Chikhaldara in Maharashtra is a charming hill station bordering the Melghat Tiger Reserve
Shortly after we left the town of Paratwada behind, the road started to climb. On one side, the rolling slopes were covered with trees and shrubs while on the other, they fell in deep slopes. Sometimes, below, you could see a lake or groups of houses. But what surprised us was the sharp drop in temperature. We turned off the car’s air conditioning and opened the windows. A crisp, cool gust of breeze greeted us with the chirping of unseen birds. A few bends further, we find the hilly slopes sometimes giving way to plateaus.
While the plains of Vidarbha were sweltering with heat, Chikhaldara greeted us with mild weather. No wonder the British had decided to make these hills a summer retreat after the spot was discovered by a Captain Robinson of the Hyderabad Contingent Battery in 1823.
Although few remnants of the colonial past remain, Chikhaldara, perched at just over 3,600 feet, has now become one of Maharashtra’s most scenic hill stations, about 230 km drive from Nagpur. The road to the “ghat” stretches over nearly 40 km. Surrounded by hills, valleys and forests, Chikhaldara sits atop a plateau and enjoys an invigorating climate almost all year round. Due to its climate, the region is also known for its orchards and coffee plantations.
It was a long drive indeed, but the sight of our lodgings was a solace to our weary minds and bodies. Nestled in lightly wooded countryside was the MTDC Holiday Resort. As guests of the Maharashtra Tourism Authority, we received a traditional welcome and a refreshing drink. While our luggage was taken to our rooms, we explored the area. Just behind the tourist pavilion, we could see the towers of the future Skywalk. According to media, the 407-meter-long walkway will connect Hurricane Point to Goreghat Point; when completed, it will be one of the longest in the world.
Like most hill stations in India, Chikhaldara also has many natural attractions and viewpoints. You can start your day with a visit to Gavilgarh. Apparently the original fort was a mud structure and got its name from the ‘gawli’ or cowherds who lived here. According to old documents, the current fort was probably built by Ahmad Shah Wali, a ruler of the Bahmani dynasty of the Deccan, in 1425-26, while he was camping at Ellichpur. It was later a Maratha stronghold until captured by the British in 1803 during the Second Anglo Maratha War. Although most of the fort is now in ruins, it offers panoramic views of the hills and valleys surrounding Chikhaldara. The cars go up to the base of the fort.
Some of the popular viewpoints include Bhima Kund – which turns lush green during the monsoon with waterfalls tumbling down the sheer rock faces, Mozari Point, Monkey Point, Echo Point, Hurricane Point, etc. like atmosphere with food stalls, pony rides, ferris wheel etc. A staircase leads to the cave temple below. The Amzari Forest Nursery and Tribal Museum will introduce you to local flora and tribal life. After some navigation on Lake Shakkar, you can end the day at Vairat Sunset Point. You can also explore some of the nature trails in the surrounding forest with guidance from locals.
We were warned by the lodge staff not to wander around the open areas after dark as there was a chance of wild animals wandering around. It was then that we learned that Chikhaldara shares a long border with the Melghat Tiger Reserve. So the chances of a lurking leopard or bear could not be ruled out. Visitors can take a quick tour of the forest by visiting Lake Semadoh, about an hour’s drive away. However, the premises of the MTDC lodge are safe and no accidents have ever been reported.
We chose to spend our evenings on the conservatory adjoining the dining room – which overlooked the valley below – in warm conversations over beers and hot pakodas. In the distance, the lights of the villages twinkled like glowworms.
Information: Located in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, Chikhaldara is about 100 km by road from the district headquarters of Amravati. The nearest airport is Nagpur, approximately 230 km by road. Accommodation is limited; better to book in advance. Although Chikhaldara can be visited all year round, except during peak summer, winter is the best time. To enjoy the green hills and waterfalls, one must visit during the monsoon. For more information see https://www.maharashtratourism.gov.in/.