Pune to Panchgani: No visa needed
When a friend told us, “If you want to visit Switzerland without a visa, go to Panchgani,” we assumed the statement was an exaggeration. Having visited both, however, we can now vouch for his words.
When we visited after the rains, Panchgani offered a glorious platter of musical rivers, waterfalls, and lush, terraced mountains with colourful settlements on their lap. The view from the most popular sightseeing spots, Parsi Point and Sydney Point, reminds you of the serene vistas of Lavaux and Lake Geneva; they are perfect for mountain gazing.
We had set out on a weekend from Pune, determined to find something more to Panchgani than its much talked about volcanic plateaus, which give it the moniker of “Table Land”. We did find some offbeat treasures but it was the spectacular sunrises over an unblemished landscape and enduring examples of undisturbed nature that stayed with us.
Getting to our accommodation, Saffronstays Verandah by the Valley, involved a bumpy ride over narrow, undulating paths. What took our breath away at the property was a seemingly endless veranda perched right on the precipice of the valley. We could hear the Nagewadi river in the distance. In the evening, the golden lights in the veranda and the deep blue light over the mountains lent the property an otherworldly glow.
The Devrai Art Village in town came as a pleasant surprise. Backed by a not-for-profit body, it is a gallery that showcases work designed and crafted by 34 resident tribal artists from Chhattisgarh and Gadchiroli in Maharashtra. The sale proceeds go towards paying for their food and accommodation. A winding staircase took us to the workshop, where we saw artist Subheshwar Kashyap at work. He had his head hunched over a “work-in-progress” wax and clay model, looking up only to give instructions to his trainees, who were mixing rice husk with mud to create a material that resembled cow dung.
On our way to the Sherbaug Theme Park the next day, we chanced upon the Bhilar waterfall and a nursery. It wasn’t the season for Panchgani’s famous strawberries but we enjoyed a walk among the flowers and saplings. The park, though slightly unkempt, is an interesting property built around the erstwhile summer holiday palace of the queen of Indore, Chimnabai Holkar. Even though it is located on an arterial road of Panchgani, it felt like a secret retreat, given that we spotted no one else on a Sunday afternoon.
Back at our valley-side retreat, solitude and spectacular scenery were provided a perfect end to the day. A scene from Switzerland flashed in front of my eyes. It didn’t look too different from what I was gazing at.
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The authors tweet @trailstained