Last September, just as the monsoon was retreating, and I had a few days to spare, a couple of friends and I headed to Mahabaleshwar. I returning to this beautiful hill retreat after almost two decades and I wanted to experience it all. We booked a top-rated cab from Pune to Mahabaleshwar and found a homestay on the hills, with open views of the cloud-covered mountains and dewy valleys.
With three days to spend in such weather and place, we didn’t waste any time and quickly planned our itinerary.
Day 1: Pratapgarh, Mapro Gardens, and Panchgani
The first day was all about revisiting the town and its surrounding landscape. We headed straight to Pratapgarh Fort for a trek. The historical battleground and its adjacent fort have a significant place in the region’s history but now it is more popular for local treks in Mahabaleshwar. It was 20 KM from the main town. Fortunately, we had gotten a convenient and complete Mahabaleshwar Taxi package, which let us travel around easily. Also, considering rains and peak tourist season, I always find it better to have a car handy.
Although Pratapgarh is not technically a trekking destination, people do walk up to the vantage points from the base and it could be termed more of a hike.
On our way, we stopped by the Dhobi Waterfall and the Lodwick Point. The higher we went up to the mountains, it felt colder and moister. When we reached the fort base, we found a dense cover of grey clouds overhead. Leaving our phones and bags in the car, we headed on an hour-long walk. There is no trekking trail to walk up to the fort, so I would not recommend beginners or hobby trekkers to get adventurous here. Since my friends and I have been doing this for years, we have almost become pros at treading all kinds of terrain. By the time we reached the base, it started to rain heavily. Ergo, we had to return.
Getting drenched in the rain is fun but when it rains in the mountains the breeze chills you to your bones. Soaked in rain and hungry form the walk, we headed to Mapro Gardens. This place has been a childhood favorite and even after decades, we were like kids in a candy store. The biggest strawberry farm in the state, Mapro Gardens is like the mecca of fruit farms in the state. After a generous serving of all things strawberry, we headed towards Panchgani. The drive through rolling slopes and misty roads was indescribable. At some points, the visibility was nearly zero, with thick clouds blocking the roads. It felt risky and yet thrilling at the same time. We stopped in Wai, to capture the rain-soaked views of the valleys and the colorful villages below.
Day 2: Trek to Vasota Fort
The next day we headed out another adventure and this time to a proper destination with a top-rated cab service . Vasota Fort, sitting on the edges of the Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary, is a popular trekking zone. The route starts from the base of the fort and goes through forests, all the way up the hill to the viewing point. To reach, we had to drive to Bamnoli village, about an hour-drive from Mahabaleshwar. From there, we had to take a quick boat ride to cross the Koyna River and land at the base of the fort. It took almost the entire day to walk through the muddy trails and thick shrubs. We had to constantly be on the lookout for slippery slopes and thorny overgrowths. It was quite a daunting walk but when we reached the edge of the cliff, the views made up for all the hard work.
Day 3: A day at Kaas Plateau
We had saved the best for the last. The real treasure of these mountains is not just in its peaks, but also in its meadows, farms, and lakes, and its flora and fauna. About 40 KM from Mahabaleshwar town lies the heavenly fields of Kaas Plateau. Known for its Valley of Flowers, it is one of its kind in the state and offers views of exotic wildflowers blanketing the meadows. We drove for about one and a half hours and on our way, we stopped by the Chalkewadi Windmill Farms, one of the largest wind power plants in Asia. The white windmills against the grey sky and green farms reminded me of a Windows desktop wallpaper we used to have once upon a time.
I am not much of a flower person but when I stood there across the fields, I couldn’t help but take a breath of awe. If there is a paradise, it must be right here in Kaas Plateau. The color play of yellow, pink, white, and purple flowers on a bed of velvety grass, was nothing short of heavenly.
Monsoon, mountains, and a long weekend are like the holy trinity for a gallivanter like me. And the trip to Mahabaleshwar was like living in a dream for three days, oblivious from the world that I know.