It was August which meant the monsoon was relentless and the Western Ghats meant only one thing; incessant rains, lush mountains and valleys with spectacular water falls. The pluvilophile in me was itching to get high with the smell of petrichor.
The google map showed an estimated journey time of a little over one and a half hour. But time and again, the google map and the weak internet connection meant there was practically no use of the GPS. So with music blasting from our dashboard stereo, we decided to do away with the GPS and resort to the old fashioned Indian way of asking our way; onward to Bhandardara.
My friend at the helm had hit the gas, zipping at over 80 km per hour over the highway for about an hour. The last half an hour though was more of a slog than a dash, over pock marked tarmac, through lashing rain, and low visibility driving negotiating gentle bends to Bhandardara.
For tourists, looking for a sightseeing tour with a checklist of “must see and must do”, I am afraid Bhandardara is a disappointment. But thankfully for me, there were places that were still “unpolluted” selfie-maniacs. Bhandardara is a place where Your imaginations run wild, You get intoxicated by the unpolluted air and a place to get both the body and the soul drenched.
And that’s what we exactly did, got drenched, at Arthur Lake. By the banks, there are a few ramshackle shops selling snacks to the hordes of tourists that flock to Bhandardara during the monsoon. We picked up a few edibles, scouted for a secluded place on the banks, far from the selfie hungry crowd and sat there munching away on the snacks watching the clouds rolling in over the distant peaks. The lake changed shades as and when the clouds flew overhead, from sparkling white to ominous, monstrous shades of grey. While in the Shayadris, it is impossible to escape getting wet, and from nowhere the rain came; catching us off guard. Even before we had the time to put on our slickers, we were soaked.
We rushed to the very shack from which we had bought the finger food earlier. The rain and the gusts made it chilly, even in August. Sitting by the shack’s stove, we warmed ourselves; sipping tea while waiting for the rain to subside.
From the Arthur lake, the road forked, one went toward the Randha falls while the other led to the centuries old Amruteshwar temple. We decided to take the left flank first, on to the falls. Driving for 8 more kilometres through lush paddy fields stepped on the hills, we reached the gorging Randha falls. Having a height of 170 feet, Randha falls is a situated on Pravara river, the main river flowing through the region. Like a stubborn, naughty kid, the falls made its way through the hills forming a deep gorge. On the way back from the falls, we paid a visit to the ancient Amruteshwar temple. 17 kilometres from Bhandardara, in the village of Ratanwadi, the Amruteshwar Temple is an intricately carved temple dedicated to Shiva. The surrounding mountains draped in their emerald cloak with the cape dark monsoon clouds rendered a mystical charm to the temple.
After paying our divine respects to the lord, we started to descend. On the way back to Nashik, we stopped at the century old Wilson dam. Build in 1910 across the Pravara river the 150-meter high dam is one of the largest earthen dams. The opening of sluice gates creates two 60 to 80 feet cascades of water that plummet to the rocks below. It’s a spectacular view. There is a garden at the base of the dam where tourists can amble about.
But, Bhandardara is beyond these “points of tourist attractions”. It is the hidden gem of the Shayadris, which is slowly starting to reveal itself to the travellers who seek to find beauty in the wild, beyond the cacophony of the hyped hill stations. A place which is a paradise for dreamers, who like to waste time thinking, pondering and ambling over overgrown trails. Bhandardara is a place to camp, to soak in the solitude, to gaze at the stars, the milky way and a place to search the depths of the soul to seek the real person hidden deep within.
How to reach: Bhandardara lies about 165 kilometers from Mumbai, just after Igatpuri. It is well connected by road and rail, the nearest rail head being Ghoti.
Stay: There are a few resorts in Bhandardara with Anandvan Resort and Yash resorts being the most acquainted.
Things to do: There is not much sightseeing to be done in Bhandardara. But there are lots of scope for camping and trekking. The famous Sandhan Valley trek can be done from here. During non-monsoon days, it is a great place for stargazing.