Complete Guide to Bhandardara

THE LESSER-KNOWN GEM OF THE WESTERN GHATS

 

Bhandardara is a hill station nestled in the Sahyadri Range of Maharashtra. This unspoiled destination offers exquisite landscapes with lush greenery, pristine hills and of course, numerous gorgeous waterfalls. Add to it the stunning Arthur lake, Kalsubai trek and multiple camping spots, Bhandardara is becoming a favourite getaway for city-dwellers from Mumbai and Pune, seeking a break in the arms of nature. Read on to know how to best plan your trip!

Imagine a dreamy landscape with cozy tents pitched on the edge of a shimmery blue lake and skies filled with millions of stars. As the Sun sets and rises with utmost charm, the skies are painted various hues of blue, purple and orange. Welcome to the Arthur Lake-one of the most popular attractions of the hill station.

While the pre-monsoon season calls for the spotting of hundreds of fireflies, the monsoons and winters offer trekking and camping opportunities  and Bhandardara’s multitude of crystal clear streams and waterfalls, fishing and boating make it an attraction for tourists all year round.

Bhandardara offers a unmatched number of options, for travellers of all kinds, to seek their slice of nature and relaxation. Its proximity to Mumbai and steadily increasing tourist infrastructure makes it a must visit weekend getaway spot.

The best way to reach Bhandardara is by road in a private vehicle. Using public transport will require some doing and it can be a tiring journey, will patches of poor roads. Having said that, the majority of the journey is comfortable with many restaurants, restrooms dotting the highway.

 

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IMPORTANT NOTE:   Make sure the vehicle fuel take is filled up before you set off for the journey as there are NO FUEL STATIONS in Bhandardara.


From Mumbai :

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– Bhandardara is about 160-190 km away from the city and a journey of approx 3.5 to 4 hours by road.

–  The NH 3 Highway connects Mumbai to the town. The ideal route to reach is Eastern Express Highway> Mulund> Thane> Kalyan> Nashik Highway> Kasara> Igatpuri> Ghoti Toll post [turn right]> Pimpalgaon> Bhandardara Dam.

From Pune:

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– Located at a distance of 170 kms from the city, it takes around 4.5 to 5 hours to reach the hill station.

-The NH 50 and SH#21 ( State Highway ) are to be used. The route to reach is Pune> Narayangaon> Ozar> Otur> Bramhanwada> Kotul> Rajur> Shendi(Bhandardara).

All parts of Maharashtra can  access the hill station by road as it has the State highway 44 (SH# 44) going through it.

The campsites around Arthur Lake can be tough to find, if you rely just on google maps. Seek help from locals or call your travel company for assistance in locating the site. There is typically ample parking space available at a short distance from campsites, though you will have to take a dirt road to get there. Bikes can pretty much go all the way to the banks of the lake.


BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Bhandardara is located approximately 60 kms from Kasara Station and 45 km from Igatpuri Station.

One can either board trains such as the Nandigram Express train, Mahanagri Express, Kolkata Mail, Howrah Mail from CST to Igatpuri or take a Local train to Kasara. ( On the Central line)
There are ST buses plying to Bhandardara from Igatpuri and Kasara Station but their frequency is quite low.

-If you are travelling in a group you can book a private vehicle or jeep to reach Bhandardara at a cost of Rs 1000-1200 from Kasara Station. This is not only more convenient and comfortable but also cost effective as the total amount can be split by the group!

– If you are travelling alone or with a friend
and don’t mind being stuffed into a dingy and packed jeep for a while to save some bucks, you can take a share jeep upto Varangushi village for about Rs 120 and hop onto a jeep to Shendi for just Rs.20! Bhandardara is approximately 3 km away from here and can be reached by hopping onto another jeep for a rate of 10-20 Rs or hiring a private jeep for rates ranging from Rs 300- 500. ( Pvt vehicle rates vary as per demand and climate conditions.)

The route to take is Kasara> Varangushi> Shendi > Bhandardara.

– From Igatpuri Station, there are private vehicles and shared jeeps available at similar rates.
( Approx Rs 800-1000 for a private vehicle up to Bhandardara.)

There are various travel agencies and individuals who provide tents, camping and transport facilities along with food, near the lake.The prices charged by travel Agencies and organizers  for providing camping amenities such as tents, bonfire and food range from 1 to 1.5k per person.


Following are some of the camping/ dorm options having reasonable rates which you can choose from :

1) Adventures Club Pune
– Bhandardara Lake Camping programme at the price of 1.5k.
–   Provide transportation for an extra charge.
–  Includes food, stay, boating and free guide.

2) Triphippie
– Fireflies camping ( pre-monsoon) at the Bhandardara jungle near the lake at the price of approx 1.5-2k and Lakeside Camping ( in winter) at the price of 1.5k.
– Provide internal transport around Bhandardara for an extra charge
– Includes food, stay and free guide.

3) Mr. Ramdas ( Organiser)
-Bhandardara Lake Camping at the price of 1.2k.
-Contact him on the number +91- 95945973980.
-Includes food and stay.

4) Vagabond Experiences
– Fireflies spotting and forest trail with lodging at Bhandardara for a price of 2,600.
– Includes stay, campfire, food, music, boating and transport to and from Kasara in private vehicle.

If you want a completely independent experience, you can also carry your own tents and camp at a several spots near the lake. But there are some things one needs to keep in mind.  Shannon Fernandes ,The Co-founder of Vagabond Experiences states , “ Although you can take your own tents to camp at the lakesite, there is a possibility of getting into a tiff with the locals.” Be prepared to adjust and seek a spot away from the main camp area if you wish to set up your own tent there. A good way to get around this issue is by procuring some services such as food etc from locals.

If camping is not your thing, there are a few decent hotel options as well. There are 3 major hotels and resorts that are located in Bhandardara town. Of these, MTDC has the best view.

1) The MTDC Resort /GOVT HOTEL   ( Tripadvisor Rating – 3.5/ 5)

– Prices range from Rs.1000 to 5000 as per peak season and demand.

– Features a Restaurant, Room service, free parking and Air conditioned rooms.


2) The Anandvan Resort   (  Tripadvisor Rating – 4/ 5)

– Prices range from Rs. 3000-7000 as per demand from tourists.

– Features free Parking, Air conditioned rooms, Breakfast buffet, a Restaurant, Bar/ lounge and Room service.

 

3) Yash Resort  (  Tripadvisor Rating  4/5)

– Prices range from Rs. 3,500 to 9000 depending upon the demand from tourists!

– Features a Restaurant, an Indoor tennis court and an Outdoor pool.

– Free Wifi, parking and Continental breakfast is also provided. The resort also has provisions such as 24-hr room service, a rooftop terrace, a meeting room.

While there are many small shacks and homes of locals providing food at base of treks and tourist spots, here are the 4 major restaurants at prime locations :

1) Pancha Sheel  (Indian Cuisine)

– Tripadvisor Rating – 4/ 5. INR 550 for two

-Offers Indian and Chinese cuisines. The chicken dishes here are quite popular and enjoyable. Near MTDC, Bhandardara, Maharastra, India.

 

2) Coffee Dam Corner ( Snacks and beverages)

– Tripadvisor Rating – 3.5/ 5. INR 300 for two
-They offer a variey of vadas, bhaijiyas and snacks with tea. ST bus stop, Bhandardara, Maharastra, India.

 

 3) Lake View Restaurant ( Indian Cuisine )

– Tripadvisor Rating – N/ A. INR 400 for two
– The restaurant offers a splendid view, along with great options for both vegetarians and non vegetarians. The desserts here are a must-try as well. MTDC Hotel, Bhandardara, Mahrashtra India

4) Hotel Kaka ( Highly recommended.)

–  Tripadvisor Rating – 4.5/ 5. Rs 120-150 per person. ( Thali)

-Booking: Families serve authentic and tasty Gujarati meals for lunch and dinner. However, you can’t walk in for ready food and need to place the order prior to visiting the restaurant. You can contact Shailesh Shah (+91 88055 63415) in advance with possible menu options!

Best time to Visit:

– The months of July to September are suitable to visit the waterfalls and greenery around the hills is at its peak in the monsoon.
– The months of October to February are best for activities such as camping and trekking, the nip in the air providing an ideal setting for a barbeque

– Summer time is generally hot and dry and hence not ideal for a visit. However, one can get great off season rates at the hotels and the lake itself is still strikingly beautiful with pleasant evenings.

Here are some of the highly recommended spots to visit around Bhandardara.

Arthur Lake:

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– The Arthur lake is formed by the Pravara River and holds religious significance as Agastya Rishi meditated at this place for over a year. It is around 34 km long  and acts as a reservoir for the nearby Wilson Dam.

– The calm blue lake (having boating facilities) and the clear skies look gorgeous pretty much all throughout the day; as the sun rises and dips while the stars come out to light up the night sky. Pitching tents, bonfire sessions, stargazing and going on nature trails in the nearby dense forests are experiences which make this location a must-visit spot in Bhandardara.

a) LOCATION:

Situated at a distance of approximately 2 km from the Bhandardara Village.

b) HOW TO REACH :

-Either by private vehicle OR shared jeeps/ taxis from Kasara and Igatpuri Station if you are travelling by train.

 

RATANGAD ( FORT)
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-This ancient fort overlooks the Sahyadri range of mountains.  Ratangad stands at a height 4,255 feet above sea level and offers gorgeous views of the surrounding landscapes. There is a natural rock cavity at the peak which is called ‘Eye of the Needle’ or ‘Nedhe’.

-Known as the ‘Jewels of the Fort’, it is a must-see place for every outdoor enthusiast.

-Out of the two caves on the Ratangad Fort, the smaller one can accommodates 8-10 people while the larger one accommodates up to 40-50 people.

a) LOCATION :

At a distance of approx 12 km from Bhandardara.

b) HOW TO REACH :

-To reach the base camp, a ferry over the Arthur Lake has to be taken.

-You have to walk through a dense jungle for 3-4 km (an hour approximately) and cross small streams to get to the entrance of the fort, which is quite hidden and has to be accessed through a chimney!

-Ratanwadi Village is the base camp for the trek to the fort. Arthur Lake separates the village from Bhandardhara.

-There is an option to take the road too, but it is in quite a bad condition.

c) TIME REQUIRED: 3- 3.5 hours from Ratanwadi Vilalge.

d) DIFFICULTY LEVEL OF TREK: EASY TO MEDIUM

 

THE AMRUTESHWAR TEMPLE

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Lord Shiva is the deity of this temple which is about 1000 years old. Below the Shiv Lingam, there is even a hot spring. According to some scriptures, this place was built during the Mahabharata by the Pandavas.

-During monsoons, water gets filled even in the inner sanctum of the temple. These exquisite features make the visit to the temple quite unique, as one experiences the cultural and historical significance of the place.

-Along with the feature of entirely being made of stone, the temple also has a pond around it having various remarkable carvings of deities worth seeing.

a) LOCATION :

Situated in Ratanwadi, this temple is at the base of the Ratandgad fort.

b) HOW TO REACH :

(Refer to the ‘HOW TO REACH’ section of Ratangad Fort and Arthur Lake.)

 

UMBRELLA FALLS

The stunning waterfall is situated amidst the luscious greenery of the Sahyadri Hills, descending from a height of 500 feet. The force of the water falling on the naturally placed circular rocks gives the visual impression of an ‘Umbrella’ and thus the term, “Umbrella Waterfalls”. The Wilson Dam is connected to the waterfall by a footbridge which offers a splendid view of the gushing waterfall. There are also shacks around the area which sell snacks and refreshments for tourists visiting the place. There is some parking space available near the Waterfall but it is often crowded during the peak season.  Parking the vehicle at a distance of 2-3 kms away and going walking is a good option to avoid the sometimes chaotic parking at the site.

a)LOCATION:
At a distance of 2.5 km from Bhandardara village and 500 m from the Bhandardara Bus stop.

b) HOW TO REACH:
By Private vehicle or Buses/ share jeeps. So one can either go walking or hop onto the Local jeeps which people use for daily transport.

There are small streams, rivulets, trees and canopies formed during the showers which serve as a good picnic spot offering a relaxing atmosphere suitable for all age groups. However, ascending the rocks near the waterfall (optional) for getting a view of the entire landscape might prove to be a bit difficult for (urban) older age groups.

 

RANDHA FALLS:
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Falling from a whopping height of 170ft, it transforms into the dazzling ‘Randha Waterfall’ and is the 3rd largest waterfall in India. There is a pathway for people to walk around and view the waterfall. Many travellers take a dip into the pond created by the waterfall. The chilly refreshing breeze and lush surroundings make the spot an ideal getaway for city-dwellers seeking to have a fun weekend amidst nature.

a) LOCATION :

Situated 10 kms away from Bhandardara, the Pravara River (forming the waterfall) is a major source of hydroelectricity in the region of Bhandardara. It takes about 30 to 40 minutes to reach here from the town of Bhandardara.

b) HOW TO REACH :

By Private vehicle or share jeeps from Kasara Station ( 62 km away) which drop you directly at the Randha falls for a rate of Rs 100- 120 per head.


REVERSE WATERFALL ( HALF- TREK)  & SANDHAN VALLEY FULL TREK

 

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Looking to experience something breathtaking and magical? Then head here for your next trek!
During the monsoons, a bizarre phenomenon occurs in the Sandhan Valley, i.e the occurrence of a reverse waterfall due to the high pressure winds and rainfall. Sandhan Valley is a one-of-its-kind destination for trekkers as it is also called the Grand Canyon of Maharashtra. Remember to take shoes with a good grip and a raincoat along!

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Water accumulated in the Sandhan Valley during Monsoons!

 

– The full trek (Not open to tourists during Monsoons) is suitable for seasoned trekkers with some previous trekking experience.

-Mahesh Kumar the founder of the travel agency  ‘The Ramblers India’ recommends visiting the Sandhan Valley if you only have a day at hand. The walk up to the reverse waterfall is allowed and quite suitable for all, irrespective of previous trekking experience. He states, “The age of people travelling with us varies greatly; there are teenagers as well as people who are above the age of 65.”

-He also mentions a place called Ghatgarh ( 6.8 kms away from the base Village of Samrad)  which although, lesser known; is quite a beautiful location for camping and offers authentic food provided by the locals.

a) LOCATION :

Samrad, the base village of the trek is approximately 23 km away from Bhandardara; taking about an hour to reach.

b) HOW TO REACH :

-A Private Vehicle has to be hired from either Igatpuri, Kasara or Bhandardara to reach the base village of Samrad.

c) TIME REQUIRED:

-30 minutes to reach the Reverse Waterfall from the base Village of Bari.

-The full trek takes about 8 hours to complete. ( 4.5- 5 hours to ascend and 2.5 hours to descend.)

d) DIFFICULTY LEVEL:

Reverse Waterfall Half Trek – Easy.
Sandhan Valley Full trek – Challenging.

KALSUBAI

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-Kalsubai is the highest peak in Maharashtra.It is an offshoot of the Sahayadri range with a staggering height of 5400 ft. above sea level. The lush green cover and splendid view from the top of the mountain, makes it among the best spot from trekking enthusiasts.

-There is food available at the base village – Bari, sold by local people who have set up shacks and houses there. If an overnight journey is being planned, one can stay at Bhandardara which is approx 16-17 km away from Bari Village.

-Although a long trek, there are stairs which continue till the top of the peak. The metal ladder, which is in good condition, has been placed in rough patches which might be difficult to climb. Thus,  making it quite accessible to beginner trekkers.

– The night skies in Bhandardara are famous for Stargazing. Both Vagabond Experiences and Ajay Singh from the Adventures Club Pune recommend the night trekking experience while climbing Kalsubai peak.

“As there is hardly any forest cover on the Kalsubai Trek, the Moonlit sky and night trekking makes for a fun experience as you can avoid the heat,” states Shannon Fernandes.  “In comparison to other treks, there is a clear laid out path and staircase to climb and so there isn’t much of a risk to trek at night.”

-There is also availability of some parking space for Private Vehicles.

a) LOCATION :

Bari, the base village of the trek is at a distance of approx 32 km from Bhandardara.

b) HOW TO REACH :

Either by private vehicles, shared jeeps (local transport) or ST buses regularly plying from Igatpuri and Kasara to Bhandardara, Pune and Akole; all of which stop by the Base village of Bari.

c) TIME REQUIRED  :  5-6 hours.

d) DIFFICULTY LEVEL:  EASY TO MEDIUM.

For camping and trekking around Bandhardara, we recommend the following packing list:

Backpack
-For trekking, a basic pair of trekking shoes or even running shoes will suffice
– Torch/ Headlamp
– Dry Snacks like biscuits, wafers or nutty bars.
–  A good blanket/ Sleeping Bag ( for Camping )
– Raincoat/ Poncho
– A good camera for capturing the scenic locations – a DSLR with a wide angle lens is recommended.
– For camping, consider carrying a portable travel safe to keep all your valuables safe in your tent

– Women should carry Peebuddy, as there are a dearth of proper toilets at the campsite and on the trek

– If going by own vehicle, consider carrying a car safety kit such as this one. The roads can get rough and there are not too many petrol pumps/mechanic shops around.

Bhandardara is as such quite a safe location. However, certain common sense precautions are obviously important to keep in mind:

– The main hospitals in this area for any medical emergency are :
1) Primary Health Care Center
Ahmednagar; Maharashtra.
Contact no :097628 30880
Distance from Bhandardara : 1.6 KM

2) Samarth Hospital
SH44; Kolahar Ghoti Road; Aurangpur Phata;
Contact no : 099222 64094
Distance from Bhandardara: 5.2 KM

– The nearest police station is located at Akole.
Here are some details :
Akole Police Station
Dhumalwadi Road; Amrut Nagar; Akole; Maharashtra 422601; India phone:
02424 221 333
Distance from Bhandardara: 9.4 KM

– The lake area is quite safe on weekends, given the crowd of people there. However, be mindful of your belongings, especially if you are camping out on your own there. Locking your backpack, using a portable travel safe or even a motion sensor alarm can be useful if you are in a secluded spot.

– Do not take a dip in the lake at night as it is rocky and as such not allowed.

– There are a lack of toilet facilities, especially for women at the camp sites, so carrying a peebuddy would be useful.

– If you are going on a trek and do not have experience with the trail, it is highly recommended that you go with a tour guide.

– The trails and rocky patches are especially slippery in the monsoons, so do not go for a trek without proper footwear.

– The waterfalls are also precarious to access at some points with a rocky terrain. It would be sensible to carry a basic first aid kit, if you are looking to explore this area on foot.

– In case you plan to trek during the Summer, carry enough water and start your treks early to avoid the heat. (As early as 7-8 am.)

“The number of ST buses available from Kasara are limited so you might have to travel in share jeeps and autos which might be slightly more expensive,” states Ajay Singh (Manager) from The Adventures Club Pune. Visit https://msrtc.maharashtra.gov.in for details regarding buses to Bhandardara.

-From Igatpuri, there are taxis as well as buses available for transportation.

– With no wild animals or snakes lurking at the campsite near the Arthur Lake, the place is quite safe to spend the night at the spot.

–  Trek routes may or may not have any fixed/proper/appropriate washrooms. So get in contact with local guides or meal providers who are mostly likely to assist you with info regarding these.

While trekking, caution needs to be exercised on slippery rocky patches and while entering water bodies.

– The phone network and internet connectivity is really bad in Bhandardara. If you are using a private vehicle and relying on Google maps to navigate, we advise you to download the route to your destination(s) offline.

Image credits: Meryl Dantes, Manan Shah, Sumati Sahgal