Nestled amidst the dense forest, Bhimashankar is a wildlife sanctuary, famous amongst nature lovers and trekking enthusiasts and is also a religious place for Hindus. It is home to many endangered species of flora and fauna and is renowned for Indian Giant Squirrel (popularly known as ‘Shekru’ in Maharashtra). Also, plenty of medicinal herbs can be found in this region of Maharashtra. Situated in Sahyadris, a part of Western Ghats, it is draped with canopies of floating clouds, waterfalls and many streams that are reborn during monsoon. The Bhimashankar temple, situated in the sanctuary is one of the 12 shrines( Jyotirlinga) of Lord Shiva. Hence, a vast number of tourists arrive here to seek Shiva’s blessings throughout the year. Bhimashankar derived its name from Shiva temple and Bhima river. According to mythology, Lord Shiva defeated demon Bhima (son of Kumbhakarna) here and blessed this place by adding Bhima’s name along with His name and making it as His abode.
One can reach here by road or by climbing a strenuous mountain. We hiked up to this place which took approx. 4hrs. There are 2 ways to reach the top; Ganesh ghat (Level: moderate) and Sidhi ghat (Level: Difficult). Khandas village is a base village for both the trekking trails. We opted to climb from Ganesh ghat. While this route is comparatively easier than the Sidhi Ghat, it offers a magnificent view of the valley.
The climb has three phases; the first phase is a climb up to Ganesh temple.
The second phase is a simple walk, through the plains and here one will witness many waterfalls and the great view of ghats.
The third phase is the common phase for both the trekking routes, i.e., Ganesh Ghat and Sidhi Ghat. It is the longest and comprises of steep climb followed by the dense jungle. Though a long and tiring trek, each view during the climb is a surprise and an absolute delight to watch with the added thrill of climbing.
Gupt Bhimashankar – The next morning, we decided to go to Gupt Bhimashankar. As the name suggests, it is a secret shivling situated behind the mighty waterfall of Bhima river. This was the most adventurous part of the journey and to be very frank, it scared the shit out of us. Thanks to the guide who encouraged and helped us cross the river. It is hence advisable to visit this place post monsoon, i.e., late September- December when the flow of water is less.
One can also visit Nagphani which is the highest point of Bhimashankar and is about 1 hour of a climb from base (Bhimashankar) village. However, due to time constraint, we were not able to visit this place. This may be a good excuse to come back to this beautiful place.
How to reach:
Khandas village is 25 km from Neral and 29 km from Karjat. One can easily get a shared/ private rickshaw to Khandas or even ST bus services are available (buses are not frequent, though). The Rikshaw costs Rs.800-1000 for 6-8 people. Shared rickshaws are also available depending upon the availability of passengers.
Bhimashankar can also be visited by road. It is approx. 210km from Mumbai and 110km. from Pune.
One can also enroll in this trek through various travel clubs. Below are the links to the few clubs conducting treks:
Where to stay:
There are many local stay options available, with basic facilities. One can inquire with locals near the Bhimashankar bus stand or at the local food stalls. The rent may vary from Rs 1000-1200 for a night which can accommodate 5-6 people.
What time to visit:
Situated at an altitude of 3000 ft., the weather here remains pleasant throughout the year.
Though, in order to witness truly magical Bhimashankar, it is advisable to visit this place during monsoon and the post-monsoon period (June- December).
- Trekking via Sidhi Ghat is tricky. It’s a steep rocky climb which is completed via climbing 3 ladders (hence the name ‘Sidhi’ ghat). This route is advisable for experienced trekkers only. Though one can opt this route in post monsoon season as the rocks become dry and non-slippery.
- Bhimashankar receives high density of rainfall in monsoon and it rains here almost throughout the day. Carry an extra pair of clothes and ensure waterproof covers for gadgets like mobile phones, camera.etc.
- Ensure to wear good shoes or sandal having a firm grip.
- The trek takes 4-5 hrs to reach the summit. Ensure to reach the base village by early morning.
- Guides may be available at the base village. Inquire with the locals. (It is advisable to hire a guide for amateurs.)
- Tea stalls are available after completion of each phase which also sells snacks. You may also carry your own snacks.
- Hire a guide at Bhimashankar for visiting places like Nagphani and Hanuman lake.
- Avoid visiting Gupt Bhimashankar in monsoon as the water level is high and flows at great speed. If considering to visit it in monsoon, hire a guide.
- Do not litter around. Always carry your own disposable bag and dispose of wastes properly.
- This is an overnight trek that costs Rs. 1000- 1500.