Thursday, September 01, 2011

Malshej: driving through clouds and rain

On a whim, decided to head out to Malshej, the popular monsoon destination 140 kms from Mumbai.  Knowing that the only place worth staying over is the Flamingoes Resort, run by MTDC that gets booked four months in advance, it had to be a day trip.  Holidays are not for waking up early and here we were, starting from home at 10.45 AM, for a 300 km single day round trip (yeah, we are like that only).

The route is pretty simple: head out of Mumbai via Thane toll naka, take NH-3 (Mumbai-Nasik highway), turn right towards Kalyan at Chokhi Dhani, cross Kalyan, Ulhasnagar, Shahad on NH 222 and head all the way to Malshej.  That's what Google maps said and we religiously followed the route.  NH-3 was a breeze, though the   traffic snarl-up on the other side gave us an idea of what we would encounter on the way back.  Crossed Chokhi Dhani in a flash and then the traffic nightmare started.  A broken down dumpster on the other side reduced the already narrow NH222 to a single-lane road.  'This is only for a short stretch, the road will open up in no time' we convinced ourselves.  Surely, it did, only to lead to an even more congested stretch across the bi-lane Kalyan rail overbridge.  We compounded the delay by taking a wrong turn that landed us smack in the heart of congested Kalyan town, along Agra Road.  Realising the mistake quickly, we asked around for Malshej and were directed to a narrow lane and told to 'strictly' take a turn at Vallabh Tower.  The six storey Vallabh 'Tower' led to the highway NH 222 towards Malshej.  We had spent over an hour and half and barely covered 45 kms - another 100 to go.  The flyover before Shahad was more of a cross country track, making me want to drive a 4x4.  Such thoughts were immediately dismissed as we hit yet another jam in front of Century Colony at Shahad.  We decided to turn back if we hit another bad traffic spot.  Thankfully, the road opened up thereafter and we were finally on the way to Malshej.  Only worrying footnote: 2 hours down and only 51 kms crossed.

The road after Shahad is pretty good, save for the occasional pothole.  Rolled down the windows to the thin drizzle and the cool breeze - we could only imagine how Malshej would be.

Road below: silver ribbon through green tapestry
The ghat road
As they say, the path to heaven is not easy.  So was it with Malshej.  About 27 kms before Malshej Ghat, the road turns really nasty - this is only for those with a stout heart and a stouter suspension.  The alert driver usually manages to navigate the sea of potholes without accident; we saw atleast three broken down cars being towed.  Signboards with phone nos of tow services are pasted in many places, to help the stranded drivers.  At places the potholes are so bad, one has to search for even a square inch of tarmac.  This bad stretch is about 17 kms long and has to be tackled at crawl speeds.  Alas, this only meant more delay.

Can you count the number of waterfalls?
After what seemed an eternity, we finally hit the ghat road (and with that the bad road stretch ended too).  This has to count among the most scenic drives - lush greenery all around, innumerable waterfalls dotting the mountainside...

Mesmerising falls...

In fact there are waterfalls gushing by the roadside - so close that we could reach out and touch them!  The ghat road was full of waterfalls which were in turn full of picknickers frolicking in the water!
One of the many falls by the roadside...
Picknicers at a waterfall
There are even spots where you actually drive through water falls - there was this spot where the water descended in torrents onto the road from an overhanging ledge above, creating a curtain of water to drive through!  Ofcourse, we drove through it windows rolled down!

Driving through the waterfall: it's
actually water on the windscreen!
Waterfall on the road!

Valley bathed in golden glow
The entire drive through the ghats is scenic: there were moments when the clouds parted to bathe the valley below in golden sunshine.  The effect was breathtaking.

After a drive that melted away the stress of driving potholed roads, we reached the Flamingoes Resort, run by MTDC.  As we drove, we had decided to look for a place to stay, so that we could enjoy the place more, but one look at the crowds milling at the Resort and we knew we'd have to return the same day.  Nevertheless, we decided to try.  The grumpy gentleman at the booking desk informed us curtly, 'kamra nai'.  It was past 2.30 and we were starving - headed to the restaurant at the resort for lunch.

For a moment, we thought we were underneath a water fall again - make no mistake, the restaurant is a covered one!  Buckets of water seeping through the concrete roof were the culprit!  The restaurant was crowded with noisy tourists and the lone waiter was struggling to keep pace.  We managed to catch his eye and ordered a simple fare of dal, rice and aloo: food that we consider 'safe' in most places.  When our order arrived, we realised this was going to be an exception: the aloo was stale, dal not properly done and rice doused in cooking soda.  Inspite of being ravenous, we only managed to finish half a portion.  This has to count as the worst restaurant of all our travels.
Driving through the clouds: approach to the MTDC resort!

Glad we didn't have to stay back at a place like this, we decided to explore the place: figured we had about an hour.  The resort sits atop a small plateau, at the edge of a cliff looking into the valley.  The place is mesmerising.  Tall cliffs rise to touch the clouds all around and as we watched a thick cloud engulfed the whole place, including us, reducing visibility to barely a few metres!  We were literally 'walking in the clouds!'  Not to waste the opportunity M and I let loose our cameras - there were several photo-worthy landscapes begging to be shot!
If there is heaven, this will qualify!

The hour that we had slotted to spend here quickly merged into the next and before long, it was time to turn back.  Promising to return soon, we headed back.
Views of the valley

Bypass from Murbad
After negotiating the bad 17 km stretch, we decided to try a different route: cross over to Shahpur on NH 3, instead of driving through what would certainly be a Shahad-Ulhasnagar-Kalyan teeming with the faithful breaking fast on the last day of Ramadan and the mandals bringing home the Ganapati's.  There are two options for this: one is to turn right at Saralgaon junction and the second is to turn right at Murbad.  Helpful locals advised us to take the latter, a route preferable to even the NH 222.  We did that and were welcomed by a relatively smooth stretch of tarmac.  Though the last few kilometers of this road is pretty bad, it was still better than having to weave through Kalyan traffic.
Views of the setting sun
We were even rewarded for our efforts with fantatic views of a small river that we drove over: the sight of the setting sun glistening off the ripples was a fitting finale to the trip.  Driving 300 kms for 10 hours just to spend a couple of magical moments in the Malshej clouds - was it worth it?  You bet!

Here are some photos of this captivating place...
Clouds take over
Breathtaking views
Breathtaking views

Breathtaking views

Shrouded in clouds

Pondering moment...

Walking into the clouds...
Photo credits: Meenal Dutia, Ram Sharaph


Meenal Dutia said...

Time for sweet revenge! Photo credits please....

Aarti said...

Woww... the place sounds magical!!! :)