Fresh and rested, continue south for about 270km to Mahabaleshwar, a small cluster of hill-station towns. Don’t expect to get there quickly however, as the average height of the plateau on which Mahabaleshwar is located 1,372m above sea level- so it’s uphill all the way. Once there, you will be able to relax by the side of Venna Lake, which can be explored further by both horse and boat. The 12th century temple to Mahadev (from which the town takes its name) in Old Mahabaleshwar, which houses the source of the river. Bizzarely, Mahabaleshwar is also home to the world’s largest cactus..
Accommodation which takes advantage of the stunning setting is essential; Brightland Resort and Spa boasts splendid rooms with views of the Krishna Valley, and is located 4km away from the hustle and bustle of the town. While staying in this lush highland, indulge in strawberries or mulberries with cream, a seasonal local delicacy available in January.
Mahabaleshwar is famous for it’s point-views, dotted on the hillsides all around the town. A well earned visual treat would be waiting at the top for an intrepid traveller who decides to rise early and walk up to Wilson Point or Kate’s Point for sunrise..
Blessed with a short 180km journey and (hopefully) a pre-sunrise wakeup, we expect you’ll arrive at your next destination, Kolhapur, with most of the afternoon ahead of you. Lunch is at your disposal, although we recommend trying some of the local cuisine, especially a good feiry kolhapuri misal and the unique ghati mutton.
After you have eaten, take a trip to the Mahalaxmi Temple, built in the ‘Hemandpanthi’ style with brilliantly adorned walls. The pièce de résistance is a wonderful idol of Mahalaxmi, embedded with precious stones and diamonds. The Maharaja’s Palace should also not be missed. Designed by the renowned British architect Charles Mant, and constructed in 1881, the building now contains the famous Shahaji Chhatrapati museum, full of the Maharaja’s possessions and pictures.
In the late afternoon/early evening, explore around the Rankala Lake, near which is located a temple with a mammoth structure of Nandi, the bull on which Lord Shiva rides. If you missed the chance to see the lake at Mahabaleshwar by boat or horseback, you can capitalise on the opportunity here. Retire to the expansive lakeside Shalini Palace Hotel nearby, and pretend to be a Maharaja or Maharani for the night.
Next stop: one of the most famous holiday destinations in India- Goa, a civilised distance of 230km from Kolhapur. Luxurious accommodation is in no short supply here, but with only one night in this world-famous ex-Portuguese state, we’ve hand-picked something particularly intimate and special. 20 minutes drive north of Goa’s capital, Panjim, lies Nilaya Hermitage – a totally unforgettable little boutique hotel with ten spacious rooms, each sporting a distinct look, and an overarching style which is romantic, sexy and stylish.
Impressive three and four course dinners are served in Nilaya, but if you make it in time for lunch, step out onto Calangute beach just outside the hermitage and try Chef Soumyen. Each and every item is prepared fresh, and Chef Soumyen personally comes to each table to ensure that he serves exactly what you desire, just the way you like it. Try the Blue Cheese Soufflé.
The obvious afternoon plan is to relax on one of Goa’s gorgeous beaches, and who could blame you? If, however, you wish to take in some of the personality of the most distinctive state in India, go on a guided spice expedition, and immerse yourself in the powerful aromas of turmeric, cloves, and vanilla beans. Alternatively, as you arrive on a market-day (Wednesday) you could take the opportunity to do some shopping. For the more adventurous, the opportunity for paragliding or kitesurfing is available on Anjuna and Arambol beaches. A surge of nocturnal energy infuses North Goa when darkness falls, and is one of the excellent nightlife is one of the things Goa is best known for. Situated on the cliffs overlooking Vagator Beach is a venue called 9 Bar which boasts some of Goa’s best DJs and dance crowd. The action get into full-swing around 10pm, and we expect that you’ll be dancing all night!
As you may well be a little worse for wear on this morning (see above), we’ve scheduled in a comparatively short journey of only 160km down the west coast to the small town of Gokarna. You’ll be staying at Swaswara, winner of Best Indian Holistic Health Resort (CNBC Awaaz Travel Awards, 2011) and the perfect place to pamper your sore heads.
Everything you might want is located on site, from a private beach on which you can have yoga lessons, to Ayurvedic massages, to meals lovingly constructed with vegetables from Swaswara’s own farm and the freshest seafood – both healthy and delicious!
Stay tuned for the final instalment – coming soon!