July 3rd, 2013
Last Friday, a group of us took a short road trip to Mahabaleshwar, which is known for having lots of monkeys and strawberry fields. I wasn’t sure if it would be worth going, especially because I had so much work to do and honestly just wanted some time to relax, but a little voice in my head said “you’re in India! You have an opportunity to take a road trip to see monkeys and you’d rather do HOMEWORK? Are you stupid?”. So, I decided I had to go.
I am SO glad that I did.
On Saturday morning, we were supposed to meet everyone at the program center at 8, but Liz and I ended up being late because 1) our host mother refused to let us leave without toast and tea, and 2) our rickshaw driver decided it would be perfectly fine to take a detour and run a personal errand. Of course we refused to pay him for the extra rupees his detour added to the meter because we’re finally comfortable being sassy like that.
Once all 10 of us were at the center, we paid the drivers and were on our way. The transportation only cost each of us 750 rupees (~$12.50) for the 3 hour drive there and back! I could get used to this.
While driving out of Pune, I felt a lot of my stress melt away. I quit thinking about my frustration over my internship, the work I have due this week, the homesickness tugging at my heart. The air was clearer, the landscape greener, yet the refusal to follow formal traffic rules just as present as always.
Questions I have for India’s drivers:
- Do you see those white lines there on the road, separating lanes? Did anyone ever tell you what they mean? Or do you view them as merely suggestions?
- What’s the deal with passing every car you come across, only to slow back down to their speed anyway?
The traffic in India still evades me. I would be eaten alive if I tried to drive here because I don’t understand their system AT ALL. But I think I’m getting used to riding as a passenger and just trusting that there’s some system in place and it seems to work fine.
One thing I love about traveling by car is seeing all the beautifully painted trucks, usually decorated with flowers and peppers hanging from the bumper for good luck (maybe that’s their system? Praying for good luck?)
All the trucks have “Horn OK Please” painted on the back. It’s tricky to see the “OK” on this one, but it’s there. Click here to read about the possible meaning and origin of the phrase. Spoiler: No one really knows the exact meaning and origin of this phrase.
On our way to Mahabaleshwar, we stopped at a hill station known as Panchgani. Back in the day, it was a summer resort for the British during the colonial era.
Then we moved along to Mahabelashwar.
When we got there, I quickly realized that this place was very much a tourist area. Blegh. There were signs everywhere advertising “strawberries and cream”, the must-have dish for all who venture to Mahabaleshwar. There were also lots of pushy guys trying to get us to pay to ride their tired-looking horses (all with the name “Hero”), along with people trying to sell souvenirs, etcetera. Exactly the kind of thing I roll my eyes at.
Despite my so-so first impression, there were a lot of amazing sights to see. My favorite was when we went to Needle Hole Point. We were greeted by monkeys chewing on jamun (my new favorite fruit), lots of waterfalls, and an amazing view.
Needle Hole Point. I stole this from Wikipedia, but it’s exactly what I saw!
A monkey family at Needle Hole Point (Photo Cred: Malaika Carver)
After seeing some of the sights, it started pouring rain and we headed itnto town to find something good to eat since there were NO strawberries to be found. We walked into a few places and walked right back out again because we were trying to find a place that looked clean.
We finally settled on a Punjabi restaurant that I’ve now forgotten the name of. We ordered a few veg dishes and a few non-veg for the table to share. The veg dishes we got were Malai Kophta and Paneer Masala, which were both incredible. The Malai Kophta was much sweeter than at home and the Paneer Masala was the spiciest food I had had yet in India. I was in heaven. Maharashtrian food is pretty good, but Punjabi food is where. it’s. at.
After we ate, we walked around a bit in the rain trying to find 1) warm clothes, because not everyone was dressed for the cool weather and rain, 2) strawberries and cream, and 3) a nice place to stay for the night.
We managed to find warm clothes and strawberries and cream. Two outta three ain’t bad, right?
We failed miserably at finding a place to stay and we all just decided to head home. I think by that point we were all just tired of walking around in the rain and being unsure of our plans! Next time we’ll try to find a hotel ahead of time. Oh yeah, and pack warmer clothes.