The long drive towards Bhandardara, past the breathtaking hills and steep valleys of the Sahyadris, is absolutely enchanting. The journey to the sleepy town of Bhandardara is a perfect precursor to the destination itself. Once you get off the highway and turn right on the road that leads to this little-known town via Ghoti (there are ample signposts along the way, but keep a map handy), all traces of civilization slowly vanish. What lies ahead of you is a scenic road that seems endless. Lined with thick, ancient trees on either side, the road meanders past the wondrous Maharashtrian countryside, while the Western Ghats are your constant companion. And just when you are beginning to wonder if you missed a turn somewhere, the ascent uphill begins. Continue onward and you’ll reach Bhandardara, a forgotten, rustic town, that is the perfect getaway from monotonous city life. There are no five-star comforts and fine dining here. What you get instead is a healthy dose of clean, crisp air, greenery and awe-inspiring natural beauty.
Things to See & Do
Bhandardara is suitable for all kinds of tourists. If you are an adventure lover there are ample walks to take, sights to explore and peaks to scale. However, for the laid-back visitor, there is the option of cozying up in a chair with a book, or taking a leisurely walk by the lake. You can also bring your line and tackle along and find a suitable spot for angling.
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There are jeeps available at the village square in Shendi to take you on a tour of some points of interest around Bhandardara, but this often ends up being just a long drive that is not worth the money. Instead, set your own itinerary and take the hired jeep only to places of your choice, or just hop on and off the many jeeps that ferry locals from one village to another. This way, you get a taste of how the residents commute. In addition, there are local guides that usually hang around the MTDC resort, who are willing to show you around for a nominal fee. Their knowledge of the area is extensive.
Also called Lake Arthur Hill, this vast body of water was created when the Wilson Dam was built across the Pravara River by the British between 1910—26. The dam is one of the country’s oldest and stands at a height of 492 ft. It was constructed to provide irrigation to the region. During the monsoon, when the water levels increase, the overflow gates are opened, creating two huge 60—80 ft cascades of water that gush down to the rocks below. Several water channels unite to form one enormous waterfall here, which is commonly called the Umbrella Falls, because it creates an illusion of a huge canopy of water. A picnic area at the foot of the dam is the best place to admire the falls.
Drive 10 km down river to arrive at the roaring Randha Falls. The Pravara River plunges 170 ft down into a gorge, creating a breathtaking sight. The waterfall is the third largest in India. A look-out point just above the falls provides a great view. A footpath (steep in places) leads down to the pools below. Be careful as the currents in the pools tend to be strong.
The lake here offers great opportunities for anglers. With just the right combination of patience and luck, you may secure yourself a good catch. Boats are not allowed on the lake, so casting a line or spoon fishing is the way to go. The pools at the bottom of the two falls are also great fishing spots.
Walking and Birdwatching
The best way to explore Bhandardara’s awe-inspiring beauty is to take walks along the shores of the lake. After the first monsoon showers, with the valley shrouded in a green veil and the lake overflowing with water, the views are simply spectacular. Nature lovers may even spot waders during these perambulations.
Where to Stay & Eat
MTDC Holiday Resort (Online Booking: 1800229930; Tariff: Rs 1,200—4,800; TE) and Anandvan Resort (Cell: 07400050216, 08452080777; Tariff: Rs 12,000-70,000 + meals) are by the lake. Cotton Forest Resort (Cell: 08452080777; Tariff: On request ), in Shendi, has all the amenities one needs.
There are very few options for eating out in Bhandardara. The local staple of varan bhat (dal-rice) is easily available, but can be spicy. Some tandoori and non-vegetarian food is available. Freshwater fish and, if you are lucky, shrimp is sometimes on the menu. Regular Maharashtrian fare of usal pav, misal pav and vada pav are easily available here. The area is also famous for a sweet peda. MTDC’s Pravara Restaurant has a good Chinese, Gujarati and Punjabi menu. Some of the newer hotels also have restaurants where you can get fresh food.
This village is home to the Amruteshwar Temple — an ancient stone structure. The temple dates back to the 11th century, and houses a Shivalinga that is believed to be swayambhu (naturally formed). Nearby, a few steps lead down to the Vishnu Teerth tank.
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The bigger attraction of Ratanwadi for many, though, is the trek up to the immense 400-year-old Ratangad Fort which sits astride the hill overlooking Ratanwadi and Bhandardara Lake. As you go higher, the famous Khutta Pinnacle on the twin-peaked hill of Ratangad will come into view. When you reach the fort, you’ll be glad you took the trouble. The view of the plains of the Konkan from here is unmatched, and you can get some aesthetic shots of Mt Kalsubai and the lake in the foreground.
Explore the three doorways to Ratangad — the Ganesh, Tryambak and Hanuman darwazas, the small temple of Ratandevi and the Ranicha Huda, or Queen’s Palace, near the Hanuman Darwaza.
The path also leads to some caves on the hillside. Venture inside only if you are travelling in a group and have flashlights.
The trek up to the Ratangad Fort is moderately tough and should not be attempted alone by first time climbers.