Located at a five-hour drive from the bustling city of Mumbai, at a height of 1,353 meters, Mahabaleshwar is a beautiful blend of the old and the new. Famous for not only its scenic viewpoints—a photographer’s delight—but also its cane weaving industry—hugely popular with the tourists—this hill station has become even more popular thanks to its Geographical Indication (GI) Tag Strawberries.
From Dhruti Vaidya and her team—Sonam Ambe, Anand Pendharkar and Seema Hardikar—along with illustrations by Sneha Chhatre, comes a 237-page compendium, The Other Mahabaleshwar, A Template For Mindful Travel. It gives not just a beautiful account of Mahabaleshwar’s recorded history with interesting information about different dynastic rulers who later handed it over to the British (who then went on to create the hill station), but also other information that enlightens readers by giving them insight into Mahabaleshwar’s architecture as well as its biodiversity.
Jayasinh Mariwala, in his foreword, writes about his own immersive experience of residing in this quiet and serene place. He talks about Mahabaleshwar’s colonial past, the bungalow owners, the Chinese prisoners of war that the British kept there in the mid-19th century after the Opium war and how they helped build the Gymkhanas, the Polo Grounds and the Club House. He also talks about his parents renting heritage homes in Mahabaleshwar, where he and his siblings spent their entire holidays at a time when there were not many tarred roads and when most roads were merely loose red soil. Besides this, he also touches upon his long walks in Mahabaleshwar’s forests where he enjoys breathing the purest air and delights in becoming a farmer with the latest technology at a rather late age.
The book describes Mahabaleshwar’s abundant wildlife in the forests around. We learn how the severe monsoons that practically shut down the hill station for four months every year is actually its own way of rejuvenating itself before it begins to bloom again. Besides, the book also contains a detailed account of not just the flora and fauna but also the water streams, forests, ferns, butterflies, moths, dragonflies and birds found in their natural habitats.
Besides talking about the serenity that can be experienced in Mahabaleshwar, the book also has useful information. Take berry lovers, for instance, who are bound to love the place as it offers a huge variety. The first honey centre was set up at Mahabaleshwar before independence, and honey in different flavours was available there depending on the flowers blooming in various seasons. For instance, Jamuns can be found in February. Besides, there is also information in the book about Tuesday Markets where you can find your regular seasonal fruits and veggies as well as the organic varieties. Other lovely touches to the book include a map of bungalows, the food web and information on driving and trekking at Mahabaleshwar.
The book also urges readers and “urbanised” tourists to preserve the hill station’s natural heritage as well as its ecosystem, and not to denigrate it through the use of plastic and other non-biodegradable materials.
This is definitely a book you want to treasure. It will gently coax you to visit Mahabaleshwar in the near future. In fact, this compendium can prove to be a worthy companion even on other days as you sit sipping your favourite cup of coffee while breezing through the information that they’ve packed in, in the most stimulating and innovative manner.