A little after we left the town of Paratwada behind, the road began to ascend. On one side, the hilly slopes were covered with trees and shrubs while on the other, they dropped down to deep inclines. Sometimes, down below we could see a lake or clusters of houses. But what surprised us was the sharp drop in temperature. We switched off the car’s air conditioner and opened the windows. A burst of crisp cool breeze greeted us along with chirping of unseen birds. Several hairpin bends later, we found the hilly slopes sometimes giving way to table lands.
While the plains of Vidarbha sweltered in heat, Chikhaldara greeted us with a balmy climate. No wonder, the British had decided to build these hills into a summer retreat after the place was discovered by one Captain Robinson of the Hyderabad Contingent Battery in 1823.
Although little remains of the colonial past, Chikhaldara, perched at a little over 3,600 feet, has now evolved into one of Maharashtra’s most scenic hill stations, about 230km by road from Nagpur. The ‘ghat’ road stretches for nearly 40km. Circled by hills, valleys and forests, Chikhaldara lies on top of a plateau and enjoys a bracing climate almost throughout the year. Owing to its climate, the region is also known for its orchards and coffee plantations.
It was a long drive indeed but the sight of our lodgings was a comfort to our tired mind and body. Tucked inside a lightly wooded countryside was the MTDC Holiday Resort. As guests of Directorate of Tourism, Maharashtra, we were accorded a traditional welcome and a refreshing drink. As our luggage was being taken to our rooms, we explored the area. Right behind the tourist lodge, we could see the towers of the upcoming Skywalk. According to media reports, the 407 metre long skywalk will connect the Hurricane Point with the Goreghat Point; when completed, it will be one of the longest in the world.
Like most hill stations in India, Chikhaldara too has many natural attractions and viewpoints. You may start your day with a visit to the Gavilgarh. Apparently, the original fort was a mud structure and got its name from the ‘gawli’ or cowherds who lived here. According to old records, the present fort was likely built by Ahmad Shah Wali, a ruler from the Bahmani dynasty of the Deccan, in 1425-26, when he was camping at Ellichpur. It was later a Maratha stronghold until it was captured by the British in 1803 during the Second Anglo Maratha War. Although most of the fort now lies in ruins, it offers a panoramic view of the hills and valleys surrounding Chikhaldara. Cars go up to the base of the fort.
Some of the popular viewpoints include Bhima Kund – which turns lush green during the monsoon with waterfalls dropping down the sheer rock walls, Mozari Point, Monkey Point, Echo Point, Hurricane Point, etc. The table top land at Devi Point has a fair-like atmosphere with food stalls, pony rides, Ferris wheel, etc. A flight of stairs leads to the cave temple below. The Amzari Forest Nursery and the Tribal Museum will acquaint you with the local flora and tribal life. After a spot of boating at the Shakkar Lake, you may end the day at Vairat Sunset Point. You may also explore some of the natural trails in the surrounding forest with guidance from the local people.
We were warned by the lodge’s staff against loitering in the open areas after dark because there were chances of wild animals roaming around. It was then that we learned that Chikhaldara shares a long border with the Melghat Tiger Reserve. So chances of a prowling leopard or a bear could not be ruled out. Visitors can pay a quick round of the forest by paying a visit to the Semadoh Lake, about an hour’s drive away. However, the premises of the MTDC lodge is safe and no accidents have been reported ever.
We chose to spend our evenings at the veranda adjoining the dining hall – which looked upon the valley below – in hearty conversations over beer and hot pakodas. In the distance, the lights of the villages twinkled like glow worms.
Information: Located in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region, Chikhaldara is about 100km by road from district headquarters Amravati. The nearest airport is Nagpur, about 230km away by road. Accommodation is limited; best to book in advance. Although Chikhaldara may be visited round the year, except during peak summer, winter is the best time. To enjoy the green hills and the waterfalls, you have to visit during the monsoon. For more information, see https://www.maharashtratourism.gov.in/.