So it started off excitingly, as I was struggling to make it to Belapur from a crowded, busless, trainless Thane to be in time to catch the Picnic Bus. The last phase consisted of breathless running to catch the bus, filled with teachers all agog whom I had held up for over an hour. But true to their nature, no one expressed any irritation or anger; instead I was given a vada pao, knowing I hadn't had any breakfast!
All agog and raring to go!
So we set off, on our way to Ozar and Lenyadri and malshej Ghat, overflowing with excitement and anticipation. And there is the mandatory antakshari, accompanied by dafli and loud singing!
Everyone sing aloud!
We drove along the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, amidst the cool breeze and the greenery of the mountains till we reached Khalapur, were we took a much-needed chai and Bournville break.
First group photo.
And then our bus started its long climb up the scenic Sahyadri, drenched green by the Monsoon's blessings. After that it was a time to take a short snooze (and a break to pet a doggie) till we reached our first destination, Ozar.
Sahyadri mountains at Khandala Ghat.
At Ozar, I had a bunch of interesting experiences from behind the camera. There was the placid lake, the ancient temple with modern extensions, the busy bazaar and the hundreds of pilgrims. There was the experience with nearly losing my shoes, and as a prayer, I bought a very cute little Ganpati.
Mischievous smiles while waiting for darshan.
Ozar lake is a beautiful place, opening your mind to the far horizons. The soothing morning breeze and the calm of the place, as against the noise within the temple was a welcome relief.
And then we went on our way towards Lenyadri - the Ganpati temple that's actually inside an ancient Buddhist hillside cave. At first I was discouraged by the day's heat and the steep climb up, but seeing the enthusiasm of the others, happily joined in.
All agog for a steep climb!
And so we go up, up up, meeting monkeys and palanquin-bearers and pilgrims from many states and butterflies and lots of experiences, till we reach right at the top.
Group photo outside the temple.
And then for a quick descent and some cooling limbu-paani at the base of the steps. What joy! Then we went off our little ways, sampling things at the little bazaar. And then it was an experience getting back all stragglers into the bus so we could move on to our next destination: lunch! It was a plentiful if not delicious meal, so we have to be thankful for it.
And then came the long road trip over narrow mountain roads to Malshej Ghat. Once we reached the place, the attitude changed from one of shared pilgrimage to uninhibited picnic mood. There were two waterfalls at one spot - we stopped the bus and plunged headlong into the waters!
Soaking up the fun!
After several hours of fun, while I was busy photographing the mountains and the monkeys, we settled down to change and have some hot bhuttas. Finally, though no one wanted it, it was time to start the long journey back home. After driving out of the mountains, we stopped for a chai break at a dhaba just before Murbad.
Hot tea and happiness.
And then after a final group photo, it was time to say goodbye to a happy day. In the long trip back home, some were snoozing (like me), while some were busy listening to bawdy music as night descended upon us. The picnic was done, the memories will linger.
View all pictures on my Facebook album.
And some more pictures of Ozar, Lenyadri and Malshej.