It’s the middle of the week and for those who’ve started work, you’re probably waiting for the weekend. For those of us who don’t have a job or are working from home, then I suppose it doesn’t matter. If you’ve been feeling every day has been like the last since the last six months then you should thank your stars because it means that you haven’t had any hiccups or bumps along the way.
Last weekend after a lot of hiccups in September, we decided to go on a drive to a place called ‘Igatpuri,’ which is around 2 and a half hours away from Mumbai city. With the lockdown easing and restaurants opening, we decided it was about time to venture out. Only, sadly, the weather wasn’t on our side. The sky was clear to a fault and the sun was brighter than it has been in the last two months. It dazzled at 9.00 a.m. While I like basking in warm sunshine, I can’t tolerate it if it goes beyond ‘warm.’ So we set out rather unsure of whether we should proceed or not. But go we did. The first one and half hours of the drive was fine except for the brilliant sunshine. But thankfully for the mask, I used it to cover not only my nose but my eyes too (don’t try picturing me. I did look funny. But who cares?). All I cared about was keeping that ball of fire from burning me down.
The last stretch of the journey to Igatpuri took us through winding turns up a hill. For those who suffer from motion sickness it tends to be a challenge especially if the sun’s beating down as well. The solution is to distract your mind and look at stretches of lush green valley on one side and rocky mountain cliffs on the other side as you’re driving. Since we were travelling just after the rains, the mountains were dotted with wild flowers and mountain streams. Down in the valley and up on the hill were perched colorful houses. It reminded me of Cinque Terra in Italy.
As Igatpuri town is close to the National Highway, there are a lot of roadside restaurants- ‘dhabas‘ on the way. Though the town itself is small. It’s centered around a railway station. And although small it did seem to have everything one would need to survive- a grocery store, pharmacy, a shop that sold men’s clothes and another one that sold women’s clothes ( just in case you need a change urgently), a herbal medicine shop (Ayurveda), a bakery, hardware store, a few restaurants and a hospital. Using the google map, we drove to the waterfalls.
As per the research I had done, Igatpuri is called the ‘Heaven of Maharashtra,’ and boasts of waterfalls and mountain ranges that are worth a trek. We hadn’t seen it yet.
A right turn from the station took us on a narrow kaccha (mud-baked) road suitable for driving one car at a time. On each side of the road were cement houses and residential quarters of companies that had set up factories close by.
While there were no waterfalls, the sight that met us at the end of the road took our breath away. Rolling green hills, yellow-green grass and a lake. It was an entirely different world from one down the road. We walked up the hill first and then down to the lake. The water birds created ripples in the green waters. From somewhere close by we could hear the sound of the conch from the temple. We stayed there for a while in awe of miles and miles of unadulterated beauty around us, and then took the road to return to the main road. There we saw another lake in which water buffaloes lazed. Egrets stood comfortably on their heads waiting to catch their prey. The egrets got a free ride and the buffaloes had company. That’s what I call ‘Perfect Partnership.’
The land around the lake was flatter here. A few people were at the lake picnicking- they had spread out their mats, laid out the picnic baskets and the children played with frisbees. It was the perfect getaway – a safe haven of freedom away from the crowds.
On the drive back, we saw the ‘Myanmar gate’ which houses an Ashram where they have a week’s detox program involving yoga, meditation and healthy eating. The gates were closed when we went. The security told us it would open by the end of October. There was a life here beyond what met our eye at first glance.
Before leaving we had lunch at a place called ‘Manhas Resorts.’ I do not have a picture of the place. It’s a homestay with around 10 cottages I think which overlooks the mountains and the valley. It has a petting zoo too. That’s what the brochure said. The restaurant was a neat place with wooden chairs and tables and open cooking station. The menu was written on two big blackboards to avoid people touching the menu. We chose local food – authentic Maharashtrian cuisine. The restaurant manager suggested 3 different types of rotis – one made of white millet or sorghum (Jowar), black millet (Bajra) and finger millet (Ragi). All three grains are far healthier than wheat. The rotis/breads were served to us with a dish called ‘Pithla’ made of chickpea flour. It’s kind of like thick lentil soup. Along with it we were given a chilli pickle called ‘Thecha,’ some jaggery and ghee ( clarified butter). Needless to say the food was different and delicious. The butter milk we had with it was the perfect accompaniment. I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone travelling to Igatpuri. The staff are friendly and the restaurant maintains all the rules as per the times – sanitizer, tables are kept at a distance, staff wear masks and most important its an open-air restaurant. Looking at the manner in which the restaurant was maintained and the friendliness of the staff, I’m certain the cottages must have been nice too. We wanted to check it out but there were people staying so we couldn’t go.
With Igatpuri crossed off our list, I’ve resumed looking at other places around Mumbai that can be reached by road. Under the current times, the new mantra is to explore gems in and around your vicinity that you haven’t bothered to dig out until now. Thankfully Maharashtra has quite a few. I’m sure other cities do too. So, if you’re feeling up to it, take this time to learn more about the place in which you’re staying. So often, we dream of travelling to far off places, we forget that there’s a lot at home too.
Until next time, take care, travel safe and be happy because as they say ‘You have one life. Make it worth it.’