The long drive towards Bhandardara, past the breathtaking hills and steep valleys of the Sahyadris, is incomplete without a steady flow of musical numbers playing in the car. And I don’t mean any music – it has to be a special kind. To those of you who are familiar with the contemporary Bollywood music scene, the name Amit Trivedi might ring a bell.

It was quite by accident that I discovered how beautifully his compositions lend themselves to road trips around Maharashtra. The soothing chords were a consummate backdrop to picture-perfect lakes encircled by cloud-kissed hilltops, with numerous goats ascending the sheer bluffs with alarming alacrity and precision.

The magnificent drive towards 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 the little-known town via Ghoti (there are ample signposts along the way but a GPS is handy), all traces of civilization vanish slowly in front of your very eyes. What lies ahead of you is this scenic endless road, which promises to lead you to your intended destination.

Lined with thick, ancient trees on either side, the road meanders past the wondrous Maharashtrian countryside, with the Western Ghats as 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 slowly but surely reach Bhandardara, a forgotten, rustic town, that makes a perfect getaway from monotonous city life. There are no five-star comforts here, no fine dining. What you get instead is a healthy dose of clean air, greenery and awe-inspiring natural beauty.

THINGS TO SEE AND 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 some angling.

Courtesy MTDC
The secluded and serene Bhandardara Lake
The secluded and serene Bhandardara Lake

There are jeeps available at the village square in Shendi, just 3 km away, to take you on a tour of the predetermined 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.

The last option is cheap and 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. They are the best choice if you have a car and driver at your disposal. Their knowledge of the area is extensive.

Bhandardara Lake

Also called Lake Arthur Hill, this vast body of water was created when the Wilson Dam was built across the Pravara river, which has its own legend. It is said that Sri Agasti Rishi meditated in this region for about a year, surviving only on air and water. Pleased with his devotion, god granted him a boon in the form of a stream of the sacred Ganges, thus creating River Pravara.

The gigantic Wilson Dam, built by the British between 1910–1926, 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 monsoons, when the water levels increase, the overflow gates are opened, creating two huge 60-to-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.

Randha Falls

Drive 10 km down river, taking in the wonderful scenery and weather, 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 and photo-op.

A footpath (steep in places) leads down to the pools below. Be careful as the currents in the pools tend to be strong.

Angling

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 Bird-watching

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 AND EAT

MTDC Holiday Resort (Tel: 02424-257032; Tariff: ₹1,350–5,100) and Anandvan Resort (Tel: 257320, Cell: 09920311221; Tariff: ₹5,000–60,000) are by the lake. Yash Resort (Cell: 07738772775; Tariff: ₹5,400–12,300) has all the amenities of a city while providing rural experiences.

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 but should be ordered in advance or you can expect a long wait while it is prepared for you. 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 that you will find being sold everywhere.

The freshly caught fish that they cook up is an interesting item on MTDC’s Yashanjali Restaurant’s Indian, Chinese, Gujarati and Punjabi menu. Some of the newer hotels also have restaurants where you can get fresh food.

Legends of the Willful and the Wild

At 5,400 ft, Mt Kalsubai is the highest peak in Maharashtra as well as in all of the Western Ghats. According to local legend, Kalsubai was a tormented daughter-in-law, who ran away to the top of this hill and disappeared, in order to escape harassment from her husband’s family. The local people have named the hill after her and built a temple in her memory on the summit. The hill, which served as a watchtower in Maratha times, is the ultimate challenge for trekkers today. Bari village (12 km from Bhandardara) is the starting point. No supplies are available here, so it is advisable to carry everything you need.

Just behind the bus stop on the road, a path leads into the village. From here, a trail climbs up the hill and emerges half-an-hour later, on a flat stretch. A temple is located here, but do not be fooled into thinking you have reached the top of the mountain. Some interesting stone pillars and Nandi bulls are scattered in the temple courtyard. The trees around the temple make this an ideal oasis to take a break before continuing the climb up. From here, the trail gets steeper and iron ladders have been installed at three points to assist climbers. After many false summits, you will come to the welcome sight of a small well. Its chilled water will make even the most fastidious hiker throw caution to the winds and take a long drink. Kalsubai’s summit is clearly visible from this point, and appears to be a huge boulder. The easy route to the top is via the long iron ladder that stares you in the face. For the more adventurous, there is an iron chain on the left that leads to the top. The small temple to Kalsubai greets you at the summit. The vistas from the top – of the shimmering expanse of Bhandardara Lake surrounded by the peaks and valleys of the Sahyadris – make the tough climb seem worthwhile. For many, the descent is often tougher than the ascent.

André Morris

FAST FACTS

When to go The best time to visit is September to February, just after the monsoons. The monsoon is also very green but you won’t be able to do very much. March, April and May can be very hot and dry

Tourist Offices

MTDC
Shendi, Bhandardara
Tel: 02424-257032

MTDC Mumbai
Tel: 022-22044040
W maharashtratourism.gov.in
STD code 02424

GETTING THERE

Region Khandesh & Nashik

Location This hill station sits by the banks of the Pravara river but boasts its proximity to the highest peak in the Sahyadris, Mt Kalsubai (5,400 ft)

Distance 73 km S of Nashik

Route from Nashik NH3 to Ghoti via Bhiwandi, Kasara Ghat and Igatpuri; SH to Bhandardara via Bari and Varangushi

Air Nearest airport: Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport at Mumbai (180 km/ 4 hrs). Taxi to Bhandardara costs ₹4,000–5,000.

Rail Nearest railhead: Igatpuri (40 km/1.5 hrs). Jeep or taxi to Bhandardara is ₹1,800, auto costs ₹900 approx. Or, catch a ST Bus (₹50) from Igatpuri

Road Take the Mumbai-Nashik Road (NH3) to Ghoti past Igatpuri. Just beyond the bus station, take a right. As the road forks, take the right to Bari village. Again take the right at the next fork (at Varangushi) to Shendi and Bhandardara.

Bus Take any bus heading for Igatpuri from the Dadar bus stand; Take ST bus, taxi or auto to Bhandardara

TIP No petrol stations in Bhandardara. The nearest one is in Rajur (25 km) or Ghoti (35 km), so tank up in Igatpuri