. The staff kept refilling our plates with alacrity – Hot Rotis, curry, dal & pickle along with sweets – we had lunch to our heart’s content.

The kid was all excited – getting so much space to move around and play and was super excited. On our way back to Honey Wood, a Maruti Omni pulled up and the driver asked us if we could hire him for the local Mahabaleshwar tour – pulling out a pamphlet containing various sight seeing tours in & around M’war, he promised us rates lesser than the other guy, and since he was a regular at Honey Wood, we gave him our consent – he promised to pick us up by 09:00 am tomorrow.

It was getting quite chilly towards the evening and the three of us took a lazy walk on the old Mahabaleshwar road – the kid was quite excited and enjoyed the whole stuff. Back at the hotel, we met Mr. Abbas Chenoy, who owns the place. He stays in Pune and drives down frequently to Mahabaleshwar on weekends/holidays. The rest of the evening was spent playing with the kid in the lawn, and just lazing around. Having a sumptuous hot dinner in the room, we retired for the night.

Yeshwant, the Maruti Omni guy arrived on time at 09:00 am, the next day ready for the day’s tour. The Pamphlet, which Yeshwant handed over to us, the day before had the following tours:
1) Mahabaleshwar Darshan 1 (Old M’war) – Panchganga Mandir, Shri Shankar Mandir, Shri Krishnabai Mandir and about 7 points including the famous Arthur’s seat and Castle rock. – Cost: Rs 355/-
2) Mahabaleshwar Darshan 2 – Some more Points mentioned here.
3) Panchgani Darshan – Visit to Table Lands, Mapro Factory, Lingmala Water Falls & Sydney Point – Cost: Rs 525/-
4) Pratapgad Darshan – Visit to Pratapgad fort about 45 Kms from M’war
5) Tapola darshan – This is the place where you have some water sports
6) Wai Darshan

Initially, we opted for M’war Darshans 1 & 2 and Panchgani Darshan. Pratapgad was ruled out due to the distance involved.

Taking a right turn on to the Old M’war road, we first drove down to the temples along the winding road, passing through dense shrubbery. Information about the three temples can be had from the various website on Mahabaleshwar so I am not going to dwell deep into it. These three temples were situated close to each other, and usual crowd of beggars/ mendicants, a common feature in most of the temples elsewhere was missing. Having completed the Darshan, we headed for Arthur’s seat.

Arthur’s seat is supposed to be ‘the’ point to be seen in M’war – the Queen bee of all the other points. The parking lot was as usual crowded with buses bearing GJ registration numbers and local taxis and private cars. A guide volunteered to show us around the 7 points and we paid Rs 60/- for his services – again all the guides at Arthur Seat operate under an umbrella – ‘Mahabaleshwar Proper Guide’s Association???’ – you get a receipt Of Rs 60/- once you engage a guide – no bargaining here and all the guides seem to co-exist in harmony, helping each other out.

I don’t like guides – well some are really good but the majority is mediocre - they take it for granted that you are an avid Bollywood fan, and have watched all the popular movies right from the 60s and the 70s. At some points they would mention that a particular scene/song from a popular movie starring a popular hero/heroine was filmed there and so on and so forth. They go in their own sing song manner mechanically rattling out the history behind the places of interest – are none too pleased if you interrupt them in the middle and ask them a question or two. Nevertheless, you are privy to lesser known facts and are providing them with a livelihood.

Though it was crowded and messy, the grandeur of the mountain ranges stretching away into the horizon deep below – is a definite feast for the eyes. Had the place been a bit less crowded and a bit clean and litter free, the whole experience would have been different. At Echo point, our guide tried hard to make us understand the significance of the point, in vain. The ambient noise played spoilsport and try as hard as we could; we could never get to hear his shout bouncing back on to us from the opposite cliff.

Arthur’s seat was crowded again – The original Arthur’s seat – The edge of a cliff named after the Governor who would come here and sit for hours together, had been destroyed in the Koyna earthquake of the 70s. A replacement concrete platform cum view point was constructed – and was crowded as hell with families queuing up to take pics of themselves against the backdrop of the Sahyadris below. Take away the crowd and the litter – the splendid view of the Sahyadris in front of you was a sight to behold – truly unforgettable!

We walked back to the van and the baby got her feed. Crowds kept on coming by busloads – Arthur’s seat never ran out of visitors. I only hope Maharashtra Tourism takes initiative in making Arthur’s seat and the surrounding environs litter free – provide more dustbins, appoint guards to prevent people from littering the place – regulate food stuff vendors – things like these can help conserve nature and keep the place clean as well.

The road to Panchgani was lined with strawberry farms on one side – along with their respective sales outlets, where once could have fresh strawberry icecream or juice – farm fresh. We soon pulled up at our first halt - Sydney Point. From here one could get to see the glistening waters of the Krishna and the Dhom Dam deep down below. For Rs 20/- you could look through a binocular, at the temple deep down below, as well as some of the places at Panchgani. There was a small park ahead of the view point, and the kid had a gala time on the small slide and the miniature scooter. Hot tea and Vada Pav dished out by a nearby vendor looked inviting. After finishing with the tea & Vada Pav, we made our way through Panchgani’s main road and the Vidyaniketan School and took a right turn to head towards the famous Table Lands.

At the Table Lands parking area, we had to choose between a ride in the jutka (Horse – Cart) and a ride on one of the horses. The table land is quite expansive and the hot sun up ahead, didn’t quite favour going out without our heads covered, so we opted for the Jutka ride@ Rs 320/- As per the deal, the Jutka guy would take us around the table land, and would show us certain important spots enroute.

Panchgani or ‘Paans-gani’ is named after the 5 tables lands (Paans = 5 And Gani is a part of the Hindi word ‘Aangan’ (Garden)). As per the guide cum jutka driver, after Tibet, this was the world’s second largest collection of Table Lands – 5 at a place.
This place also has some mythological significance attached as the Pandavas, during their exile had camped here for some time – Devil’s Kitchen is supposed to be the place where they had cooked food. The Jutka driver also showed us a spot where the footprints of the Pandavas are supposed to be etched – a place of religious significance for the locals.

We were running out of time, and it was time for the kid’s lunch hence decided not to go horse – riding, much to the disappointment of the horse owner, who was expecting us eagerly. We drove back to Mahabaleshwar, stopping in the middle near the Mapro factory for a quick lunch and a visit to the factory to see the squash and jam making in progress. Picked up a few bottles of Strawberry Squash and squash of other flavours from the sales counter – Cost Rs 472/-. We drove back to Honey Woods, paid the driver (Rs 800/-) and asked him to come back in the evening for a drive to the town.

Had a quick nap, and again took the kid out onto the lawns where she enjoyed herself running around and playing with a small rubber ball. Having had tea, we set out again at around 05:45 pm to check the Venna lake and book tickets for the next day’s journey to Pune.
At the Venna lake, you had two options for boating. You could either take the pedal boat at Rs 125/ or a row boat at Rs 150/- (both on a ½ hour basis). We decided to go in for the latter as we weren’t too comfortable with the pedal boat, with a kid along with us. We engaged the services of a boatman to row us around the lake. It was a pleasant ½ hour on the placid waters of the lake, with the setting sun forming a perfect backdrop. School kids out on an excursion were having a great time shouting – some of them decided to stand up on the boat, only to be loudly reprimanded by our boatman to sit down, lest the boat tilts.

After having chaat near the lake, we drove up the road to M’war market, straight to Neeta Travels’ booking office. We booked 2 tickets to Pune (Cost: Rs 200/- each) on the Mumbai Volvo starting at 09:30 am, the next day. Asking the cab driver to park his vehicle nearby, we set out on the market road checking out the shops which had everything on offer – toys, chikkis, sweets, clothes, games and a host of other things. We stopped at a Chikki store, and picked up three varities of Chikki. Having purchased a few toys for the kid, we headed back to the cab, and drove back to Honey wood. Having paid up the driver, I asked him to come back the next day morning to drop us near the Mumbai Volvo.

The next day, after breakfast, I settled the bill, picked up the luggage and drove back to the M’war market where the Mumbai bound Neeta Volvo was waiting. We had a comfortable journey and were dropped at Pune outskirts at around 01:15 pm.
After having lunch at a friend’s place, we caught the 04:30 pm train back to Hyderabad.


Couldn't provide pics here. We actually didn't click many pics at Mahabaleshwar - most of the pics that we took, had at least one of us in the pic. Also there are many pics of Mahabaleshwar & Panchgani posted by other TBHPIans.
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Old 9th January 2008, 02:15   #2
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Now thats how detailed a write-up can get!! great job,PVS!
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Old 9th January 2008, 09:42   #3
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Good travelogue, PVS! Enjoyed reading it.
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Old 9th January 2008, 11:43   #4
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Very detailed and interesting travelogue PVS, thanks for Posting..
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Old 9th January 2008, 11:58   #5
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PVS, that is a very detailed report. Vacationing with a small baby is quite an adventure, my second kid is a month younger than yours.
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Old 9th January 2008, 13:08   #6
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Very detailed travelogue PVS. Felt as if I were viewing pics too, as the narration was so indepth.
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Old 9th January 2008, 13:18   #7
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Great writeup. Reminds me of the time when I went organizing for the Himalayan Rally in 1989, drove down from Mumbai to Delhi to Simla to Delhi in my modded Premier Padmini, wifey and son (who was one and a half years old then) flew down to Delhi, I picked them up from the airport and we drove down to Mumbai via Agra (the only time I have seen the Taj Mahal), Gwalior, Shivpuri, Guna, Beawra, Indore, Mhow, Shirpur, Dhulia and Nasik. I remember heating milk for the "baby" for exactly 25 secs otherwise it would get too hot. We enjoyed -----.

Just for info - my son is now a 19 year old team BHPian, his name on the forum is CYRUS43.

Best regards,

Behram Dhabhar
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Old 9th January 2008, 13:46   #8
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Very detailed travelogue with an involving writeup.

You should've visited Pratapgarh - there's something about that fort that really moves the visitor. THere's also the temple which celebrates the source of the 5 rivers (dont remember all five names but they were Krishna, Venna, Gayatri, Savitri and one more).

Vada Pav and Chai in Panchgani is a special experience altogether - esp when its cold!
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Old 9th January 2008, 13:54   #9
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Originally Posted by Samurai View Post
PVS, that is a very detailed report. Vacationing with a small baby is quite an adventure, my second kid is a month younger than yours.
My daughter will be 3 months old in 2 weeks. I want to drive to Kerala with family in Feb / March. Is it advisable?

-- Torqy
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Old 9th January 2008, 15:10   #10
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Nitin, pjay_in, TSEA,Samurai, suren181, Dhabhar.Behram, Steeroid & Torgy - a word of thanks to all of you for your generous compliments; good to note that you like it.

Steeroid - We initially though of adding in Pratapgad as well - the distance involved as well as the logistics involved in arranging for the baby's food & play for a round trip of 45+45 = 90 Kms from Mahabaleshwar, made us decide otherwise. 1 more day - and we would have definetely made it to Pratapgad.

Torgy - Your daughter will be 3 months old in 2 weeks i.e., by Feb/March, she will be 4/5 months old. I assume that you are staying in Bangalore and intend to drive down to KL with family.

I would say - travelling with a 5 month old kid can be a bit risky. At 5 months, immunity level of kids is not high enough, and any change in weather and food might not be good for the small baby.

You can consult your child's pediatrician for further advice. My child's pediatrician adviced us to avoid travelling with the baby untill she was at least an year old. However, if you are flying short - distances, I believe it is ok.
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Old 11th January 2008, 16:40   #11
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Great detailed trip PVS The pricing and other minute details helps those who wish to plan a visit to this place a lot.

I gave it a miss initially a couple of days before by seeing the title but today i read it and its really nice. Felt it would have been much better had you mentioned Mahabaleshwar in the title.
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Old 21st January 2008, 18:58   #12
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a very well organized and well presented writeup PVS. All the time i was reading, i could see the reels of travelogue rolling before my eyes, may be this time your 1000 words are worth 1000 pictures themselves. What you said about guides is quite true, a lot of them will actually spoil the sport-they wouldnot even leave you to yourself while you are enjoying the surroundings.
Glad that your baby is having its 'own' vision of india.
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Old 21st January 2008, 22:52   #13
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Originally Posted by deetee View Post
a very well organized and well presented writeup PVS.
Thanks deetee and TrueDreamer for your encouraging comments! Hope to live up to expectations in the forthcoming reports!!
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