Bhandardara-Valley of treasures indeed!
Bhandardara loosely translated means ‘valley of treasures’. On a spontaneous impulse to head there one weekend- I can safely vouch for the meaning. . Lying approx.160 kms from Mumbai, this makes a perfect 2 day weekend getaway. The famed town of Igatpuri lies en route, which is also worth a dekko. Known to most for the Vipassana meditation center or a major train junction, Igatpuri offers more for the curious traveller. And the drive till Igatpuri from Mumbai is a smooth, enjoyabe drive! A rarity for most weekend getaways from Mumbai!
Not a very obviously tourist destination, one can go for long walks arround the valley. If you are there in the monsoons there are countless waterfalls formed in the valley. Igatpuri is an idyllic destination which is good if you want to just relax in a good resort. Igapturi has many resorts the most sought after among them are the Manas resorts- Manas Lifestyle and Manas Resort. Both the resorts command probably the most spectacular views in Igatpuri and have seemingly comfortable cottages and rooms. They are aware of this USP and have kept their rates accordingly!
But Bhandardara is the undisputed jewel in this stretch. A 45-minute drive from Igatpuri takes you through rustic roads and villages. You may require a strong back and tough tyres to help endure the journey better. But if you focus on the scenes outside rather than the rickety drive, you’ll have a smile on your face!Maharashtra’s highest peak called Kalsubai can also be seen en route. Be sure to keep a camera handy! The MTDC signboard is probably the indicator that you have reached Bhandardara. Even if you don’t have accommodation at MTDC, do make sure to visit the part of Arthur lake in its premises. This part of the lake is surrounded by hillocks and the waters are very calm. Just an indication of how deep it actually runs! If, like us, you venture to MTDC resort spontaneously, you may wish it was a planned visit! Although the resort structure is dilapidated, the location of the cottages makes you kind of regret your spontaneity! The only drawback is that even if the visit is a planned one, and one does find accommodation in the best cottage, MTDC may still punish you- as they have a rundown mess masquerading as a restaurant. But then again, one look outside and you will be more than happy to be punished! Thankfully, we reached there with a full stomach, so we didn’t need to eat there.
Like most lakes in tourist places in India, this one too has some boating activities, with their list of dos and donts. Not in a mood for a conventional boat ride, we took our chance and asked a boat owner if he could take us to the other side of the lake. Our requests in many touristy places usually meets with a negative response. But this boat owner was a sport! He took us to the other side of the lake and promised to come fetch us after an hour. So there we were on the other side of the lake! The place was desolate and quiet. Perfect for a lazy afternoon. This was probably the best time we had on the entire trip. No villages or people in sight. It was peaceful to just sit there and enjoy the view…Nothingness is what is wanted sometimes!
After this brief period of nothingness, we headed to the main reservoir of the lake. En route, we were lucky to see the Umbrella falls on Wilson dam as it was the end of monsoon. This waterfall is formed due to excess water in the dam and the water gushes out in full force creating the impression of an umbrella- hence the name. But one can’t really swim around the waterfall as the water is really forceful. It’s a good scene for a photo-op though.
A few minutes uphill from here is the Arthur Lake main reservoir. Formed as a reservoir on the Pravara river, this is one of the best lakes I have seen. It seems unending and the sunsets here are to die for! As it was the period just after the monsoons, the reservoir was completely full and overflowing at the edges. If you stand on the road and look towards the lake- it actually resembles an overflowing large vessel, with water dripping out at the edges. It’s a surreal experience! Many people do visit this lake, but because of the breadth of this lake, the people kind of fade from your vision.
Randha falls claims to be India’s 3rd largest falls also lies in this area- about 8-10kms from the reservoir, but we couldnt cover it in our maiden visit. From what I have heard, they are equally spectacular- albeit mostly in the monsoon season.
This stretch of Maharashtra transforms itself during the monsoons and the period just after that. However, I see no reason why one should berate it in other seasons. The best part is that the entire experience is still rustic and raw- something that is quickly vanishing in this part of the world. But one thing’s for sure- next time I will try to balance the planning and spontaneity bits to stay at MTDC cottages at Bhandardara. The restlessness has already begun!