The trek through Andharban is one of the most refreshing treks in the Sahyadri region. The name ‘Andharban’ is a compound word, coming from Andhar, meaning ‘dark’, and ban, which means ‘forest’. Literally the ‘dark forest’, Andharban is a trail through dense overgrowth, with beautiful views of the Devkund waterfall, Plus Valley and the Tamhini Ghat along the way. Scattered throughout with numerous small streams and waterfalls, it is a descending trek – it begins at an elevation of approximately 2,160 feet in the Sahyadri mountains and descends down into the valley, to reach the backwaters of the Bhira Dam.
- Altitude: 2,160 ft
- Time taken: 4-5 hours, 13 km
- Trek gradient: Easy-moderate. Mostly descending trails with a few flat walks.
- Water sources: None. Carry at least 3 litres of water.
Andharban is open all day. In fact, people sometimes treat this as a night trek as well, the only extra precaution being that they need to carry torches and be extra careful to the trail. However, for someone going for the first time, it is always recommended that they trek during the day, as it is easier to lose your way after nightfall, and one small wrong turn could mean that you wander into the Kundalika Valley. It is best to depart for Andharban early in the morning, timing the journey so as to reach the start point latest by 9 am.
The start point of the trek is about 200 metres away from Pimpri village, at a location called Independence point near the Pimpri Dam. There is no specific marking for the start point, but the trail is clearly visible. You can ask nearby villagers for directions if needed. A path winds through a broken chain-link fence. Here, trekkers need to pay a fee of Rs.50 per person before embarking on the trek. There is no permanent counter as such, just a temporary shelter, but the fee is legitimate, and trekkers get a formal receipt acknowledging the charge paid.
The trail essentially maps a shallow U-shaped turn around the backwaters of the Bhira Dam, in the Kundalika Valley. In spite of being a continuous drop, the extreme humidity and slippery route make it slightly tough. It takes around 4-5 hours to cover the 13 km trail.
The trail runs completely through a dense jungle and is far from any human habitation. Make sure you carry light snacks, and enough water to last (at least 3 litres) as there are no sources of drinkable water along the route.
Being a jungle trek, Andharban offers views of flora and fauna, with several species of birds to be seen, such as the chaatak, the Malabar whistling thrush, dwarf kingfishers, and minivets among several others. The Indian Giant Squirrel has been seen around the area, although sightings are rare.
The path continues along the top of a wall abutting the Pimpri dam for about a hundred metres, after which it turns right, and enters an open area. You’ll see paddy fields on both sides of it. This road continues for about 200 metres before reaching two tall bushes. Turn right here. This point is easily recognizable because of a visible, well-made route, and a signboard marking the start of the trail a few metres ahead on the right.
This trail continues straight for a while, with the Kundalika valley on the left and the mountains to the right. This is not yet the start of Andharban. The undergrowth slowly begins to grow dense as we go in deeper, although it is still easy to navigate. Through the course of the trek, we encounter three major streams of rivers, the first of which is reached at the end of this path, after about an hour’s walking. This can sometimes be turbulent during the monsoons, and might need ropes to cross it with.
The trail picks up on the opposite bank, and continues for almost 1.5 km of a flat walk through a winding route before reaching another rivulet, after a sharp U-bend. This rivulet too tends to overflow. However, a cable has been provided at the crossing. After a slight ascent up into the hills (about 10 ft of climb), the trail winds into a dark forest, and it is here that Andharban truly begins.
Although the forest can get quite dark, especially due to the presence of fog during the rains, the trail throughout is very clearly visible, with little chance of going awry. Trekkers should watch out for leeches. We suggest you wear full-sleeved/length clothes. There are markers set by previous travelers to mark paths to avoid. In several places, fallen tree logs have been placed horizontally across trails that need to be avoided.
The walk through the dense forest is one of a very gradual descent. It continues for almost three kilometres before it climbing a small hill. Here, it opens into a wide open plateau-like space. Plus Valley to the left provides a wonderful view. This is a good place to set up a temporary camp and lunch. Alternately, one could walk 5 more minutes to get to Hirdi, a small village nearby. Hirdi does not have too many options for dining, although bathroom facilities can be availed of here.
From Hirdi, the road turns right, and leads downwards into the valley. A gradual descent begins here. The easiest way to spot the route is that there are several slippery round stones marking the trail. This descent continues for almost 2 km. The trail then opens into a wide plateau (people camp here for the night, sometimes, but it is preferable to walk ahead for better views, and to keep a distance from the village).
From this point onwards, the road, again, is a mostly flat walk, except now the backwaters of Bhira Dam can be seen to the left/front side. This patch of the trail, although easy, is long. It ends at a wide river flowing across the trail. This river, although broad, is shallow and easy to cross even during the rainy season.
Past the river, the road continues straight onwards, and, slowly, small huts and shops can be seen on the left side of the road. Walking straight on, the trail reaches Patnus village, and, ahead of it, Bhira village. Patnus has several lodges for staying overnight and/or changing into fresh clothes, as well as options for lunch (one small dhaba owned by ‘Kulkarni Kaka’ is recommended). The village is the end point for the trek, and also where the trekkers should ideally ask their vehicles to arrive for pickup.
Trekkers are recommended to begin the journey by 9 am at the latest, reaching Patnus by 3/4 pm, and then driving back to Lonavala before nightfall. If you choose to stay overnight at Patnus, there are several lodges and rooms (costing Rs. 500 per person on an average, including food ), and even a few camping sites.
Andharban is open all year round, but the best time to visit would be the monsoon, and the post-monsoon period, when dense fog settles down in the forest, and everything is fresh and green. Although purely a descending trek throughout, Andharban manages to elevate the senses to a completely new level.
Photographs courtesy: Uday Sukhthankar
Information courtesy: Omkar Kokamthankar, Uday Sukhthankar, Vidya Sukhthankar, Nihar Shrotri.
This trek has been researched and documented by Revati Tongaonkar.
How to reach the starting point of the trek
Andharban trek begins at Pimpri village near Tamhini Ghat. This is situated 50 km south of Lonavala. It can be reached either by a private vehicle, or public transport. State Transport buses run from Lonavala to Bhamburde village (around 35 km away), from where one can walk down to Pimpri village 14 km away, or hire a vehicle for a one-way trip. Pimpri village can also be reached by a private vehicle, by driving down from Lonavala towards Tamhini Ghat via the Lonavala-Aamby Valley road, which takes 1.5 hours on an average, or take a shared rickshaw (unreliable).
It is preferable to go to Andharban in a private vehicle with a hired driver (which costs around 1500-2000 rupees per vehicle if you can haggle), as trekkers usually leave the vehicle and follow the trail into the valley while the driver takes the vehicle down to the dam, to pick the trekkers up at the end of the walk. Rarely, trekkers may camp at the base near Bhira Dam, and walk back up the same way the next morning. One could, in theory, drive down to Pimpri, park the vehicle at the start point, and come back up to the start, hailing a cab from Bhira or Patnus village. There are, however, no reliable public transport services when coming back from Bhira, unless you manage to avail a lift. I’d say the best option for travel would be to hire a cab for the day from Mumbai/Pune itself, which amounts to 2300- 3000 rupees at the maximum for a four-seater.