Why would you leave Mumbai? It is a city that has it all. Its glam quotient is so high, you’d believe the group sitting in the corner drinking sparkling water at 3am have made more money than you can dream of in a day. Also, a phone call away is the quiet ayurvedic massage that will transport you to another world. And in either case you can just summon a cab home. But if you insist on travelling away for a couple of days, and you don’t want to go through the flight restrictions, then we have just the options for you.
Flowers, flowers everywhere
The Valley of Flowers is fabulous, but only if you have the time to get to the Himalayas and appreciate the rhododendrons. If you’re ready to drive, the Kaas Plateau is just 278.km or 5 hours away.
The best time to visit (online booking is mandatory) is from August to October. The rains create magic in the mountains, of course. But to see the wildflowers on that plateau is a photographer’s dream.
You cannot traipse through the flowers like some Bollywood song because the plateau is a UNESCO world heritage site, but you can stay from morning till sunset and drink in the changing colours.
Nights of the fireflies
The scene that will confront you when you reach the Purushwadi jungle after the sun sets will make your jaw drop. But remember to close your mouth because the thousands and thousands of fireflies that are completely unafraid of humans might just decide that your mouth is a great place to settle down. This is their mating season and it seems that there are more fireflies on the ground than there are stars in the sky. It is a magnificent scene that is straight out of a fantasy movie. Unforgettable!
But wait, you can also view the fireflies in a couple of other places near Bombay: Bhandardara lake and Nashik.
Purushwadi site for the fireflies festival that happens in May and June is the Kalsubai Harishchandragad Forest Reserve, 200km from Mumbai. You can go camping at these sites or book yourself in the resorts nearby. And yes, if you are a mosquito magnet as I am, don’t forget to wear the anti mosquito patch or cream…
Fortifying Maharashtra. Challenging you
‘I am never going to do this ever, again!’ I have said this several times, taking deep breaths between words, resting on whatever rock offered refuge or just on the ground. Then I looked around. Oh mah lord! The views were stunning. Every. Single. Time. The mountains are so green, the colours cannot be captured by any camera, and you wish you were fit enough to lug your DSLR to capture the sheer power and defiance of the ruins of the forts. What kind of patriotism and power did the people of yesteryear have to build these forts in the most impossible of places. There are 120 of them that are all accessible from Bombay. A mission impossible for city folk but when you are up there, you will want to yell out: ‘I’m the king of the world!’
Feel like challenging yourself? Try the easier Sinhagad, Raigad, even take a boat to the very picturesque Dandeli and Murud Janjira. The Tikona fort is tough, but you won’t find a gaggle of tourists and you will be looking with awe at the walls and the rooms there… And if you manage to climb the practically vertical steps (yes, someone back in history cut steps out of the rocks!) of the Harihar Fort, and not feel a little sick looking down, imagine ducking enemy fire during a battle. The Mughals and the Marathas used cannons… Scary!
Climbing is not the only adventure, you can literally fly! Kamshet has paragliding where you piggyback with the experts and take off into the sky. Some even soar solo, but I’d rather take my chances with rafting down rivers. Adrenaline junkies have many options…
In Vino Veritas…
Nashik used to be a town where pilgrims showed up to ask for blessings at the ancient temples. But the temperature and soil are perfect for growing grapes and yes, where there are grapes, should there not be wine? Just as you travelled to Margaret River vineyards in Australia and tasted Chardonnay in Napa, Pinot in Oregon, experienced Burgundy and Riesling and Champagne in Europe, you can drive out early in the morning towards Nashik. By noon, you should be ready to taste the wine and eat a fabulous lunch at the wineries - Sula, Vallonne, York, Soma and Grover wineries and tasting rooms are just some of the names you will recognise.
The tours are comprehensive as are the tasting options. And the food almost always tastes better when had with a bottle of wine, no? Choose your tasting buddies wisely, and I blame it on the grape when I say, don’t go with kids or disapproving parents. There are other holidays you can plan…
Kids just want to have fun
A few years ago all that the kids could do was go up and down the water slides at Fariyas resort Lonavala or you would take them to Goa and watch them feast on tiger prawns and get roasted in the sun while you stayed in the shade and did grown up things. Then Mr Manmohan Shetty of Adlabs created this magical theme park and called it Imagicaa. There are rides that will make you laugh and dizzy at the same time, there is a snow park that will make you wish for a snowfall, and your wish will come true. Plus, there is a water park that has the best rides ever!
It’s not Six Flags, but it’s here, in our backyard! And the food is so much fun I remember eating monster spun sugar (we called it ‘Buddhi ke Baal’- much to the consternation of my little niece who rolled her eyes and corrected me, ‘It’s cotton candy, auntie!’), ice cream and drinking coffee and being soaked in the water all day!
But if your kids are nature nerds, then take them to these day trips to farms that let kids harvest strawberries or veggies and pet baby sheep and calves… There are many options available for the ‘holidays are for learning’ parents.
Prehistoric and also pure science fiction
For the Indiana Jones inside you, there are mysteries to be solved trying to decipher cave paintings, necks to be cricked at the tall pillars inside caves (prayer halls in the Buddhist caves of Karla and Bhaja) and more. You come away awed by the majestic carvings of the Ajanta and Ellora caves (a flight or a drive away to Aurangabad). A trip to Elephanta caves across the sea is fun even if you are accompanied by a boatload of tourists (you catch the ferry at the Gateway Of India).
If you like being spooked, then there are trips to haunted houses across Bombay and Pune and more. Pune’s Shaniwar Wada is said to be haunted by the ghost of a young Peshwa prince who was murdered by his uncle and no one is allowed to go in after 6pm, but the son-et-lumiere show that explains the history of the Peshwas is really worth a visit. And then you can get away to the microbrew pubs that are the ‘scene’ now…
Want to feel like you are a part of some sci-fi movie? Get thee to Lonar Lake. The atmosphere at the crater lake - caused by a meteorite that crashed here thousands of years ago - is totally science fiction even though someone is quite likely to tap your shoulder and ask if you want tea, breaking that spell. It’s not a place loud tourists choose to go, and that’s what makes your getaway truly one.
The song and dance Bollywood holiday
I have often wished that there were guided tours or just plain maps to the houses of the stars just like they do in LA. But everyone who has grown up watching movies knows that Amitabh Bachchan does show up on his balcony on Sundays to wave to his fans, and the crowds outside Shah Rukh’s and Salman Khan’s homes in Bandra just show you how devoted fans can be.
The recently opened Film Museum will knock your socks off with the sheer ‘gyaan’ it contains. While you gawp at the Censor certificate of Aparajito, the kids can be in the movies with the green screen. There should be great costumes there, but they compiled so many stories, your mind will be blown!
My friend’s kids from Lucknow were over the moon when they visited the electronics store featured in the TV show Taarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashma more than their trip to the famous chowpatty… For the visitors to this movie-crazy city, there are tours of the studios and even though they don’t guarantee that you will bump into a star for a selfie, some tours include a Bollywood-style song and dance performance with dinner. Shake a leg!
For love of the sea
They do let groups rent luxury yachts to sail around the bay, but nothing like a romantic trip for two on a luxurious yacht, out in the glorious expanse of the Arabian Sea, watching the sun disappear in the horizon and the stars come up and the lights of the city invite you back to the madness.
You won’t forget this experience for a while, I promise you that. Especially if the two of you just sit side by side, with good food and wine and Leonard Cohen making both of you discover romance.
Let nature ensnare you
The biodiversity of Maharashtra is mind-boggling. There are getaways that take you to the most breathtaking views of the rivers and lakes where you can simply sit down and watch or get into a plunge pool and just be. Sure there are budget stays, and the government guest houses (especially the one at Malshej Ghat which is a must-visit during the rains) are often the best located and serve great local food, but it is the luxury retreats that will offer you a getaway without the hassle of a foreign travel.
If you don’t have a fear of heights, the Machan (treehouse) resorts offer a bird’s eye view and it’s so romantic you wouldn’t want to move an inch from the quiet comfort of the room. And these treetop cabins are in Lonavala! Also located just 90km away from Mumbai in the Wada area by the pretty Vaitarana river is a luxury resort Anchaviyo, that has uniquely designed rooms (pyramid style, circular stone rooms, and one that looks like a giant barrel with a slide to your private pool). MoonStone Hammock resorts have these fun A-frame cabins if you are getting away with your gang, and yes, there’s always Alibaug. With great food (fresh catch of the day!) hotels for every kind of budget. I love the food at the restaurants by the beach at the Shipping Container Mall (simply called Container Park). Shopping for trinkets can be fun too…
Each time you get away to all these fabulous places, there is comfort in the knowledge that you are coming home. That’s where you settle down with fairy lights and music, and sigh in pleasure into a glass of Pinot (or the fragrant Kahwa). Truly, there’s no place like home.