Nashik boasts such a confluence of different realities that it has left the town with a slightly confused identity. While it takes pride in its ancient heritage it also has all the aspirations of a modern city. It is an urban town, albeit in a pastoral set ting, 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. Indeed, it is these multifarious identities that converge to make Nashik an irresistible holiday destination with some thing on offer for everyone – from the devout ascetic to the flashy wine connoisseur. After all, this is the grape-wine capital of Maharashtra and home to one of India’s 12 holy jyotirlingas, which is believed to be the source of the Godavari – the queen of all Deccan rivers. Nashik is also one of four Indian cities that hosts the Kumbh Mela.

Kapil Taragi
A view of Nashik city from the Pandav Leni Caves
A view of Nashik city from the Pandav Leni Caves

Be that as it may, it is the religious face of Nashik that lords it over the city’s other avatars. The pulsating energy in the narrow bazaars of the old city seems to revolve around the Panchavati-Ramkund area located along the banks of the Godavari river. This is where, it is believed, the royals of Ayodhya – Rama, Sita and Lakshmana – lived during their years in exile.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Nashik, quite appropriately, has split geography to host its split identities. Modern Nashik is a mini-Mumbai, a haphazard shamble of high rises fringing both sides of the Mumbai- Agra Highway. The heart of the old city couldn’t be more different – a congested beehive of activity, with narrow streets and ancient temples throbbing with energy, piety and sales, through which flows a sacred Indian river. Yet another geographical split are the hills that surround it on all sides.

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

Courtesy MTDC
Exquisite sculptures at the Pandav Leni Caves
Exquisite sculptures at the Pandav Leni Caves

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 holy dip in the waters of the Godavari here, in the fervent belief that this would wash away all their past sins. Make sure that it’s at a tirtha (a place considered sacred). Simply jumping in anywhere is not guaranteed to wash away your sins. These well-known points are dotted all along the banks and include the Golan, Runamochan, 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.

Punit Paranjpe
Façade of the Trimbakeshwar Jyotirlinga Temple
Façade of the Trimbakeshwar Jyotirlinga Temple

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 2 km beyond the village and into the forested hills to a little shrine. Then trek up a steep mountain, which could take anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours.

The Kumbh Mela

The origins of the Kumbh Mela, the most sacred Hindu festival, which marks the largest gathering of people anywhere in the world, are rooted in cosmic time. Long ago, the devas (gods) and the asuras (demons) decided to retrieve the nectar of immortality together, by churning the ocean. When finally the waters released their ultimate treasure, each side tried to wrest the pitcher for themselves. During the fierce battle, a few drops of the immortal elixir fell at four different places in India – Prayag (Allahabad), Trimbakeshwar (28 km away from Nashik), Ujjain and Haridwar. Ever since, when the configuration of the stars and planets is just right, it is believed that the waters of the rivers that flow through these sacred cities once again turn into nectar. A dip in the waters at these times cleanses the soul and accrues merit equivalent to bathing in the Ganga for 60,000 years.

Once every three years the Kumbh Mela is held in rotation between the four cities. The last Kumbh held in Trimbakeshwar was in August–September 2015. The jyotirlinga enshrined at Triabakeshwar is extra special – the waters of the Godavari literally sprout out of the centre of the rock lingam.

MTDC’s Sanskruti Resort (Tel: 02594-233143, Cell: 09881329390, 097633 89545; Tariff: ₹2,500–3,100, with 16 rooms), is located only half a kilometer from the temple.

Pandav Leni Caves

Located on a wedge up in Trivashmi Hill, this group of 24 Buddhist caves (pronounced pandoo lena) were excavated around the 1st century CE. Some 8 km out of the city on the Mumbai-Agra Highway, above Dadasaheb Phalke Gardens, these caves have 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 local residents, these falls, 8 km west of the city near Someshwar Temple, are at their best during and after the rains.

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT

The Gateway Hotel Ambad (Tel: 0253-6692300, 6604499; Tariff: ₹10,000–18,000), formerly known as Taj Residency, is Nashik’s only five-star hotel and a major landmark in the city, on the Mumbai-Agra Road. Ibis Nashik (Tel: 6635555; Tariff: ₹4,000) is another good place to stay with all amenities. Located very close to the Sula Vineyards is their beautiful resort known as Beyond (Tel: 3027777; Tariff: ₹6,500– 45,000). Guests can indulge in a tour 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 a spa as well. Hotel Royale Heritage (Tel: 2504080, 2595852; Tariff: ₹825–2,025) is a value-for-money option with a nice lawn. Hotel Panchavati Yatri (Tel: 2572291-92; Tariff: ₹1,499– 4,400) and Samrat Hotel (Tel: 2578211; Tariff: ₹2,000–4,500) are two decent options.

The best restaurant in Nashik is attached to The Gateway Hotel Ambad – Panch ratna. Soleil by La Plague at Sula Vineyards has a good ambience and is a great place for wine lovers. Curry Leaves has a great Mughlai spread. Divtya Budhlya Wade serves delicious chicken and mutton thalis. Radhakrishna is popular for its seafood. Gujarati thalis can be had at Purohit Thali Restaurant and Sadhana Restaurant serves the best 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

Region Khandesh & Nashik

Location On the banks of the Godavari, surrounded by nine hills – Durga, Ganesh, Chitraghanta, Pandav, Dinger Ali, Mhasarul, Jogwada, Pathanpura and Konkani

Distance 210 km N of Pune

Route from Pune Take Mumbai-Pune old highway; N50 to Nashik

Air Nearest Airport: Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport, Mumbai. Taxi costs ₹4,000-5,000.

Rail Nashik Road Station which 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 mid night) from the Central, Dadar and Parel bus stands in Mumbai. Volvo and ordinary serv ices (₹200–1,000) operate from Mumbai to Nashik. The journey takes 5-6 hrs. Book at W redbus.in