There is nothing like driving out of the city hustle and bustle even if it is for a weekend. Driving from Mumbai to Lonavla is a fun journey through the Eastern Expressway. You can easily hit 160 km/hr on the smooth and well made road. It almost gets surreal as you see the scenery whoosh past in seconds! There are trains and buses that take you to Lonavla - which are also convenient and not very expensive. Around 96 kms from Mumbai, Lonavla is a hill station that can be reached in 2 hours flat.
To me, places like Lonavla and Khandala are ideal weekend getaways for many reasons. One they are at a drive-down distance and can do without booking train/bus tickets. You just need to dump stuff in your car and get going! Once there, it's a pretty laid back, predominantly a touristy place and doesn't rquire much planning to look around. You can use your own car to explore the place than having to call a localite to drive you around. The best thing is the quiet at such places. You don't have horns honking and automobiles blaring on the streets outside. And that's exactly what we, denizens of metro cities, crave for!
As with all elevated places, the 'points' from where you can view the valley below are famous. Lonavla has its fair share - Rajmachi point, Lion's point and a few more places that have mushroomed with food stalls and camel rides as tourist attractions. The higher the point, the more misty it gets. And honestly, you look down one of those points and its good enough. The verdant greenery and hilly terrain is a welcome sight to the weary eyes tired of watching the urban jungle day in and day out.
Lonavle mein chikki khayenge, waterfall pe jaayenge - who can forget the lyrics of the famous song. And truthfully so, the experience of Lonavla is incomplete without chikkis in mouth-watering flavours and colours. With Maganlal Chikkis dominating the marketplace, savour groundnut chikkis (my personal fav!) to the calorie rich dry fruit chikkis (my husband's fav!) or chikkis of til, coconut and ground groundnut - made in sugar or jaggery. The soft roles in different flavours of anjeer, mango, dates, pan simply melt in your mouth. Not to mention jelly sweets that are just as irresistible. Once you go chikki shopping in Lonavla, which you must, throw your diet chart out of the your mind and just indulge!!!
Fudge in different flavours is another delectable offering of this hill station. Available in flavours like chocolate, mango and strawberry, you need to develop a taste for them, which i didn't. You get to taste them before you decide to buy them, so you can be sure before to take your pick.
What really becomes memorable through your Lonavala experience is the drive to Aamby Valley City. I had never even heard of it and was helpfully informed by my husband that it is a self-sufficient luxury metropolis built for those who can afford a piece of land in that heavenly sprawl of 10000 acres. You get an idea of the exclusivity of the City through your drive that is breathtaking. It's about 25 kms from Lonavla, nestled among the Sahyadri range amidst verdant greenery and fresh air. The drive through well made and maintained mountainous roads and thick, lush vegetation is a feast for the eyes. As you go higher, mist covers the mountain tops as if leading you to the heavens above. Cruise along at 40 km/hr and thoroughly enjoy the Nature around you and breathe fresh air for a change!
Ironically, it's not the tour of the City itself but the drive from Lonavla to the City that's etches itself in your memory. You need special permission even to step into the gates of the city. You meet with tight security and interrogation at the gate but no permission to enter. No wonder we found tourists happily getting themselves photographed sitting next to the ornate name plate "Aamby Valley City" as a proof of being there to flaunt it to friends.
A little research back home gave me a virtual peek into the city. It not just has villas of different sizes but also a Golf Club, Fitness and Convention centers, Swimming polls, gardens, an airstrip 128 kms long and open spaces with verdant greenery all over. It's worth taking a look and enjoy viewing the pleasures of luxury living....you might own some of it someday!
Though the trip was really short, it did serve as a refreshing break. And now i have to raid the kitchen and bite into one of those delicious chikkis!!!
[Photos of the trip will have to wait till i find my lost card reader or buy a new one :( ]