Sometimes, one has just gotta keep calm and….
Road trips are often the most memorable ones as it allows a complete assimilation of the journey as it shows the gradual change in surroundings as one approaches a new place and gives a great deal of satisfaction when it comes to the feeling of wanderlust.
Honestly, after a long travel hiatus courtesy the pandemic, the idea of a road trip sounded like a dream so this Tuesday, I decided to cut school and hit the road to destination unknown!
Well, not exactly unknown, but I did get to cut school which totally added to the thrill of it.
My family and I drove to the towns of Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar, which are about a three hour drive from my city. We went on a day trip so there was practically no settling which was quite an adventure but as Helen Keller once said, ‘Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.’
This is a toll plaza on the highway at an early stage of the trip. I decided to begin with this as in India, toll plazas are not just stations for collecting a toll for crossing boundaries, but also a place of real business for hawkers. As you can see in the photo, there are a couple of men selling their goods to the cars in the queues and often, one gets the most interesting things from the toll plaza hawkers staring from yellow crisps known as ‘Bobbies’ to wind-up toys to bottles of water and even assorted vegetables. The moment one stops at a toll, the hawkers will approach with their shouts indicating the goods they’re selling and once sold, they’ll go back to their makeshift stalls at the side of the road to replenish their stock for the next round.
Tolls often double as a pitstop of sorts with toilets and certain food joints right after the gate or a few metres away. There are also helpline telephones and car service centres which make these places very convenient on a road trip.
This is the Krishna River as seen from the car zooming along the highway. I was rather lucky to get the sun in this shot what with the speed and the fact that I was seated by the window away from the direction of the river.
Often while travelling by road in India, you’ll come across these small temples or shrines in fields or small rocky shelters bordering the highway. It is more common on a hill road where the people from the highway towns and villages visit these shrines for their prayers. It’s rather fun to spot one of these shrines, especially the ones in rocky shelters as they are quite tiny and it’s really satisfying to find one and get a picture and send out a small prayer for safety during the journey.
Toy shops such as this one are the most unique things about road travel in India. They are often put up at the start of a highway and stretch up to at least ten shops in a row. These shops sell huge, colourful stuffed animals as well as blankets and jackets which can be useful in case of last minute misses. One of my favourites from these stalls is a giant stuffed Panda that is a sure sight in these shops. Unfortunately, whenever we pass these stalls, the car is either on the opposite lane or I’m asleep. The day I get my hands on that panda would be the greatest accomplishment ever!
If you look very carefully at this photo, you’ll see faint outlines of windmills atop the hill. The mills are faint as the day was pretty foggy but the scenery did have its own charm in the fog. A lot of wind farms can be seen on the hilly outskirts and there has been an increase in the number of windmills owing to the effort for promoting the use of renewable energy. Sometimes, there will be huge trailers carrying the blades of a windmill which is both fascinating and a bit scary as it’s always an element of surprise as to how big windmills really are.
This bullock cart statue was at a small food joint where we stopped for breakfast. These joints are often in a service road or in a small highway town and there will always be a sign board indicating their menu and distance from the highway. Their menus often contain the most fancy dishes like pizzas and burgers, even pastas but one can truly enjoy the meal in these joints by ordering staple Indian food which may be simple but tastes really good in the midst of a road trip.
This was our breakfast in the above joint. The picture on the left is a Dosa which is a crispy crêpe made of whole black gram and rice, often topped with butter and served with chutney which is a dip made out of coconut and spices. The picture on the right is a dish called ‘Thalipeeth’ which is a type of a savoury flatbread made of millet and other grains and fried before being served with white butter and a spicy garnish made of peanuts, garlic and chillies. Personally, I prefer the Dosa over the Thalipeeth but the latter should be tried at least once as the preference is simply my opinion and there are a lot of people who love the dish so it’s always better to taste it all:)
After breakfast, we stopped to buy powdered spices from this roadside stall. A lot of the farmers who have fields close to the highway sell their produce in these shops and lately there has been an increase in the number of shops selling ground turmeric as the crop has had quite an influx in the farms. The name of the shop is written in Marathi, the state language of Maharashtra and it translates to ‘Salem Turmeric Powder’. Salem is a city in the south of India which is known for turmeric and it is not to be confused by its namesake in the United States which is known for its witch trials as I assure you, there ain’ no voodoo in the turmeric fields:)
Apart from turmeric, this stall sold spices for marinades and flavouring(known as ‘masala’) as well as pickles and jaggery which was quite a delight for my mum who loves her ‘masala’ while cooking.
I found this graffiti of Freddie Mercury on entering the town of Panchgani. It was made on the walls of a hostel for the Zoroastrian people and it was so exciting to see my idol up there. What made this graffiti more heart-warming was that Freddie Mercury actually went to school in Panchgani, namely St. Peter’s School where he started a band called ‘The Hectics’ with his classmates as his first endeavour of what was to be a divine career in music. It felt really good to see this as I really feel that India should recognise his work and that of Queen more than what the country does, owing to his strong connection with the nation what with him being of Indian origin. This seemed to be a great step towards immortalising his memory, especially in the town where he studied and it was truly my favourite part of the trip.
Talking of education, Panchgani has forty one boarding schools with children from all over the country and is said to be one of the most distinguished educational centres.
Now, this was one of our destinations in the trip. The name ‘Panchgani’ means ‘Five Plateaux’ owing to the five natural tabletops in the town. The locals like to call the plateaux ‘table-lands’ and the one in the picture is the largest of the five and hence it’s the main ‘table land’. The plateau offers a variety of activities apart from the mind-blowing scenery such as horse-riding, horse-carts, dart-and-shooting games and even a ride for the wee babies that come to visit.
Imma start with a small geography lesson tho.
The foggy hills in the background are a part of the Sahyadri hills which are a part of the Western Ghats mountain range that runs through the state of Maharashtra where the town of Panchgani is situated. There is a small body of water in a clearing through the hills. This water body is the Panchgani dam that gives major Loch Ness vibes. We visited the plateau during late winter but if you visit during the rainy season i.e. June to September, the greenery stretches as far as the eye can see. However, the plateau is always a great site for nature photography, no matter the season:)
The town looks like Lilliput from the plateau and these views have made the place a very popular filming spot for a large number of Bollywood movies. Besides, the overall greenery really shows Mother Nature at her best:)
Right, now that everyone is geographically informed, it’s time for a bit of sport. Imma actually recount a flashback here.
So the first time I visited Table Land, I was a wee midget of eight months old and since then, this trip was the only return to the place after a hiatus of nearly eighteen years(I turn 18 in March). Back then, my parents took me on a horse cart where I had dozed off midway and now, I actually progressed to riding a horse at full gallop. Here’s the proof∨∨∨
I mean, my mum literally had to hold me up back then, in order to prevent me from collapsing onto the horse.
Here’s me at full gallop. I had some help from the rider-guide as it was my first time galloping but the progress is impressive.
The cart ride to cool off the immense equestrian activity.
This is an interesting spot in the Table Land. The locals believe that this is a spot in the epic of the Mahabharata, where the five protagonists, known as the Pandavas set foot on this land and their footprints have been imprinted ever since. In India, there is a strong sense of faith in the mythological legends and owing to that, sites such as this are considered special and are often worshipped at the time of festivals such as Diwali and Dussehra.
After the lovely sporting time at the Table Land, we went to the Mapro Gardens for lunch and a bit of shopping. Mapro Gardens is a very popular strawberry farm cum market cum restaurant situated between the towns of Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar. An interesting feature in this place is that a lot of its decor is strawberry themed as these towns are very famous for strawberries and fruits in general.
The strawberry photo booth says it all:)
A statue of an Orange, a Strawberry Car, Cinderella’s chariot where the fairy godmother used a strawberry instead of a pumpkin, a flower arrangement and a caterpillar hopscotch grid. That’s the best representation of Mother Nature right there:))
The culinary angle. The main course includes the classic Mapro sandwich made of whole wheat bread, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, onions, cabbages and potatoes with a filling of chutney made out of mint and coriander. This was followed by a large pizza that went by the name of ‘Italian Delight’ and to top it all off….French Fries drizzled in salt and pepper seasoning.
The dessert was the trademark Strawberries and Cream which is basically a layered dish of whipped cream, fresh strawberries, Strawberry ice cream and Strawberry syrup topped with more whipped cream.
After lunch, we went to the Mapro store to shop for fruit sweets and syrups. With all that variety, one is sure to have a hard time choosing. Jelly sweets are really famous in this area and some of the best local brands of sweets include Falero and Frubbles apart from the separate packs sold in each stall. These sweets come in a variety of flavours and there’s never a dull taste with them:)
Apart from sweets and food, Mapro Garden also has stalls selling fruit plushies and statues of dogs.
The pug is called Poogsie. He is a friendly unless you take his strawberry ornament in which case he will bite.
After a nice bit of retail therapy, I found this balloon shooting game in one of the stalls outside the Mapro Garden and burst nine out of twelve balloons for which I got a Cadbury Dairy Milk and a Five Star chocolate as a prize:)
It was nearly four in the afternoon by the time we started back for home and on the return trip, we made a stop at two roadside stalls selling toys made of wood and clay.
That’s a traditional bullock cart in the picture on the left and a coloured tractor on the right. The dolphin and the squirrels have flexible tails made by attaching wooden plates symmetrically onto a flexible piece of cardboard. The two sheep on the left are made out of clay and the vintage truck beside the squirrel is purely wooden. These toys are all handmade by the artisans and really pretty and long-lasting.
Finally, here’s a pretty shrub growing on a lane divider on the highway, closer to home.
And that, mes amis, was the strawberry getaway.
And that is a wrap!
Until Next Time:)