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Bright green. Lush. Misty... Chikhaldhara, 763 km from Bombay in Amravati in Maharashtra, is an enchanting place to travel to in the rains and our recommended destination for the week.
We inaugurated this series with an overview of Tranquebar, then offered the Orissa beach resort, Gopalpur-on-Sea, and the hill towns of Mirik and Kurseong, south of Darjeeling. Last fortnight Rediff Travel presented the historical Rajasthani town of Chittaurgarh, beautiful Sarahan in eastern Himachal and forgotten Orchha in Madhya Pradesh .
Up in the Gavilgarh Hills of the Satpura range is the attractive hill town of Chikhaldhara. Probably the only hill station -- altitude: about 1,200 metres above sea level -- in the pastoral Vidharbha region of eastern Maharashtra, this little town is surrounded by lakes and waterfalls and is situated very close to the Dhakana-Kolkaz National Park, as well as the Melghat Tiger Project.
Chikhaldhara has the honour of being one of the few places left in Maharashtra where it is possible to spot a tiger. The last tiger census reported that about 80 tigers still prowled around this abundantly green neighbourhood. It is also the place to look out for other types of wildlife -- magpies, chitals, sambhars, panthers, sloth bears, wild boars and langurs.
The town also earns itself fame for two unlikely characteristics. It is the northernmost coffee growing territory of India. And Chikhaldhara -- population about 3,100 -- is also considered to be, geographically, one of the last Marathi-speaking areas before the Hindi belt begins, just north of it.
The grassy and forested country around Chikhaldhara is home to the Austric tribe, the Korkus and the little tribal museum in the town centre provides some facts and figures about this community. However, both the wildlife and the life style of the indigenous people is being threatened by dam projects and excessive forestry.
Legend has it that Chikhaldhara was named after Prince Kichaka who was killed by the powerful Bheem, a Pandava, for offending Draupadi. Bheem tossed his body in a valley nearby and the area came to be known as Kichaka bara, and later Chikhaldhara. The hamlet, however, was established as a 'hill station' by the British in the 1830s.
Chikhaldhara is not very far away from the Gavilgarh fort, which was once an important point of defence of the Shahi kings, who ruled this region till it became part of the Ahmednagar kingdom in the 1500s. During the second Maratha war in the early 19th century, the Duke of Wellington took over this fort and it was subsequently (and strategically) allowed to fall to ruins.
The Maharshtra tourism department has made considerable efforts to promote Chikhaldhara as an ideal monsoon destination. Indeed during these months the ghats are cloaked in thick fog and waterfalls wildly tumble down the hillsides. The forests sparkle. And life dawns anew.
The best time to visit Chikhaldhara is during the rains from July to September, or in winter from November to early March. The winter season is ideal to spot wildlife.
Semadoh Forest Lodge, in the Dhakana-Kolkaz National Park. Basic accommodation. Meals are available. Good location.
The nearest railway station which is also Badnera is on the main Bombay- Calcutta line. The Howrah Mail, Howrah-Kurla Express, Geetanjali Express and the Vidharbha Express pull into Badnera daily.
The nearest airport, Nagpur, is 230 km, approximately five hours, away from Chikhaldhara. Indian Airlines flies into Nagpur daily from Bombay and New Delhi. The flight from New Delhi departs at 1620 hours and arrives in Nagpur at 1730 hours and the one way economy air fare is Rs 3,975 (Business class seats are not available on this flight). The morning flight from Bombay departs at 0545 hours and arrives in Nagpur at 0645 hours. The evening flight departs from Bombay at 1845 hours and arrives in Nagpur at 1945 hours. The one way economy Bombay-Nagpur fare is Rs 3,350. The one way Bombay-Nagpur business class fare is Rs 4,970.
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