FOOTPRINTS of the Pandavas lay engraved on the sand, encircled by stones … and I could not capture this mythic image for I was in a cart ferociously pulled by a horse – for its rider (a maniac) was imagining tourists as money extracting wares and the horse was an obsessive stalker of another horse!
Summer weekends call to unwind into the lap of simple pleasures – to a place to feed the lungs with fresh air and to rejuvenate the soul, cuddled amidst five hills of the Sahyadri mountain range at an altitude of 4,242 ft. lays this eased hill station – with flourishing foliage of silver oak, pine, devdar, ashoka and poinsettia among many other species of plants alongside the curled landscape, Panchgani mesmerizes a city traveller.
This place was a nameless region situated beside the Krishna River and surrounded by five villages. It was discovered during the British rule by John Chesson together with Rustomji Dubash, was named Panchgani – in significance to its unique location and around 1860s it was urbanized as a retirement place for the Britishers.
Early morning drive covering a distance of 285 km from Mumbai halted by noon, to relax I chose a lodge located adjacent to Panchgani market. The market place is the heart of this hill station – possessing a friendly aroma, is a very busy and congested part with several restaurants on each side of the road and frequent tourists cars criss-crossing on the narrow road.
At a walking distance from the market, lays ‘Table land’ – the five hills bordering Panchgani. These plateaus are the second highest in Asia, which is a horizontal expanse of laterite surface beneath hovering clouds. With several horses galloping by; it’s amusing to observe that the number of horses is almost equivalent to the number of tourists. To explore this massive stretch you can either prefer a solo horse ride or a horse cart, after my experience I would suggest the option of walking on this entire stretch – this does require a great stamina and be careful of the sprinting carts! Strangely, the tweak of the ride is easily pardoned when compared to the intimacy it lends with this natural wonder.
It was a very warm day but outstandingly spared the drench of sweat, as this region enjoys very low humid weather. Table land appears arid with scant growth of grass and a solitary tree gazing from a far end. At a moderate incline, I came across a natural pond – but the harshness of summer had absorbed its water content. On a remote reach of this rusty and dusty extensive setting are the footprints of Pandavas from the epic of Mahabharat.
The edges of the Table land are covered with wild growth of shrubs and dense wood. It views the surrounding hills and also the unstructured growth of concrete construction. From one of its steep edges, secured with a partition of iron railing, you can witness the unwavering rays of the sun scorching the spectacle of the Krishna River marking a glittering divide between the mountain range and the foliage. Towards the south is a spot called ‘Devil’s Kitchen’, it is believed that the Pandavas had stayed here for a while.
The drive across Panchgani opulently portrays a laid back environment – work is a leisure task, sound is anonymous and its raw people smile with ease. Its prestigious education institutions and the high fenced walls of secretive bungalows render this region an exclusive presence.
The local delicacy of rice-roti with lavishly spiced gravy of non-vegetarian fare is very delicious. The roasted and salted black grams are a unique specialty here. It is very doubtful to miss the small pyramids of strawberries displayed on the chain of stalls across the road and a probing glance will help you find mulberries stored in small packs.
Narrowing away from this leisure land, the rich relishes of slow life lingered in my sense.