Bhimashankar Part 1…
The end of winter in the Indian subcontinent is traditionally marked by the full moon night that occurs somewhere in the middle of March. In the Hindu calendar, it is the Holi Pournima (the burning of the demon Holika) the triumph of good over evil, the burning of bad things and the expectation of good things. It also marks the beginning of harvesting season in many states in India. And, as with any working professional, it also signifies a holiday from work. This year, the much awaited and wanted holiday came adjacent to a weekend.
Since the whole family had a holiday on this Holi day, we naturally headed outdoors. This time we booked a cottage at a resort in the famous forest reserve hill station called Bhimashankar, a place which is famous amongst many trekkers and adventurers in Maharashtra and beyond. The temple of Lord Shiva at Bhimashankar is well known.
A brief research on the Internet gave us options to stay. We had narrowed down to a couple of them. But the Blue Mormon was also recommended by a close acquaintance. We called them and booked our cottage for 3 days and 2 nights. The charges were not very high.
We took the Nashik road from Pune till Rajgurunagar and then took a left road to go to Bhimashankar. This is a very beautiful road and winds through some scenic mountains and the backwaters of the Chas Kaman dam. We saw wonderful shades of blue and green in the water during our drive. The road is a bit bumpy and pot holed at places so we could not speed up. But no one was complaining as we had the beautiful scenery and the great views to keep us company. We also had to cross some ghat section and as we neared the Blue Mormon hill resort, we noticed the drop in the temperature. This was almost like a guarantee that we were going to enjoy our stay and our picnic.
Having some breakfast on the way at one of the small hotels, we continued our journey, sometimes stopping for photos or sometimes just to watch the view. The Blue Mormon is slightly off the road – around 2 km from the state highway. Rest assured the road is fully motorable, though quite narrow. On reaching and finishing the check-in formalities, we were shown our independent cottage with a car parking available just outside the gate. I had noticed a beautiful and healthy looking German Shephard as we checked in. Little was I aware at that time that he would be one of the most memorable things about our trip to Bhimashankar.
We refreshed ourselves and were ready to have our late lunch. We ordered and decided to take a short look around the resort. It is big and is spread over a tableland. With huts and bungalows spaced all over, but with sufficient privacy for the guests. I had my camera and went off clicking. As I checked my camera later, we had clicked around 350 photos here. Almost a 100 each day
After a good lunch, we were just lazing on the traditional rope wired bed called as Khat in the lawns waiting for the sun to go down a bit so that we could move around more freely to explore the resort hotel further. As we sat here, I had the first up close encounter with Bush, the German Shepherd; as my kids were busy with the trampoline, I stood up keeping one eye on the kids and the other on views and photo opportunities. He came close and as if checking me out, had a quick sniff at my hand and my foot. I let him do it and immediately realised that he was an extremely friendly and playful 6 years old ‘pup’. There was another dog sitting close by who did not bother to check anyone out. We later came to know this was Basanti, the other dog of the resort. I petted Bush a bit and continued on my photography. Bush would follow me around the resort while I took the photos. He would simply come with me and sit down while I did my stuff. I did not really think anything about this on our first day.
Our cottage was a very short distance from the main check in counter and the restaurant and it was best to explore on foot. The resort has a lot of greenery and some dedicated flower beds which had roses and lilies and a few others. The entire resort is easily accessible on foot and does not take more than 10 minutes to go from one end to the other.
We asked for directions to go to the temple the following morning and also asked the supervisor to arrange for a guide to take us around the next morning. Another thing to note about this resort is that there is no mobile network coverage and they do not accept any cards. Please carry cash. (I know it can be risky, but that is how they accept payment)
A quick chat with the manager and a few employees suggested that we could explore the area on our own. We still were hoping to go with the guide as we wanted to venture into the forest as much as possible so as to get the feeling of a jungle trek.
The next morning, we expected the guide to show up at 6:30 am sharp and were ready by that time. When I went to the resort office to ask them for the morning tea before we left on our jungle trek, Bush and Basanti both came out barking and I was really scared to see two charging dogs. But this was just momentary, both recognised me right away and their manner of approaching me changed the moment they sniffed and confirmed that I was a friend they had met the previous evening. Basanti went off on her way but Bush kept on with me. He actually came back with me to our cottage and sat outside in the verandah; he looked royal in the way he sat.
The guide did not turn up. But we were glad since the night had become so cold on that plateau that the kids, wrapped in the warm blankets, did not stir till 8:30 am. We, however, got up, had our customary walk around the resort looking for birds and flowers and interesting views to photograph.
We then went to the temple. On our way, we were hoping to have a true jungle feel and also catch a glimpse or two of the giant squirrel – the state animal of Maharashtra. On a particular turning of the road, we stopped the car to get some photos of the greenery around the valley. That’s when I noticed a stir on some branches above. We saw the squirrel jump from a branch to another and go down into the valley.
But before he disappeared, he did give us a few poses and we were able to catch those in the camera frame. A few simians were also there to welcome us and gladly took whatever food we offered. The typical scene of a baby monkey clinging to the mother’s belly was adorable and we tried to offer this particular mother some food as well.
We got along our road and reached the temple parking lot; which is nothing but the local bus stand that also runs a pay and park.
The way to the main temple is covered by a wooden ceiling for most of the pathway. They also have the customary shops selling toys, sweets, and other paraphernalia that can be expected near any of our temples.
We had a VIP style darshan of Lord Shankar as the guy who was regulating the crowd and the queue was probably on his break and we could enter the main sanctum directly. On coming out we saw that the guy was back and there was a decent queue. We were not complaining!
We enquired with the local shopkeepers about the trek and jungle pathway to walk around. We were told about two more temples and were shown the way. We took the necessary permissions and the tickets to enter the reserved forest and after confirming with the guard that it was safe to go with kids, we began our 4 km walk on the trail. It was hot and sunny and we were exhausted walking, but the trees and the small butterflies kept our spirits high and we walked till we reached a Ganpati temple where we met two middle-aged gentlemen who hailed from South India. They were chanting some wonderful mantras in their language. Though we did not understand anything, the tune and the overall atmosphere was so religious that we wanted to stay there longer. There was another temple but since we were really tired we decided to head back to the parking lot.
We returned enjoying the greenery and sometimes dense forest and large boulders; clicking photos on the way.
Honestly, we did not even miss the guide at all.
On the way back, we enjoyed the drive again and kept looking for the giant squirrel, but I guess his appearance in the day was done and he had retreated to his safe haven, somewhere below in the valley.
To be continued……