Huge cobbled steps lined with trees, a wooden bridge arching over a pond, a wishing well on a grassy patch—is this what the stairway to heaven looked like? Yes. Anandvan Resort helped me reacquaint myself with Bhandardara or the valley of treasures, literally translated. The resort was quaint, yet lavish, with rustic exteriors but earthy and soulful interiors. The three-and-a-half-hour drive from Mumbai had taken us through rocky, winding roads. Greeted by windmills, I had spotted the ramparts of the Wilson dam and the shimmering Lake Arthur in the distance (pictured above).
Overwhelmed by the scenic surroundings, I gazed at the lake’s blue waters from the window of the Garden Cottage. With one air-conditioned bedroom, a living room and a private garden, this was my home for the next two days. The dark grey stone walls had not prepared me for the homey interiors. I was surrounded by colours which brightened up my mood. The resort also housed two- to four-bedroom luxurious villas. There were four Tree Top Nests, with balconies overlooking the treetops.
A quick refreshing wash and it was time for lunch at the multi-cuisine restaurant, The Oak. “The locals call this fish ‘chopra’,’’ said our host Mr Kaul, the resort’s general manger, pointing to the grilled fish on our plates. “Chopra as in ‘Prem Chopra wala Chopra’,” he gave us an amused smile. Chuckling, we began hogging a well-cooked lunch of cheese tokris, paneer tikkas, chicken handi and the grilled chopra. The meals at Anandvan, surprisingly (and fortunately), had a fiery, north Indian flavour to them, but felt light on the stomach. The vegetables were grown in their organic kitchen garden and the fish was fresh from the lake. In fact, everything at this 11-year-old property seemed to be in sync with nature.
“You can catch squirrels in the morning,” Bonny, the front office manager, enlightened us, as we went for a property tour later. “Squirrels?” I asked. “Yes, do it early in the morning,” he answered with a straight face, as we walked into the different villas and other areas.
Each of the six lake view cottages had Warli paintings in the rooms. The balcony of the villas opened out to a leafy paradise. The resort had a Lake View Grill which was the outdoor barbecue area, while Oak Lawns were the open-air banquet venue. The Edge was the conference venue. Club House was an indoor sports zone and the well-stocked bar was Wilson’s Den.
The whirlwind tour was tiring, but the ayurvedic massage at Ayurvan spa took care of that. I walked into a dimly lit room, which smelt of eucalyptus and burning camphor. Neelam and her husband Benjamin from Kerala managed the spa. Neelam’s strong and experienced hands worked their magic as she gave me a fullbody abhyangam massage.
I woke up to ample sunshine and went for a short trek on the hill behind the resort the next morning. I didn’t meet a single soul on my way, carving my path through the tall dry grass to get a spectacular view of the Sahyadris. The sky was a clear blue and the lake only a shade darker.
Bhandardara is the starting point for many adventurous treks. The trek to Ratangad fort built by Shivaji is a labyrinth of thick forest trails that curve along the Pravara river. Other day-long treks include one to Ajoba Hill and another to Sandhan Valley. The most popular trek is the one to Mt Kalsubai which, at 1,646m, is the highest peak inMaharashtra.
But the highlights region are the waterfalls. The cascading white waters below the Wilson dam come gushing upon the rocks and give the impression of an umbrella, and are thus named the Umbrella falls. The Randha Falls of the Pravara river fall ferociously from a height of 170m into a dizzying abyss.
The last supper at Anandvan was authentic Maharashtrian cuisine. Cooked by a few local ladies, it was a combination of the sweet and the spicy that we enjoyed. There was bharlei wangei, bhakri pithla, bhindi, desi chicken, and the sari-clad lady chef smiled as I delved into the delicious rabdi malpua, taking back sweet memories.
Location Ghatghar Road, Bhandardara, Shendi, Maharashtra; 170km from Mumbai.
Accommodation Lake View Bungalow, Standard Villa, Hill View Villa, Garden Cottage Suites, Tree Top Nests, Garden Studio, Superior room
Tariff From ₹10,000 per night including all meals, bonfire & barbecue once, activities such as boating, visit to organic kitchen garden, forest trek. 25% discount on spa treatments for resident guests.
Contact +91-9920311221; anandvanresorts.com