When Menon proposed that we go to this beautiful place called Varandha Ghat, we were more than willing. The plan was to go to Varandha Ghat and see the scenery which we had often seen on internet, find a waterfall deserving of our fun, and then go to a Shiv temple about which only Menon had some vague idea. So one fine Saturday morning, we started.
Varandha Ghat is a mountain passage in the Western Ghats. It cuts the Western ghats to join the town of Bhor to Konkan and thus connects Pune and the Konkan region. The place has an abundance of natural beauty and lush green forests, tall mountains, wildlife and waterfalls in monsoons are common place. Not as famous as the Tamhini ghat, Varandha ghat is still a great weekend getaway from Pune.
It was raining when we started, but it has rained so much this year that we have become nearly immune to it. The car was Menon’s and the driver (himself) was free. One good thing about this trip was, that unlike the Lonavala route, we did not have to negotiate through the roads of Pune. Instead, all we required was to take a left turn from Fatima Nagar towards IBM and then go to Katraj. Very soon the Katraj ghat started, and though it’s a small one, we started getting the feeling of outdoors.
The road from Katraj was National Highway 4 and we continued on it for sometime till after Kapurhol from where we had to take a right turn for Bhor. The road from here was narrower but traffic was very less so we maintained our speed. We were still on plains and mountains look quite distant. We came across a dam called Bhatghar dam which has a hydel power station with it. It was small government township with inhabitants mostly from the hydel project.
From Bhor, we turned right towards the Varandha Ghat road, slowly gaining altitude. The condition of the road deteriorated a little but was still good. The scenery now started turning beautiful, the greenery increased and the wet mountain breeze lifted our moods. There were one or two beautiful spots with lush green grass, trees and houses mixed in the perfect shades.
We even found one waterfall, big and seemingly safe enough to go and take a bath. It had started raining by then and the flow of water increased substantially. As Menon went under the fall wearing his spec, it broke into two by the sheer force of the water. Since he was our prime driver, he had to complete the rest of the drive on glasses borrowed from Mitesh. Lesson learnt: Do not mix specs and glasses.
Varandha Ghat is a beautiful place. There is a point at which the mountain takes a U-bend. On one side the roads goes, cut into a hill bend and on other side, beyond the valley are steep hills, so green that they almost look photo-shopped. Combined with clouds, some mist and waterfalls, it makes for a perfect landscape portrait.
From Varandha Ghat, we started towards Mahad and at a point, we had to take a right towards a very narrow road. This road was unlaid with only loose gravel, has sharp hair-pin bends and seems to descend almost to the sea level. Most of the time, it seemed we were the only people on the road. It was raining, visibility was poor and the drive, quite treacherous. Finally after a 45 minutes ascent and crossing of a mountain stream, we reached the small village of Shivthar.
Shivthar Ghal, lying at the base of the Sahyadri, is an important place for the Hindus in Maharashtra. It was at a cave in this place, that Samarth Ramdas, a famous guru of the region, stayed for 22 years and wrote his book ‘Dasbodh‘. It was also at this place that Chatrapati Shivaji’s first meeting with Samarth Ramdas took place. A monastery Samartha Seva Mandal, dedicated to the guru is built around the cave. This place is an abode of silent beauty, thick vegetation, mountains flanking it from all sides, waterfalls and streams. In fact, a big waterfall lies just next to the cave, ending in a stream which flows below the monastery. Looking at the serenity of this place, it is not hard to imagine why the guru chose to live here.
We stayed for around one hour at Shivthar and left after having a nondescript but pricey lunch at one of the eateries there. The tourists had started arriving by this time and the place started getting crowded. The drive back was mundane, with most of us quite tired and sleepy. We managed to reach Pune by around 6:30 PM; a good one day’s drive far from the noise of the city.