Bhandardara has a special charm. An easygoing, sleepy, rustic charm, that makes it a refreshing getaway for both the active and the not-so-active tourist. Here you can relax in nature’s cradle and gaze out dreamily over a placid lake. Coming to Bhandardara is truly getting away from city life. No five-star comforts here, no luxury dining. What you get is a taste of rural Maharashtra and a healthy dose of clean air, greenery and natural beauty. The huge expanse of Bhandardara Lake and the thundering Randha Waterfalls are the chief spectator attractions here, and after ticking them off on your itinerary you can comfortably plop into an armchair and enjoy your lazy weekend.
If you’re an avid student of history or archaeology, Bhandardara can take you back a few millennia. Or, bring your line and tackle along and find a suitable spot for angling. But that’s not all — there is plenty of scope for an active weekend. Ask any trekker who knows the Sahyadris and they’ll tell you you’re in the right place to climb a rugged fort or peak. From Bhandardara you can attempt the famous Ratangad and Harishchandragad forts. A little further afield are the famous Ajoba, or ‘grandfather’ peak, and Ghanchakkar. Or perhaps you’re here with a predetermined aim — to undertake a physically demanding hike up the highest peak in Maharashtra.
Things to see and do
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 and 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. Some ferries ply on the lake but these are irregular. Check with the officials at the dam for details.
Walk along the shores of the lake just beyond the MTDC Resort. It’s best after the monsoons when the views are stunning and everything is lush green with a lonely cloud sailing across the blue sky. You can also take interesting walks along either bank of the Pravara. You’ll catch sight of a variety of avian life during your perambulations. The river has plenty of fish as well as the jumbo freshwater shrimp, which come down the sluice gates when the water is released. If it’s a good day, you may also spot the rare red fox that greatly resembles a dog.
There are unlimited trekking options here, ranging from a simple climb up a nearby hillock to a tough climb up Ratangad Fort or Mt. Kalsubai. The Ghanchakkar (‘confused’) Peak nearby is a complex hike, involving equipment for rock climbing. Ajoba is another interesting but difficult climb, with fantastic views from the top.
In quest of a runaway bride
Kalsubai, according to local legend, was a tormented daughter-in-law. To escape harassment from her in-laws, she ran away to the top of a hill and, to be really effective, she disappeared. On the summit, the local people have built a temple in her memory and named the hill Kalsubai after her. At 5,400 ft, Mt. Kalsubai is the highest peak in Maharashtra and the Western Ghats, and it served as a watchtower in Maratha times. For trekkers, Kalsubai is the ultimate challenge. Bari Village (12 km from Bhandardara) is the starting point. Little or nothing is available here, so bring everything you need for your comfort and well being, including water.
Just behind the bus stop, a road leads into the village. From here, a trail climbs up the hill and emerges half an hour later, on a flat stretch. This is the site of the temple. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have reached the top. Some interesting stone pillars and carved Nandi bulls are scattered in the 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 as aids.
After many false summits, you will come to the welcome sight of a small well. Its cold water will make even the most fastidious hiker throw caution to the winds and take a long drink. Kalsubai’s summit is now clearly visible, 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 all the sweating seem like a small price to pay for the tough climb. And, If you thought the worst was over, think again. You still have to get back to where you began. The descent is often tougher than the ascent.
Location This hill station sits quietly by the banks of the Pravara River but loudly boasts its proximity to the highest peak in the Sahyadris, Mt Kalsubai (5,400 ft)
Distance 180 km NE of Mumbai JOURNEY TIME By road 4 hours By rail 23/4 hours + 11/2 hours by road
Route NH3 to Ghoti via Bhiwandi, Kasara Ghat and Igatpuri; SH to Bhandardara via Bari and Varangushi
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
Tel: 02424-257171, 257032
STD code 02424 From Mumbai 952424
By Andre Morris
About the author
Although Andre Morris technically lives in Mumbai, he spends half his life in the outdoors- hiking, rock climbing, white water rafting, canoeing, bird watching and so on.