The last week of monsoons had set in. I sat wistfully on the edge of my balcony on a Saturday morning and the phone suddenly buzzed. It was my best friend. “So, Matheran today?” she asked adding a gratuitous smiley face with the Whatsapp text. No, I thought, not again. Trips to Matheran had become all too familiar and there were too many picture folders of it in my drive to bother with another one.
One of my colleagues had once mentioned going to a place which is supposedly the ‘Mahabaleshwar of Thane district’. The place is called Jawhar, though it has nothing to do with Nehru. Now a part of Palghar district, it was once a princely hill station. After that bit of Googling, I decided the place was worth a shot. I made a few phone calls and the four of us set off on a drive within the next two hours.
Mercifully, the clouds were behaving themselves, and the drive was pretty nifty with excellent roads. As we passed the concrete maze of the city, the world burst into an endless green landscape on the sides and we passed through thick canopy of trees over our heads every few minutes. This gradual change of scenery from city to country reassured us of having chosen the right place for the weekend. It was hard not to wonder where we had been all these years leaving this ground unexplored. Jawhar is a treasure for the photographer in you. Some of the pictures you’ll take could be wallpaper worthy.
We knew we were close when we came across a herd of cattle crossing the road at their own sweet pace. The place is all but touristy with its tribal scene. Google Maps led us to a tiny little resort near a place called Sunset Point. The surroundings of the place did look magnificent, being a plateau and all, but the sun still had some time to set. In the meantime we had our lunch at the resort, and the food was surprisingly good. Punjabi thalis have a habit of making you rather sluggish, so we decided to go for a walk around the place, clicking pictures along the way.
We reached Jai Vilas Palace, also known as Raj Bari, after about 30 minutes of wandering about. As it turned out, it was the best time to visit the palace, since entry is are allowed only up to 6 o’clock in the evening. A random local who claimed to be a guide volunteered to enlighten us about the place for a minimal price. The royal quarters were once the seat of the Mukne clan, the guide told us, as we made our way inside. Beautiful portraits of the Mukne family grace the halls of the palace. It’s the antique furniture that gives the palace its authentic regal flavour. Upstairs, we saw the royal bedrooms, and we were told there are some 50 or so, with a guest section, which is privately rented to important parties on occasion. The view from the terrace offered a panoramic view of Jawhar, the palace itself is surrounded by a huge cashew nut plantation, we were told. It is no Taj Mahal but if our TV gods decide to make an Indian version of Downton Abbey, this palace could be one of the leading contenders for its noble backdrop.
After that royal exposure, we went back to our little resort on foot. We nearly missed a glimpse of the dying sun, nearly, but the dark clouds did grant us that last bit of golden lining. The area was tribal, and electricity was scarce, there was little sense in roaming around as the daylight had started to wear off. The light yet steady drizzle of the rains crushed our hopes of setting a bonfire late at night; well, we can’t have it all in life. The caretakers tried to compensate for the lack of the bonfire with some local trivia instead, as we waited for our dinner. Apparently, Hanuman, on his way to meet Lord Rama, stopped for a recess at the hill station, and fell in love with it. There is a spot dedicated to this legend known as Hanuman Point. Before I could make any plans of fitting it into our itinerary, my friend turned towards me and rolled her eyes. I got the point.
She woke me up with her booming voice the next morning. “Just look outside!” she squealed. Hiding my momentary annoyance, I went groggily into the balcony, and lo and behold! Everything was misty white. We couldn’t see past our compound. It felt like me and my friends were the only people left on this marooned hill station and we loved every second of it. Might I add, my phone had been good as dead for many hours now, thanks to the low connectivity in the region. I had never felt so at peace with telecom providers for those incessant texts was the last thing I wanted to see on this trip. With a lingering smile I took a long slurp of my tea.
Before lunch that day, we went for another walk around the village. Being close to Gujarat, the dialect of the locals seemed like a mixture of Gujarati and Marathi vernacular, and we could easily hold a conversation with them for more than a few minutes. They belong to the Warli tribe and every now and then we would spot the delicate stick figured men and women engaged in their daily chores depicted in the Warli paintings on a red background. I was left with an uneasy recognition that the prints on my overpriced Fabindia kurtis originated from such places, and I couldn’t tell if the tribe folk make any revenue from it. The locals led us to Shirpamal, which is a welcome arch raised to mark the spot where the Maratha emperor, Shivaji Maharaj took a halt on his way to Surat. It is also the highest point on the hill station and is quite the beauty on a pedestal.
We checked out of the resort, but our journey wasn’t quite over yet. In my less than extensive research on Jawhar, each website I came across mentioned Dabhosa waterfall or the Dabdaba Falls created by the Lendi River. About 18 kilometers of road to the falls from Jawhar was flanked by green pastures and small lakes and ponds, which were, hands down, the best part of the trip. I’ve lost count of the number of times we stopped for clicking Instagram pictures with #NoFilter. If pictures on the websites were anything to go by, it was all going to go downhill from now on, literally, since we had to stop the car some distance away and walk a few steep steps to reach the bottom of the fall. It is more like a crater in the middle of the hilly folds. Upon reaching down we discovered that you can do the flying fox over the falls. But we were too exhausted from all our walks to bother. The rains had set the waterfall roaring and made the slope rather slippery. How I managed to make my way down, without slipping even once, is still a mystery.
On our way back to Mumbai, debates on which is the better hill station filled the ride, and I sat there wondering to myself, does it really matter? We managed to have a good time on an impromptu escape, and I came back with a new picture folder, nice memories, and a blog post.