“I don’t intend to crash a triple date” I joked when my phone pinged with a message from my cousin Nandan and sister-in-law Sayali. They had been planning an outing to Bhandardara, a hill station in Maharashtra, with Nandan’s and my parents. I didn’t exactly intend to go – my exams were exactly a week away and my preparation hadn’t even begun (forget about revising!). After finally giving in to temptation, I packed a couple sets of clothes in a hurry. Excitement dominated over my sleep – we planned to leave by 7am, and I found it difficult to sleep by quarter-to-one. Needless to say, I felt like a zombie when I woke up.
A journey in our new car was something I was really looking forward to – in addition to ‘light’ luggage it can easily seat seven people. However, the boot turned out to be a wee bit picky about the dimensions of the bags. After a not-so-successful attempt at being able to close the boot, we chose to shift the luggage to another suitcase. My parents and I reached the designated pick-up point in an hour – and the fun began soon. We planned to go via NH160 and MH SH 44. The distance between Mumbai and Bhandardara is approximately 160km and roughly takes about 4 hours.
This trip was special for me because of two reasons – visiting a hill station in our new car with cousins and family, and finally getting to meet and spend time with Sayali (the only tiny bit of interaction we had earlier was at the wedding). Nandan, Sayali and I sat in the rear – although it wasn’t the comfiest ride, it was fun. A little past 9.30 we started keeping an eye out for the restaurants. After finding Sher-e-Punjab Grill on the opposite side of the road and putting in a decent amount of effort for parking, we found out that it opened at 11. We finally came across a McDonald’s outlet a couple of kilometres away and reluctantly chose to explore the breakfast menu. Sayali and I had our pancakes with maple syrup and butter, and savoured the hash browns. A huge glass of coffee later we were ready to roll. We had a facepalm moment soon after – we encountered loads of Indian restaurants within the next 5 minutes. The rest of my journey was pretty much spent chatting with Sayali – we got along like a house on fire. I never thought I would have so much in common with her – right from TV shows to reading habits! After a brief pit stop we resumed our journey. The road leading to Bhandardara was a bit uneven and bumpy, and thus took us some time to reach.
It was only after we reached the MTDC Resort that I realized how incredibly lucky we were. Despite our booking being done at the last moment, we were able to find great rooms. Interestingly enough, only three rooms remained at the time of the making the reservations (exactly the same number we were looking for). We reached the resort at about 2pm.
After resting a bit and having lunch, my parents and I sat at the bench overlooking the lake while Nandan and Sayali challenged each other to a game of Badminton. Bhandardara felt exactly the same as it did the last time we visited – cool, calm and serene. Sitting in the shade of tall trees overlooking the lake on a sunny and windy afternoon was certainly an amazing experience. We made an impromptu booking for a small sightseeing tour for the evening and the following with a local tour guide, and it turned out to be a pretty good decision. He helped us in optimising our journey and making the most of it. The first point we visited was the Wilson Dam and the Umbrella Falls. It wasn’t much of a sight, as water wasn’t being released from the dam.
The next experience on our list for the evening was boating in the Arthur Lake. The boating experience was definitely one of my favourites – the lake looked crystal clear at the shore and appeared darker as we ventured deeper. Arthur Lake is really vast – in the distance we could see it reflecting the brilliant blue hue of the evening sky. Our rower casually mentioned to us that the depth of the lake was roughly 240 feet, and that the lake housed a number of big fish (too bad we couldn’t see any).
As we wished in rowing the boat ourselves, the rower allowed us to do so after we neared the shore on the way back. We did the exercise in pairs, and I learnt something interesting from our experience. The boat would move in one direction only if both the oars were in synchrony. I guess that’s the deal with life – in order to get somewhere we need to not only keep moving, but also focus our efforts. Otherwise we end up spinning in circles and don’t really get anywhere. Although it took us some time to learn, we made it to the shore soon. I was truly left mesmerised by the sunset – the marvellous evening sky was painted in hues of pastel orange and violet, and the lake complimented the scene by mirroring the bright orange orb that played hide and seek with the Sahyadri hills. The place screamed of tranquillity.
The last place we visited before returning to the hotel was Randha Falls, which is one of the major attractions of the region. With a height of approximately 170 feet, the Pravara River descending into the gorge was definitely a sight to behold.
The part I loved the most about this attraction was listening to the falls – it just felt rejuvenating. Sayali mentioned that the last time she visited the falls the viewing area was being constructed. We proceeded to the nearest restaurant as the twilight faded into an evening lit by a crescent moon, and treated ourselves to hot tea and snacks.
The evening back at the resort had my interest piqued – with help from our tour guide, we had a bonfire planned. Mom and my aunt had packed stuff for the bonfire barbecue – veggies, stuff for the marinade and skewers, and had spent a bit of time in the afternoon marinating the veggies. The night sky seemed like a huge canvas painted with numerous glittering stars – a sight that I really miss seeing in Mumbai. The smoked veggies had a nice char on the outside – it would have been just perfect if they had cooked faster. Nandan, Sayali and I played cards before retiring to our rooms for the night. Nandan is really lucky – he managed to win by a decent margin even though Sayali and I ganged up together.
After an early check-out at about 9am, we enjoyed a buffet breakfast at Yash Resort nearby. We decided to check out the remainder of the places on our list before starting on our return journey. We passed by the Kalsubai Peak on our way to Wilson Lake and Umbardara Viewpoint. The place looked ordinary at first – it appeared as if there wasn’t much to explore. We realized how wrong we had been – the view of the valley from the height was totally worth the long journey. One of the interesting features was the difference in temperature – while the viewing area enjoyed the shade and was very cool, the place near the car parking spot was swelteringly hot. After a small photo session to capture the moment we aimed tiny pebbles at the valley, trying to cover maximum horizontal distance possible. I was happy with my performance, as the last pebble I aimed went pretty far.
The last place on our list was the Ghatghar dam and KokanKada. Personally I enjoyed KokanKada hilltop a lot more than the dam, as the hilltop gave us a very picturesque view of the whole region.
After relishing onion pakoras with tea we took the Ghoti-Shirdi Road to reach NH-160, and retraced our journey back to Mumbai.
Here are a few quick tips for those planning for a trip to Bhandardara.
- The best time to visit Bhandardara would be after the monsoons or during the winters. The weather is pleasantly cool during the winters.
- MTDC Resort is one of the best places to stay and offers really beautiful views of the Bhandardara Lake. Keeping that in mind book well in advance. And if you manage to get a room there, do remember to collect the refundable deposit during check out formalities. I noticed that many people usually end up forgetting to do the same.
- Navigating the roads can be a task after the monsoons. Be prepared for a bumpy ride!
- The closest petrol pumps are 20km away. So if you intend to go for sightseeing, it’s better to refuel before you reach the hill station.
- Based on my experience I would not recommend trying the restaurant at MTDC Resort more than once. We got a good breakfast buffet package at Yash Resorts nearby.
- Carry Odomos or other mosquito repellents, as mosquitoes are a nuisance especially in the evenings.
- There is only one bank present in the area. Owing to demonetization, the bank had been closed for about 10 days at the time of our visit. Additionally the lack of a POS machine at the resort added to our cash management woes. Thus ensure that you are carrying adequate amount of cash with you.
- I personally suggest requesting the services of a tour guide to optimise your time while sightseeing. The services are reasonably priced, and are customizable to suit your needs. The localites serving as tour guides are usually present at the resorts. Discuss the package and the pricing beforehand.
- Instead of covering all the tourist spots in one day, try spreading the schedule over multiple days. There will be ample time to enjoy individual tourist spots.
- Our guide took care of the bonfire arrangements for us (and we had gotten the barbecue stuff along with us). Personally I didn’t enjoy the bonfire and barbecue experience much. However, the experience might vary depending on the average group age, group size and the time of the visit (peak or non-peak season)
- If you are going from Mumbai, Igatpuri lies en route. Manas Resort is a great place to stop for a meal. We stopped for lunch there on the way back and the experience was totally worth it.