I(Tania) remember gawking at the giant full-page newspaper advertisements of Lavasa city, a boutique city near Pune. I was a mere child in high school then. My father expressed interest in buying an apartment there but we were way poorer to afford anything so luxurious. Fast-forward a decade (almost) and I was standing on the soil of Lavasa.
No, we didn’t get rich or anything. Unfortunately my life is no movie. I just happened to migrate to Mumbai and Lavasa is doable from the city.
I never imagined I will say this but after visiting Lavasa, for the first time in life, I thanked the almighty for my comparative poverty. Because investing in a property there would have been a big loss. The Lavasa project got into trouble for charges like breach of environmental laws, coercing villagers to flee from their own land and bribery.
The uncertain bus – Will it arrive or not?
We don’t have a car. Our parents never had a car either and, as a result, neither of us can drive. Sure, the husband has a valid driving licence but driving school in 2009 was the first and last time he drove a car. That rules out renting a car.
We reached Lavasa at 2.30 PM after a daunting bus ride of two and a half hour from Swargate bus station of Pune. Daunting because while waiting for the bus we were not sure if the bus will arrive at all; three different MRSTC staff told us three different timings. The bus station was extremely dirty with female ‘religious beggars’ who forcefully grab you and put vermillion and tika over your forehead, and when you refuse to pay they hurl curses at you. They get away with it just because they are female. And religious. I had an urge to beat up one of them as nothing justifies unsolicited grabbing and blackmailing, not even religion.
Lavasa’s connection with Portofino of Italy
Portofino is a harbour town in the adorable country of Italy. The town is frequented by tourists for its quirky look which comprises of colourful buildings. The main occupation in the Italian town is fishing.
Lavasa from its inception was developed to imitate Portofino. The architectural style of the buildings, the promenade and the entire town plan including the nomenclature of streets and buildings has the touch of Portofino.
Evening by the promenade, where all the fun takes place in Lavasa
The sun was setting behind the hills, lighting up the sky and the lake in an amber hue. We were on the Lavasa bridge. The 360 degree view from the bridge was breathtaking at that moment; sunset on one side, and the colourful buildings along the promenade on the other side.
The Portofino styled buildings tinged in yellow and red rising up from the cobbled stoned lakeside showed signs of decay. Ofcourse it’s unique and we loved the European touch but the glitz and glamour put up by the paparazzi a decade ago was missing.
Though monsoon was over, the lake had not dried up. To be honest, we are not sure from which point ‘Lake Lavasa’ starts and the ‘river Mutha’ ends.
When the Sun dipped beyond the hills, we started walking towards the other side of the lake, the unpopular side. Abandoned, unfinished construction sites lined the streets. The wavy road here doesn’t see much commute. A fire engine took turn, a rail-less train packed with kids and parents was out on a joyride, sometimes a motorcycle honked.
We couldn’t stop ourselves from admiring the full moon in the sky. Lavasa city with its colourful buildings, decorative lights and clear lake promenade looked surreal under the full moon night.
It was a bummer to know that bicycles for whole day rent is not available in the city. There are, however, both ordinary and tandem bicycles on rent for 20 minutes at INR 100 and INR 200 respectively at the promenade by the Lavasa Community Hall, and scattered around various other parts of the town.
My (Tania) bicycle riding history is not cool. I have numerous experiences of falling in drains and ponds while riding bicycles. But, that doesn’t make me hate riding it. In 2012, I rode for the last time. Forget tandem bicycles, we got an ordinary bicycle in order to bring back my lost confidence with bicycles.
“Don’t be scared, you won’t fall. And even if you do, it doesn’t matter,” said Sayan.
“There are people here. Even kids can handle a bicycle, they would all laugh at me,” I snapped back.
“Let them, why do you care?” The husband preached.
My inspiration source has spoken, how can I let him down? So, I rolled the paddle, and surprisingly, I was back to my younger years. I did not fall down once.
We crossed the fancy foot-bridge and reached the cobbled-stoned lakeside walk from where the colourful Portofino styled buildings rise. This is the heart of Lavasa and thronged by tourists. Evening is the busiest time of the day, the rest of the day doesn’t see much footfall. Apart from a very few stationery and grocery shops, everything else is a restaurant. There are ample seats by the lakeside where one can sit and enjoy some nice time. Most of the restaurants had also put up outdoor seating to give that European feel.
We were wondering what to eat when our eyes fell on a momo seller. It was not a restaurant, but a street-side stall. Beside the momo stall was another selling spiral potato chips. We settled for the momos and frankly speaking it was not worth it.
The moonlit night walk and the stranger who offered a motorcycle ride
We have a gut feeling that the cottage owner took us for an unmarried broke couple who had come to spend some intimate time in Lavasa. From him we had asked for a car which can pick us up from the lakeside. He suggested we take rickshaw.
At 8 PM when we started our return journey to the cottage, we realised we are too late to get anything. The crowd at the restaurant side of the promenade had already thinned, the ‘no-shops’ side of the promenade was in deep slumber. At that moment we realised what this city lacks – locals.
The fancy buildings which make Lavasa city instagrammable is probably inhabited by just a few.
We took a random flight of stairs to leave the lakeside and reach the Portofino Street. It was the wrong staircase and we came back to our starting point. Eventually we figured out the right way.
Our cottage was around 1.2 kilometres away from the city centre and 300 metres away from Children’s Park bus stop. That 300 metres path has woods on one side and a slope on the other side which ends at the shore of the Mutha river. Once in a while, a villager passed on motorcycle. There is only a single house in this stretch.
When we reached Children’s Park bus stop, the road ahead, 300 metres, was pitch dark. The traffic personnel standing at the junction shone his torch and reassured us that streetlights are present along this stretch, but in a scattered way.
Having no choice, we started walking. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness, the outline of the hills became visible in the moonlight. Occasionally there were reflections in the water of the lake. A person on a motorbike came and stopped us on the way.
“Where are you heading?” he enquired.
“To our cottage,” we replied.
“Sit, I will give you two a lift.”
He insisted for a while but we denied his offer.
I(Tania) couldn’t stress how happy I was to reach the cottage safely. I wasn’t just worried I may get raped and kidnapped, but also, we had seen a weird creature roaming in this stretch in the afternoon. So the chances of being attacked by a wild animal or just a wild dog loomed large on my head.
Early hours of the day in Lavasa is deader than you can imagine
The city looked deader in the morning than it did last night. We ditched breakfast by the serene lakeside in our cosy cottage and walked till the promenade like fools. We roamed around from 8.30 – 10 AM yet none of the eateries opened.
Some of them had casually hung the ‘open’ signboard on their doorway. We thought they were serious. We walked in, knocked at the restaurant’s kitchen door, waved at the CCTV camera but no human came to fetch our order!
The handful of people in the promenade was all young tourist folks like us. Some strummed their guitar strings; some moved around with dogs, others took pictures.
Hitchhiking or so
“The next bus from Lavasa to Pune should arrive at 2 PM. But, there is no guarantee. It may arrive at 3 or 4 PM. And sometimes, it doesn’t arrive at all, ”said our cottage owner.
In the next 10 minutes, I and husband were on a local’s bike, being given a lift. The cottage owner had asked him to drop us off to Lavasa Town Hall from where SOMETIMES shuttle cars ply to Pune.
No shuttle ever arrived.
So we ate, wandered aimlessly, rode the bicycles again and got back to the bus stand at 1 PM. There was no sign of a bus whatsoever. We were tensed and almost ready to ask for a lift when the bus finally arrived at 2.45 PM.
It doesn’t matter how much we plan to have a relaxed holiday, we always end up having some adventures!
How to reach Lavasa
Lavasa is about 57 kilometres from Pune. Dasve is the main village where the township and lake promenade developed. Mugaon is supposed to be the other village of Lavasa, but we are not sure if it is developed at all.
Private Vehicle : The Pune to Lavasa road condition is good but it has numerous curves and steep slopes. One can drive or ride a motorbike to reach Lavasa from Pune city.
Bus: Buses from Swargate MSRTC bus stand in Pune leave for Lavasa twice a day. One leaves at 7 AM (not sure of this), the other at 12 noon. We took the 12 noon bus. The ticket price is INR 70. It takes about two and a half hours to complete the journey. The buses are never used by tourists and almost always by villagers living on the Pune-Lavasa route.
The first Lavasa to Pune bus leaves from Lavasa at around 9-9.30 AM and the second one at around 2-3 PM. We took the 2PM bus which actually arrived at 2.45 PM at Lavasa Children’s Park bus stand.
The buses are very unreliable, unpunctual and often they cancel trips.
Shuttle : In Swargate some shady men were whispering “Lavasa Lavasa” around the Lavasa bus stand. We never entertained them but I believe they operate some shuttle service. Also the resort owner informed us shuttle services ply from near Lavasa Town Hall to Chandni Chowk of Pune. But again, those are infrequent and it’s just a matter of luck if you chance upon them.
Where to eat and what to eat
The lakeside promenade has many eateries. All sorts of Indian, American, Lebanese dishes are amply available. We also saw restaurants serving seafood. It’s a disappointment that a town which developed imitating an Italian town lacks restaurants serving proper Italian and European food. Sure, there are pizza corners but Italian food is so much more than pizza.
The lakeside restaurants are costly and most of them are not operational till 11 AM in the morning. So it is better to have breakfast at the place you are staying.
The Lavasa Town Hall part of the city is cheaper compared to the promenade. If your budget is low you can consider having a meal in the eateries there.
Where to stay
There are many decent stay options along the lakeside. Accommodations are expensive in Lavasa and it is advisable to book in advance.
What to do
- Lavasa is a very small town, just walk around the city on foot or sit on the lakefront benches and relax.
- Normal bicycles and tandem bicycles can be rented. The charges are INR 100 for normal bicycle and INR 200 for tandem bicycle for 20 minutes. The promenade in front of Lavasa Community Hall and Lavasa Children’s Park are two of the places where we saw bicycle rentals.
- Adventure activities like zip-lining, archery, ATV riding are also available. They will cost you something between INR 100 – 500. One adventure activity point we know of is about 1.3 Kilometres from the city centre and 300 metres from Children’s park, in a quiet and picturesque locale.
- Speed boats, row boats and kayaking can be enjoyed on the lake.
Walking is the best way. Though extremely rare but tuktuks also ply within the town.
Have you been to Lavasa? Does the concept of Italy in India intrigue you? Comment below and let’s get talking!
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