Chikhaldara, for reasons unknown, has had a resonance in my mind that goes beyond the public information. As a school kid in Konkan in the 80s, I read the name in the geography text book, in the list of hill stations of the state. There were other names too, like Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani, Lonavala and Matheran. The special thing about Chikhaldara was that I never met anyone who had actually been to the place. It was just there on the map. A spot with no associations, images – either visual or mental. Its name in Marathi – roughly meaning a gorge full of mud- also spurred imagination, with its hint of danger.
So it was a matter of time before the place found itself on my itinerary.
Chikhaldara makes for an ideal weekend destination from Nagpur (240 Km), although it is quite far from Mumbai, Pune, Aurangabad or any major city in India. Its location, in fact has kept the rowdy droves away so far, though the situation is changing with Amravati and Akola crowds making up for the ones from metros.
We set off from Nagpur at about 4:15 pm on the familiar Amaravati road. Getting out of city limits was relatively easier this time due to low volume of traffic at this hour. We covered the150Km distance to Amravati by 8 pm. We mulled taking a dinner break but decided to press on instead. We reached Paratwada by 9:30 pm and began the ascent to Chikhaldara in the dead of the night.
It is a solitary road with treacherous twists and turns. Of course, we couldn’t see the deep fall on side, only imagine it!
I was lucky to have survived the 25 Km drive. I nearly drove the car off the road a couple of times. No, I wasn’t sleepy. The “blame” should go to the well-intentioned but misguided Public Works Department which had painted the rocks on either side of road in ghastly white, making them look like standing demons. Taking a blind turn in dark and suddenly finding a shining white, tall “figure” up ahead can be unnerving.
We reached Chikhaldara at 10:30 pm and pulled up in the first resort which we saw. Luckily, the guys here were used to late arrivals and could offer us food. It was hardly appetizing, however. Blame it on the lack of supplies, which are not locally available and have to be ferried from Amravati. In fact, the next morning, two restaurants politely declined to give us tea as they had run out of milk!
Next day, I woke up early – at 5:30 am-like a sincere tourist, and set off to see the sunrise! The town was just a couple of Km in expanse and it seemed to me that I would have enjoyed more on a bicycle than a in a car.
The main market was utterly tiny- perhaps not more than 20 shops – and was yet to awaken.
Malviya Point is generally called the sunrise point in Chikhaldara. But since the plateau is small, most other points too offer an equally good view.
At the point where I reached, a couple of local youth were busy in physical exercises.
Sunrise was beautiful as usual. Since I don’t see it very often, I found it even more so!
But catching it in a basic point-and-shoot camera is meaningless. It comes off looking like sunset.
At 10 am, we vacated the resort room and left for the Devi lake. Devi Lake has boating facility. A school excursion had come to visit Chikhaldara and the children were hugely enjoying the boat rides.
We drove straight ahead towards the Govilgarh fort. En route, we saw this wonderful meadow at the edge of a precipice and spent some time enjoying the panoramic views.
Huge and innumerable cactus islands immediately attracted attention..
Citizens of the Animal Republic of Chikhaldara welcomed us whole-heartedly.
A “cow-boy” made this beautiful flower-basket out of a wild plant right in front of us and sold it to us for a ridiculous Rs 10. Wonder how much it would have fetched if this was Mahabaleshwar or some other place closer to Mumbai/Pune.
Govilgarh fort is rather small, with a lake right at the entrance.
The fort’s history was given out in Marathi on a board.
We decided against exploring the inside of the fort and drove instead to the Forest Park. Forest Park turned out to be the most memorable part of the trip.
Horse ride outside the forest park was another feature typical to a hill station.
Somebody in the forest department had this superb idea of tying a number of swings to the huge trees in the Forest Park. It had certainly hit it off well with the crowd. Believe it or not, there was a queue behind every swing.
The toy train was running non-stop and was jam-packed with children. Its route too, was scenic, passing as it did through carefully planted ‘undergrowth’.
Caste system in birds too?
Another curiosity was the ‘Canopy Trail’. It was a sort of skywalk, built around treetops. The toy train, in its journey, passed under this ramp. The Canopy Trail was at the far end of the Forest Park and I did not see many people going there.
A pool in the ‘forest’, alas, dry.
Imaginative play-things for children.
Lush rolling plains, dotted with wheat fields and windmills, in afternoon sun… a serene scene.
Parasailing was underway at a spot near those massive windmills.
On way back from Chikhaldara to Paratwada, we saw the beauty of the road winding down the Satpuras.
A distant village with red-roofed houses, beckoning silently.
Wonder how magical this place will be in monsoons..