Nashik boasts such a confluence of different realities that it has left the town with a slightly confused identity.

While the city takes pride in its ancient heritage, it also has all the aspirations of a modern metropolis. It is an urban town, albeit in a pastoral setting, where you are often reminded of an older, slower time right in the middle of a busy, bustling street.

Although Nashik does not quite have the feel of a traditional hill station, it is certainly up there on the Deccan Plateau, sitting snugly in a bowl formed by the high Sahyadri hills.

It is these multifarious identities that converge to make Nashik an irresistible holiday destination with something for everyone – from the devout ascetic to the flashy wine connoisseur. After all, this is the grape-wine capital of Maharashtra and also home to one of India’s 12 holy jyotirlingas. Be that as it may, it is the religious face of Nashik that lords over the city’s other avatars. Nashik is also one of four Indian cities that hosts the Kumbh Mela.

The pulsating energy in the narrow bazaars of the old city seems to revolve around the Panchavati-Ramkund area which is located along the banks of the Godavari River. It is believed that this is where the royals of Ayodhya – Rama, Sita and Lakshmana – lived during their years in exile. Modern Nashik is almost a mini-Mumbai, a haphazard shamble of high rises fringing both sides of the Mumbai-Agra Highway, while the heart of the old city couldn’t be more different – a congested beehive of activity, with narrow streets and ancient temples pulsing with energy and piety, through which flows a sacred Indian river.

Punit Paranjpe
The Trimbakeshwar Jyotirlinga Temple
The Trimbakeshwar Jyotirlinga Temple

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

The best way to cover Nashik’s pilgrim circuit is to start with the sites clustered around Panchavati, then go to Anjneri and the sacred Trimbakeshwar Jyotirlinga. When you’re done visiting holy destinations, head off to the wineries and other such entertainment.

Panchavati

This area gets its name from the panch (five) banyan vadis (trees) that grow by the Godavari. It is also believed that Panchavati was once part of the Dandakaranya Forest, the abode of the exiled trio from the Ramayana for a while, more precisely the site of the abduction of Sita by Ravana.

You’re sure to come across pilgrims taking a dip in the holy waters of the Godavari here, in the fervent belief that this would wash away all their past sins. If you wish to follow suit, make sure that it’s at a tirtha (a place considered sacred). Simply jumping in anywhere is not a guaranteed route to righteousness. These well-known points are dotted all along the banks and include the Golan, Runa-mochan, Koti and Chakra tirthas.

Ramkund

The name is derived from the belief that Lord Rama used to bathe in the sacred kund (a large pond), along the course of the Godavari in the Panchavati area. Rama is also said to have performed the funeral rites for his father, Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya, here before immersing the ashes in the kund. At the very end of Ramkund, the Godavari takes a perpendicular turn southwards. This point is considered sacred and pilgrims take a dip here during the Kumbh.

Tapovan

This site lies precisely at the sangam (confluence) of two streams of the Godavari on the western outskirts of Nashik. This is the site where Lakshmana is said to have cut off Ravana’s sister’s nose, in response to her advances.

Courtesy MTDC
The Pandav Leni Caves, carved around the 3rd century BCE
The Pandav Leni Caves, carved around the 3rd century BCE

Anjneri

The little village on the road to Trimbakeshwar (turn left onto a dirt road just under a lingam-like mountain) is the gateway to what is believed to be the birthplace of Lord Hanuman. To reach the actual site, drive 2km beyond the village and into the forested hills to a little shrine. Then, you will have to trek up a steep mountain, which could take anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours.

Pandav Leni Caves

The Pandav Leni Caves (pronounced pandoo lena) are located on a wedge up in Trivashmi Hill, some 8km south of the city on the Mumbai-Agra Highway, above the Dadasaheb Phalke Gardens.

This group of 24 Buddhist caves, some of them large and containing numerous chambers, were excavated around the 1st century CE. They house interesting carvings which visitors can spend a good half hour examining.

Dadasaheb Phalke Smarak

Named after the noted film producer Dadasaheb Phalke, these sprawling gardens at the foot of the Pandav Leni Caves are the pride of Nashik.

Musical fountains, lawns, fast-food outlets as well as museums that highlight the work of Dadasaheb Phalke and the rich cultural heritage of the city make this site a popular retreat for residents and visitors alike.

Dudhsagar Waterfalls

A popular picnic spot for locals, these falls are located 8km west of the city near the Someshwar Temple. They are at their best during and after the rains.

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT

The Gateway Hotel Ambad (Tel: 0253- 6692300, 6604499; Tariff: ₹7,000– 22,000), formerly known as Taj Residency on the Mumbai-Agra Road is Nashik’s only five-star hotel. Ibis Nashik (Tel: 663500/ 01; Tariff: ₹3,500) is another good place to stay. Located very close to the Sula Vineyards is their beautiful resort known as Beyond (Tel: 3027777; Tariff: ₹6,500–36,000). Guests can indulge in atour of their wineries, enjoy the wine-tasting sessions, walk or cycle to the nearby dam. The villas are nice and the food is good. They have a swimming pool and also a spa.

Hotel Royale Heritage (Tel: 2504080, 2595852; Tariff: ₹900–2,075) is a value-for-money option with a nice lawn. Hotel PanchavatiYatri (Tel: 2572291/ 92; Tariff: ₹1,700–4,400) and Samrat Hotel (Tel: 2578211; Tariff: ₹1,350–3,200) are two decent options.

The best restaurant is attached to the Gateway Hotel Ambad called Panchratna. Soleil by La Plague at Sula Vineyards has a good ambience and is a great placefor wine lovers. Curry Leaves has a great Mughlai spread. Divtya Budhlya Wade serves delicious chicken and mutton thalis. Radhakrishna is popular for its sea-food. Gujarati thalis can be had at Purohit Thali Restaurant and Sadhana Restaurant serves the most delicious misal in town.

For local Maharashtrian cuisine, head to Rangoli Restaurant. Woodlands is a multi-cuisine restaurant. Mainland China opened its restaurant in 2009 on the Mumbai-Agra Road.

FAST FACTS

When to go Summers are scorching hot. But once the monsoons arrive in July, it gets very pleasant and stays that way until March

Tourist Office

MTDC, Paryatan Bhavan, Govt Guest House Premises, Near Golf Club Ground, Nashik, Tel: 0253-2570059

STD code 0253

GETTING THERE

Air Nearest Airport: Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport, Mumbai (185km/ 4.5hrs). Taxi costs ₹4,500–5,000

Rail Nashik Road Station is connected with major cities in the country

Road Take NH3 to Nashik via Bhiwandi, Shahpur and Igatpuri Bus Buses run at regular intervals (6.00am to midnight) from the Central, Dadar and Parel bus stands in Mumbai. Volvo and ordinary services (₹200–1,000) operate from Mumbai to Nashik. Book at W redbus.in