Maharashtra state, the state which in history constantly fought against intruders and never truly surrendered, in true sense the state of unbroken spirit. This spirit of freedom was kept alive by the mountain ranges which border Maharashtra from two sides. The mighty Sahyadri from west and a mysterious Vindhya ranges from North. These mountains are dotted by hundreds of forts and remote places where it was almost impossible for an outsider to reach, forget fighting and winning. As a
As a part of Western Ghats, Sahyadri ranges became famous. With the closeness of Metro cities like Pune and Mumbai, many places in Sahyadri got established as Hill stations and subsequently favourite tourist weekend destination. Compared to that Vindhya mountain ranges remained unnoticed. The hill stations in this area remained mostly low profile since it is difficult for travelling crowd from Pune and Mumbai to reach there. “Chikhaldara” is one such hill station.
Located about 100Km north of Amravati, Chikhaldara is the only well established hill station in Vidarbha. It is situated on such a mountain range, beyond which Maharashtra ends and Madhya Pradesh starts. Chikhaldara is a mountain top plateau with an average height from mean sea level of about 1088m (3570ft). Because of the unique location,Chikhaldara has the average rainfall of 154cm which is almost twice compared to other parts of Vidarbha. The good rainfall and the remoteness has allowed this area to grow an excellent forest and in true sense that is the main attraction of Chikhaldara.
Chikhaldara is situated on the borders of Melghat Project Tiger Area, in other words we can say that it is surrounded on three sides by the Project Tiger. The Project tiger has an area of about 1676 sq km. This Project tiger area is divided into several smaller wildlife reserves from the management point of view. The Melghat wildlife reserve which is about 780 sq. km. forms the entire southern border and partly western border of Chikhaldara. Gugamal Nation Park which is about 320 sq km. is the core zone of project tiger reserve which forms eastern border of Chikhaldara and partly northeastern border. This part being a core zone is one of the most untouched and pristine parts of the Reserve.
Chilkhaldara and Melghat Project tiger are two inseperable entities. Unless one knows about the natural wealth of Tiger reserve it is very hard to understand the importance of this hill station.
The Melghat project Tiger area contains about 700 species of Plants belonging to 400 genera and 97 different families. Of these 700 species, 90 are tree species which is the true wealth of this reserve. The jungle is mainly dry deciduous having teak and bamboo as most dominant vegetation. Other trees like Saag, Mahua, Ain are also dominant species of forest. Because of this extensive floral diversity, there is huge amount of faunal diversity.
The tiger reserve consist of over 70 tigers, almost same number of Leopards, about two hundred Sloth bears, about 1800 Indian Gaurs, hundreds of herbivore animals like Cheetal, Sambar, Barking deer, Wild boar, choushinga etc. The reserve also has rare animals like Flying squirrel, pangolin, Mouse deer, Ratel and Honey badger. The secretive animals like wild cats, caracal, Hyena can also be spotted in this reserve. Mammals like Jackal, Wild dogs, porcupines, variety of mongooses, variety of squirrels and Shrews and other rodents are also found in abundance. More than 350 species of birds are also found in the reserve. Hunting birds like Crested Serpent Eagle, changeable hawk eagle, Shikra, Besra, White eyed buzzard, honey buzzard are found in abundance. The attractive birds like Flamebacks, orioles, Pea fowls make your mind fresh with just one glimpse. The chatter of birds like parakeets, iora, Magpie robin, Shama keep the jungle alive during the day time and the birds like nightjars, owls keep the jungle alive during night time.
Chikhaldara has great historical references. It is said that “Bhima” the second eldest and strongest among Pandava brothers in Mahabharat times, killed King Kichek in this area and threw his body in the valley full of jungle. The valley is now recognised as Kichekdara and the water reservoir in which Bhima washed his hands is now known as Bhimkund.
This area is dotted by extremely small villages of “Korku” Tribals. This area was originally rules by tribal kings who were defeated by Bahamani dynasty. Later Bahamani dynasty died while giving bird to 5 smaller dynasties. Among these 5 dynasties, Imadshahi was the one which started Ruling this area. The Gavilgad and Narnala forts were built by Imad shah. Later on Imadshahi dynasty was exterminated by Moghuls, Nijamshah and Adilshah and rulers kept on changing. This area was then dominated by Maratha Dynasty under the rule of Sambhaji Maharaj, the eldest son of Shivaji Maharaj.
Gavilgad and Narnala are two are extremely huge forts with perimeter more than 15Km each. Of these two forts Gavilgad is situated right next to Chikhaldara. Narnala on other hand situated approximately on 3 - 4 Hrs journey time from Chikhaldara. It is very much interesting to visit these two forts from Archaeological point of view as well as architectural point of view.
Reaching Gavilgad is cliché if one is staying in Chikhaldara. You reach then main entrance of the fort directly by vehicle after travelling just 5 Km from the main Chikhaldara bus station. The fort is situated on two adjoining hills connected to each other and protected by fortification from all sides. You enter through the main gate on first hill which is smaller hill of the two. After crossing three gates you land up in the main area. This part mostly looks like designed for battle purpose alone. The area from which approach is easy, we can see double line of fortification. When we descend this hill and reach the connection between first and second hill, which is the lowest part of the fort, we can see that the thickness of fortification has gone up. Again to enter second hill ie second part of the fort, we must cross 3 huge gates and then we enter the main fort area. This part of the fort has ruins of palace, mosque and other luxury buildings. This part of the fort contains several water reservoirs which would have never allowed people on this fort die of thirst. Since this area lacks any kind of facilities, people don’t prefer to stay here for long time. The least interference from humans, nooks and crevices in the mountain and abundance of water has allowed this fort to become safe place for many animals. Sloth bears, Hyenas, Leopard are occasionally sighted on this fort if anyone dares to stay back after the sunset.
Apart from this fort, Chikhaldara has several spectacular points like Panchbol point, Hariken point, Mozari point, Devi point, Sunset point, Prospects point, Monkey point etc. Panchbol point is famous for multiple echos while Hariken point is famous for high speed wind. Though all Chikhaldara has good population of Rhesus monkeys and Lagoors, monkey point specifically has large number of moneys. Sunset point gives you spectacular view of jungle with dozens of different shades of green and with hundreds of different noises while sun goes down.
Chikhaldara has a descent rainfall but it is situated on the top of the mountain so it is very necessary to conserve water if one does not want to face shortage during summer. The government through his various departments has built many water conservation projects which has created variety of size of water reservoirs. The reservoirs like Bir dam, Kalapani Dam, Shakkar lake are few bigger ones. These dams does not help just human population but they help wildlife to a great extent. In the months of summer if you linger around these water reservoirs then you are sure to sight some mammal like barking deer, cheetal or wild boar and at least a two dozen species of birds. There was a time when the pride of India used to walk on the roads Chikhaldara. But with slightly increase in the population and poaching, Tiger is not sighted around Chikhaldara habitation anymore.
Semadoh village is located about 20Km from Chikhaldara which is situated on the banks of Sipna river. Just outside this village, on the banks of river, forest department has built an extremely nice Campsite. Nature lovers can book this place in Amaravati forest department office at very nominal cost and then enjoy the feel of jungle by living right in the middle of jungle. Flying squirrel is a shy nocturnal animal which mainly lives on trees and hence it is a very rare animal to spot. The sighting of this animal is almost guaranteed to people who stay in Semadoh Campsite. With permission from Forest department one can explore the tourist zone of Melghat Wildlife Sanctuary.
Considering that Natural wealth of Chikhaldara , reaching Chikhaldara is not easy but again its not difficult if you are a true nature lover. If you have 3 – 4 days in your hand, Chikhaldara is the most ideal destination for Nature lovers, Photographers, historians, Archaeologist and even for those who just want to have spectacular views and want to go away from city noises. The best season to visit Chikhaldara is from October to June. Chikhaldara is not closed during monsoon season but just it is difficult to reach. But the way you can see and experience waterfalls, streams and rivers in monsoon; no other season can offer you the same.
Chikhaldara is situated about 100Km from Amravati which is the nearest railway station as well as the main town. If you want to hire any vehicle or want to take bus to reach Chikhaldara, you have to go to Amravati first. The distance to Nagpur is approximately 230Km which is the nearest airport. For a Pune or a Mumbai resident, the travelling distance is about 750 Km, but the Luxury buses that run on the Mumbai – Aurangabad – Nagpur highway make journey very easy and comfortable. The first evening you sit in the bus and next morning you are in Amravati. Take bus or hire a vehicle in Amravati and within 2 - 3 hrs you are in Chikhaldara.
Chikhaldara has fair number of hotels which comes in various price ranges. There are simple air cooled hotels as well as AC hotels. The most interesting property is owned by Maharashtra tourism Development Corporation (MTDC). They have a spacious and well wooded property with comfortable rooms and they are very much affordable.
Chikhaldara used to be a crowded destination by tourists from Nagpur and Amravati and surrounding towns. But with the IT boom, people have started less and less time exploring such areas. Several resorts in Chikhaldara had to close down because of not getting enough tourists which is very much disturbing. Fantastic destination like Chikhaldara should not go to ruins and that’s why people from other parts of Maharashtra and mainly the huge population of Mumbai and Pune should start visiting this off beat hill station. If you have 3-4 days in your hand remember that there is a place on just overnight journey’s distance which can offer you a better experience than any other well known tourist destination. Only thing one should remember that don’t take city to Chikhaldara but go to experience Chikhaldara. Do not expect disco, bars, Spa in Chikhaldara but go to experience the jungle, silence and peace of mind. Go to take nothing else but photographs and wonderful memories and remember to leave only footprints and nothing else.