The summer capital of the erstwhile Bombay Presidency engages the senses not just on the strength of its natural beauty but also because of the charming tales spun around its most favoured points. Nature is extraordinarily munificent here – rugged hills, steep and sudden waterfalls, forests crowded with plant life and crisscrossing rivers are a common sight.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Mahabaleshwar is excellent trekking country. Its hills are breeding grounds for many varieties of medicinal plants and herbs. But there are ‘softer’ options too, such as a taxi or a bus tour of the sights. However, the best way to explore Mahabaleshwar is to have your own vehicle. Taking along a guide for a tour of the hill station might also be a good and practical idea, if you can stand narratives liberally peppered with such morbid and mundane details as who committed suicide from which point, and which famous Bollywood movie was shot where. Alternatively, hire a bicycle, pedal your way around, while feeling the wind in your hair.

Punit Paranjpe
Forested hills and deep valleys around Mahabaleshwar
Forested hills and deep valleys around Mahabaleshwar

Sunset Point/ Mumbai Point

Adults and children primarily come here to ride horses, but this place is worth a visit for the views alone: the sun plays to the gallery every evening. The forts of Pratapgad and Makrandgad are etched clearly on the horizon.

Arthur’s seat

Named after British actor Arthur Malet, this picturesque point was destroyed in an earthquake in 1967. The grilled area marks the point where Arthur would sit and ponder the nature of the wind. Apparently, so fascinated was Arthur by the fact that the wind pushed everything back towards the cliff, he jumped from the point to see if it would throw him back as well. Apocryphal or not, even now visitors fling their handkerchiefs to the wind to be duly brought back by Arthur’s nemesis.

Other Attractions

Mahabaleshwar has almost 30 designated sightseeing spots, from Hunter Point, with its clear view of Pratapgad Fort, to Mahabaleshwar’s highest, Wilson Point, which offers a spectacular view of the twin peaks of Makrandgad.

Malcolm Point is named after a British officer, considered Mahabaleshwar’s First Citizen. Malcolm loved these hills, and founded this hill station. There are several references to him, and though it is fitting that Mahabaleshwar should remember him kindly, his house, built in 1839, is now in a state of complete neglect. Apart from Malcolm Point, names like Kate’s Point and Marjorie Point abound, there are even places named after the Presidency’s governor Lord Elphinstone as well as a memorial to its mayor General Lodwick. Just a little further from Lodwick Point is the Elephant’s Head Point. All perfect settings for small picnics.

Venna Lake

On the Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani Road, Lake Venna is the ideal place for an evening outing after you are done with all points, high and low.

Punit Paranjpe
Pratapgad Fort
Pratapgad Fort

To Battle or to Die

Pratapgad Fort, built in 1656 on craggy cliffs, survives in remarkably good shape. It was the venue of the November 1659 face-off between the diminutive but indefatigable Maratha leader Shivaji and the muscular and well-built Afzal Khan, the mighty general of the Adilshah of Bijapur. Though the meeting was intended as a rapprochement between the two, Afzal Khan reportedly had other ideas. Shivaji, not easily outwitted, stabbed him in the abdomen and killed him with his concealed wagh-nakh (tiger claws).

It’s this engaging legend surrounding the fort that continues to draw crowds. But the fort is worth visiting for its architectural virtues alone. Some 450 steps lead up to the top – an easy enough climb. Don’t miss the Punishment Point, where villainous sorts were put into gunny bags and then dropped from a height of 1,800 ft. From here you can see the Koyna river below. The temple of Shivaji’s kuldevi, or family deity, Bhavani Mata, inside the fort, remains a star attraction. At the last and highest level is a 4,500-kilo bronze equestrian statue of Shivaji. The gardens around the statue are landscaped and have benches. Pratapgad is a hive of activity inside as stall owners implore you to try the chhaas or have a light snack.

Close to the fort is the dargah of Afzal Khan where the general lies buried.

Location 24 km from Mahabaleshwar Timings 6.00am–6.00pm

Mahabaleshwar Temple

Little girls imprison you in a tight circle as they implore you to buy their flower baskets to make an offering to Lord Shiva. The ancient shivalinga in the temple is a natural formation and over 500 years old.

Panchganga Mandir

Panchganga Mandir is situated at the confluence of five rivers – the Krishna, Gayatri, Savitri, Koyna and Venna. The water from these rivers pours from the spout of a sculpted cow feeding its young one, and collects in a cistern below. Devotees throng the temple through the year. There’s a bustling market place nearby. Also look out for Morarjee Castle, where Mahatma Gandhi stayed in 1945, and the Colonial-style bungalows built during the Raj.

Having a Crush

Strawberries abound in the city of Mahabaleshwar – jams, crushes, jellies, you name it and they’ve got it. Archies’ Strawberry Farm, near Kate’s Point, is a great place to chug down a few milkshakes and learn a few things about strawberry cultivation. In full bloom, the place is a riot of red. A visit to MAPRO on the Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani Road must figure in your itinerary. The premises comprise a rose garden, the fruit juice/squash/crush factory, and a food court that offers several flavours of ice-cream and shakes including strawberry. A customer-friendly counter allows you to sample produce before buying.

WHERE TO STAY

Among the popular hotels, MTDC Holiday Resort (Tel: 02168-02168-260318, 261318; Tariff: Rs. 1,300–7,500) is centrally located at Bombay Point. Pratap Heritage (Tel: 260778-79; Tariff: 1,750–2,900, with meals) has decent valley-view rooms. Hotel Shreyas (Tel: 260365; Tariff: 2,600– 8,900) is near the bus station. Anand Van Bhawan (Cell: 09423567095; Tariff: 3,500–5,500, with meals) is a good option on Duchess Road. Valley View Resort (Tel: 260066-67; Tariff: 5,500–8,250, with meals) is on Valley View Road. Brightland Resort and Spa (Tel: 260700; Tariff: 7,000–40,000) on Kate’s Point Road, Ramsukh Resorts (Tel: 260825; Tariff: 11,500–44,000, 3D/ 2N) near Mahabaleshwar Temple, and Citrus Hotel (Tel: 260432; Tariff: 4,000–11,500) near Aaram Chowk are high-end options with restaurants, a swimming pool, gym and more.

 WHERE TO EAT

Most of the hotel restaurants are open to non-guests, and almost all serve Gujarati food besides other cuisines. Try the Imperial Stores for their pizzas and burgers. Aman Restaurant is good for kebabs. If you are looking for good Maharashtrian food, then Sahyadari and Hirkani are must-visits. Grapevine is famous for Parsi cuisine and Thai food. Ice-cream fanatics, rejoice – Mahabalesh war is your kind of place. And strawberry is not the only flavour available!

FAST FACTS

When to go Best between September and May. Mahabaleshwar is fair weather virtually round the year. However, the roads can get dangerous during the monsoon, and most buses and tour operators suspend their services at this time

Tourist Office

MTDC
Mahad Naka
Mahabaleshwar
Tel: 02168-260318, 261318
STD code 02168

Region Desh

Location Located 4,500 ft above sea level in the Western Ghats, not too far from the Konkan Coast

Distance 121 km S of Pune

Route from Pune NH17 to Poladpur; SH to Mahabaleshwar via Pratapgad

 

GETTING THERE

Air Nearest airport: Pune (121km/ 3.5 hours). Taxi charges 3000–3500.

Rail Nearest railhead: Pune (121km/3.5 hrs). Taxi charges 3000–3500.

Road There are two equally scenic and popular routes to Mahabaleshwar. The route via Pune, Shirwal and Panchgani, is longer but has better roads. The other is shorter but slower through the ghats down NH17 via Pen, Mahad and Poladpur. At Poladpur police station, take the road going left. Private vehicles need to pay for the entry permit, valid for a week.

Bus Neeta Tours & Travels, Krsna Travels, Swami Travels and others run Volvo, Mercedes AC Seater/ sleeper coaches daily, early mornings and night for Mahabaleshwar from many boarding points in Mumbai; journey time 7–11 hours. Fare 350–1,200, depending on the coach. ST buses also do this route for a lesser fare