A WEEKEND IN THE HILLS-CHIKHALDARA

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Away from the hustle and bustle of urban areas, Chikhaldara is a quiet hill station in Maharashtra that offers a wide variety of flora and fauna. What also makes it special is its proximity to the Melghat Tiger Sanctuary.

The glory fo Maharashtra lies in the historical fact that it has constantly fought against intruders and never truly surrendered. It, therefore, has in the true sense, an unbroken spirit. This spirit of freedom was always kept alive by the mountain ranges which border Maharashtra from two sides-the mighty Sahyadris from the west and the Vindhya ranges from the north. These mountains are dotted by hundreds of forts and remote places where earlier it was almost impossible for an outsider to gain access. Subsequently, with the closeness of metro cities like Pune and Mumbai, many places in the Sahyadris got established as hill stations and popular weekend destinations. Comparatively, the Vindhya mountain ranges remained unnoticed. The hill stations in this area have remained mostly low profile and Chikhaldara is one of them.

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Located about 100kms north of Amravati, Chkhaldara is a well-established hill station in Vidarbha. It is situated in a mountain range beyond which Maharashtra ends and Madhya Pradesh begins. It is a mountain-top plateau with an average height from the mean sea level of about 1,088 meters. Because of its unique location, Chikhaldara has an average rainfall of 154cms which is almost twice as compared to the other parts of Vidarbha. The good rainfall and the remoteness have allowed this area to host an excellent forest and this is the primary attraction of this place.

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Chikhaldara is surrounded on three sides by the borders of the Melghat Project Tiger Area which is spread over an area of about 1,676 sq km. This Project Tiger area is divided into several smaller wildlife reserves to enable efficient management and the Melghat wildlife reserve, which is about 780 sq km, forms the entire southern border and partly the western border of Chikhaldara. The Gugamal National Park, which is about 320 sq km, is the core zone of the Project Tiger reserve and forms the eastern border of Chikhaldara and partly its northeastern border. This part being a core zone is one of the most untouched and pristine parts of the reserve.

Flora and Fauna

Chikhaldara and Melghat Project Tiger are two inseparable entities. Unless one knows about the natural wealth of the tiger reserve it is very hard to understand the importance of this hill station. The MPT area contains about 700 species of plants belonging to 400 genres and 97 different families. Of these 700 species, 90 are tree species which is the true wealth of this reserve. The jungle is mainly in the dry deciduous type with teak and bamboo as its most dominant vegetation. Other trees like Saag, Mahua, Ain are also the dominant species here.

 

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The tiger reserve consists of over 70 tigers, almost the same number of leopards, about 200 sloth bears, 1800 Indian gaurs and hundreds of herbivore animals.

Sights and Sounds

Chikhaldara has great historical references. It is said that Bhima, the second-eldest and strongest among the Pandava brothers in Mahabharat times, killed King Kichek in this area and threw his body into the village. The valley is now known as Kichekdara and the water reservoir in which Bhima washed his hands is called the Bhumkund. This area is dotted by extremely small villages inhabited by the Korku tribals. It was originally ruled by tribal kings who were defeated by the Bahamani dynasty which later was ruled over by five smaller dynasties. Among these, Imadshahi was the one which started ruling this area.

The Gavilgad and Narnala forts were built by Imad Shah. Later on, the Imadshahi dynasty was exterminated by the Moghuls Nujamshah and Adilshah and the rulers kept on changing. Finally, it came into the hands of the Marathas with Sambhaji Maharaj, the eldest son of Shivaji, taking over its reins.

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Gavilgad and Narnala are two extremely large forts with perimeters of more than 15kms each. Of these two forts, Gavilgad is situated right next to Chikhaldara. Narnala, on the other hand, is at a distance of about four hours from Chikhaldara. Both these forts are interesting from the archaeological and architectural points of view. Gavilgad is just 5kms from Chikhaldara’s main 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 the first hill which is smaller of the two. After crossing three gates, you come to the main area which looks as if it was primarily designed for battle purposes alone. To enter the second part of the fort, you must again cross three huge gates.

This part of the fort has ruins of the palace, mosque and other residential quarters. It also has several water reservoirs. The forts are now the abode of sloth bears, hyenas and leopard which venture out after sunset. Apart from this fort, Chikhaldara has several other spectacular places such as the Panchbol Point, Hariken Point, Mozari Point, Devi Point, Sunset Point, Prospects Point, Monkey Point etc. The Panchbol Point is famous for multiple echoes while the Hariken Point is known for its high-speed winds. Though all of the Chikhaldara has a good population of Rhesus monkeys and langoors, Monkey Point specifically has a huge number of them. The Sunset Point provides a spectacular view of the jungle with different shades of green that resonate with the sounds of the wild animals and birds as the sun goes down.

Chikhaldara has good rainfall but being located on the top of a mountain, the drainage makes it necessary to conserve water. The government has therefore built many water conservation projects, thus leading to the formation of reservoirs such as the Bir Dam, Kalapani Dam and the Shakkar Lake. To go camping, one must visit village Semadoh, which is just about 20kms from Chikhaldara on the banks of the river Sipna. Nature lovers can book this place through the Amravati Forest Department’s office at a very nominal cost and get a real feeling of living in the woods. It is also quite possible to get a sighting of the shy flying squirrel at this campsite which is also a gateway to the Melghat Wildlife Sanctuary.

The best season to visit Chikhaldara is from October to June. Chikhaldara is not closed during the monsoon season but access becomes difficult. However, it is an ideal time to see the waterfalls and the rivers in full spate.

Reaching there

By Rail-Chikhaldara is situated about the 100kms from Amravati which is the nearest railway station as well the main town.

If you want to hire any vehicle or want to take a bus to reach Chikhaldara, you have to go to Amravati first.

By Air-The distance to Nagpur is approximately 230kms which is the nearest airport.

For a Pune or Mumbai resident, the travelling distance is about 750kms. There are many luxury buses that ply on Mumbai-Aurangabad-Nagpur highway.