Out of Mumbai (185 km)
Words AMRITA LALL
Photographs MAYANK SONI
Acres of paddy fields, gushing waterfalls, vast lakes and misty mountains: in many ways, Bhandardara is the quintessential weekend escape from Mumbai when the city temperatures (and the humidity levels) peak. Located 185km away by road, the rustic little hamlet is crouched in the embrace of the Sahyadris in Western Maharashtra and is just right for city slickers looking to spend a weekend in the lap of nature.
Being privy to the Sahyadris’ majestic Kalsubai, Ghanchakkar and Ajoba mountain ranges, Bhandardara is a good base for many scenic treks. Most popular among them is the one to the 400-year-old Ratangad Fort in the Ajoba mountains. Start at the base village, Ratanwadi, a 20-minute drive from Bhandardara. The trail will take you through manicured fields and past mossy embankments and twinkling streams. You’ll spot jamun bushes dipping low over the water, and errant langurs screeching in annoyance. The climb to the top is alternately steep and flat, and, when you reach the crest of the mountain, there’s a patch of tricky climbing that you’ll have to do to get to the fort’s entrance. Thought to be one of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s favourite hill retreats, Ratangad’s unique rock cavity and multiple entrances make it fun to explore. The views of the surrounding ranges – Kulang, Alang, Kalsubai, Katarabi – are all spectacular.
When you get back down, drop by the Amruteshwar Temple in Ratanwadi. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple makes for a great specimen of Hemadpanthi architecture. Look around – you’ll also find a beautifully sculpted water cistern nearby. Another popular trek is to Kalsubai, which at 1,646m, is the highest peak in the Sahyadris. The climb begins at Bari, the base village, which lies 12km away from Bhandardara. Be vigilant and cautious – the route, which crosses a stream and a Hanuman temple, quickly turns steep. Closer to the summit, you’ll come upon a slew of iron ladders that lead to the tiny, orange Kalsubai Temple at the top. For company, you’ll find devotees in throngs, and friendly dogs. Spend some time admiring the gorgeous views on offer.
When you get back to Bhandardara, make time to go driving to its clutch of must-see sites. First on that list is Wilson Dam, India’s largest earthen dam that stands sentinel over the Pravara River. According to popular legend, the ancient sage Shri Agasti meditated in Bhandardara for over a year, living only on water and air. The gods were so pleased with his devotion that they blessed him with a river from the Ganga, today the Pravara River. Arthur Lake, a reservoir for Wilson Dam, is a placid sheet of blue encircled by green forests, whose waters, when they rush down, form the beautiful Randha Falls. Go for a boat ride in the evening or sit at the edge of the lake staring into the gentle waters as the sun gently dips below the horizon.
End your Bhandardara circuit with some tea and misal at the wildly-popular Café Dam Corner stall back in Bhandardara town – as you dig into the sumptuous misal, it’s likely that you’ll be planning your next Bhandardara trip, and, when you do, make that trip happen in the monsoons – the hamlet, engulfed in perennial mist and an endless sea of clouds, is stunning, and trekking across the Sahyadris is quite a thrill.