For most of our lives, Panchgani has only been a brief stopover during a holiday in Mahabaleshwar. But on the weekend before Ankita’s birthday, we decided to finally give the beautiful hill-station in Maharashtra its due.
It took us around five hours to reach Panchgani from Mumbai, with a little halt at Pune to break the long drive. We were glad to see that our homestay at Godavali Village was marked on Google Maps and a bumpy, pebble-strewn ride later, we were nearly at Saffronstays Verandah by the Valley. The route to the house had been turned marshy by heavy rains and we had to park our car outside a nearby temple. Once there, we could only see the roof of the house. Because to enter, one had to descend a longish flight of stairs. It was almost like making our way into a secret hideout.
And once we lay our eyes on the gorgeous veranda overlooking Panchgani’s mountains, waterfalls and colourful township on the banks of Nagewadi River, we knew this was a secret worth keeping. A sumptuous lunch put us in the mood for a long nap and we decided to postpone our exploration for the following day.
The rains decided to grace the landscape again that evening and we sipped hot cups of masala chai on the veranda, mesmerised by the way the moisture draped itself over the valleys and foliage. We stayed on the deck until the sun dipped over the horizon and twilight cast its silvery web over the hills.
The next morning, slim cotton curtains let in the pre-dawn light, rousing us from a deep sleep. Excitedly, we settled on the armchairs in the veranda, facing the lush green garden and waiting for the sun to do its magical dance across the sky. The sunrise was as magnificent as we’d hoped it would be and the exotic birds flitting around the garden added to our joy. After a delicious breakfast prepared by the caretaker’s wife, we set out to refresh our memories of Panchgani’s scenic points and find new stories to write about.
The view from Table Land and Parsi Point was reminiscent of European landscapes – sweeping, verdant mountains lay spread out before our awed eyes with the sparkling river curving at their feet and the villages sprinkled with vibrant cottages. We enjoyed a jam puff at MV Roach & Sons, the oldest bakery in Panchgani, now run by the fourth generation and walked away with a bottle of Jambul honey from Paradise Apiary. The apiary was located alongside the Cheese Factory and an interesting display of vintage cars and a carriage.
It wasn’t strawberry season but we strolled through a nursery next to the Bhilar waterfall point anyway. Seeing little potted plants bursting with floral buds never fails to perk up our spirits. The waterfall was a healthy trickle in the distance.
After more scenic views at Sydney Point, which also featured a boardwalk suspended on ropes, and Harrison’s Folly which offered 360 degree views of the landscape, we made our way to Sherbaug Theme Park and Resort. It had a slightly ignored appearance but we were thrilled to walk through the cool, dark garden with its little staircases and swings. The theme park has been built around the erstwhile summer holiday palace of the Queen of Indore.
Today, it features a variety of jungle-themed luxury accommodation, fossil museum and cactus collection, horror house, laughing house, man-made waterfall and restaurant. We were most interested in the array of exotic cacti growing outside the fossil museum, which was also a remarkable study in the remains of dinosaurs, sharks and butterflies. The horror house tour got finished much too soon and we were in no mood to ruin our clothes at the waterfall with so many adventures ahead. So after our brief exploration, we decided to go hunting for Devrai Art Village.
The art village included a shop full of wonderful décor items such as wall hangings fashioned from impressions of Parle-G biscuits, red chillies and peanut pods, wall pieces carved out of real tree branches, sculptures of monkeys and floral installations. An NGO uses the money earned from the sale of these items to fund the living expenses and salaries of the artists behind them, who are none other than Adivasis from Gadchiroli and Chhattisgarh.
The best part was that we could also visit the workshops of the artists, which were located in the woods surrounding the shop. We had a great time chatting with the artists and their apprentices and watching them work with materials like rice husk, wax and clay. Panchgani thus proved to be a rejuvenating medley of picturesque nature and unconventional attractions.
Book your stay at Saffronstays Verandah by the Valley here. Rates begin at Rs 11800 per night for four adults. Also note that there are day-long power cuts on Tuesdays.
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