Omg, Ma… it’s so very scenic,” exclaimed my 10-year-old daughter Shreenidhi as we drove towards Mahabaleshwar on the Sahyadri range of the Western Ghats, from Pune, to the Saj Resorts.
The resort immediately embraces you in its warmth, filling you with a sudden burst of energy. Sprawling across five acres of land in the Metgutad village, it has spacious, cozy cottages, where you can soak in the ambience over steaming cups of tea, seated on the verandah overlooking a courtyard filled with trees and monkeys too. Other accommodation options include luxury rooms that open out to spacious balconies offering a view of the hills. “When it is raining, our clients find the view enchanting,” says Bhushan Bhandari, the manager.
Soon it was time for lunch. Only vegetarian cuisine is on offer here and the spread of Rajasthani and Gujarati thali recommended by James, the F&B Manager, is prepared to perfection. Café Petunia, where breakfast and dinner are served, is the only place that has wi-fi connectivity. “Breakfast is elaborate with South Indian, Maharashtrian and North Indian varieties. The Mysore dosa and Sabudhana kichdi stand out. And of course, the strawberry shortcakes and strawberry cheese bread are a real treat. “All that you have here is special; the secret is the fresh, locally grown vegetables that we use,” says Executive Chef Ramesh Jadav, answering my query to recommend the resort’s signature dish.
Guests are treated to entertainment such as a puppet show, magic show, live orchestra and DJ night, at dinnertime on weekends. The magic show invariably provides the wow factor for the children staying at the resort. The Banquet Hall open for conferences, functions and Rotary events can easily accommodate 250 people.
Rejuvenation for the body and soul
While the in-house spa offers a wide range of ayurvedic and herbal therapy to soothe the body and soul, the pool is equally inviting. After an hour of splashing in the chill waters, we head for an evening snack at Café Petunia. The garam pakodas and masala chai served with great enthusiasm was never more welcome.
The next morning was a fulfilling one; I took a brisk walk on the tree-lined courtyard with the merry chirping of the birds in the background and monkeys swinging from one tree to another, some basic yoga in the lawns of the Royal Garden and workout at the gym adjacent to the spa, and was ready to face the day with a bang.
Bhandari had arranged a sight-seeing programme to take us around Mahabaleshwar. Winding roads, cool breeze, breathtaking views of hills and valleys and plenty of strawberries to gorge on — that is Mahabaleshwar, and clubbed with Panchgani, it makes for an enviable holiday destination. Located about 120 km from Pune and 285 km from Mumbai, the plateau is the source of the river Krishna that flows across Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
Our chauffeur Maruti Omle regales us with the legendary source of the river which is a spout from a gomukh (cow’s face) at the Mahadev temple. “The name Mahabaleshwar in Sanskrit means ‘one who is all powerful’ and that is Lord Shiv who is the presiding deity here,” he says. The locals worship the two tributaries Venna and Koyna as Lord Shiv and Brahma. The Panchganga mandir at the confluence of the five rivers — Krishna, Venna, Koyna, Gayatri and Savitri — is believed to be more than 2,500 years old.
Other exotic spots include the Monkey Point, Kate’s Point etc which offer a view of the valleys below. The Needle Hole Point is called so because of the presence of a natural hole between its rock formation. The Wilson Point, named after the erstwhile Governor of Bombay Sir Leslie Wilson, is the highest point of the hill station and Omle recommended it for its splendid view of the sunset. A boating trip on the Venna Lake, which is fed by the Lingmala and Dhobi waterfalls, is also a great option.
The Pratapgad Fort built by Chattrapati Shivaji in 1656, about 20 km from the resort, is an imposing monument. But the icing on the cake was the Kaas Pathar or Plateau of Flowers in Satara, a scenic 40-km drive. A biodiversity hotspot, the entire area was abloom with wild flowers. The quilt of vivacious colours — violet, yellow, pink and white flowers, with butterflies feasting on them, was a sight to behold and would have inspired William Wordsworth to pen a sequel to Daffodils! More than 850 species of flowers can be found here. The Plateau is listed as a World Natural Heritage Site and is restricted to 3,000 tourists a day. A major portion of it is a reserve forest.
The Mapro Garden is a strawberry lovers’ delight and a visit to the jam factory was a lesson in jam making that kindles fresh love for strawberry jam.
We leave with fond memories and a warm Au revoir from the Director of Saj Hotels PDG Rahul Timbadia of District 3141. “Please be our guest at the Saj By the Lake at Malshej Ghat and you will love it,” he extends the invitation and we promise we will.