If you’re looking for an action-packed weekend somewhere glamorous, don’t bother with Panchgani. On the other hand, if you believe in the importance of the journey rather than the destination and all you want to do is get away from the maddening world, drink some beer, go for quiet walks, then Panchgani is the place for you.

Panchgani is a small, quiet town with a feel of the good old days. Charming old colonial cottages dot the hill station. More than three dozen boarding schools contribute to its lifestyle and atmosphere. The sight of chirpy school kids out on an evening walk takes you right back to Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers, read under the covers after bedtime. It also puts you in the perfect mood to hire bicycles and ride through the town, discover by-lanes and indulge in a little innocent fun.

Most people will tell you that the best time to visit Panchgani is from October to April when it is at its coolest. However, many others like it best during the monsoons when the mist lends a surreal touch to the beautiful scenery. There’s still something glorious about getting soaked to the skin, or sitting in your hotel room and watching the rain drench the pretty landscape.

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The vast and awe-inspiring Krishna Valley, Panchgani
The vast and awe-inspiring Krishna Valley, Panchgani

Things to See & Do

Panchgani literally means ‘plateau with five hills’ and the town derives its name from the five hills that surround it. There isn’t a lot to see in Panchgani, but there is a lot to do. It involves walking, ambling by chappal shops or just sitting and watching the world go by, indulging in local specialities such as channa, or chomping on bhuttas (corn) sprinkled with mirch masala. The abundantly grown strawberries here are delicious too.

Driving in Circles

One of the nicest drives is to Tableland, Panchgani’s crowning glory. A vast, flat plateau, Tableland offers the most spectacular view of Panchgani’s pretty, colourful rooftops against the hilly backdrop. During peak season, there is plenty of fun for children in the form of a ferris wheel, a toy train, pony and horse rides and many game stalls. One can also trek up to Tableland. The trek is simple and it takes 30 minutes to reach the top.

You can also drive to Parsi Point for a fantastic view of the Krishna Valley down below. Another great drive is to Wai, a historical town 14km away, where you can wander around the village or go boating at Dhom Dam.

As a last resort, you could carry on to the nearby hotspot, Mahabaleshwar, 19km away on a well-maintained road, for a delicious Gujarati thali at one of the many popular lodges there.

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The Rajpuri Caves, a short distance away from Panchgani
The Rajpuri Caves, a short distance away from Panchgani

Rajpuri Caves

Being a hilly area, Panchgani has its share of caves. Off the beaten track are the Rajpuri Caves, 6km from town. Of the four caves here, one has a temple of Lord Karthikeya, who is the son of Shiva.

Sherbaug

Sherbaug is a botanical delight with a huge cactii collection. There is a municipal garden, a restaurant and a processed food outlet here. The garden has seen better days, but the children’s park behind it has many swings and slides.

Shopping

The pulse of Panchgani is the bazaar, full of quaint shops that are certain to catch your fancy. You can catch the Wednesday market, or Budh-ka-Bazaar, when villagers from around the area sell local produce at rock-bottom prices. Everything from organically grown fruits and vegetables to pots and pans and even chicken finds its way into this typical village market. It is worth visiting just to witness the sheer colour, gaiety and cheerful confusion of the bazaar.

Where to Stay

There are lots of lovely options that suit the mood of Panchgani –homely, relaxed, warm and comfy. Hotel Ravine (Tel: 02168-241060-62; Tariff: 2,750–9,700), located near Sydney Point on Panchgani-Wai Road with an overhanging tennis court, is recommended for couples. Their Melting Pot restaurant serves Chinese, tandoori and south Indian.

Il Palazzo Hotel (Tel: 241300-02; Tariff: 3,500–5,000 per person, with meals) is a beautiful, old, sprawling English-style bungalow with a pool, a large garden and good Parsi food. An extra nice touch is that the proprietors live on the premises and are like your personal hosts. Non-guests should call ahead for meals.

Prospect Hotel (Tel: 240263, 241999; Tariff: 4,000–4,500 per person, with meals) is the first ever hotel built in Panchgani and offers a lot of privacy. It is also very. Non-guests can make reservations to enjoy Parsi meals, apart from their regular fare.

If you’re travelling with children, Blue Country Resort (Tel: 241521-22; Tariff: 8,000–13,800, with two meals), near Tableland, could be the ideal choice. It has a huge pool, a large play area where kids can enjoy themselves. They maintain separate vegetarian and non-vegetarian kitchens. Another decent option is

Hotel Mountcastle (Tel: 241307/09; Tariff: 3,500–7,500) near Dhandegar Naka. Hotel Millenium Park (Tel: 241771-73; Tarrif: 3,100–9,750, with meals) with a restaurant, bar and a swimming pool. It is located close to Bharti Vidyapeeth. Pan Hill Resort (Tel: 240444; Tariff: 1,500–4,000), located opposite the bus stand, has heritage-style architecture with modern rooms and facilities. Their restaurant is currently under renovation.

Where to Eat

There are several good options to eat in Panchgani. You can get the best patties and scones at the old-fashioned Roach Bakery (Tel: 240423) and keema pav at New Lucky Moon. Akbarally serves excellent pav bhaji and stuffed paranthas. Rasoi has finger-licking thalis and Rustom’s serves good Parsi cuisine. Past the bazaar, on the way to Mahabaleshwar, is the famed Mapro. They make lovely jams and marmalade; always a handy gift.

Have at least one meal at the stalls at Hirkani, on the roadside just before Mahabaleshwar. Hilltop Ice Cream is another good place to enjoy ice-creams and milkshakes.

The Information

When to Go September to May is peak tourist season. It’s even more crowded around Christmas and New Year. A less popular and different kind of fun option is during the monsoon, which is when the hills are greenest. The misty monsoon brings its own delights

Tourist Office

  • MTDC, Mahad Naka, Mahabaleshwar, Tel: 02168-260318, 261318

Getting There

Air Nearest airport: Pune’s Lohegaon International Airport (100km/ 2hrs). Taxi costs 3,500–4,000

Rail Nearest railhead: Pune (121km/2.5hrs). Taxi charges 3,500–4,000

Road Take NH4, via Pune, Surul and Wai, and the other down NH17

Bus Neeta Tours & Travels, Krsna Travels, Swami Travels and a few others run Volvo and Mercedes AC seater/ sleeper coaches daily (early mornings and nights) for Panchgani from many boarding points in Mumbai; journey time is 4–7hrs. Fares begin around 500. Book online on neetabus.in; Tel: 022- 22845678, 22622859 22841877; and redbus.in. ST buses heading for Mahabaleshwar via Pune stop at Panchgani; plenty of private buses available in Mahabaleshwar.