Somewhere down the state highway to Malshej Ghat, Mumbai and everything it stands for vanishes and the show begins to unfold. You don’t need a signboard pointing out the route to heaven, you will know when you have reached Malshej Ghat. You enter a short regular-looking tunnel, little expecting the light at the end of it to fall on waterfalls cascading down as if the set designer of the ghats was suddenly overcome with recklessness and decided to see how much beauty one place could handle. The drive up is beautiful enough, but when you get your first view of the backwaters of Pimpalgaon Joga Dam, the picture has the kind of ethereal quality that makes your breath catch in your throat.
Malshej Ghat is a wildly beautiful haven of towering peaks and bottomless valleys, home to a hundred different kinds of flora and fauna, and mountain air so fragrant and pure, you wish you could pack some to take back home. Miles upon miles of rolling meadows and paddies neatly stitched into a huge quilt of varying greens, the peaks hiding behind rolling mists and blue-grey monsoon clouds… all vie for your attention. You almost don’t know where to rest your wondering gaze.
Malshej in the monsoons is sheer poetry. Something happens to these hills when the rains come. The ghats come into their own when the rains begin to lash against them. And the beauty of the drive to Malshej at this time takes a stout heart to bear. Wet bark along the road and soaked valleys that make a long curve towards unmoving distant hills and, of course, the unavoidable clichés of mountain scenery, all maintain their own peace in a breeze that is mostly feeble and an August rain that’s sometimes gentle, and sometimes harsh.
Having survived the beauty of the drive, the magic of Malshej will have already triggered off a million expectations in you. Relax, for you’ll continue to bask in this blessed state. You will see that Malshej does make its visitors a little giddy-headed.
The water rises…
Perched on the very edge of a plateau, the MTDC hotel, managed by a private party, is gifted with the best location. But just 160-odd ft from its restaurant, in the hotel’s very backyard, is land’s end. The plateau ends its life suddenly and the next piece of land emerges hundreds of feet below. A gentle rain blows in a tired breeze as we walk to the edge. As we look down into the valley, the drizzle changes its route radically. It begins to rain upwards, from down under. It’s as though the valley is pushing the silly rain out, to spring clean our probing faces. It’s one of those moments that you carry with you for a long time. As we trekked up the hills, we saw again a giant waterfall that rises up majestically into the air instead of falling down into the valley — a waterrise! Such is the force of the wind in some parts of the mountain heights that water falling over the peaks is forced back over the peaks in what seems like brilliant bursts of crystals, which shower down on you with icy splendour.
Malshej is just the ideal place for long meandering walks down twisting mountain trails, for plucking wild flowers for your beloved, for shouting silly love songs down into valleys and then waiting for affirmation.
Malshej is also home to a variety of nature’s amazing creations — the giant Indian squirrel and the giant Asian moth are among the more famous ones.
In the monsoon, Malshej announces its mood through a series of waterfalls. One or two fall generously right on the state highway. A splendid idea will be to park your vehicle somewhere, take off your clothes to a point where ‘nature’ is still what people would like to see, and nervously get under one of the thundering falls. Soon after the initial stabs of ice-like cool, the water makes friends with you. Be dragged out and warm up with hot bhajias and tea that a lone Adivasi boy from the valley dishes up for you, right on the roadside if you have picked your spot well.
This is actually the best way to begin a weekend in Malshej. Right at the point where the string of falls make a mess of the narrow, curving state highway, is what the government calls ‘Nature Spot’. While on one side of the road water gushes out from hilltops, the other side is a huge empty expanse of white mist and bright green. As you may have gathered, Malshej is a very wet place during the monsoon. It rains from all sides here, even from below, as we have seen. There is no way you cannot get wet in Malshej.
On the run
A note of caution for visitors to the Narayangaon-Malshej belt. The thick forests of Malshej and Junnar have for long been the natural habitat of leopards. With the human populace now encroaching into the forests and the consequent drying up of their natural food sources, these magnificent cats have over the last couple of years started coming out at night from the lush sugarcane fields and into villagers’ backyards to make meals of their cattle.
The Forest Department has in the past nabbed some leopards and packed them off to the Melghat Reserve. But, when travelling through this belt, do make sure that you are not out after dark in thickly wooded areas or fields, and be careful when travelling on two-wheelers because you are then more vulnerable to attack.
And the flamingoes touch down
Malshej is back to nature as you can never imagine it. And the pink-legged European flamingoes knew this much before we caught on. The villagers will tell you how great droves of flamingoes arrive at Malshej for about a month between July and September every year. They’ll also tell you of the mating dance of these graceful visitors and of how bird lovers and village kids alike wade far into the backwaters of Pimpalgaon Joga Dam, just when the sun is beginning to peek out through the mist, to see the ballet performance.
Pimpalgaon Joga Dam, about 4 km away from Flamingo Hill Resort, is a long bund blocking Pushpavati River, which springs out of Malshej Ghat. The dam has created a lake that swells in the monsoon. And its expansion quietly submerges vast tracts of plains and many trees, leaving the taller ones standing with their heads barely out of the water. The still lake looks like a fluid body out of a sci-fi movie. It’s a pale green, unmoving force that drags you from above the bund to its very edge. You just sit there and cannot utter a word. The lake echoes your silence. It’s the kind of stillness that you know you may never find again. So you don’t move. But you never know; if it’s in July or August that you’re here, the flamingoes may darken the sky and swoop down to break the calm.
Location In the Junnar region of Pune District, 3,500 ft above sea level
Distance 150 km NE of Mumbai JOURNEY TIME By road 31/2 hrs By rail 1 hr + 2 hrs by road
Route NH3 to Bhiwandi; SH to Malshej Ghat via Kalyan, Saralgaon and Vaishakhare
When to go June to September during the monsoons, when the waterfalls are in spate.
STD code 02132 From Mumbai 952132
By Manu Joseph and Mrinal Jaisingh Shinde
About the author
Manu Joseph is the current Editor-in-chief of Open magazine. Formerly features writer of The Times of India, he has also written for Conde Nast’s wired.com, and the UK Independent.