Monday, September 5, 2016

Mahabaleshwar - Hidden gem of Western ghats | Day-2 05/09/2016

Places visited: Pratapgad Fort, Mapro Garden, Panchagani View point, Table Land.


This post is on the second day at Mahabaleshwar. If you haven't read the Day1 post, then I would strongly recommend you to read it before.

The previous day was amazing with enchanting viewpoints and waterfalls. Out of various attractions at Mahabaleshwar, Pratapgad fort was one of the must-visit places on the list. Today's plan was to visit Pratapgad fort and Panchagani, later return to home on boarding the bus.



Best of the beast: Pratapgad watchtower


Monday morning: We woke up early in the morning and were all set to step out by 8 am. The weather was chilling and bone freezing cool outside. We departed out from the hotel and headed for the breakfast. Since it was Monday, tourists were few and less crowded. In fact, the place looked better than the previous day. After having the delightful poha and a cup of hot tea, we headed to the bus stand in order to hire a cab for the day. The same driver who assisted us the previous day approached us. He demanded Rs. 2500 to cover Pratapgad and Panchagani as the distance is longer, bargaining for lower terms didn't work :( Finally, we had to agree on his demand and started to drive to Pratapgad.

Mahabaleshwar-Pratapgad: Pratapgad is 20 km from Mahabaleshwar and takes around 45 mins to reach. The road conditions are average with irregularities and minor potholes. This stretch of the drive is amazing with the view of the surrounded valley. The hills accompanied us throughout the journey. The road passes through plenty of twists & turns and ups & downs. It's a treat for people who love to drive through ghat sections. On the other hand, make sure you must have good driving skills if you wish to ride/drive this stretch.
Road to Pratapgad, few pot holes here and there
View on the way
Small seasonal waterfalls along side the road

Landing at Pratapgad/Pratapgarh: As soon as we landed down from the car,  a person approached and offered us the guide (govt appointed) for Rs. 300. We agree that this place is connected with history and interesting stories, but guide charge felt little expensive, so we denied the offer. As we moved further, another person (not govt appointed) approached who offered us the guide for just Rs. 200. We tried to bargain more but it didn't work, so we decided to explore the place on our own. Since it was a weekday the place was less crowded.
Entrance Arch to Pratapgad
Parking spot near the fort.

After two years of hard work the fort construction was completed in 1656. The fort was built mainly to defend the banks of Nira river, Koyna river and Par pass.
Each structure in the fort is designed uniquely keeping the defense in mind. The Battle of Pratapgad between Shivaji and Afzal Khan was fought at this fort.

Quick tip: Don't be a fool like us, hire a guide. Its worth it!

Let me divide the fort into three parts to help you understand the structure well.

The entrance: Unlike other forts, the primary thing we observed was the entrance. It was huge and curved to evade enemies break the entrance gate. The steps are actually greater in heights than normal, to prevent the army elephants to attack the fort. The soldiers /guards were supposed to watch over the entrance gate. If any enemies strike, they would pour hot oil through small openings over the door.
Entrance of the fort
Watchtower
Watchtower: After ascending a couple of steps, we reached a flat ground where there's a watchtower on the right and more steps to the left. The watchtower is the main attraction of this place. The orange flag flying high and bright represented the sensational victory of Shivaji Maharaj over Afzal Khan. The breathtaking views surrounded the forts. This fort is a combination of history and nature. The greenery and the cascading panoramic views left us speechless. 



Steps to the watchtower 
A Panoramic view of the watchtower
You can see the homes of the locals and temple in the background
Panoramic view from the watch tower

Bhavani temple and Shivaji Statue:
Further, we walked to visit the famous temple of goddess Bhavani. There were many shops here selling buttermilk and snacks. According to the statistics, there are around 25 families who still live in this fort since Shivaji's era.
At the top, a gigantic 17 feet tall bronze statue of Shivaji has been instilled. There is also a beautiful garden at this place where families can spend quality time with kids.
Steps to reach Bhavani temple
You will get the tastiest buttermilk here. Don't forget to try it.
Life-sized statue of Shivaji depicting the victory against Afzal Khan

It was getting late so we decided to go back. All of a sudden it started raining heavily and lasted for 15 minutes. We somehow reached back to the parking lot and boarded the cab. The next destination was Panchagani, 40 km further. We had a quick nap in the cab as we were tired.
On the way, we passed by Vanna lake. It is one of the must-visit places in Panchagani. We had to skip this as we were already running out of time. I saw Mapro garden was on the way, I had read a lot about this place hence considered to visit it.

Mapro Garden: Mapro Garden is a popular tourist spot in Mahabaleshwar and identified for massive strawberry production. As we entered the garden, it looked magical. A Wonderland!. The place is enriched with strawberry like structures everywhere. The operation has a chocolate factory, strawberry garden, Mapro outlet and a prominent cafeteria. A lot of families were here having a great time with their children. We strolled around exploring the place. Mapro products are available here for good discounts. We bought couple of products to help our thirsty taste buds. However, no strawberries were available as it was an offseason. This place is good to stop by for food and shopping mapro products.
Mapro garden entrance
These cars are decorated with Mapro brand and mostly used inside the campus
These cars are decorated with Mapro brand and mostly used inside the campus
A lot of such decorations in the shape of strawberry
Mapro garden
Mapro products being sold here at discounted price
Mapro products

We arrived at the Panchagani viewpoint. There's nothing much to explore here other than a mind-blowing view of the lake between the sprawling mountains. We spend some time here enjoying the breeze and beautiful view. We then paused at a restaurant to have lunch. The stay and food costs in Panchagani is much lesser as compared to overpriced details in Mahabaleshwar. That's one of the reason a lot of people like to stay in Panchagani rather than Mahabaleshwar. After a nice meal, we drove to our next and last destination for the day Plato point.


Venna Lake view 
A Closer look of Venna lake


Table land: As this place was not on my list, I perceived very little about this place until localites suggested us this spot. This place is formed naturally by the volcano. It is the 2nd longest mountain plateau in Asia which spreads across 5 km. As soon as we landed, some people offered us horse ride to explore this place as its a vast area to cover on the foot. Horse riding is the main attraction here but due to an accident (1 girl was killed as horse carriage fell off from table land) in May 2012, horse carts and horse riding was banned. Now it is partly allowed by the government since November 2012. You can enjoy a horse ride on Tableland but its pretty as expensive as 500 - 700/- per person.
Entrance to Table Land. No vehicles allowed beyond this point
They have good business tactics by giving a free ride to some distance and then forcing you to take the ride. We decided to walk as it was expensive and we didn't want to spend any more. There appeared to be a cave temple adjacent to this place, which is also a restaurant. The food was expensive but is a good place to relax and chat. Even though the scorching sun outside made us tired, the temperature at this cave was somewhat good. Felt like a natural AC was running. We treated ourselves a hot cup of tea. Exploring the entire table land would take hours together on foot, we decided to head back as it was getting late for us to catch a bus to home.
Venna Lake view from Table Land
5 km of land formed by Volcano
Many such restaurants to quench your thirst and hunger.
Way to the cave restaurant and temple.
Shiva statue installed within the Cave
Temperature at this place is very low, feels like a natural AC.
View of Venna Lake from TableLand
Panoramic view of Table land area.
Girl exploring table land on a horse
We returned back to the parking spot and the driver dropped us at the bus stand. Almost 15km from here, we had to travel to catch the bus. So, We managed to get a shared jeep to Wai. The roads are horrible in this stretch. It took nearly 30 mins to reach Wai. There are a lot of direct buses which runs between Wai and Satara. We got a govt bus in no time. We reached Satara at 6 pm. From there, we boarded a bus to Hubli, and then another bus from there to Ilkal. Another 15 hours journey in normal buses till we reached my native. I spent next two days at Ilkal and returned to Bangalore.
It was one hell of a trip I must say. The beauty of the place was worth all the pain we took to reach the place.

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