Growing up in 1980s Bombay, summer holidays meant escaping to the hill stations of Matheran or Mahabaleshwar. My brother and I were always excited at the prospect of boating on the Venna Lake, pony rides and picnics. In the 1990s, our family holidays acquired a global flavour and Mahabaleshwar only lived on in our memories, and in a handful of photographs.
So, a recent weekend getaway at the Le Meridien Mahabaleshwar Resort & Spa became an opportunity to reacquaint with an old favourite.
The six-hour drive from Mumbai was punctuated with traffic snarls and my driver’s insistence on beating Schumacher’s records. I arrived at the resort with slightly frazzled nerves, but found quick solace in its sylvan setting. The resort is built on 27 acres of forest land. The 122 rooms and suites are spread across discreetly spaced villas, connected by winding, tree-shaded trails.
The next day I set out for Le Meridien’s Destination Unlocked programme that offers guests curated local experiences that are different from the usual, touristy ‘must-dos’.
My first stop was the Krishnadevi Temple, located at the end of a small trail behind the more famous Panchganga Temple. The temple complex is large with several carved columns, and a serene kund (water tank) in the middle of the courtyard.
“This is a 5,000-year-old temple and was built by the Pandavas”, claimed Mangesh, the temple priest. This, of course, seemed like a stretch of his imagination and belief. Google revealed that the temple was built in 1888, at the source of the River Krishna. The river flows from a stone gomukh (spout shaped as a cow’s head) into the kund , vanishes underground, and reappears in the valley below. Inside the pitch dark sanctum sanctorum, the shivalingam resting over a massive stone dhamru (drum) was lit by a few lamps. There were hardly any devotees, no stalls peddling offerings, no ‘guides’ looking to make a quick buck — just the peaceful temple overlooking a misty valley and the river cutting through it.
From the temple I headed to Panchgani, 20 km from Mahabaleshwar, to visit the Devrai Art Village. Devrai (sacred grove) is a non-profit initiative started by Mandakini Mathur. It employs craftsmen from the Naxal-affected areas of Gadchiroli, in eastern Maharashtra, and Chhattisgarh, to create iron and brass artefacts.
“We started Devrai seven years ago under this umbar tree,” said Mathur, pointing to the massive Ficus, sheltering a workshop. There was a large pile of stones in a corner. Mathur explained that Devrai is known for the Rock Dhokra art form.
“Dhokra is a traditional tribal art technique used to make brass artefacts, but here we have created a fusion art form by melding brass with these stones collected from the Krishna river bed,” she said.
The artisan visualises a form around a stone, perhaps a charging bull or a shapely woman, and creates a wax mould, which is then packed with layers of clay. After about 20 days of drying, the mould goes into a kiln, where the wax melts and runs out, and molten brass is poured in. “The brass solidifies in seconds, then we break open the mould and we have our rock dhokra figurine,” elaborated Mathur.
The kiln was ready to be fired up. Two young men placed half-a-dozen completed moulds inside. As sparks flew, they worked quickly with the molten brass. An artisan sat nearby, carefully working on a new mould. I watched as new figurines took shape — a calf, a frog, a fish with a bottle-opener at its tail. No two pieces were alike. I came away with my own little memento — a handcrafted tortoise with a stone body and brass head and legs.
Mahabaleshwar meant something more now, surprising and delighting me in equal measure.
Mahabaleshwar is 260 km from
Mumbai, and it's a scenic drive via the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and NH4.
Luxury: Le Meridien Mahabaleshwar Resort & Spa offers rooms from ₹7,499 (including breakfast )
Mid-range: At Bella Vista Resort rooms start from ₹4,200 (including breakfast)
Trek to the various viewpoints, which offer stunning views of the valleys.
Visit Shivaji's bastion Pratapgad (20 km) or the pretty temple town of Wai (33 km)
Get your stock of fresh strawberries at any of the farms or from roadside vendors. Head to Mapro Garden for strawberries and cream, fruit crushes and syrups.
Prachi Joshi is a Mumbai-based food, travel and lifestyle writer