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).

road to bhandardara

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…

bhandardara roads

hotel deepak bhandardara

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!

bhandardara local

bhandardara views

jade bhandardara

that goan girl bhandardara

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.

thatgoangirl bhandardara

TGG bhandardara

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.

lake arthur

bhandardara winding roads

bhandardara dam

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.

restaurant bhandardara

restaurant bhandardara seating

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.

bajra roti and kadhi

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!

bhandardara market

houses bhandardara

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.

off road bhandardara

crossing the river bhandardara

bhandardara fields

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.

amruteshwar temple bhandardara

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!)

bhandardara locals

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.

Let me know if you enjoyed reading this travelogue! Comment below and keep in touch on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

I have so many more adventures up my sleeve for now. Can’t wait to take you along!!

xoxo

Hello again!!

A lot has happened since I saw ten thousand fireflies at Bhandardara! The Finale of World Class India, an international level bartending competition that was INTENSE! And I took you with me to uncover some of the secrets behind restaurant food at Food Service India’s Innovation Lab.

But I’m not done telling you about my trip to Bhandardara just yet. A lot of you have been asking about where I stayed and what else there is to do there. So here are all the deets on my not-so-impressive stay at the Maharashtra Tourism Development Guesthouse, MTDC, Bhandardara.

Getting There:

MTDC Bhandardara is located at a distance of around 45 kms from Igatpuri, 180 kms from Mumbai and 190 kms from Pune in the Shendi Village of Akole.

I tried booking online for a couple of days before my trip and the website showed that there were no rooms available. Still, we decided to try our luck at MTDC on arrival, and if there it was full, we would go to one of the other 4-5 shortlisted hotels.

The Hotel

At the end of a leafy, cobble-stoned lane, MTDC looks like quite charming. A little cottage-like reception is located on the right. Beyond that is a spread of 34 rooms, cottages and dormitories in several small buildings

mtdc bhandardara reception

Location-wise, the hotel is a gem! It is situated perfectly, on a small cliff overlooking a beautiful blue Arthur lake with open views for as far as the eyes can see. Nothing can compare to the strong, cool breeze that instantly clears your head! The government really scored with this surreal spot, but that’s about all that’s worth talking about the place.

The Room

I picked the hotel with the thought that being a Maharashtra Tourism Guest House, a department that spends huge sums on tourism, the hotel would be up to the mark of at least a 3 star property. Sadly not!

We picked a standard room at approx. Rs. 1200 a night, and it was slightly on the shabbier side. We were allotted a non- a/c room that shared a wall with the canteen. So the clanging of plates and sound of talk and laughter carried through from breakfast time until past dinner.

mtdc bhandardara bedroom

The linen was grainy, and the floor, even more so. The only thing that was clean, surprisingly, was the bathroom. It was quite large, spotless and with an overpowering smell of detergent (I’d rather smell detergent than anything else, so that was okay.)

mtdc bhandardara standard room

The bed was comfortable enough for us to rest on after a 4-5 hour ride, however we didn’t use the blankets provided. If the plain cotton sheets were of questionable cleanliness, who knows when the heavy blankets would have been washed last?

mtdc bhandardara sink

The room opened up to a beautiful, large breezy balcony… which we couldn’t leave open to let the breeze in as bugs and moths would fly in in an instant. Overall, since we barely spent any time in our room, the stay was manageable. Wouldn’t suggest if you plan on staying in.

mtdc bhandardara view from room

The delux rooms and Valley View Premier Suites looked pretty from the outside and we tried to get a room in one of those for our second night at the property. It was full, and maybe that’s for the best, as the reviews I read later weren’t great either.

mtdc bhandardara delux villa

Food

The MTDC restaurant , Yashanjali, needs a major overhaul! Sticky surfaces, bad service and a limited menu is just the start of one’s experience. If you’re desperately hungry, pick safe options like an omlete sandwich. Better to skip altogether.

Amenities

Amenities include free parking, room service, a restaurant and small children’s park. Standard rooms have a TV and geyser while the pricier options have a sofa, centre-table, bathtub, a/c, a balcony overlooking the lake and a TV.

If you’re a group on a complete shoe-string budget, staying in one of their dorm rooms for 12 is something you may want to consider. But camping by the lake would be far more preferable.

 

What I loved:

The location’s idyllic nature and views! The day I visited was the day it started raining in Bhandardara. The lake would definitely fill up in a couple of weeks and look even better!

mtdc bhandardara lake arthur

What could be better:

Literally, everything else! Maintenance, Service, Food, Cleanliness, Room Service…

 

The Verdict – Give this place a pass, unless you’re on a budget. You can enjoy the lake-view from a dozen other vantage points.

Instead, give Yash Resort a try. It looks stunning and the reviews are much better. Hotel Amruteshwar is right next to MTDC and we had a couple of our meals there. The rooms are nothing special, but if nothing else, at least the food served at their restaurant, Anandvan is better than that at MTDC.

#TGGTips

If you book online, carry your reservation slip as they have no idea who is coming and when. You also need to pay a refundable security deposit.

The best time to visit is between August to November, when the lake is full. You can even bring your own tents and camp out beside the lake.

Take a trip to Wilson Dam and explore the area for around 50 kms or so – the views are breath-taking. More about that in my next post!

Stay tuned for the last, but most adventurous post on Bhandardara! You’ll want to have a look at those pictures. In the meanwhile, check out this fun, pet-friendly resort in Mumbai, Phoebe’s Farm.

Until then, catch me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

xoxo

A pet is a part of the family for many of us. We know how painful it can be to leave someone behind when we go on vacation, but when that someone has big, sad eyes and a tilted head that’s wondering where you’re going, the feeling can be downright gut-wrenching.

I don’t have the privilege of having a pet in Mumbai (yes, having a pet IS a privilege), but that didn’t stop my friend and Youtuber Beverly Dee and I from heading to Phoebe’s farm one weekend, where 60 wagging tails waited to greet us!

GETTING THERE

Phoebe’s farm is located in Khopoli, around a 20 minute drive from Imagica. You can find directions on Google or the resort owners will be more than happy to help you find it. Expect to be completely cut off from mobile network and wi-fi during your stay. All you’ll have is some quality time with the family, no work emails, no conference calls, no social media… – sounds like heaven already, doesn’t it?

P.S getting tickled by 6 dogs was heavenly too!

THE RESORT

Phoebe’s Farm is a ‘human friendly pet resort’ that’s been founded and run by major dog-lovers Manoor and his wife, Anajli. Inspired by their late pet dog, Phoebe, it’s designed to have everything a pet could ever want – open spaces, sunshine, lots of grass to roll in and a bone-shaped doggie pool, to name a few!

But it isn’t just for people with pets. If you don’t have one, you can still stay over and play with one of many pooches on the farm.

Apart from being a resort, Phoebe’s farm is also a canine rehabilitation centre. Manoor is a dog-behaviourist and looks after as well as treats dogs with issues like anger management, excessive timidity, anti-social behaviour and more. Again, he credits Phoebe for teaching him everything there is to know about handling dogs of all kinds.

The resort has a little stream nearby, and if you love nature, I suggest you take a walk and soak in the sights and sounds of the gurgling water, chirping insects and magnificent butterflies. There’s also a man-made pond containing koi fish and turtles. One of the best things I enjoyed was sitting here, having breakfast with a dog in my lap, relishing the silence. If you aren’t reeeally into nature, you’ll find board games and card games to play with!

Everything at Phoebe’s farm has a personal, homely touch, from the wind chimes hanging on the trees, to the food that’s cooked under Anjali’s supervision. Beverly and I instantly fell in love with its rustic charm.

OUR ROOM

Our room was one of seven tents that surrounded a lawn. By looking at the tents from the outside, you’d never guess that it has a queen sized bed and bathroom squeezed in! There isn’t much to talk about since the room is fairly quaint and simple. Apart from a standing fan, lights and a comfy bed, there isn’t anything else that the room contains. You’ll find ample charging points to charge your devices, not like you’d need them anyway.

If you enjoy roughing it, or ruffing it, if I may say so, you’d enjoy the minimalist room as much as we did. There may not be 24 hour hot water supply and air-conditioning, but then, you get that everywhere!

THE FOOD

The menu for the day is pre-planned. It usually includes a vegetarian and a non-vegetarian dish, rice, a curry and rotis. A dessert follows; and over the course of our stay, we enjoyed some fruit custard, gulab jamun and rabdi. You know I have to give you guys the deets on the dessert first! The rest of the food is so darn tasty!

The dinner and breakfast that was arranged was quite poetic actually! On the cold winter’s night that we stayed over, Manoor organized a barbeque for the guests by the lake. We sat on mattresses around the fire pit, watching the cook skewer marinated meat and taking in the tantalizing smell of meat over a flame. We met the other guests – bikers from Nagpur on their way to Goa, which was really nice! Here we are, warming our frozen hands

Breakfast was had under the shade of trees that surrounded the lake! We had simple, good ol’ omletes, bread, butter and parathas. With Manoor’s dog, Seva for company, we sunned ourselves on these comfortable mattress-sunbed thingies!

WHAT WE ALSO DID!

This review wouldn’t be complete without telling you all the wonderful things that goes on at Phoebe’s Farm!

Every morning as per custom, the dogs are brought out to play to the playground that’s at least double the size of parks in Mumbai. At first, we were a little intimidated to watch them rush in like a flood. Rotweilers, labs, cocker spaniels, indies, daschunds… even a great big St. Bernard. They were so excited that they didn’t even notice us for a while. Within a few minutes, they came over for an inquisitory sniff. What was surprising was that none of them fought with each other or even growled. They got along beautifully!

Manoor told us which ones we should not pet because of how they may react, but after a while, they all warmed up. We sat side by side with the ones that didn’t like affection and they didn’t seem to mind at all.

The next morning, we watched them have a ball of a time in the pool! We knew their names by then. Veer wouldn’t let go of the ball; Cuddles wiped himself off on my track pants after every dip; Joey, Ross and Rachel (do those names sound familiar? Suitable for Phoebe’s farm, eh?) barked all through and Buzo, the St. Bernard swam without making a splash! We loved every minute of our time here!!

One of the dogs on the farm, Mocha, a chocolate coloured cocker spaniel cozied up to us all weekend. Her family visited her while we were there and we later found out that she had Cocker Spaniel Rage Syndrome, a serious behavioural condition that affects purebred cockers. Like epilepsy, this uncontrollable fit of rage can turn a dogs personality from mild to aggressive and back within minutes. It was a rollercoaster of emotions for us to see Mocha’s frenzied excitement on seeing her family, the cuddles she got and then the painful goodbye as they left. A lot of families visit their pet in rehab once a month, and I’m so glad they do.

If you’ve got a serious soft spot for canines and felines, head over to spend a weekend at Phoebe’s Farm, even if you don’t have a pet. Manoor and Anjali are among the best people I’ve met – and I’m amazed at the work, dedication and patience they put into the farm with no investment or support. One has to have a pretty big heart to do what they’re doing!

If you do have a pet, don’t keep them home on your vacation. Cancel the pet sitter, pack the treats and hit the road towards an experience you wont forget.

You HAVE to check out our whole weekend on Beverly Dee’s youtube channel!

Warning – cuteness overload!!

Do me a favour and share this with all the pet parents you know! I’m sure their pets would love it, and I’d personally be delighted to know that Phoebe’s Farm is a huge successs!

Book your stay here at Phoebe’s Farm here!

Till next time!!

On an impromptu trip to Pune last week, I made a hurried online booking at Hotel Ketan, which turned out to be a really good spur-of-the-moment decision.

 Located on Fergusson Road, this place in on the busy street, yet tucked away in a quiet, leafy by-lane, What struck me the most was that this place was spotlessly, sparkly clean! Being a business hotel, they don’t hold back when it comes to cleanliness and hygiene.
Hotel Ketan pune

There is a comfortable lobby on the ground floor and polite staff who make check-in a quick, painless affair. Their prices are pretty reasonable. You can check it out here

Hotel Ketan PuneThe rooms are again, spotless with a big, soft comfortable bed, big screen TV, a little cupboard and desk + chair. I don’t know about all the rooms, but ours had our own private balcony, surrounded by trees. It was probably towards the back of the hotel as there was a quite a lot of noise coming from below.

I opted for a non a/c room, which was really cool and breezy. One doesn’t really need an a/c in Pune… with the awesome weather and all!

Hotel Ketan Pune

Most importantly, the bathrooms are way beyond what you would expect in a hotel like this one, but they do need to install a shower curtain.

Coming to food, they have a decent selection to choose from for their complimentary breakfast. The lunch and dinner menu is great but the food is pretty average. However the service is prompt and keep filling up the jug of water in the room whenever you call for anything. It’s the little things

Other services they provide are free wi-fi, laundry, electronic safes, parking, car hire and car wash as well as full generator back up.

Tons of eateries nearby – from street food to fine dining. The road is pretty lively due to all the colleges around. Just down the road is this place *cue breaking glass

All in all, it’s nor a star rated hotel, but who cares? This is one hotel  I’m parking my bags at every time I go to Pune.

The Verdict

Cleanliness – 9/10
Service – 8/10
Location – 9/10
Food – 6/10
Facilities – 8/10

TGG Tips:

  • There is no elevator, so if you are a senior citizen or have one travelling with you, book a room accordingly.
  • Okay-ish for families, but there are no play areas in the vicinity.
  • Avoid the road-facing rooms if possible

I’m sure everyone has visited a really hyped up restaurant, only to be thoroughly disappointed. Sometimes it’s the food, sometimes it’s the service, sometimes it’s the ambiance.
And sometime’s it’s all three.

India Beach Fashion Week

Sadly, ‘By the Way’ on Pune’s Fergusson Road was one such eatery.

I was really looking forward to going there after reading all the fantastic reviews on Zomato. (Some people even said it had a Greek Vibe,)

Uhh.. no.

I visited it one afternoon and it was quite inconspicuous. There was a giant board at the entrance that said “Happy Hours 11 am to 7 pm.” The waiter later said that there was no happy hours that day. It’s just kept there.

The menu is pretty impressive, it has Thai, Oriental, Continental, Italian and of course, Indian cuisine. It was quite surprising to see most of the people ordering “daal-roti-sabji,” at such a place but it quickly became apparent that I should have done the same.

On asking the waiter what the house special was, he promptly said “Thaison Vietnamese Chicken.” Listed under the Oriental, this dish was described as “the Chef’s special, shredded pieces of chicken mixed with grated raw potato and deep fried. Topped with a sauce made of butter, red wine, chopped parsley and green chilies.” Sounded great.

By The Way Pune

Instead, what came to the table was cubed chicken with chopped onion and an entire packet’s worth of Everest Chili Powder. On bringing this to the waiter’s attention he laughs and says “That’s what’s given on the menu but that’s not how it’s prepared. This is the best seller.”

If there’s anything worse than bad food, it’s a bad attitude.

I should have probably left right then, but decided to give the place another shot. I ordered the Chicken Pasta in white sauce. It was decent. I mean something-you-would-expect-at-Pizza-Hut decent.

Oh, the mocktails were dismal too. Here’s my Miami Beach. Kiwi and Peach Slush. It came in a chipped glass and was so not worth the money.

By The Way Pune

The Verdict

Cost for two (excluding drinks) – Rs. 2000/-
Food – 1/10
Service – 1/10
Ambiance – 3/10
Value for money – 3/10

Hit or Miss?
Definitely a Miss!