Monsoon Getaways from ‘Pumbai’

Come June and the rain gods transform the barren, parched, scorching landscape into a fresh, lush green and thriving scene. It’s also the perfect time to indulge in the sights, smells and sounds that are characteristic of the rains and what better than to escape on weekends to experience the magic and mania of the monsoons up close. Whether it’s the earthy petrichor scent that lingers on or the lakes and verdant hills swathed in cool mist or the numerous bird calls, the charisma and allure of Indian monsoons charm their way straight into your heart.

To make the most of the monsoons we prefer taking short weekend excursions, closer to home, as schools have reopened and it’s difficult to escape for a longer break. While the hill stations of Lonavala, Khandala, Mahableshwar, Panchgani and Matheran continue to be favourites with the masses, it can sometimes be a nightmare to be stuck in traffic jams and find hotel bookings on weekends when large crowds descend on these destinations. The younger crowds eager to eat and ‘drink’ to their heart’s content can sometimes get unruly and disrupt the much-needed serenity and peace that’s necessary to absorb the monsoons. So here are some of the options to check out around ‘Pumbai’ i.e. Pune and Mumbai.

Morachi Chincholi: The town of tamarind trees and dancing peacocks

Peacock at Morachi Chincholi
Peacock at Morachi Chincholi @Rafiq Somani

On one weekend we joined a group of nature lovers, that organize such treks and outings, to explore the natural surroundings near Pune. Morachi Chincholi or the town of tamarind trees and dancing peacocks was the first on our list, after which we were to explore the unique natural potholes at Nighoj. We were accompanied by a geologist who would guide us and explain the details of this unique geological rock formation.

We set out early in the morning to discover Morachi Chincholi, a small town located 55 km from Pune which is known for its ‘Chinch’ or tamarind trees and provides a haven for the ‘Mors’ or peacocks. After driving for less than two hours from Pune we entered this small town and were awed by the sight of a peahen walking majestically on the road with no sign of fear or danger. This is possible because poaching and hunting of the peacocks is a strict no-no and the villagers are extremely proud and protective of these beautiful creatures. We met our fellow trekkers in the fields where we were instructed to keep our eyes and ears open to the sight and distinctive call of the peacocks.

Peacock, Morachi Chicholi
Peacock, Morachi Chicholi @Rafiq Somani

It was beguiling to see several peacocks and peahens, some solitary others in groups, walking unabashedly around the fields oblivious to onlookers. We just kept pointing in the direction of these beauties, one perched on a tree with its multihued trail cascading down, another walking gracefully in the fields like a model on the ramp, a peahen with young chicks trailing behind. While our group didn’t see the peacock fan his spectacular tail, my husband who had drifted from the group managed to see it and capture these magnificent creatures of creation in his camera.

Peacocks, Morachi Chicholi
Peacocks, Morachi Chincholi @Rafiq Somani

Even after spending an hour in the fields, we were hungry for more peacock sightings, but our stomachs were even hungrier, so we decided to leave and have a breakfast of pohe, misal pav and cutting chai. We then set off to Nighoj which is known for its naturally formed potholes on the Kokadi riverbed. A temple is also situated here, and one can walk on a suspension bridge to see these geological wonders or be adventurous enough to venture to the canyon and observe them up close.

Our geologist explained how the force of the river causes soil erosion, dislodging pebbles that get stuck in the cracks and crevices sculpting these potholes. Seeing these natural, artistic potholes made me recall our trip to Ladakh where we visited Lamayuru which has been nicknamed ‘Moon Land’ as its surface resembles the moon craters. One is awed at how the forces of nature, be it the wind, rain or the sun can remodel and beautify the landscape.

Kokadi River Bed with Potholes, Nighoj
Kokadi River Bed with Potholes, Nighoj, @Rafiq Somani

What was worrying was that there were styrofoam plates, garbage and other rubbish strewn around the canyon. If this rock formation had existed elsewhere in the world it would have been safeguarded and protected as a national treasure! While Morachi Chincholi and Nighoj are hidden gems of Maharashtra which deserve greater visibility and footfalls there is also the danger of rampant tourism destroying these exceptional destinations. 

Mulshi: Of serene lake, milky waterfalls and verdant hills

Waterfalls, Mulshi
Waterfalls, Mulshi @Rafiq Somani

Mulshi is another monsoon getaway. The scenic drive, milky white waterfalls and walks in the clouds will cheer you up and provide much-needed rejuvenation and relaxation. So, on one weekend we chose to escape to Mulshi which is less than an hour and a half’s drive from Pune. We stopped at a restaurant for lunch before checking into our resort.

Our lake facing room with French windows provided an unobstructed view of the lake that is surrounded by the Sahyadri hills. The landscape vistas were so riveting; with light rain and mist, verdant green nature, and the gentle wind blowing; that all we wanted to do was curl up on the lounger and keep gazing.

Mulshi
Mulshi @Rafiq Somani

In the evening, while the kids decided to stay indoors, my husband and I decided to explore the surroundings. The hills caped in mist beckoned us to spend some time in the arms of enticing nature. Gushing streams and milky waterfalls, a cow feeding on the abundant grass, birds chirping and lush greenery all around left us enthralled.

Purple-rumped Sun bird
Purple-rumped Sun bird @Rafiq Somani

After trying to identify and spot some birds in the dense forest we decided to head to the lake. Not knowing how to access it, a stall owner guided us to the path leading to the lake. On our way to the lake, we noticed a land crab with its distinctive sideways walk, trying to find some cover perhaps. We passed the fields and a muddy track and soon found ourselves on a rocky path with only two trees adjacent to each other serving as perfect subjects for picture composition. The serene lake, with not a soul in sight, surrounded by abundant green hills left us spellbound. The joy and exhilaration of experiencing the peaceful and tranquil surroundings made us want to be there for eternity. But the sky was getting dark and cloudy, indicating that a heavy downpour was inevitable, so we decided to rush back.

Bumble bee
Bumble bee @Rafiq Somani

On the way back, we stopped at an eatery to grab a bite. There is something about the rains that makes you crave for spicy, fried stuff and sip on endless cups of piping hot chai or coffee. Not worrying about calories, we ordered Vada Pav – the Indian Burger and some hot chai. The other monsoon favourites are misal pav, bhajias in all its variants of onion, potato, chillies and of course bhutta or the corn on the cob with lime, chilli and salt rubbed on it.

Kaas Plateau: Maharashtra’s Valley of Flowers

Flowers, Kaas Plateau
Flowers, Kaas Plateau @Rafiq Somani

Kaas Plateau, in the Satara district of Maharashtra, is a plateau formed of basalt rock. It is a biodiversity hotspot in the Western Ghats often referred to as ‘Maharashtra’s Valley of Flowers’. We visited this UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, at the time of the Satara Hill Marathon which is usually held in the months of August or September, four years ago. It was a unique opportunity for us to participate in the marathon, thanks to my husband who is a marathon runner, and visit Kaas. However, getting hotel reservations was daunting, since there were a sizeable number of marathoners, so we had to settle for some basic accommodation.

Post the marathon we drove to the plateau. The cars need to be parked in the parking bay after which one can walk to the plateau. We had been hearing conflicting reports of whether the flowers were in bloom or not, so we had mentally prepared ourselves for the worst. But we were overjoyed to see a carpet of full-blown flowers in shades of lilac, magenta and pink.

Flowers, Kaas Plateau
Flowers, Kaas Plateau @Rafiq Somani

At another spot were blossoms in warm hues of yellow and gold. As if that was not enough, the mist and gentle wind would make the flowers swivel gently giving the illusion of a moving carpet of flowers. What was inexcusable was seeing visitors walk indiscriminately on the delicate flowers thus putting this fragile ecosystem in danger. The security guards kept whistling and warning visitors, not to trample on the flowers and be vigilant, but in vain.

Flowers, Kaas Plateau
Flowers, Kaas Plateau @Rafiq Somani

What is unique about these endemic flowers is that they are endangered and only bloom for a period of 4-6 weeks in the months of August and September. It’s wise that the authorities have made online registration mandatory permitting only 3,000 visitors each day. It is vital that visitors respect and protect this fragile ecosystem and biodiversity. One may also want to visit the Kaas lake situated close by.

The monsoons are the perfect time for city dwellers, living amidst the chaos of concrete jungles, to escape to the hills and lakes for some much-needed rest and relaxation. So where are you heading next?

Nearest Airports: Pune is the nearest airport with Mumbai after it.
Distances: Pune to Nighoj- 2 hours/73 km
Pune to Morachi Chincholi-1 ½ hours/55 km
Morachi Chincholi to Nighoj- 40 mins/25 km
Pune to Mulshi distance- 1 hour 20 mins/44 km
Pune to Kaas Plateau- 2 hours 50 mins/135 km
Pune to Mumbai distance- 3 hours/150km
Where to stay: Morachi Chincholi has no major hotels except for a resort which offers various group packages with meals. It’s best to stay in Pune and drive down. Mulshi has few but lovely resorts so getting reservations on weekends may be difficult, so it is best to book in advance. For the Kaas Plateau, you will have to look for suitable accommodation in Satara. Do explore options on the net.
Travel Tip: Only limited visitors are allowedatKaas Plateau so do register online on the official website. https://www.kas.ind.in/ The entry fee is Rs. 100/-  

This travelogue was first published in Corporate Tycoons Magazine, Sept 2018

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