As I stand at the edge of the Wilson Point (the highest point in Mahabaleshwar at 1439 mts) at dusk, I’m held rapt in awe by the most spellbinding sunset I’ve had the privilege of witnessing. And just like that, the cruel wash of work which had been stressing me out the previous week, seeps out of my being as insidiously as it had come. It’s barely believable that this is the same scene I look upon every other evening from the balcony of a high-rise in Mumbai. The difference is that there it looks like a scene which is unfolding elsewhere and you’re looking on from a distance—a bit like watching something on television. Wilson Point is one of those places where sunsets actually take place—and this time you’re within the frame.
The taste of fresh hand-picked strawberries still lingering in my mouth as I write this, back in my suburban apartment in Mumbai, I’m more convinced than ever of Mahabaleshwar’s pedigree as Mumbai’s finest weekend getaway—an experience made even more potent if you head there, as I did, on two wheels.
Like the best trips this one was entirely unplanned. The idea had been to spend a couple of days in Pune and ride about on Hyosung’s cruiser—the Aquila Pro 650. But as things transpired, I ran into a few blokes from my Enfield gang—the Iron Wheels Bullet Club—during a sortie into town. Plans were hatched over midnight coffee and I found myself with a pack of fellow riders on an early morning cruise to Mahabaleshwar about 150km south of Pune.
If you haven’t been on this route of late then you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the newly-laid NH4 which pampers you with smooth tarmac all the way till Wai naka. The crossroad is an excellent place to break for tea before turning off to towards Wai. A really pretty town ensconced in a patch of green with huge banyan trees lining both sides of the road, Wai is perfect for photo-ops.
Then come the ghat sections; lulled into a beatific complacency by the ride I had a few close calls on this stretch and would advise all would-be riders to approach the section with caution: it’s a dual carriageway and you’ve really got to watch for oncoming traffic on the curves. It didn’t help that the Aquila, with all of its fancy cruiser design cues got a lot of attention—it’s never safe when people start staring at your ride instead of the road.
The Aquila GV 650 is quite a head-turner: the mid-sized cruiser has the looks and the 647 cc oil-cooled V-twin grunts out a healthy 74 bhp. The large 16-litre fuel tank is well complemented by a low-seating position and swept-back handlebars to give the bike genuine range and long-distance comfort. The bike is most at home gliding along at 100-110 kmph in top gear; any faster and the vibrations go up significantly.
On reaching Mahabaleshwar I checked into a quaint Parsi-owned valley-facing villa called Belle Vista. The owner of the villa has his own strawberry farm and my room has a huge balcony with sweeping views of the valley. The pace of life at the very colonial-feel villa skids to a halt faster than the Aquila from 60 to nought! The languid afternoon is spent in the strawberry and tomato cherry farm picking, tasting and lounging in a hammock.
The next day I decide to pay a visit to Mapro Farms—one of the biggest producers of strawberries in the country. Now missing out on Mapro Farms when you’re in Mahabaleshwar is tantamount to missing out on the paranthe wali gali in Old Delhi. And it doesn’t disappoint: packed to the gills with sumptuous strawberry-based desserts, cakes and other goodies Mapro farms is a strawberry lover’s Eden.
Mahabaleshwar is Sanskrit for ‘God of Great Power,’ and I for one am firmly overpowered. As I head back I’m ruing not having taken a couple of days off to stay here a while longer. But I’m told that it’s during the monsoons that Mahabaleshwar becomes truly breath-taking. From what the weatherman says, the rains are already lashing Kerala. I’m going back very soon, even though I might have to be prudent and trade the Hyosung for a car this time!