‘Please God, please God… let it be visible… please God.’
Climbing huffing and puffing over those steep stairs, I was praying to all Gods I could remember, may it be visible. Climbing up in that downpour with all the rain gear, a heavy backpack and a helmet was not easy, and I was particularly a non-athlete clearly not built for this. But having come this far, I wasn’t going to go back without even checking. I had to know whether it was really worth the hype.
Grasping the stitch in my ribs by hands, and trying to pull a roomful of air in each breath, I finally reached to top panting, and exclaimed:
‘Damn it! I said please, God!
A foggy wet Mahabaleshwar wished me good morning today. My list of points to visit was ready, but there was one little problem in the plan. I depended on the visibility, which was at premium today. Still, I hoped for the best, filled my fill with heavy breakfast, and went out for hunt. M’shwar hotels have a peculiar checkout time of 9 A.M., extendable to 10.00 A.M. As there was no chance I could return so fast to the hotel, I chucked all the costly things in the backpack to carry, and kept the rest of the luggage with the hotel to collect later.
My first spot was Babington point. In tourist season, M’shwar resembles a maze where you are a rat trying to guess which road goes where, and whether or not it is a one way. The rat in me misjudged a road, where I just couldn’t see the sign or the policeman at the entrance of a no entry zone, and swiftly ended up getting caught by the policeman up on the no entry road.
‘Hold it! This is no entry road. License please.’
Oh no! What idiocy?! Let’s pay the fine and be done with it.
‘Give your license to me, and collect it from court at 12.00 noon, after paying Rs.100 fine.’
‘Any other option, Sir?’
‘Pay Rs.100 to me and forget about the receipt.’
I am all for anti-corruption, but in this case, I had no option to bribe. Roaming without licence in a town that lives off tourists is asking for trouble. After paying the bribe, a car passed on the same way where I was caught?
‘Why aren’t you catching him?’ I demanded.
The constable looked at the vehicle and replied:
‘It is a lawyer’s car!’
What the hell! Since when are lawyers above law? If it would be Judge, it would be understandable, but a lawyer?! Damn.
This dampened my spirit of braving the points despite of the fog, and my logical side of the brain started thinking: What’s the point of visiting all the view points if all the views are going to be white fog? It had a good point, and I heeded to its advise. That cut down much of my itinerary for today. But the main point for today was Connaught’s peak.
Yesterday, I was asking around to travel agents about the lesser visited points in M’Shwar. One unanimous suggestion was Connaught’s peak. There were no pictures of that point in any travel agencies office, because no bus or tourist group goes there. Only a few handful tourists visit it. And no one had any doubt that it was the most beautiful point in M’Shwar. This naturally intrigued me. A point unanimously agreed upon as the best one, yet secluded from common visitor? Wow!
But the rain and fog were against me. I wouldn’t mind the rain much, this were after all his glory days. But the fog I had deep problems with. I always thought rains would melt away fog, but it was disproved by M’shwar where all day rains were accompanied by various thickness degrees of fog. I found my way to the Connaught’s peak, and rode towards it. Suddenly, the road just ended, with stone stairs starting in front of it.
With no board to show the direction, no one to ask whether this path leads to the peak, I had my doubts whether to park Vesta in the middle of nowhere, and whether to start climbing on those spooky stairs with layers of green moss showing the lack of visitors. But I hadn’t come this far just to get scared away by atmosphere. Braced myself, and started climbing the steps.
By half way, most of my energy was gone, and about 3/4th way, I was drained to the limit. For some reason I couldn’t fathom, I had kept the helmet on my head rather than keeping it locked on bike. This meant I was carrying an additional weight of 2 odd Kilograms more than necessary. The last few steps took real determination.
The description I heard of the place was enchanting. It was supposed to look like a green sheet of cloth laid from this hilltop to the other, all around. When I reached the top, unfortunately the fog had reached much prior than me. I waited a while on the peak, to the fog to give me some opening for shots, but no avail. Whatever I could see was beautiful. It was indeed a sheet of green, a dark foliage of green trees, stretching across hills. I am sure this would look beautiful in October-December season, when fog is on holiday.
Climbed those big stairs down, which was much easy now. The fog and the rain were combined forces that were ruining the tourists’ plans today, including mine. I decided to reduce the list of points to visit today, and headed for echo point.
Parking was erratic at best. Everyone wanted the best spot and big cars were feeling they were two wheelers, and thus were leaving the cars wherever they wished. As I don’t think there is a tow van in M’Shwar, they had no fear. I had trouble maneuvering Vesta near the points, and couldn’t imagine the car driver’s plight.
Luckily, fog took a 5 minute tea break here, and I clicked some pictures to have documentary evidence that I was in M’shwar. Otherwise all other photos resemble studio photos clicked with white screen in the background.
While returning, I stopped to have this customary strawberry icecream. I usually don’t touch icy products, but in hill-stations, I make exception to that rule!
Lastly, I visited the M’Shwar temple, which gave the place its name. It is an ancient stone temple, said to be 4500 years old! It is also an origin of total 5 different rivers! Really a geographical wonder. As always, photography was not allowed in temple, so my description alone should suffice.
There were many stalls selling local products such as juice and jams. This one particularly had a nicely set up stall.
A hot steaming sweet corn masala dish is perfect in rains!
Came back to hotel to treat myself to a heavy Rajasthani lunch. It was so much buttery and with sweets, that I was drowsy for a long time! Not a good decision to have heavy meals just before a long ride.
Checked out of the hotel, and joined the road to Pune via Panchagani. The fog was omnipresent, which ensured there was no point in taking a halt in Panchagani for sight seeing.
I rode straight down till Wai, a village famous for its Ganesha temple.
When I was sitting in front of that huge idol, I noticed something peculiar, and thought my eyes were deceiving me.
‘Pujariji, what’s in Ganesha’s right hand palm?’
‘His tusk.’ Ganesha’s one tusk is broken in a fight per mythology.
‘But then where is the blessings giving hand?’
‘There is none. This Ganesha idol doesn’t have that blessing structure.’
It was a first time I saw a Ganesh idol without a blessing hand, and in the chat that followed, learnt quite a few things. Wai is mainly famous for its Shiva temples, and such Ganesha temples or even other Gods’ temples are very rare in the area. In fact, this was one of the first few non-Shiva temples in Wai. The town Wai houses total 365 temples, and hence is called Dakshin-Kashi, or Kashi at South.
There is a Shiva temple just opposite the Ganesh temple. I visited there on the recommendation of the Pujari. The Nandi in this temple is carved from one stone, and looks nice.
After Wai, I moved to my last stop in this trip – Menavali. This is the village where Nana Fadanvis, a philosopher, minister and statesman of the Peshwa’s Maratha Empire lived. His wada or bungalow still stands, though there is not much left to see in it except historical importance.
My main reason to visit Menavali was to visit its beautiful Shiva temple along the river. This temple is made as a backdrop in many regional as well as national movies, more notably Gangajal, Dabangg, and Swades.
For some reason, this beauty kept on giving me scathing looks all the time I was there!
The river was nicely reflecting the temple. In morning, usually this ghaati is filled by local woman washing clothes, and getting good photographs is impossible. Luckily no one were there at 4.00 P.M.
The temple is very dark inside, and in fact I didn’t venture in it, because I couldn’t see anything inside the entrance. Prayed from the outside, and moved on. By this time, the village kids were jumping in the river for afternoon swim. They were more than happy to pose!
While coming back to highway, spotted this farm in full swing. I was thinking whether to set up a tripod, when I spotted a villager going by cycle somewhere. Stopped him, and handed him the camera. Turned out this was the first time in his life to hold a camera in hand! Still the photos turned out okay.
There is this old gate between Wai-Menavali that one has to cross.
My drowsiness was not showing any intention to wear off, so after a quick tea break at the Wai turn, I was on my way home. Rode full speed on the Pune-Banglore highway, and covered up good distances.
It was about 7.30 P.M. that I reached home. The odometer read 980 kilometers since I rolled out last Friday afternoon. Nandinee and Aai were waiting since evening. They had made preparations as if we were bringing Ganesha home!
It felt real nice to be in the family after seven days. Seven wild days, spent alone at various places, to get the tastes and flavors of Maharashtra. The odometer read close to a thousand kilometers. A thousand kilometers of wandering across my own state. Exploring what is hidden and forgotten from the common sight. Bringing out what we have taken for granted. Learning about the stuff that we hear since childhood. Connecting to past. Reaching out for glorious future. Seven days of wild ride with no company, no worry, no prejudice. Only an open mind and a motorcycle.