It was our third and final day in Mahabaleshwar. Our weekend break was coming to an end. We would have been sad about it had we any spare time to lament. As it goes, we still had a couple of great places to visit, namely Pratapgad Fort, a fortress built by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, situated atop a hill; and Panchgani, another beautiful hill station closest to Mahabaleshwar. We packed our bags, stuffed them in the car, and checked out early. We weren’t coming back that night.
The fort was more than an hour’s drive from our resort and it was going to be a fairly long trek to the top, so we stopped at the base for some breakfast and muster enough energy to make the climb. I want to set a good example and say that I ate a hearty, healthy meal like everyone else, but yet again I chose to consume a can of juice over a plate of Masala Dosa and a hot cup of tea. It’s safe to say that the number of jokes in regards to my unique diet sky-rocketed that day.
There’s something to be said for places that have a special spot in people’s hearts. Pratapgad Fort was constructed in 1656 but remains a place of great importance even today. The story behind its existence has been passed down through generations. How Shivaji’s construction of this hilltop stronghold turned out to be an inspired piece of strategy, how he positioned himself in the eyes of the Mughal sultanate as a force to be reckoned with, and how this fort played a pivotal role in the Battle of Pratapgad, a turning point for the fledgeling Maratha Empire.
The fort is at a distance of 21 km from Mahabaleshwar and holds a sturdy view of coastal Konkan. It is divided into two parts – the lower fort and the upper fort. The upper fort was built upon the crest of the hill and is roughly square, 180 m long on each side. It comprises several buildings including a Mahadev Temple. The lower fort is situated at the southeast end and is defended by tall towers and strongholds which are 10-12 m high. It houses a Bhavani Temple on the eastern side. It is believed that Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was blessed with a shining sword at this temple. A 17-foot tall, bronze statue of Shivaji was also erected at Pratapgad to commemorate his victory and pay homage to his memory.
Pratapgad Fort is a famous tourist spot and its walls are rich with history and secrets. Those who are curious to learn more can book a guide there for Rs. 300. The climb of 450 to 500 steps to get to the top may be exhausting for most but it’s certainly worth the effort. There are places to rest inside, small eateries and stalls where one can get cool buttermilk and enjoy shopping for souvenirs.
PANCHGANI MARKET and PARADISE CAFÉ
The sun was high up in the sky by the time we left Pratapgad and reached Panchgani. This hill station is named so because it lies between five hills – ‘Panch’ meaning five and ‘gani’ meaning hills. It is merely half an hour away from Mahabaleshwar and can be covered in a day trip from there if you so wished.
Panchgani Market is a colourful place, not as big and diverse as the Mahabaleshwar market, but still a cool place to hang out and buy some local goods. Feet aching and stomachs growling with hunger, we walked the length of the market, stopping only once to buy a couple of boxes of fudge and chikki, before finding ourselves a nice place to eat and relax for the afternoon.
A cosy little eatery called Paradise Café became our temporary relief station. We sank into its comfortable seats and stayed immobile for a good ten minutes. Trekking up Pratapgad Fort had been fun but this was so much better, sitting in a place that smelled great and had Strawberry Cream on the menu. We were tempted to order one of everything but settled on a cheese sandwich, pizza and—you guessed it!—a nice tall glass of Strawberry Cream (our weakness). I don’t exaggerate when I say that the Strawberry Cream gave us life.
After lunch, we thanked the owners of Paradise Café for their wonderful hospitality and awesome food and then headed for Table Land.
The second highest mountain plateau in Asia, Table Land is situated 4500 ft above sea level. It is a famous tourist attraction in Panchgani that offers a jaw-dropping view of deep valleys and majestic hills. Table Land is also known for activities like horse riding, trekking, merry-go-rounds, and paragliding. Best described as a beautiful marvel of nature, this plateau is a very popular attraction of the Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani region.
We were blasted in the face with crazy winds the moment we stepped out of the car. It was extremely cold and drizzling too, so we had no choice but to cover up if we wanted to survive the next two hours. Some kind of movie production was set up near where we were, its actors surrounded by tourists and local crowd, but we barely paid them any attention, more interested in admiring Table Land. There’s nothing more beautiful than standing at the edge of the plateau and gazing at the misty horizon, soaking in the amazing sight that we were lucky enough to behold.
After being followed by relentless horse keepers who wanted us to take a ride on their horses, we eventually gave in and indulged in some horse riding, which, let me tell you, is not as fun as it’s hyped to be. It may be a faster mode of travel but exploring Table Land on foot is much more satisfying, especially since there are caves down there which the horses definitely can’t enter.
In the end, the skies opened up and we had to hasten back to our car, partially drenched and squealing in laughter. “It’s a wrap!” We all cried out once inside, happy about the places we had seen and the work we had done in those three days. It was time to go home…
Mahabaleshwar was a perfect Weekend Break destination for Ghumau Kya, and we urge our readers to go visit this hill station themselves. Do call us if you require assistance with planning your trip. We’ll be more than happy to help.
In the meantime, we hope you’re all doing well and keeping your travel dreams alive.