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Get away this monsoon!

Friday, June 01, 2018

After a scorching summer, it’s time to plan that quick holiday in the rains. K Raj has some suggestions

In 1990, Alexander Frater made a remarkable journey across India. He landed in Kerala at the end of May and from there followed the Indian monsoon across the subcontinent finishing his journey in the North East. The book, Chasing the Monsoon, was an instant bestseller and was later also made into a documentary by BBC.

Well, according to the India Meteorological Office, this year’s monsoons have already arrived in Kerala—a few days early. And hopefully in the week or ten days, they may hit our city and provide us relief from the hot and humid hell that is Mumbai.

So, chances are that you may not be able to follow in Frater’s footsteps and chase the monsoon all the way to the North East. And again, who actually has the time to do it? For Frater, a travel writer, following the monsoon was work. Other less lucky people like us, have to earn our living doing more mundane stuff.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t take a little time off to enjoy the beauty and majesty of the monsoon as it drenches the parched lands and almost miraculously covers them in carpets of green.

If you want to escape Mumbai’s traffic snarls caused by the rains— likely to be especially severe this year due to the ongoing work on Mumbai Metro—and take the family out for a break, breathe in some fresh air and get happily drenched, here some monsoon getaways for you.

The not-so-well-known ones

Malshej Ghat

Malshej Ghat is about 160 kms from Mumbai and the drive, especially the last 40-50 kms, is breathtaking. It is almost as if the Sahaydri range is opening up in front of you. It is a beautiful scenic spot dotted with numerous waterfalls with a few of them located right next to the highway. The views of the green hills blanketed in clouds is captivating. Plan a bit ahead and try and get a booking in the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) resort.

It sits on the very edge of the cliff and offers by far the best views. If you are a history buff, you could also trek down to Harishchandragad, one of Shivaji’s numerous forts or to visit Nanheghat, which formed part of an ancient trade route.

Kaas Plateau

You can, of course, decide to go to the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand, but if you don’t have that much time, try going to the Kaas Plateau, about 280 kms from Mumbai and about 25 kms from the town of Satara.

This approximately 10 sq km area has over 850 different wild, seasonal flowering plants. The best time to visit it is from middle August to early October. You will be witness to nature’s wonder, as the entire plateau is carpeted with flowers—it is a sight not easily forgotten.

Kaas Plateau was declared a World Heritage site in 2012 and to prevent damage from unchecked tourism, the number of visitors has been restricted to 3,000. So, check before you go. Better still, avoid weekends and go on a weekday.

Amboli

Amboli used to be one of Maharashtra’s hidden gems, alas discovered by the hordes in the last few years. This hill station is located about 500 kms from Mumbai and about 120 kms from Kolhapur. The drive, thanks to the NH4, is comfortable and you could reach it in about seven hours.

Amboli receives among the highest rainfall in Maharashtra and a big attraction for visiting the town is the fact that there are hundreds of waterfalls dotting the place. It is also an ecological hotspot. The misty forests of Amboli are a home for many species of reptiles, amphibians, birds, animals and plants.

The walking trails to Shirgaonkar Point, Mahadevgarh, through the fog give immense opportunities to explore and enjoy the flora and fauna of Amboli. If you are lucky you could spot species like Malabar Pit vipers, Vine Snakes, Green Keelback, Shield Tails and amphibians like Malabar Gliding Frog, Amboli Frog, Koyna Toads, among others. It might be a good idea to sign up for a tour with one of the several groups that regularly organise nature trails around the place.

Lavasa

While Lavasa, the city, continues to be mired in controversies, as a monsoon getaway destination, it has emerged as a new hot favourite.

It has everything going for it; it is about an hour’s drive from Pune, and the drive is beautiful, snaking through lush green hills. It has excellent accommodation facilities, a huge lake in the centre of the city and several attractions, including nature trails, adventure sports and camping.

The perennial favourites

Lonavala

A perennial favourite of Mumbaikars, this hill station is just an hour’s drive away, thanks to Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Have a fun picnic at the Bushy Dam, take a romantic boat ride in the Pavana Lake, go on treks to points like Rajmachi and Dukes’ Nose, explore ancient Buddhist caves at Karla and Bhaje—Lonavala has lots to offer. And the best part is, if you can’t take leave, you can even make it just a day trip and it is just as much fun.

Mahabaleshwar

One of Maharashtra’s oldest and best-known hill stations, Mahabaleshwar is about 300 kms from Mumbai. It offers you a wide array of attractions, from ancient temples, dense forests to go on nature trails, sports like horse riding and romantic boat rides in Lake Venna and towering peaks draped in clouds.

On your way back, don’t forget to pick up bottles of jams, made from locally grown strawberries.

Matheran

Matheran is the closest hill station to Mumbai and what’s more, even today, it is blissfully free of motor vehicles.

Matheran is all about views. There are several well-marked trails to about 30 look-out points that give you breath-taking vistas. If you are adventurous you could go on treks to the Peb Fort and One Tree Hill, so named because it has only one tree growing on it.

The most enjoyable way to get to Matheran is, of course, to take the toy train from Neral. The 21-km journey takes about three-and-a-half hours. The operations of the toy train were suspended in 2016 following two derailments. Services were resumed this year on Republic Day. However in all probability, the train may not run during monsoon, so check and plan accordingly.

Within Matheran you can move around on horses, but the quaint hill station is best enjoyed by walking around. So be prepared for some exercise!

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