Strawberry heartland of India- Satara

As usual, an overnight bus journey from Bangalore ended at the Satara bypass on NH4. An autorickshaw to the town gave a kickstart to the entire trip thereon..

We took a bus to Wai from Satara. Since we were there, we enquired with a few locals who guided us to visit the Wai ghat on the banks of the Krishna river. We did a quick visit to the Dholya Ganapathi mandir & Sri Kashi Vishweshwar Mandir(Kashi of Maharastra)at the place and got busy photographing some street hawker kids who were having a good time diving & swimming in the polluted waters of the ghat. Dhom Dam is a good place for water sports with a nice view of the surrounding mountains. It is about 10kms from Wai and frequenting locals jeeps are available on a sharing basis. However, we decided to skip it since we had to reach our next destination ASAP as we hadn’t booked our stay yet.

Wai ghat on the banks of river Krishna
Wai ghat on the banks of river Krishna

The bus travelled around the mountain curves offering a great view of the Dhom dam whose waters reflected the clear blue sky all the way up till we reached our destination- Panchgani. This is a small hill town that ends within a stretch of 2kms, but an abode to 42 international schools making it an educational hub of Maharastra. Before entering the town, we passed through Harrisson’s Folley view point. However, we thought of giving it a miss since we were heading towards Sydney point from where we could get to see the Folley as well as a breathtaking view of the dam. Once at the Sydney point, it was truly a spectacle from up there- We both decided to sit down there on the footpath facing the dam and spend some peaceful time amid nature at its best. We just wanted to kill time until night and we got walking back towards the main road.

Sometimes, god really wants you to be at the right place at the right time, and that’s how this evening turned out to be after we decided to go to table land. We passed through Rajapuri caves along the way up where we were told that women were not allowed inside as it was an abode of Lord Ayyappan. We continued uphill. It looked like quite a mela with many makeshift shops put up and a lot of locals and tourists who had littered the place with plastic bottles and wrappers. But, as we walked past the maddening crowds, we saw that the table land indeed was a vast stretch and we decided to walk the entire land before dark. Meanwhile we got busy photographing the silhouettes of the grazing cattle, the horse riders etc against a beautiful backdrop of the setting sun. An artificial lake amid adds romance to this place gifted naturally with vast stretches of native flowers- all white, purple and yellow. The sky was painted in all hues with a beaming full moon reflecting in the lake water adding to the spectacle. It felt like the sun went down sooner that day and we had to scoot as the deserted place had no guiding lamps to the main road.

We checked into a hotel where we dumped all our luggage and decided to explore the town. Panchgani is famous for channa, chikki and fudge- the shops say all over and so we picked up some to carry back home. What caught our attention was a bottle of strawberry wine at a wine store. The day’s events concluded with a sumptuous spicy hot veg Kolhapuri for dinner.

The idea was to be at the table top for sunrise, however- we snoozed the alarm for a little longer and we woke up only when Sam rang up asking us to open the door for him. We three then started our day with a yummy plate of Poha and hired a taxi to Mahabaleshwar. This 15km stretch from Panchgani to Mahabaleshwar calls for many pitstops enroute. First stop was at Parsi point- that gives a view of the Dhom dam from another angle. The Lingmala and the Bhilawar waterfalls enroute weren’t as appealing as the case would have been if the monsoon was good this year. Next stop was at the Mapro garden and chocolate factory- This is the venue of the annual strawberry festival and one can see the chocolate making process at the factory through a glass wall. We did try shots of the different juices & crushes they had to offer and picked up some bottles and chocolates to bring back home. Further, we drove amid the Koyna forest reserve to stop at Kate’s point. Along with the echo point and the elephant’s head / Needle hole point, we got a beautiful view of Dhom dam, Balkawadi dam, Krishna valley and Kamalgarh fort.

Kate's point & the elephant head
Kate’s point & the elephant head

We then continued our drive through the forests hoping to sight a few peafowls, deers etc. We stopped at Savitri point only to be disappointed  by the mist that had engulfed the place. Castle rock, 3 monkey point, Malcom point, window point, tiger spring, hunter’s point, echo point and Arthur’s point all along the same stretch of road ended in a mere walk without actually seeing the infamous mountain ranges. Arthur’s point is the end of Mahabaleshwar hill station. The whole purpose of being there was to see the hills first hand that had always mesmerised me on TV. However, luck was not with us that day as the entire valley was covered with super thick mist even at 1.00.p.m. Even the return drive through Marjori and the Elphinstone points meant disappointment. After covering all the possible places in the newer part, next plan of action was to visit the cultural part- the Old Mahabaleshwar. This hill station contributes to 80% of the total strawberry produce of India. Being in the strawberry heartland of India, DO NOT miss to eat fresh strawberry with cream for dessert after a fine Maharastrian lunch at Mahabaleshwar market.

The Mapro strawberry garden and Chocolate factory
The Mapro strawberry garden and Chocolate factory

We then headed for a small round of pilgrimage. Starting with a visit to Panchganga temple- the place of origin of 5 rivers namely Gayathri, Savithri, Koyna, Venna and The Krishna. The confluence of these rivers happens underground and then spouts through a cow’s mouth carved out of a stone about 4500yrs ago. A small walk through the shopping lanes lead to the Mahabaleshwar(Shiva) temple from where the place ascertains it’s name. The legend mentions about Atibaleshwar and Kotibaleshwar also, however we could not find the temples. A walk of 100mts further down leads to the Krishnabhai temple- an archeological treasure untouched by the tourists. It offers a pleasant view of the Krishna valley.

The Krishnabhai temple
The Krishnabhai temple

We only drove past the Venna lake without stopping amid the maddening crowd of tourists. This was the last stretch of the day before we boarded a bus to Satara where the highlight of the trip was awaiting…

Note: If staying in Mahabaleshwar, one could plan to witness the sunrise at Wilson point- the highest part of Mahabaleshwar and Sunset at Bombay point both being a part of the Sindola hill. The entry and exit to Mahabaleshwar is only between 06.00.a.m. to 06.00.p.m. as it is a protected forest area.

Day 3 was the sole reason that got us to plan this trip.. We woke up early to reach Khas plateau for sunrise to get some wonderful photographs, escape the crowds that would pour in at a later time under the scorching sun. This alone will come as my next post. If you have sometime in hand, you can drive further from the Khas lake to reach the boating village of Bamnoli and take a boat tour to Vasota fort or Tapola. Anyway, we headed back to Satara town by noon to visit the other places around. Vajrai and Thoseghar falls were a sad scene owing to poor rainfall and Chalkewadi windmill station was given a miss considering we had visited one back in our home state. Sajjangad,  Ajinkyatara, Pratapgad, Kalyangad are forts for the history buffs that can all be covered through flying visits in a day if one had own transport. Also, the Nataraj temple in the town centre is worth a visit while you are in Satara… Kandi peda, a speciality sweet and Zunka baakri(maize roti) kept us filled for the overnight’s journey ahead. Thus ended a long weekend in Satara…!!

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