Mumbai has two temperatures; hot and hotter. Especially during the summer months, the city can be nearly unbearable. The traffic, the incessant push of humanity, and the raw poverty that fill the muddy, trash-ridden streets is enough to make the exhausted traveler search for the first plane back to sanity.
That was me just a few months ago. I stood in my uncle’s apartment looking at the stifling streets below with apprehension. After three days of being followed around by children in torn clothing constantly poking at my bag and hands, I was not eager to venture out of the apartment. It was monsoon season and the sky was dark with coming rain; akin to the grouchy mood I was in.
Fortunately, I was not the only one sick of the urban setting. My relatives, residents of the city for five years, were itching to get away to their favorite weekend hideout, a “hill station” called Lonavala. To the very Americanized me, the term hill station brought images of a train station perched atop a hill. The term actually comes from the time of the British Raj, when the English would attempt to escape the summer heat in little towns within the hills. Much like our British predecessors, we were desperate to escape the heat; we piled into the family car and drove less than an hour to the hidden gem that is Lonavala.
Where monsoons in the city were waterlogged, gray, and depressing, the rain seemed to make the lush vegetation glow with health in the hills. Other visitors stopped their cars along the way simply to step out of their vehicles and bask in the cooling shower. On the side of the highway, where locals were roasting corn for snacks, monkeys stalked the cars for cast-offs. With the rolling hills as a backdrop, the monkeys played out entire soap operas as we watched. They fought over scraps, comforted family members, and stole anything that was not tied down (I will miss my hat).
Being a true foodie, my first thought after admiring the scenery and characters involved the nearest place to eat. A few minutes of driving found us in Sonny’s Dhaba, an open air restaurant right off the highway. Traveling to a country like India, I was warned frequently to avoid any food that was not cooked in a “proper restaurant”. Maybe it was reckless, I prefer to think it was adventurous, but I ordered my favorite dish from the dhaba, palak paneer, a spiced cheese & spinach dish. A big fan of this dish within the states, I consider myself quite a connoisseur. I was expecting mediocre quality when I ordered because the dhaba’s shabby walls did not bode well for the food, but I was proven wrong. Hot, spicy, and perfectly cooked, the meal made me promise the waiters that I would be back. To this day, I dream about that dish and often wake up with the taste of it still on my tongue.
After the meal, we headed out for a drive. Curvy, mountainous roads made for the most relaxing moment of my entire vacation. The stress of the city, the depression after seeing the stark poverty of the people, and the general stickiness that was Mumbai after rain faded away on those roads. If you ever find yourself in the city, jump on a train or rent a car and head to this beautiful jewel of a getaway. To see Lonavala is to see India untouched by humanity; a place where nature shines and human struggles seem to dissipate.
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