Looking for a quiet getaway? Head to Panchgani, near Mumbai says Harnoor Channi-Tiwary.
Clouds flit through the trees, finding their way around the woods. There is no sound of motorcars or honking, only that of raindrops pattering over the cottage roof.
The birds chirp as they return to their homes this time of dusk. Crickets make the hill come alive with their incessant banter. My wrist watch loses its significance here.
The only measure of time is the pattern of the sun, as it rises and sets with clockwork precision.
This is not a dream, neither is it a work of fiction. My weekend getaway in Panchgani has done the impossible, reminded me of what truly matters.
The stars, the wind, the silence and the sound of my own heartbeat.
250 km from Mumbai, Panchgani is a comfortable five-hour drive away. The route is picturesque, more so in the monsoons. The lush hills adorn a velvet cloak as they stand proud and tall.
The first half of the drive is on the Mumbai-Pune expressway, a dream to travel on. As you drive on smooth and wide roads, cutting across the ghats through innumerable tunnels, time flies by.
The onward drive from Pune takes one onto a smaller canopied road with fields on each side. And before we knew it, we were in Panchgani.
Named after the five hills surrounding it, Panchgani is the lesser-known cousin of Mahabaleshwar. But unlike the tourist-thronged latter town, it is sleepy and thankfully not as exploited.
The rains don’t fall as hard here as they do in Mahabaleshwar making it the perfect monsoon getaway.
Panchgani has many stay options, hotels as well as smaller guest houses. But we decided to stay at one of the oldest hotels in town, Hotel Prospect.
It is more than 100 years old and a heritage property. Sprawled over half a hill, the British style cottages have large comfortable rooms with modern bathrooms.
It is remarkable how the property has been able to maintain the delicate balance of respecting its heritage and providing guests with modern amenities that are expected of a boutique hotel.
Run by a Parsi family, the tariff includes extravagant and delicious meals, a reason good enough to make the trip there.
There are a few tourist sites to explore when visiting the town. Table Land is one of the largest plateaus in Asia and the views from up there are amazing.
Unfortunately, touts trying to sell you a horse-ride throng the site, making the experience not a very pleasurable one.
Mahabaleshwar is only 18 km away and a day trip can be planned. The route to Mahabaleshwar is lined with strawberry farms.
The best season to visit the farms is between October and February.
But the intent of my trip to Panchgani on this long weekend was to get away from the crowds. To breathe the clean air and feel the dew drops beneath my feet as I walked barefoot on the grass.
With no itinerary to follow and no schedule to stick to, my days were spent reading books and taking long walks. The hills speak their own language.
If you take the time to listen, they can tell you tales of eras gone by through the sounds of the many creatures that call it home. A leisurely walk in the lush lanes of Panchgani quietly set my demons free.
A short trip it may have been, but I know that when I return tomorrow to the hustle-bustle of city life, my smile will be brighter, my step lighter and a certain calm that only nature could have gifted me.
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