written by - Ankita Shreeram
It has always been my dream to drive down to Malshej Ghat in the thick of monsoons and lose myself in its blankets of misty greenery and waterfall-streaked mountains. I got my chance during one July weekend when the rains had subsided to a gentle, occasional shower. We embarked in a little blue Wagon R VXI, powered by a neat set of CEAT Tyres post breakfast. The sky was mottled grey and the moist, cool breeze encouraged us to keep the windows down. Soon, we’d left behind the dusty environs of Mumbai and Thane and were carousing along the NH48 highway.
The route from Thane to Malshej Ghat takes around three hours – an ideal weekend drive. An hour into our road trip, we began thirsting for the inimitable sweetness of some tapri chai. We knew that once we passed Kalyan, we wouldn’t have much luck with roadside dhabas and decided to stop at the next one we saw. A friendly lady rustled up two glasses of cutting chai and spicy vada pavs for us. We had these while watching the vehicles swoosh past on the highway. Life seemed good.
Music is perhaps my favourite part of a road trip and a combination of our mobile phone playlists and the FM stations kept us in holiday spirits. We also squabbled over inconsequential matters – because that keeps things interesting too, you know? I kept my fingers crossed that there wouldn’t be a torrential downpour but as we began nearing Malshej Ghat, the clouds seemed more and more determined to give us a delicious whiff of petrichor. A little while before we reached the actual hill-station, we stopped at a clearing that offered a particularly splendid view of the distant peaks.
Even as I clicked away to my heart’s content, I noticed a few vehicles go by at reckless speeds. True, this was a highway but safety always comes first and all it takes is one moment of rashness for a lifetime of regrets. Did you know that India accounts for about 10% of road accident fatalities worldwide (source)? This is partly due to the fact that India has the second largest road network in the world with over 3 million km of roads of which 60% are paved (source). The latest statistics reveal that there are 400 road deaths everyday in India (source). All this means that we have to be cautious about following road safety rules like:
We hopped back into the car with renewed enthusiasm and allowed the CEAT tyres to work their magic. Just a short distance before the entry to Malshej Ghat, we noticed that several vehicles were on their way back although it was only mid-morning. How could so many revellers finish their visit so soon? Perhaps they were returning after a stay over the previous day, I reasoned. And then we spotted the barricades. This didn’t look good. “There’s been a landslide. You can’t go any further,” a traffic policeman tapped on our window and told us. My heart plummeted with a deep thud. What were we to do now?
We noticed that most of the returning vehicles had parked beside what seemed to be a rivulet and decided to see what the fuss was about for ourselves. Besides, it was lunch time by now and my stomach was rumbling. A couple of vendors were busy serving steaming hot Maggi, anda pav and other quick snacks with the indispensable chai. It was raining quite hard now but once it grew a bit weaker, we threw caution to the winds and clambered down the muddy path to a full and gurgling rivulet surrounded by serene woods. Travellers found different rocks and corners to park themselves in and allow the water to cascade over them. A herd of cattle stood silently on the banks and villagers went about their business in the distance. This was a treasure I had never expected to find and it almost made up for not being able to visit Malshej Ghat.
We spent at least an hour splashing in the water and exploring the surrounding countryside. When we got back to the comfort of our car, I felt replenished with the soul-stirring power of untouched nature. May the Earth ever be blessed with such lush wilderness.