The red juicy strawberries are one of the biggest attractions to be in Mahabaleshwar during February and March. However, there are more reasons you would get drawn to the largest hill station in Maharashtra. Located in the lush Western Ghats, the erstwhile capital of the Bombay Presidency during the British Raj, is a delight to visit anytime except perhaps the rainy season when torrential rains virtually shut it down. Any other time of the year, you would get enchanting views of the plummeting Ghats and a walk on its street reminiscent of British-era nostalgia.
Known as the ‘strawberry garden of India’, the British should be credited for bringing these strawberry plantations from Australia. The berry bounty abounds in Mahabaleshwar and its neighbouring Panchgani. Raspberry, mulberry, gooseberry and, of course, the luscious red strawberry attracts the berry lovers. The presence of cool climate and red soil make the place conducive for the growth of strawberries and other berries.
On the entire length of Panchgani road you find Strawberry vendors next to the strawberry farms. As these are perishable fruits, the crimson berries sell at Rs 60/kg during February-March when loads of them are harvested. As the summer arrives and the berries production decreases the demand rises, as more tourists flock to Mahabaleshwar. With rising demand the price shoot upwards up to Rs 150/kg to even Rs 250/kg as summer advances. The onset of monsoon ends the strawberry season.
Apart from the fresh fruit, you get varieties of strawberry goodies like the preserves, jams, fruit crushes, ice-creams, milkshakes, strawberry with fresh cream, strawberry fudge or even the jelly toffees at various shops, farms and factories dotting the town of Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani. Usually the juices sell at Rs 40, strawberry with cream at Rs 90 and fudge at Rs 400/kg. A must visit for visitors is Mapro farm to taste variety of fruit juices and crushes and to simply gorge on the delicious grilled sandwiches and wood-fired pizzas.
You could also visit the nearby strawberry farms and talk to the farmers. It is amazing to know that these little shrubs require extreme care. The fields have to be prepared in September just after the rains, fumigation done and covered with plastic sheets. Then cowdung manure is added, fields sprayed and the seedlings are planted through holes punched in plastic sheets. Strawberries are ready from December and last till May.
Srawberries apart, the other attraction is the colonial architecture of the numerous bungalows, many of which have been turned into guest houses and hotels much to the delight of tourists who could rest in solitude in company of birds and bees. The Mahabaleshwar club built in 1881 and the Holy Cross church, a Roman catholic church with lovely stained glass windows, are heritage structures worth a visit.
After a lovely heritage walk, you could hire a car to go for long drives for there are many vantage points which showcase the lush green beauty of the ghats. The narrow roads shaded by the trees foliage make the drive cool even when the mercury rises. One of the most famous points is the Arthur’s seat that provides a magnificent view of the Konkan coast at a sheer drop of 2000 feet.
In the strawberry season these drives become more pleasant as you could get farm fresh strawberries every few meters sold in paper cones and cardboard boxes at very low prices. This sweet juicy treat is in itself an incentive for they taste heavenly, unlike anything you get at any supermarket. However, keep a watch for the roaming monkeys for they could stealthily follow you and snatch the luscious berries from you in no time. Other delightful natural snacks are munching on peanuts, biting into roasted corn cobs and the salted cucumber slices.
There are various other points along the way or with a little detour like the Bombay point, Wilson, Helen’s, Elphinstone, Babington, Falkland and Kate. Among the waterfalls, there is the Lingmala fall that cascades down from 600 feet down a cliff and the Chinaman’s falls and Dhobi falls. It is a pleasure to boat in the picturesque Venna lake or ride ponies nearby.
The small marketplace is also a nice place to chill out. You could look around for some nice handcrafted camel leather footwear. For the devotees of Lord Shiva, the Panchganga temple in the older Mahabaleshwar is worth a visit. It contains a spring of five rivers which keep the ‘Shivaling’ of Lord Shiva perpetually washed with water, in the sanctum sanctorum. The five rivers are the Koyna, Venna, Savitri, Gayatri and Krishna.
Heritage and history buffs can head for the Pratapgarh fort that is 24 km from the main town. The legacy of Shivaji continues and he still remains one of the great unifying forces in Maharashtra. Built in 1656, the fort was witness to an important chapter in history. The mighty general of the Bijapur kingdom, Afzal Khan met his death at the hands of Shivaji with a wagh nakh (tiger’s claw). Shivaji then strengthened his position as the great Maratha warrior. The majestic fort is situated on a high ridge and one will have to climb 500 steps to reach the top. Once inside, the panoramic view of the surrounding Western Ghats and plains are simply bewitching. There is the temple of ‘Ma Bhavani’ (Goddess Durga) where Shivaji sought blessings before felling Afzal Khan. The adjoining handicraft shop is a nice place to buy souvenirs and handcrafted wooden toys and bell metal items. You should also not miss the cool and delicious ‘lassis’ served in earthen glasses to quench your thirst after the tiring climb.Fact File
Mahabaleshwar is located 1,372 metres above sea level on the Wesyern Ghats in Satara district of Maharshtra
Nearest airport is Pune, 120 km from Mahabaleshwar. Though Wathar is the nearest railhead, Pune is more convenient. There are regular State transport buses, private buses and private taxis that ply from Mumbai and Pune to Mahabaleshwar
Best season to visit
October to June. Take light woollens during winter
Stay at the spacious MTDC holiday resorts and guesthouses located in a forest. There are many budget to grand hotels