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Agreed, Mahabaleshwar is as touristy as it gets. But that doesn’t make it any less beautiful. Its forest cover is as dense and the weather as lovely despite the crowds that throng Mahabaleshwar these days.
So, instead of banishing it – for this visit, we challenged ourselves to see this much-visited place in a new light. We decided to rediscover the beauty of Mahabaleshwar.
We decided to “visit Mahabaleshwar on foot”.
The first step was to stay in old Mahabaleshwar, also called “Kshetra“. This is the old temple area in Mahabaleshwar. The locals of Mahabaleshwar stay around here. There aren’t many tourist resorts in this part.
Step two – public transport. A 6 km winding road connects Kshetra with the Mahabaleshwar bus stand. A few buses ply between the two every hour or so. Our bus was an hour later.
While we were waiting for the bus (after walking through a barrage of travel agents and disgusted looks from the taxi drivers ‘what kind of tourists use public transport in Mahabaleshwar’), we found a perfect accessory that made our trip a success – a map of Mahabaleshwar with all the forest trails marked in. These trails eventually connect all the “points” in Mahabaleshwar. It was just what we needed!
Arthur’s Seat Trail (that wasn’t)
Our first trail was towards the Arthur’s Seat Point. The forest guards we met soon after weren’t exactly enthused by our plan of walking through the forest. When we persisted, they, rightly so, cautioned us to be careful (stay close to the road), the forest had leopards (though the sighting was extremely rare).
We entered the first forest opening that led to a trail. It felt like entering a fairy tale land!
At most parts, it was parallel to the road outside. The fog would clear out for a while. Then it would start to rain. The mist was so heavy, we could hardly see the way.
We heard a few birds and saw a few fresh droppings, indicating a mammal had been around a while back.
Our constant companion was the whistling thrush, though we couldn’t spot it that day. It was refreshing, walking through the misty forest to the melody of the whistling thrush.
After a walk of over a couple of hours, we suddenly found ourselves on the road again. Since that seemed the only way ahead, we got on the road.
Soon, we found another trail opening on the opposite side of the road. Unlike the previous trail, this one wasn’t parallel to the road. It moved away from the road. So the feeling of “deep into the forest” was even more.
It was around 2 PM by then. The forest had become quieter. The sound of traffic had also disappeared. A thick mist had now descended upon the entire forest.
After around an hour, we came to a fork in the trail. With the GPS dysfunctional because of the clouds, we relied only on our judgement to decide the direction to proceed. There was no way of verifying our decision.
After this realisation, the sense of being in the middle of nowhere crept in, and everything just started to look even more beautiful. We saw a flock of jungle fowl running across, a bharadwaj fly into a thicket. It was the most magical feeling ever.
Soon after this, we started to hear sounds of traffic, indicating a road close by. We were starving by then so decided to get out of the forest. We had reached what is known as Marjorie Point. (Had we taken the other bend of the fork, we would have reached Arthur’s Seat Point).
The valley was covered in clouds and the mountains had disappeared behind a curtain of mist. There was nothing visible.
Since we had walked up, we had to walk back as well. Mahabaleshwar doesn’t offer you the option of hiring a cab on the way. As hungry as we were, there was no other choice. This was an important lesson – carry enough food and supplies to walk to and fro.
This time, we walked through the road, which went uphill-downhill-and-repeat. We saw some interesting flowers on the roadside.
Another travel tip: Head straight to the market area. Kshetra runs out of food by late afternoon.
The Mahabaleshwar market
Strolling through the market, we came across a cute little eatery called Elsie’s Dairy and Bakery. It had the most inviting swing on the porch and a delectable collection of goodies on display.
While waiting for our order, we got a peek into the backside. An elderly lady was busy baking inside. A young boy would get the trays out of the kitchen, laden with all the lovely stuff. Chocolate cakes, rolls, a variety of muffins, biscuits, they had it all.
We had carrot and tomato soup. It was everything a soup should be. One sip and we felt all warm, cosy and fuzzy inside. It was a perfect remedy to the chill that I was experiencing.
They have been around since ever (1849 is what the board says).
Further ahead, the display in a shop selling syrups and squashes caught our eye. The guy let us take pictures of the shop, and had some fun with the pictures.
The bus service stops by evening. We had to take a taxi back to Kshetra. It was like a blindfolded roller coaster drive. The mist was so thick now, that absolutely nothing could be seen. The driver had to put his head out of the window and drive. Thankfully, this route was like a drive in his backyard for our driver.
Tiger Path Trail in new Mahabaleshwar
Early the next morning, we came back to the Mahabaleshwar market to do this fascinating sounding trail.
We were leaving the same afternoon, so did this trail with the sacks on our backs. A signboard outside the Mahabaleshwar bus stand our map and asking a few local guys set us in the correct direction.
The forest here was not as dense at the previous day. We could tell people ventured here more often.
A short walk brought us to the end of this path. We reached what is known as the Chinaman Point. It is a big muddy waterfall.
Behind it is a village through which the trail actually continues all the way to Tapola (known quite cheesy, as mini Kashmir). It’s a 14 km long trail. We decided to bookmark it for another time, with a bigger group.
This time, we were lucky to see in clear view the Whistling Thrush nicely perched on a stone close by.
After spending some time at the waterfall, on the way back, we saw another diversion. This trail led to the Falkland Point.
A few steps onto this trail, we realised leeches had crept up on our shoes. We ran out of the trail, made sure there weren’t any leeches on our legs and headed back.
We walked in the direction of the Polo grounds. The scene at the Polo grounds was surreal.
We couldn’t see the beginning or the end of the ground. Horses would just appear out of nowhere.
We took the motor-able road on the way back to the bus stand. Mahabaleshwar, in parts, is still the quaint little hill station with an old world charm.
The only place we shopped at was Madhusagar, the place to buy pure honey in Mahabaleshwar. They have a variety of honey, depending on what the season is. If you ask them, they will explain what the different types are, and their specific qualities. The staff also gave us tips on identifying pure honey.
All it takes to make an overcrowded and often-visited place offbeat is a different perspective. We intend to carry this with us as we try to revisit Mahabaleshwar, one trail at a time.
Travel tips for a “walking” trip to Mahabaleshwar:
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, suitable for a rough walk in the forest.
- Carry ample water and enough food. Not much will be found away from the markets in the forest.
- Travel in a slightly bigger group (4-5) if going for longer trails.
- Follow the map, but trust your instinct.
- As always, carry only memories. Leave only footprints. A nature trail is no a walk in the park. The best way to enjoy it is with all our senses. See the beauty around, listen to the sounds, feel the fresh air.
- Above all, have an open mind.