As if on cue, the drizzle began to caress our cheeks as we rode over the threshold of Bhandardara, a rural village in Maharashtra. The days before all seemed to merge into one. That of power cuts, sweat-soaked clothes and laments over the sweltering Mumbai heat (and uncomfortable humidity).
Firefly sightings at Bhandardara were said to begin just before the first rain shower. But rain, as always, seemed to be nowhere in sight and just like the pigeons in our balcony, we yearned for grey clouds to darken the skies as May dragged on seemingly forever…
On one such unbearably humid night, we decided that, come rain or sunshine, we’d head out to Bhandardara the following day for a short weekend getaway from Mumbai. And at 10 am the next morning, we set off from Mumbai along NH3 to Igatpuri. After around 150 kms, we took a right turn towards Bhandardara and almost instantly, the scenery began to change as we rode along winding roads that led higher, the mercury drastically dropping. The panoramic views of nature, the lack of noise and traffic and the gentle drizzle lifted our spirits and enthusiasm!
Over the next two days, we took in the mellow, picture-perfect village, nestled between the Sahyadri ranges. The air was fragrant with the smell of ripe mangoes that kids would collect and sell on the road, trying to stop bikes and cars as they drove past. The grassy plains rolled on for miles, dull and brown, separated in two by tiny streams. Some places had dry, wiry vegetation interspersed between rocks and at others, lush green forests that plunged into the valleys.
One of the must-see sights is Arthur Lake, a mesmerizing blue pool of water that is fed by the Pravara River. The shore of the Lake is an idyllic place to unwind and the continuous strong flow of cold wind makes you crave a cup of tea all the time! The spot is popular among campers who set up tents along the shoreline. It was quite dry as it was the end of summer, but the view is so much better during or just after the monsoons.
MTDC Bhandardara is a government guest house that boasts of the best spot from where you can have a fabulous view of the lake! Check out my hotel review of MTDC if you haven’t already.
Since I work remotely, I found that only one spot at the lake had full network and would head over there for a couple of times a day to catch up on emails. The rest of Bhandardara has negligible network and 3G data.
Apart from the restaurants at a handful of hotels in the area, Bhandardara has no other eating joints and food stalls. While scouting the area one afternoon, we climbed higher and higher, and ventured pretty far away from the hotel. Driving back for lunch would have taken more than an hour, and as we were wondering where to stop for lunch, we came across this tiny place with a board indicating that food was available here. It was run by a poor family who cooked in their kitchen and served it on a camping platform a 100 meters away.
On asking what was available, a man told us that he would make whatever we liked and suggested bajra roti (flat bread made of millet grains) and kadhi (chickpea flour based gravy with yogurt). The food took a good 30 minutes to arrive but the view of the hills and fields, the breeze and sight of naughty kids playing a little distance away more than made up for it. It was a simple meal and as the man said “Rs. 100 mein pet bharke khaana,” (all you can eat at Rs. 100). He meant it, and this is one lunch I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
P.S. You’ll also find spots like these raised platforms in certain locations where campers can set up their tents.
We noticed scattered houses far away from each other, which was strange because in a remote village like this one, I’d think everyone would like a neighbour! Shops were a rare sight, and if we ever found one, it was either shut, or the owner was asleep on the floor, oblivious to a customer. We wondered where people shopped for groceries and quite by chance, we found our answer! A little weekly market in the middle of nowhere!
Another spot on our to-do list was to visit the Ratangad Fort, a 2000 year old Fort located 4225 feet above sea level with stunning views of the lake and the highest of the Sahyadri mountains. There are two ways to get there – one by following the road and the other by off-roading through a river and mucky fields. I must admit, I had much more fun off-roading – with farmers, goats and cows walking alongside as the bike made its way through water, rocks and muck.
The videos and pictures I’ve seen show the fort looking mystical – surrounded by mist, with clouds passing through. However on getting there I learnt that it was a 3 hour trek to reach there. Ain’t no way I’m trekking for three hours! So I settled for exploring the Amruteshwar Temple instead.
Those who were returning from the trek looked haggard, but swore that it was a sight to behold. A few people choose to camp at the fort overnight, which would be pretty amazing! Maybe I’ll attempt the trek another time, when it isn’t the fag end of the day.
Located at the base of the mountain, the Amruteshwar Temple was built in 900AD and like all Indian temples, the intricate stonework, wall and ceiling murals was incredible! There is a Shivalinga and statues that get submerged in water when it rains (I’ve heard that snakes live in the temple during the monsoons too!)
Beautiful vistas of nature await at Bhandardara. It’s an understatement to say that the village is beautiful. Ditch the city this weekend and surround yourself with splendid misty hills and more shades of green and blue than you can count.
I have so many more adventures up my sleeve for now. Can’t wait to take you along!!