In 1979 my jurisdiction was enlarged with the headquarters remaining at Nagpur. Earlier it was only confined to the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra; now it included the Marathwada Region as well which meant inclusion of four more districts, numero uno of which was the District of Aurangabad. I had to visit the place quite a few times during my tenure at Nagpur. During one such visit we decided to make it to Goa. On the way we thought we would take in Mahabaleshwar as well.
We had heard quite a lot about this hill station on the Western Ghats that are also known as the Sahyadri ranges. The mountain range is, incidentally a World Heritage Site now and is considered to be one of the hottest hotspots of biological diversity. Access to Mahabaleshwar is via Satara, a prominent town in Western Maharashtra south of Pune. We had a well located inspection bungalow at Mahabaleshwar behind a British-era post office building. Since we had only two days at our disposal we could take in whatever was easily approachable. We did not try to explore the distant sites that are archaeologically or historically important. Our objective was to take it easy in a weather that was very amiable. Located at a height of around a thousand metres (3000 ft.), Mahabaleshwar has a very pleasant climate right through the year barring, of course, four monsoon months when the place gets heavy to very heavy rains.
In the very pleasant climate one can only take in the nature that the place offers. Its undulating topography, half rural and half urban set up is captivating. There are valleys and hills that make the place a paradise for trekkers. Alas, we were not at that age when we could put on the trekking shoes and go climbing up the gentle hills that are covered by green vegetation. But we trudged quite a distance to a view point to see the sun go down beyond the hills. Incidentally, it is said that Mahabaleshwar has around it the only intact evergreen tropical forest of the country.
Originally known as Malcolm Peth after an Englishman who probably was instrumental In establishing the settlement, the place came to be known as Mahabaleshwar around 1820s. It has always been heavily overlaid with the influence of Mahadeo, another name for Hindu God, Lord Shiva, a suggestion of which one finds in the very name of the place. As is well know, Mahabaleshwar is from where the River Krishna originates and flows down through several states before it goes and empties itself into the Bay of Bengal. It is one of the longest rivers of India and originates from the Sahyadris close to Mahabaleshwar. About 10 kilometres away is the Panchaganga temple that is claimed to be 5000 years old. It is from here that Krishna River originates from a gomukh (a snout) along with a few of its tributaries, one of which is Koyana. Koyana is well known for the 1967 earthquake of 6.6 magnitude which was suspected to have been induced by the dam that was built on the Koyana River.
The British used to love Mahabaleshwar for its salubrious climate. They even used to move the capital of the Bombay Presidency here from Bombay during the summer months. There are reported to be some colonial-era bungalows in the town, some in disrepair and some others renovated and still in use. Town-wise there is nothing much in it. It is virtually like a one-horse town, catering to a population of around 15000.
The town has, however, developed some fruit farms where strawberries are grown. The place reportedly produces around 85% of the country’s strawberries. The ones we get in Bhopal come all the way from Mahabaleshwar. Of late. Every second shop in the small town is reported to be selling strawberries and cream One of the farms used to produce honey as well as jams. Leather goods industry is another which is ding well. The whole country is fond of the chappals or slippers made in Kolhapur. Something similar is made in Mahabaleshwar that, to use a cliché, are sold like hot cakes.
Two days later it was time for us to move. We came down to Satara and caught a bus for Goa. In those days, there was no Konkan Railway. Goa was approachable only by pretty atrocious roads from the upcountry.