Wednesday, February 03, 2010

My Panchgani Diary

MY PANCHGANI DIARY




The Idea - The rolling hills and silver oaks invited us to visit them at Panchgani. We had heard a lot about the breathtaking view from every corner of Panchgani and were intrigued. So finally, we decided to make the trip in December 2009. Yes! My mother and I are just back from the cozy town of Panchgani.

The Place - Panchgani is around 21 kms (30 mins) before the other more popular and populated sister hill station, Mahabaleshwar. It is in the state of Maharashtra, India and an ideal place for a quick getaway. The travel agents tried very hard persuading us to go to Mahabaleshwar instead but we were firm on our decision.

How we went there - So we booked our bus tickets from Mumbai to Panchgani bus stand. That’s what I kept asking for as I had booked our stay at Hotel Summer Palace which was close to the bus stand and shopping area. The bus tickets were around Rs. 400 /- per seat in a Volvo AC bus. It seems that all buses plying to and fro to Panchgani/Mahabaleshwar are AC ones; they don’t run semi-AC buses any more.

Room tariff for our super deluxe double bedroom at the Hotel Summer Palace was around Rs 650/- per day.

Our Journey - We set out on a sultry Friday night from Mumbai by the 10:30 pm bus. There was a halt at around 12 midnight at the swanking Food Plaza along the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Most of us got down, used the washroom, and grabbed a bite and a cup of coffee.

Once done, the bus set off on its 6 hour journey to Panchgani where we arrived at 6 am. It was pitch dark and freezing cold. As soon as we stepped off the bus, we were surrounded by taxi drivers wanting to drive us down to the hotel. Drive!!! Are the hotels so far away?!! These are the thoughts which might come to the minds of my readers.

You see I had done a lot of research before booking our room. There are several hotels in Panchgani. Some are 2.5 km away from the Market. Some are at a walk of 15 mins away (without being loaded down with luggage and bags!!!).

Where we stayed - I asked them for directions to our hotel and we were told that it was within walkable distance down the road. I had already enquired at the Front Desk before booking and was informed that it was around 2 mins away from where the bus stops. So we were prepared for a little walk. We hoisted up our bags and moved ahead, trying our best to get our bearings and did realize that the bus had dropped us off on the main market street and had carried on straight ahead to Mahabaleshwar.

We asked for directions at a roadside tea stall where the owner was brewing steaming hot tea. Since it was all dark, the landmark given to us was the streetlamp and Mala’s outlet and we turned right from there down a sloping road and were soon at our hotel. We were met by a closed door and sleepy hotel staff wrapped up in their blankets; one of which got up and handed us the room key. Once we got there, we put down our bags and stretched out our tired selves on the warm, cozy and comfortable bed and were soon fast asleep.

I T I N E R ARY
Day 1 :
We were woken up at 8:30 am by the doorbell. It was a kind staff member informing us that hot water would be available only till 10 am. So we went about our ablutions and called room service for breakfast consisting of buttered toast, scrambled eggs and tea. The bill totaled Rs 300 for 3 days breakfast.

Now that we were fully awake (as my mother said later, the 2 hrs sleep did us good!!), we drew aside the window curtain and took in the beautiful view of the hills covered in mist right outside our picture window. The considerate hotel manager had given us a room on the topmost floor. There were 2 schools in front of the hotel. Panchgani is known for its vast number of prestigious boarding schools.


The sun was shining brightly but I noticed a lot of people walking around wrapped in shawls or cardigans. The hotel was in a quiet lane.

Once done with breakfast, we moved out of our hotel and walked up to the top of the slope, to the Main Road/market street/shopping area. We decided to walk around the place and discover its nooks and crannies. We saw the well-known Vidya Niketan Co-educational School just opposite our lane. This is where we met our bus, 3 days later, back to Mumbai.

Now that we were at the market street, we decided to walk up and down. We walked up first, in the direction, towards the place we stepped off the bus from Mumbai. The shops were open and there were plenty of shops. Oh my!!

Where to shop - We saw a shop selling pure honey , fruit punches, chana (white chickpea), juices, squashes, sweets, groceries, hardware, home essentials, stores, vegetable market, fresh stock etc. etc. There was even a Cottage Industries Emporium selling hand crafted Kashmiri items and clothing where we shopped in the evening, at the circle where the bus stops. A husband and wife run the shop which deals in silks, pashmina’s, silk embroideries, shawls, carpets, leather goods, wood carving, jewellery, paper machie, dress materials. It is situated on the Main Road. Cell: 09890590546, 02168-241722. The owner, Mr. Tariq was very helpful when my mother bought a whole lot of cardigans and shawls for herself and her sisters. He also has a wonderful stock of Indian wear and men’s pullovers, winter jackets etc. along with Kashmiri handicrafts. And, if I may say so, he serves very nice tea to selective customers. This being my mother’s declaration!!

As we walked down the Main Road or market road, we came across a garden, a Mapro factory outlet and passed by the lane leading to Hotel Prospect, IL Palazzo. I had visited the website of these 2 hotels and was keen on seeing them for real. Hotel Prospect was the first hotel in Panchgani, built in 1912, run by a Parsi family. It is a good 15 mins walk away from the Main Road, secluded inside a quiet, winding lane. We stepped through the huge, wrought iron gates kept wide open onto the flower lined driveway. We met the jovial elderly gentlemen owning the hotel along the way. He was on a short mid morning walk and welcomed us in and asked us to explore the property. We did peep in but didn’t go upto the office as all the details were on their website.


It was lunchtime soon and we were hungry walking around. The mountain air added to it all. There is a shopping centre close to the post office which has around 3 or 4 restaurants. Lunch was at the canopy covered courtyard of the Red Sea restaurant (pix at the end of post).

As soon as we stepped out of this open air restaurant, we came across an old man selling slippers in various colours for Rs 100 each. I bought 3 pairs in mauve, pink and dark blue. They were so comfortable to wear. I request all my readers to patronize this old man who makes the slippers at home.

We had a short nap after lunch.

What to see - Our hotel manager told us that a sight seeing tour of Panchgani tourist spots would cost us Rs 350 and take around 3 hours, beginning at 3 pm..

So we met the cabbie below at around 3 pm which took us first to Sydney Point, close to Hotel Ravine. There is a breathtaking view of the surrounding hills and the Krishna river flowing in between, at the foot of the hills.

The next stop was the Tableland which is the second highest plateau in Asia, the highest being the Tibetan plateau. The Tableland has a circumference of 6 ½ km and takes around an hour to cover by the horse buggy/carriage or by foot. We did it by foot to where the horses take the tourists to view the surrounding landscape. The tableland is at a walkable distance of 20 – 30 mins from the Main Road, past Mr. Tariq’s shop, up the slope towards the St. Joseph’s school.

The last stop was Parsi Point and then back to our room till we stepped out for dinner and a little shopping at the Mala’s outlet close to our lane. They sell the most amazing fresh jams, squashes, syrups, fruit chews, cordials etc.

The shop selling honey, also stocks cashews, chikki, and the most tasty and delightful chocolate-walnut fudge (Rs 120 for a 250 gm box). I recommend all to try it. We did buy some strawberry and choco-walnut fudge in Mahabaleshwar but it wasn’t as nice as this.

Day 2:
Oh, we can go visit there too !!
- We decided to make a day trip to Mahabaleshwar considering it being a short distance of 21 kms or 30 mins away by bus. We made all the enquiries the previous day. The bus depot is on the Main Road and Mr. Tariq advised us to take the “green luxury” bus which passes by every hour through Panchgani on the way to Mahabaleshwar. The tickets are Rs. 18 per person.

So, soon after a hearty breakfast, we set off to the bus depot and waited for the “green” bus! We discovered that there are local State Transport “red” buses every 15 mins to Mahabaleshwar but opted to take the green bus as I suffer from hill road sickness.

The bus came around 11:20 am and after a short halt of 5 mins, set off. We arrived at the Mahabaleshwar bus depot at around noon. The bus depot is opposite the petrol station. We have been to Mahabaleshwar twice before and are familiar with the place. So we strolled down the market place and shopping area lined with shops crowded with tourists and touristy things. It is a highly populated and busy place. We did visit all the shops though as the colourful, attractive displays pulled us in. Lunch was at Nukkad Restaurant close to the church.
Tip: They do have a washroom in the premises which was a welcome relief.

Dessert was at Strawberry Den in the market place which dishes out the most amazing Strawberry and Cream for Rs 60. It has loads of strawberries, cream and ice-cream. This is the most popular place.

Travel tips - My advice to all fellow travel sickness passengers who suffer from this discomfort would be to have lunch as soon as you get to Mahabaleshwar, i.e. if you are traveling up from Panchgani and have to return in a few hours. You can do your shopping after lunch, the walk and after lunch duration helps digestion and you will be able to make the journey back by bus.

We arrived at 12 noon but I made the mistake of having lunch around 1:30 and we were done by 2:15. We had already seen everything and visited all the shops; did our shopping. There was nothing much left to do after lunch and we would have to while away our time for atleast 2 hrs. before I could hop onto a bus. That was too much time to kill. We did walk around for around half an hour but how much more?! So we returned to the bus depot to see if I could make it back by bus. There was a ST bus about to leave and we stepped in. I felt squeamish as soon as I set foot in so I retreated. The “green” bus would come only after an hour, so we asked around for a taxi to Panchgani. There is a taxi stand just outside the bus depot. We were already aware of the charges of Rs 350 to Panchgani/Mahabaleshwar, one way. We didn’t have a choice. My mother was tired already, I was feeling unwell and so we hopped into the cab and sped away to Panchgani. The cabbie did tell us that a trip to from Mahabaleshwar to Panchgani and back would cost us Rs 425. He dropped us outside our hotel in 25-30 mins. We were exhausted and took a nice long nap till evening. Dinner was at the same restaurant.

Day 3:
What else to see -
Mr. Tariq had told us about Sherbaug and we had seen it advertised everywhere. He told us that it was a nature theme park and that we would find it quite interesting. So we set out soon after breakfast and decided to walk down to Sherbaug. We left the market road, past Hotel Ravine, Hotel Mount View, and Hotel Mount Castle etc. The entrance fee is Rs 300 per person and Rs 50 for a camera. The entrance has a jungle theme to it with an artificial blue stream of water continuously flowing. The entire park has a quaintness about it with winding pathways where people can walk in single file, through archways, past waterfalls, gardens, flower beds, horticultural spaces, all along guided by signpost saying “This Way Please”, otherwise one can just lose oneself in this labyrinth. You suddenly cross a wooden bridge to come across an Art Gallery where Mr. Tariq has his other shop. It was a surprise for us too. I did buy a Kashmiri embroidered short tunic in white from there. There is a restaurant close by; food cooked by local housewives and served by students in a village style ambience. Next to this is the dinosaur cave and the cave of ghosts. I cannot describe any of this as we didn’t venture in. We did stop for a chilled glass of “Maaza” and then carried on. Too soon we reached the exit and left the theme park walking past a blue stream of flowing water. We walked back to our favourite restaurant for lunch at around 2 pm and then a short nap at the hotel till evening tea.

Dinner was light and ended with a glass of hot chocolate.

The Return Journey : –
We had to meet the bus back to Mumbai outside the Vidya Niketan School at 9:30 am. The bus begins at Mahabaleshwar. I had my breakfast around 8:30 am and we boarded the bus at 10 am which was a wise decision since I was the only lady who was not “sick” in the bus. The other passengers had boarded the bus at Mahabaleshwar and a little out of Panchgani the bus had to stop for all the “sick” passengers. I faced the same ordeal on the 2 earlier occasions when we were traveling down from Mahabaleshwar.

We were back home by 4:30 am.

My mother and I were both heartbroken when we left Panchgani and wanted to linger on and on. There is a kind of calm and peace still there, free from tourists (of course we made the trip just before the season time begins around Dec 20th). Unlike Mahabaleshwar where one has to travel to be with nature, Panchgani offers the regular tourist a chance to be with nature anywhere in the town itself.


WHERE TO STAY : -
For Hotels
– more information at www.mahabaleshwar.com
We stayed at Hotel Summer Palace, Tel: 02168 – 240523, 240538. pictures of the room we were in can be viewed here - http://www.panchgani-sheeshmahel.com
SHERBAUG pix - http://www.sherbaug.com/sherbaug/sherbaugintro/ , http://www.sherbaug.com/sherbaug/sherbaugliving/
For jams, jellies, syrups, sweets, strawberry chews visit
MALA’s - http://www.malasfruit.com/

5 comments:

Elisa, Croatia said...

Interesting Post, enjoyed the pictures!

Nags said...

lovely!!

uma said...

Truly informative

amish said...

try to add some more pictures to enhence this post

panchgani said...

very informative!!
thanks