Pune to Satara: Escapist’s idyll
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The gods had gone on a painting spree with just one colour—green. The shades were too numerous and nuanced to be captured in words. We were in Pusegaon, Satara, Maharashtra, and a gentle drizzle had cast a mist over the landscape of humped green hills topped with tall windmills that waved their arms like ghostly wraiths beckoning us into mysterious terrain.
The rain let up and in that pre-sunset hour, we sipped tea and nibbled on sandwiches with the blades of the towering windmills spinning slowly overhead. The windmills, strung out along a hilltop plateau in Pusegaon, turned out to be a lovely picnic spot.
When the clouds decided to open up, we hastily headed back to our cosy room at Jakson Inns (35km away), snuggled amidst sugar-cane fields and fruit orchards. We had stumbled onto this hotel in Phaltan, a city founded in 1284 by the Parmar dynasty.
En route to our hotel, the sun emerged from a cordon of grey clouds and shone on glimmering green sugar-cane fields that rippled to the horizon. Soon, charming cameos swept past like a slide show on rural India. Wheat, jowar (sorghum), bajra (pearl millet) and ground-nut fields and pomegranate orchards painted portraits of peace and plenty.
Bullocks with long curved red horns herded by men in Gandhi caps created rural traffic jams while schoolchildren ambled home in single file. Elderly men cycled past with sheaves of sugar cane tied to the back of their cycles. Small hamlets made up of a few homes dotted the landscape.
Next morning, after a hearty buffet breakfast, our long weekend stretched deliciously ahead of us. The 12th century Ajinkyatara Fort, 64km away, turned out to be a pile of ruins with stone steps, crumbling ramparts and towers, and an imposing arch leading up to it. Straddling the top of one of the seven hills that surround the city of Satara, it commands beautiful views.
Within, it was overgrown with wild grass and ancient banyan trees. Yet the vast fort had an undeniable aura of mystery, for our imagination could fill in the gaps that a discarded past had left behind. Was that the remnant of a queen’s palace and this, the king’s once-sumptuous apartment? Four well-maintained temples in picturesque settings gave life to the desolate surroundings. But time was too short to unearth all the blood-curdling secrets from its purple past, when the citadel changed hands several times—it was last held by the Mughals.
That afternoon, we headed for the Thoseghar Falls, not far from the fort. We heard the roar before we saw four thundering cataracts which cascaded 500m down into the valley. The waterfalls that crashed through a curtain of mist sparked in us a kind of primordial awe. The stereophonic crash was not even muted by the tousled matted jungle that surrounded them.
Riveted yet reluctant to leave, we had one last stop to make—the Phaltan Rajwada (the residence of the Maratha rulers), fairly close to our hotel. The 19th century palace had the air of a wannabe Versailles but on a minuscule scale—open courtyards, long corridors adorned with arched, sculpted teak-wood pillars and rooms strung with pendulous chandeliers, moulded ceilings, large mirrors and carved teak wood and silver furniture and portraits of the royals. Indeed, Chhatrapati Shivaji’s first wife, Maharani Sai Bai, hailed from Phaltan and their eldest son, Sambhaji, spent much of his childhood in the palace. Today, it remains a private residence but is open to visitors.
For city slickers like us, Satara and its off-trail sights turned out to be a paradise, a destination innocent in the wily ways of mass tourism. Had time sneaked past like a cat on silent feet? Yes, it had, in this escapist’s idyll.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The authors tweet from @GustaspJeroo.