Four views of Panchgani

A series of connected plateaus in the Sahyadris hold the twin destinations of Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar. The plateau rises to an altitude of about 1.4 kilometers above sea level. We have our holiday season travel all planned now, but unlike previous years we will be traveling in our backyard. These places are a six hour drive away, and one of the locations we targeted for a holiday with parts of the extended family. One evening The Family and I left my aunts and cousins and nieces behind and went out for a walk on a plateau south of Panchgani. We stopped at a view of the Panchgani ridge from between trees and over fields.

These are the kinds of unremarked views that the people who live in the villages up on the plateaus have every day. To me these glimpses of the further plateaus from paths between fields of rice and corn were lovely and new. In the middle of the 19th century CE when the town of Panchgani was first founded, sights like this may have been common. But now, the haphazard growth of the towns has taken over the little neighbouring villages. As a result, most tourists who come to spend a weekend here do not get to see them. They miss out a beautiful part of the experience of living up there.

The ancient village of Mahabaleshwar is considered sacred because the Krishna river arises from a spring there. During British colonial times it became the summer capital of the erstwhile Bombay Presidency. The British administrators had the habit of moving their offices to cool high town, hill stations, in summer. Like most tourists now, we reverse the flow, visiting these plateaus in winter, when the temperature falls to a point where strawberries can grow. When I began visiting the area, forty years ago, the plateaus were still extensively forested, right outside the heart of the old towns. I was too callow to enjoy the wealth of wildflowers and birds you could see then.

Now the forest is in retreat, as hotels overwhelm the once peaceful towns of Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani. Every bungalow is rented out to short term visitors. We got away from the maddening crowds by choosing a lonely hotel in a forgotten village where I could get these unusual views of the plateaus. Bird calls fill the evening, and an immense diversity of winter wildflowers is visible. Passing villagers give you an appraising look, and then smile and nod at you. It made for a perfect retreat, giving us the opportunity for long and pleasant walks. But on the walks I realized that I was contributing to the eventual destruction of what I like about the place. Inevitably, the number of hotels will increase, the fields and flowers will give way to crowded and narrow roads, cars and tourists. As I took these photos I felt like the vanguard of an army intent on loot and pillage. A happy holiday to you too.

Author: I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

16 thoughts on “Four views of Panchgani”

  1. Beautiful, pensive thoughts…and so it is…that everything is changing – always. And when you try to flee to solitude and birdsong, there will be more people thinking the same thing…and soon the once peaceful places will be crowded. I have stopped returning to beautiful places from my travels…I get so disappointed, and the first impression will be destroyed. Wishing you more lovely moments and a better new year than 2020…hopefully it cannot get any worse…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A familiar feeling. There is a place called Yelagiri hills in Tamil Nadu which we had visited a long time back. Almost no street lights, firewood cooking, smiling local population of a few small villages. No one knew our tongue and we still managed to stay very happily aided by sign language 🙂 We visited a total of five times and saw the place change gradually, till the last visit when in seemed like any other crowded City of the plains below. Somewhere we all contribute to increase the flow and lead on to the eventful destruction of the place.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes I.J., the worst news about beautiful places is that the internet has made everyone aware of them and thus they are being overrun and will soon be much less beautiful. It was written about in one of the travel sites I follow, and the ethics of publishing previously unknown places was the primary subject. And so the world goes. Excellent thoughts this week I.J.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. That’s the unfortunate part of tourism. In this case it is not an unknown place, but a hotel a few kilometers outside the crowded center of a well-known tourist destination. The effect is the same. Sadly.

      Like

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