We were getting regular updates about the weather and the happenings around the resort – The Mystic Lodge – from Mrs. Sen, the resort owner, at regular intervals, prior to our tour to Panchgini. It was my birthday week and I was all excited to go out and enjoy with my folks to a secluded rain infested place in Maharashtra, given the time of the year, when it keeps on drizzling in the Sahyadri range of mountains. Everytime I spoke to my friends about Panchgini, they confused it with another popular hillstation ‘Panchmarhi’ and would ask “Is it the hill station in MP?” And I would correct them as “No it’s a hill station in Maharashtra, you need to go onwards from Pune”.
It is not like we haven’t visited the hills of Maharashtra before – be it Lonavla/Khandala, Matheran or Igatpuri, we have been to all these places before and yet were always excited to see more of the hills of Maharashtra.
We began our journey from Ahmedabad to Pune on the 23rd of August via the Duronto express train at 10.30pm. We reached to Pune the next day at around 7.30pm. Our train journey was hassle free and we reached Pune on time. We had already booked an Innova car to take us and our group of friends comprising of two more families to the hill town.
We started off at around 8am by road from Pune. Our first halt on the way was a restaurant named Kamat, where we had some popular local food items as breakfast. We had ordered quite a variety – upma, sabudana vada, poha, Idli sambhar and bataka vada with bun. All of us unanimously liked the sabudana vadas and ordered a second plate. After spending about 45 minutes in Kamat, we started our onward journey again.
A light drizzle had started since morning, this was going to give us company throughout our tour for the next 2-3 days. At around 11am, we reached a place known as Wai, located just at the base of the mountain range. That is when we realized that the place we were actually going, was a quiet village known as ‘Jor’, located just 35 kms ahead of Panchgini. Mrs. Sen had already called us twice to know our current location and was regularly guiding us in our journey. Jor was not very far off from Wai, had it been a flat surface, but because of the hilly terrain, the road seemed to be unending!
We moved from one hill to another, sometimes the ride was smooth and sometimes bumpy (mind you we were visiting the place in August being the peak rainy season month and at some places there were potholes on the roads). Our wait to reach Jor was finally over, when we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by lush green forests and hills, the Krishna river manoeuvring its way at the foot of the mountains. It seemed to be a green blast of nature – the hills were covered with all shades of green with clouds crowning them. The greenery was a bit overwhelming for city folks like us, who are seldom used to such sight!
The resort seemed to be quite decent; we found out that we were the only tourists going to check in at that time (24th August) of the month. It was obvious that it was a newly created resort and still in the development stage as workers were still doing odd jobs.
The rooms of the resort were quite spacious, not our typical 5 star villa kind, but decent enough. The best thing for us was the view we got from each of the rooms, seen from the large sized windows. We could see the entire mountain range with the Krishna river flowing in the vicinity. We were told that the village was another 1 km from the resort, so virtually we were to stay at a place with almost zero connectivity from outside world!
We had arrived at the resort at around 12.30pm. After some initial freshening up, we were called in for lunch. Lunch consisted of dal, rice, roti, besan and shimla mirch sabji and paneer curry. After a tedious journey, the food tasted great.
After lunch, we started strolling in the resort garden; far away we could see a small red bungalow at a distance of 1 km from the resort. We were told it belonged to some Mr. Kulkarni, who is an Osho follower. The bungalow was located right on the banks of the Krishna river, a splendid sight to behold. Next on our agenda was to take a swim in the river and enjoy the misty weather. Dinesh, the caretaker from the resort was to guide us to the river. We walked along rolling fields, descending right upto the river banks. We bathed and swam for sometime in the icy cold water almost going numb because of the cold. There was not a single soul around us, unlike other popular tourist destinations of Maharashtra – a fact liked by us instantly. It appeared to us as if we were the only souls staying in Jor village.
We came back and had some rest. As we had arrived in Jor during Janmashtami festival, Mrs.Sen suggested we go and see the ‘Dahi Handi’ celebration of local villagers in the evening. At around 6pm we went to the village, finding a group of men towering over each other, ready to break the ‘handi’. We were told the village consisted of only 70 families!
We came back to our resort as it was getting dark. Later, the manager of the resort and Mrs.Sen arranged for some music for us. There was a small thatched shelter next to our rooms, which we had made our place of recreation. We did some karioke, ate sumptuous onion and paneer pakodas accompanied with tea, made by the resort boys. The tete-e-tete among us continued for some time, with Mrs. Sen and the manager joining us in between and telling many local stories. We were very keen to visit the Kash Valley, which was about 80-85 kms from our resort. But we were told that this year due to heavy rains in Maharashtra, the plants were washed away and so the flowering season will start late – only by last week of September – October probably.
We went for dinner and had some finger-licking chicken curry prepared specially for us, along with other vegetables, rice, dal, chapati etc. We retired to our rooms thereafter.
Next morning we got up by the shrill noise of peacocks calling nearby, just to find a couple of them perched on top of our resort’s roof. A cool breeze had started flowing in the dew covered morning. In the distant we could hear the rumbling of a waterfall, which was flowing very near to the resort. Mrs. Sen had joked when we had asked for an air conditioner in our rooms, that we would not even require a fan once we were in Jor. That was so true, as in the morning all of us were literally clinging to our blankets!
Some of us wanted to take a stroll in the nice morning weather and we came out of the resort area. We started walking on the zigzag mountain roads for quite a mile, before we stopped to have an admiring look of the view right next to us! We were overwhelmed with the greenery, the undulating mountains, the streams gushing nearby, the morning sun peeking behind the floating clouds and the Krishna river gleaming by. We took some impromptu photographs and couldn’t help ourselves gushing like a bunch of teenagers. Such was the magic in the air!
Morning breakfast consisted of the regular Indian meal variety consisting of Aloo paratha, poha, bread butter etc and nice hot coffee. Every time we had our meals, we would marvel about how the cook prepared sumptuous dishes for us, even when this place was so cut off from the rest of the world! The cook always gave us a lopsided smile whenever we praised his culinary skills. And so was Dinesh, our man Friday, who was always ready to help us at each and every step. Be it helping us with an extra bed, or a table for playing carom or some special demand for extra plates/food items, he was more than a helping hand. It was like he could gauge actually what his guests wanted. Later we came to know that he is doing his hotel management course from one of the IHMs and Mrs. Sen is supporting him in his education. The best thing about our stay in Mystic lodge was the attitude of its staff and management, always ready to go that extra mile for their guests which won our hearts.
The best thing about our stay in Jor was that we could get the sun for the maximum time and so could walk around whenever we wished, without getting drenched. We wanted to take a village tour but in a little different way. We were to trek on the mountains and have lunch by the river banks, home cooked meal coming from one of the village homes.
We started our trek at nearly 11am. First we reached a spot where there was a little bridge constructed on the river, by car. We got down there and starting walking. It was quite an adventure walking on the mountain slopes, our gait sometimes interrupted by flowing streams and slippery earth beneath. We had to keep our balance as much as we could, without landing up in the fields, which had some paddy and other crops growing. Our tour guide was an old man nearly in his 60s, a fellow villager from nearby, and arranged by the resort owner. The old man was walking ahead of us, sometimes we found it difficult to match his pace; establishing the fact that he knew this area as the back of his hand. We stopped near a place where there were two very deep wells curved out of the mountain earth. We came to know from our guide, that the Pandavas had dug out these wells to quench their thirst; the wells were flowing to the brim at this time of the year and ran very deep. We were tired by now with the steep and uneven walking that we had done and took shelter beneath a huge forest tree. The weather was upto some mischief – light showers was wetting us one moment and the sun came out the next moment making us sweat. It was just like a roller coaster ride. Far in the vicinity, a white owl perched on a tree, screeched and presented a marvelous picture. We could capture the bird from few angles, before it flew away.
We started our backward journey reaching right upto the stream, from where we had began our journey earlier. We descended from the bridge upto the banks and sat on the rocks. The boys were up for some fun and started bathing in the stream. We girls kept chatting by, taking some memorable pics every now and then. After spending some quality time on the banks, Dinesh told us that lunch was ready and whether we intended to have it on the banks. Before we could say anything, the overcast skies greeted us with a nice shower. We were drenched thoroughly. The resort guys had brought some big umbrellas for us, but we were more than willing to get drenched. Later we decided to go back and have lunch at our resort.
We reached the resort, freshened up and came back to our adda – the small thatched roof covered shelter. Dinesh and his boys laid the plates in front of us and we started gorging on some nice dishes prepared for us. There was egg curry, rice, Maharashtrian style kadi, a sabji and a sweet dish. We were starved after the trek and ate to our hearts out.
After lunch we went to our respective rooms for some rest. Dinesh asked us whether we intended to visit Mahabaleshwar, which was a good 2 hours from Jor. We were not very keen to undertake a tedious journey of 4 hours two and fro, from our experience knowing well ahead that Mahabaleshwar would be too much crowded at this time of the year, when all tourists from nearby places flock to the mountain towns of Maharashtra. We just wanted to laze away at the resort accompanied by the vastness of mountains and the river nearby. This was something we missed so much in our city lives and craved for in our free time.
In the evening we sat chatting and having drinks at our adda. Dinesh and his boys would every now and then check in between whether we required something and join in our conversations. Night descended and there was not a soul to be seen nearby apart from us. The eerie feeling of the night was magnified by the various noises made by insects and birds. I walked up to the gate of the resort and looked all around. Just tried to visualise how it would be to walk along the road ahead in all the darkness, not having a soul around, or perhaps only invisible souls around! The feeling itself sent a chill down my spine.
The boys had fried some fish captured freshly from the stream nearby. We ate it as a starter along with some other food items. Our talks continued for another hour or two till half past 9. That is when we got called by Dinesh saying dinner was ready. Our last dinner at the resort had desi chicken curry, rice, roti, sabji, dal and kheer. We had our stomachs filled and later retired to our rooms. We had to sleep early as next morning we had to leave for Pune early morning at around 7pm. We informed Dinesh and his team to keep breakfast ready the next day before we left.
The next day, we all woke up by 6am. We finished our breakfast and left for Pune by car. The return journey was uneventful and we reached Mahabaleshwar in 2 hours from Jor. In Mahabaleshwar, we got down at the Mapro factory as we had sometime in hand before reaching Pune airport.
The Mapro factory was a small setup, had literally nobody visiting it when we were there. The inside area had racks just like that found in superstores, which displayed various products of Mapro on sale. Everybody bought something or other; almost everyone bought the jelly chocolates. We left the factory after half an hour. Next we reached Pune airport at 1pm. We boarded our flight at 2.50pm and started our journey back to Ahmedabad, finally landed at Ahmedabad at 4pm.
The change in weather was evident soon enough and we went back to our respective homes.