Bhandardara is situated in the Sahyadri Hills, in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. The hundred kilometre drive from Shirdi to Bhandardara felt longer than the three and a half hours it took us to reach. The drive along the sometimes florescent green fields and sometimes dark, black soil expanses formed a nice contrast to the bright blue sky above and could have signalled unbridled joy, except that the tar on the road (or the lack of it) had decided not to extend us that courtesy. Thankfully as the
Western Ghats got closer and we began our ascent, the
hills started bombarding us with a slideshow of panoramic views as if in
Ghats are a sight to behold during, or fresh from, the monsoons.
Lush green here explains itself needing no help from either Webster’s or . The vistas got our
sleepy eyes awakened and battered bones rejuvenated and we soon pulled over at
the parking bay of MTDC`s resort at Bhandardara. At first instance it is easy
to feel let down looking at the slightly unkempt property especially after being
pampered by our regular holiday time sharer ,Club Mahindra’s quality and
attention to detail. This was a downsizing we had prepared for but didn’t want
to accept. But one look at the view awaiting us in front of our cottages and
every thought of possible discomfort vanished. The Oxford
and its backwaters silently screamed for our attention. And we were only too
glad to oblige. Our choice of resort was also vindicated when we realised that
Anandvan, a star resort in the vicinity, in spite of its premium tag and Yash
Resorts another,in spite of it swimming pool had nothing even close to offer in
comparison. MTDC, located on a hillock is at a vantage point and offers the
best possible view from anywhere in this area. Bhandardara Lake
The first evening was a boat ride to the ancient
at Ratanwadi. Said
to be built in 1100 A.D., this was a 1000 year old temple built in a style
called the Hemadpanti architecture. A small but intricately carved temple, its
peculiarity is a Shiva Ling (representative statue of Lord Shiva) which is
perennially under water. The temple’s inconspicuous size is compensated by the
absolute beauty of its location. The forty minute ride on the lake to the
temple, the long winding backwaters and the hills all around gave its tiny size
a more than perfect setting for focus and devotion. There are Vedanta classes held here, organised
by a priest who is surprisingly an MBA degree holder and has made it his
mission to propagate the merits of the Vedas. The temple precincts are an ideal
setting for his tutelage. Prayers done and the intricate carvings digitised in
our cameras, we headed back. The temple started disappearing from sight and we
realised it was fading light and not distance that caused this. The boatman,
worried, was now in a hurry to get us back because it would soon be dark and
navigating the functional motor-boat back to the resort in the dark would be
difficult. Fortunately old Hindi songs in the form of Antakshari (a spoken/sung
parlor game of Bollywood songs) calmed our nerves-and his, and we arrived at
the shore as soon as visibility became zero. A vivid memory here is that of a clear,
star spangled sky, giving us a visual representation of what a billion could
look like all at once. Amruteshwar
Food options at the resort were rudimentary. Thankfully, the food was tasty and being a government set up, it was not priced high either. Other options for food were a good five kilometres away. With a trek scheduled for the next morning, we moved to our cottages after a quick dinner. Flies and scores of unfamiliar insects, attracted by the lights, emblazoned the cottage walls and made for a sight more eerie than unpleasant.
Early next morning, fully charged from a good nights rest and a refreshing cup of tea, we proceeded for our trek aided by our guide. One of the trekking options was to Mt.Kalsubai. But preferring something less taxing for our untried feet we opt for a shorter, easier trek. We would now trek across a few villages to a hill behind our resort and back. On your way up the hill, the reach of the backwaters comes into view. They stretch almost beyond sight into the horizon. The guide then points to a small speck in the distance. It is the
we had visited
earlier. This spellbinding view of the dam’s catchment made us wish we had
taken the Mt.Kalsubai trek. Another point we didn’t visit was the Ratangadh
Fort, which has many myths and legends. Amruteshwar
Once back from the trek we decided to make good use of thecottage lawns and that spectacular add-on, the panorama in front. Out came the pack of cards, the bed spreads on the grass and along with it the customary game of Antakshari. This was bliss; in one of the many avatars it had paid us a visit with on this sojourn.
“Save the best for the last”, goes an old refrain. We had unknowingly done so for an experience on this trip that would make it one of our most memorable. During one of our casual conversations with the locals, we gathered that many of the villagers came to the lake every morning to bathe. The water was potable and the lake was not known to have any undercurrents. It was presumed safe to swim in and was in fact a routine with most of the people who came to bathe. There was a small temple across the lake on the opposite shore. Some regularly swam across to pay their obeisance.
The next morning, our last there, we took a dip near the shore to test the waters. Clear,cold and crisp. And invigorating. And to think that this was only the “beta version” of a swim we now believed would be etched in our memories for a long, long time if we decided to do it. We were going to swim across the lake to the opposite shore, visit the temple and return by boat. A distance of a little more than a kilometre, we would swim the entire length with the boat alongside us as a precaution. The boat would be carrying the rest of the group (just the two of us were adventurous enough).
The sheer joy and ecstasy of being surrounded by hills in such a vast expanse of water, for me, nay, us, had no equal. We swam ashore to the temple and thanked the lord for an experience which could be called one. This swim was one of the best I could ever have imagined.
The beauty of Bhandardara and the unexpected delight it gave us is something we will always regale acquaintances with.