Headed to this dreamy hill station in Maharashtra? Here's what you can do there, says Anita Aikara.
Before the monsoon ends, it's time you make a trip to the picture postcard hill station of Panchgani.
While you're there, ditch the touristy spots for these 8 experiences, which have rewards of their own.
1. Quaint homestays
You don't really need to splurge on an expensive hotel at Panchgani.
Just stay with the locals in their lovely, quaint homes.
They're friendly and, if you're lucky, you might end up living in a home that overlooks the vast Dhom Dam.
Imagine waking up to the sight of mountains or sitting in a lawn overlooking the dam and sipping your morning tea.
Living in a homestay also lets you enjoy delicious home-cooked food.
2. Breakfast at Lucky Restaurant
It's easy to miss this place in the chaotic market area.
Run by an old Parsi gentleman, Lucky Restaurant boasts of simple interiors.
You can sit on the wooden benches and have the popular brun maska (Rs 24), which melts in your mouth, with a cup of hot chai (Rs 10).
For breakfast, you can have the cheese omelette (Rs 55), bun butter (Rs 12), chicken cheese burger (Rs 45) or hot dog (Rs 32). The humble vegetarian pizza (Rs 45) tastes really good too.
Leaving the restaurant without creamy doughnuts and mava cupcakes is a serious offence.
While you're at the market place, don't forget to visit M V Roach and Sons, the oldest family-run bakery in Panchgani, which is situated just across the road.
You must try their jam tarts, jam puffs, chocolate/ strawberry/ vanilla cream rolls.
3. Freddie Mercury's school
Close to Parsi Point is a lane that takes you to St Peters School, where the late Queen frontman, rockstar Freddie Mercury (then known as Farrokh Balsara), studied.
He was enrolled at St Peter's at the age of eight and it was here that he was nicknamed Freddie.
The school has a boarding house close by.
4. Misal pav at Dave's
There's no better place to have this traditional Maharashtrian snack than Laxmi Vilas Hotel. A simple, unpretentious eatery, it is tucked away in one of the bylanes off the main market road.
It is popularly known as Dave's -- that's the family which has been running the place for over 80 years now. The locals will tell you that this is the oldest restaurant in the area.
The restaurant opens as early at 6.30 am. While you are there, sample their piping hot bhajias as well.
5. Chicken Farcha and Caramel Custard at a Parsi restaurant
Wondering why you should travel all the way to a hill station to have Parsi food?
Because Rustom's Strawberry Farms is the only place where you will get a delightful tour of the place as your lunch is being cooked. It's here that you’ll get a glimpse of how strawberries are grown.
If you ask them for Patrani Macchi, don't be surprised if you spot the waiter stepping down into the garden and getting fresh leaves to wrap the fish in.
After a main course of Parsi food, you can devour generous scoops of caramel custard here or head to Mapro Farms for their strawberry cream.
During the monsoon when strawberries are not available, do make room in your tummy for a thick shake or strawberry ice cream made from the frozen fruit.
If you're a fan of parathas, then you must visit Akbarally Paratha House which serves delicious, giant-size parathas. You must try their cheese or aloo paratha.
6. A 100-year-old church
St Joseph's Church is the oldest church in Panchgani and was built in 1912.
You can visit the church on the weekend, when its doors are thrown open for people who desire to attend a local mass.
A stone's throw away is an old bakery which serves the best buns and breads in Panchgani.
Every weekend they begin to bake in the afternoon and by 2 pm they have hot buns and bread, fresh out of the oven, ready to be sold.
7. There's a cheese factory too
Everyone is going bonkers over visiting Mapro Farms.
But did you know that Panchgani has a lesser-known cheese factory?
At Pure Gold, located on the Panchgani-Mahabaleshwar road, you'll get a tour of how they make their cheese which is then matured in the ripening room. You will also get to taste some exotic varieties of home-made cheese.
8. Trek to Wai
Situated close to Panchgani (less than an hour's drive away) is the sleepy village of Wai.
Set on the banks of the Krishna river, it makes for a perfect trekking spot in the monsoon with its grassy meadows and a river flowing nearby.
You can spend some time visiting the age-old temples and ghats there.
How to get there: Panchgani is situated around 285 km from Mumbai and 100 km from Pune. If time permits, you can also visit Mahabaleshwar (18 km) and Wai (10 km).
Lead photograph: Kind Courtesy Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay/Creative Commons
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