"Mam, kya aap kabhi Mumbai-Pune highway se uttar kar aas paas ke gaanv mein gaye ho?"
(Mam, have you ever visited the villages on the Mumbai-Pune highway?")
Sometimes a question as simple as this can spark your travel plans. During one of my Mumbai-Pune business trips my driver became my inspiration for exploring the Maharashtrian Ecotourism. He was from Kamshet village and the way he described his place was so vivid and inviting that no travel guide could have explained it better. It took me an year to firm up my plan. But thanks to him, I got to see what wasn't even in my consideration. Unfortunately he wasn't free so I chose to opt for one of the car rentals in Mumbai. So let's start my Maharashtrian Ecotourism journey:
I started my journey by going back to the roads of AH-47. It might not be as famous as Mumbai-Pune Expressway is, but it’s got the beauty of the ghats and the rustic charm of rural India. A short drive away from the expressway lies this hidden quaint pollution free village of Matheran. Matheran is a place where it seems like time has taken a pause to rejuvenate. I couldn’t help myself from inhaling lungs full of fresh air, which is so rare in city life. While walking around, I felt Mathetran was whispering in my ears. Perhaps complaining why it took me so long to come here. Silent apologies were exchanged and peace was made. Matheran was lovingly showing me around it's abundant beauty. I felt like a VIP as there were hardly any person in sight.
During my exploration by foot I discovered this hill spot is declared an eco-sensitive area by the Ministry of Environment. And I am glad for that decision, it's high time we preserve such rare gems. Matheran showed me how life can be lead devoid of vehicles and pollution, like how the world was many years ago. Matheran Trek is something that one must do even if you are not a trekker. The views are breathtaking and you wouldn't mind the hard work when you see the valley views.
Let me be candid with you. When I plan my travels I don't put everything on paper. I plan a very rough itinerary. Usually the time I have in hand and my to and fro places. Rest I leave it to the actual moment, nature and locals. Before I started my Maharashtrian Ecotourism Journey I had not heard about Saguna Baug. I just planned to visit Matheran but a casual chat with a local in Matheran gave me an idea to continue my journey to Saguna Baug, which is about 40 km from the Expressway. Why I fell in love with this place is because here sustainable Ecotourism is not just meant for books but is practised in real life. I’d say this is a perfect place for all those with green thumbs. Here I saw a complete model agricultural garden with ideas and methods to enhance my own garden back home. This baug, or garden, which is about 50 acres, has been encouraging agro-tourism by setting up examples of forestry and agriculture in limited spaces. I took a tour of the farm and took part in village activities from fish farming to fishing to horse-riding.
My next pit-stop was Kamshet, which is now famous for paragliding. Since I wasn’t too keen on paragliding, I decided to explore the mud-brick-lined villages surrounded by scenic beauty. Bullock carts and cycles are the common modes of transportation here and people are most often found walking to the farms or their dairy farms. Raikar farm is a beautiful farm where I could first-hand experience farming and village life. And guess what. I even tried my hand at milking cows. Obviously I failed miserably at it 😛 My respect for the people who gets food and dairy on your plates increased by several notches.
After exploring the beauty of Kamshet, I decided to return to a place where I had been earlier as well but decided to do something that I had not done before. The spectacular Karla Caves is well-known to an avid traveler. What I didn’t explore earlier were the villages around it. Once I toured and witnessed the magnificence of the rock-cut caves, I took short drives around and discovered the villages, the names of which I have forgotten but their unique identity is firmly etched in my mind. These hamlets came as a treat for me since I was yearning for some typical Maharashtrian Ecotourism experience.
Morachi Chincholi is a paradise for nature lovers like me. Although it is situated quite a distance away from the highway but still I chose to visit it because the farther you go away from the concrete jungle better are the chances of exploring hidden jewels of natural jungle. It is a small village which encourages living close to nature and is predominantly filled with peacocks. Located in the heart of Maharashtra, this place offered me a wide range of rural Ecotourism activities to both view and participate in. The locals were bemused by my presence and were actively showing me around.
The two days I spent exploring the Maharashtrian Ecotourism was truly enriching for my eyes as well as for my lungs. A great weekend getaway from the hustle bustle of Mumbai. But I would have not been able to explore so much if I would have not had a good transport service and driving in one of the Mumbai-to-Pune cabs was an ideal way to explore the beauty of the refreshing highway connecting the two epic cities.
So when are you going to travel see and write about the Maharashtrian Ecotourism?