Over a stray weekend last December, a trip quite unlike any other, transpired in the un-touristy locale of Hadapsar, Pune. It was a trip of many firsts – first stay in an Airbnb listing, first visit to a town that isn’t on any traveller’s itinerary and first stay in a service apartment (I usually do homestays or budget hotels/cottages). That week in Hadapsar was meant to be just a welcome respite from a Friday that would otherwise be spent languishing at work. Instead, a little curiosity, a gracious host and the ability of places to surprise you in the most delightful manner – all of these revealed the hidden treasures of Hadapsar to the two of us. Dec 27. Morning. We set out for Pune in a non-AC bus, because it was winter. Dec 27. Afternoon. We arrived at Pune bus depot, had a quick bite and caught a local bus to Hadapsar. Dec 27. Early evening. We arrived at Hadapsar and checked in to our service apartment. Dec 27. Evening. We convinced our host to lend us his scooter and sped off to see Mastani Talav, in the midst of the mountains. Dec 28. Night. We headed to Amanora Park Town and Magarpatta City; generally behaving like city slickers. Dec 29. Morning. We rode the scooter to the nearby gliding centre and feasted our eyes on gliders. Dec 29. Afternoon. We checked out of our apartment and took a share auto to Pune bus depot. Dec 29 Evening. We were back in Mumbai; but we went home much later! 😀 P.S.: Our first brush with Airbnb turned out to be really pleasant and if you’re looking for an offbeat stay, do consider it as a great alternative to conventional hotels. Sign up with this link and get Rs 1500 free credit for your first trip! We found the booking process to be convenient and quick and the options pretty exhaustive. What’s more, no personal details are shared until the booking is done; so it’s perfectly safe.
My two-day trip to Hadapsar is the oddest trip I’ve ever had. And that’s why it’s shocking that it turned out so well! I had only two reasons to do the trip: unused Airbnb credit and a desire to be away from the pandemonium at home (it was getting painted). So, I convinced my friend to do the three hour bus ride with me from Mumbai to Pune and check-in to a service apartment in the quiet, dusty town of Hadapsar. Our first impression of Hadapsar was this – lots of traffic and nothing of note in sight. Yet, when we walked around looking for our apartment, we were plunged into a network of cosy, leafy lanes – a residential dream. The air turned cooler and it seemed like we had left the dust and grime of the city far behind. Our host Sharad (of Park View service apartment) was extremely gracious and we were pleased with how clean our room was. It was even equipped with a balcony where we could enjoy a drink and watch the evening sun. Meals were provided in the tiny dining area downstairs and breakfast at the roof-top restaurant. This restaurant was pretty with a great bird’s eye view of the town, but at the time, it was still under construction. You might ask – why didn’t we choose a more conventional weekend getaway? Well, we had been to most of those and we weren’t looking for anything overtly adventurous – we wanted a place where we could simply relax and behave just like we do on a free evening in Mumbai.
Stage 2: Hadapsar to Mastani Lake
What could we possibly do in this locale with not even a decent restaurant in sight (there were little dhaba-type eateries though)? After a scrumptious home-made lunch of rotis, sabzi, dal and rice prepared by two teenaged boys, Sharad came to see how we were doing. Now, my research had already thrown up two possibilities – Mastani Lake and the Gliding Centre. Sharad was a gold mine of information on how to reach Mastani Talav. He also told us about the gliding centre, where people learn to fly little aircrafts called gliders. Sharad also suggested visiting the neighbouring Amanora Town Centre in the night. But one conundrum remained – how were we to reach a place like Mastani Lake? It was at least an hour’s ride away and buses were infrequent. “Could we get a scooter for rent?” my friend asked hopefully. Sharad told us there weren’t any renting places nearby but would his own private scooter do? I wanted to say “chalega nahi, daudega!” And so a little while later, we were happily speeding away on his scooter, with Google Maps showing us the way.
We parked our scooter and feasted our eyes on this breathtaking view for a long, long time. Far below, I saw a couple of water bodies and guessed that one of them was Mastani Lake. Legend goes that the beautiful paramour of Peshwa Bajirao used to come here to bathe. And if you’ve seen Bajirao Mastani, you’d know all about their rocky love story. According to the film, Mastani was the daughter of the Raja of Bundelkhand, borne by a Muslim mother. She fell passionately in love with Bajirao after fought together on the battlefield, but his family opposed their relationship vehemently. Ultimately, both died painful deaths although Mastani bore Bajirao a son named Shamsher Bahadur. Another story goes that Mastani had Mastani Lake built to tend to the water requirements of nearby villages. But how were we supposed to get to the lake? We couldn’t possibly strap on parachutes and jump off the edge of the highway! The sun was beginning to set and dejectedly, we got on to the scooter and began riding back towards Hadapsar. I was starting to feel faint without my evening dose of caffeine and we stopped at a tiny eatery alongside the highway for a cup of tea. Just on a whim, I asked the lady who owned the shop cum eatery about Mastani Lake. “Yes, it’s right here!” she said in Marathi. “How do we get there?” She asked us to go a little further along the highway and keep our eyes open for a little dirt road to the left. We had to take that road to reach the lake. “Is there any landmark around the road?” my friend asked. The lady named a hotel whose name we didn’t quite catch. Nevertheless, with directions from a couple of men along the way, we managed to find the dirt track before darkness completely descended upon the valley. Hurriedly, we rode over the rocky path and followed its steep descent and winding turns until we realised that we were completely lost, in the midst of Wakdi village, with not a soul in sight to show us the way. Eventually, we did see a lone villager here and there who pointed us in the general direction of the lake. Our final clue came from the priest of a cosy little temple nestled in a quiet nook of the village. I don’t know what I prayed for as I stood on the blessed, cool floor of that temple resonant with the sound of the evening bells. I think I just expressed my gratitude for the wonderful adventures we were having. And at long last, we reached the serene Mastani Lake. We were visiting in winter and the water in the lake had depleted a fair amount. The hills were starting to gleam saffron in the sun as well. Yet, the absolute silence; unblemished but for the call of a bird here or the flutter of a butterfly there – it sent me back to that secret place that only good books and mysteries of nature seem to know the way to. Although darkness was all too near and we had little time on our hands, I stole a few moments of serenity by the lake and I gazed at its stillness like an eagle may gaze upon the sky; like I belonged there. It was easier to find our way back to the highway although we ended up taking a different exit altogether. I have no idea how many ways there actually are, to reach Mastani Lake. But I wouldn’t mind discovering every one of them. Stage 3: Mastani Lake to Amanora Town Centre Our service apartment was located close to two of the area’s biggest landmarks – Amanora and Seasons Mall, located at Amanora Town Centre. We weren’t expecting much, considering Mumbai is no stranger to the shopping mall experience. But this was our first impression of these two malls located opposite each other: stunning edifices, glittering lights and luxurious colours. They were resplendent, spotlessly clean and palatial in expanse. I don’t know about other things but this township definitely knows how to build (and keep) a good mall. We were treated to a delicious dose of Christmas festivities at both malls and we couldn’t help turning into little kids who wanted to click pictures with Santas, baubles and chocolate houses. I’m pretty certain that malls aren’t a part of your average travelogue but hey, what’s life without a little unconventionality? Stage 4: Amanora Town Centre to Magarpatta City Magarpatta City holds some dear memories in its custody for me. This was where I attended the NH7 concert with my friends during my post-graduation and I recall vividly the large lawns, echoing with new age beats and well-loved trance rhythms, the cool breeze mingling with the headiness caused by sips of rum cocktails and the odd reveller here and there, who’d break into dance when the band played a particularly groovy number. We ended up passing through Magarpatta City due to an unintended detour on our way back and I marvelled at the quiet residences, surrounded by well-organised greenery and absolute quietude; an oasis of peace just a street away from the chaos of the city. Since it was too dark to take any pictures, I’ll make do with a Wikimedia Commons image: I think Pune has made a real success of these constructed townships; Magarpatta City, Amanora Park Town and Lavasa among many. Perhaps, that is truly the future of healthy urban living.
Stage 5: Magarpatta City to Gliding Centre