When looking for a getaway near Mumbai, most of your choices are either frightfully expensive, overrated, or so ‘touristy’ that you wonder why you didn’t go to Juhu Chowpatty instead. But if you really want a getaway that hasn’t yet been spoiled by hordes of tourists, consider Khodala. In Hindi, Khodala can mean ‘to lose’. Appropriate, given that you escape the stresses of city life to go into the lap of nature.
Take the Mumbai-Agra highway (NH3) and drive past the Bhiwandi bypass to Shahpur. Green, cloud-laden hills, thick mist and gurgling brooks give you a sense of what’s ahead. From the foothills of the Kasara ghat, begin the ascent on the one-way route. Take the left under the railway tracks toward Jawhar. As you snake through hair-pin bends of this surprisingly well-maintained road, prepare yourself for breathtaking views of hills and valleys.
Once you’ve crossed Karegaon village, you can trek to the mouth of the waterfall at an amazing 200-odd feet above sea level. Or you could go to the pool at the base of the falls. The falls gush forward to meet the Vaitarna river which runs through the valley, dammed (or should we say damned?) so as to satiate Mumbai’s ever growing thirst for water.
Further downhill, you come upon an old stone bridge built by the British in 1903. Its arches are a near perfect foil to the undulating hills spreading on either side on the horizon, welcoming you. Through the late 60s and 70s, iconic films, including Madhumati and Teesri Kasam, were shot here. Actors like Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Dharmendra, Saira Banu and Amitabh Bachchan had to camp here while shooting for their films. The bridge’s days, though, are numbered. As the mid Vaitarna reservoir fills up, not only the bridge but also the entire descent and ascent will be lost. Come out here with your mats and picnic baskets and watch dragonflies whiz past as you tuck into your sandwiches. Think twice before skinny dipping though. The river may not be too deep but the water’s got quite the current, and algae-lined rocks below could make the river sweep you off your feet, literally.
Once you’ve had your fill of the place, drive up to the sleepy Khodala village. If you aren’t game for local berries and wild seasonal fruits sold in palas leaf cones, try the old cloth stores for some phadkis (dupattas worn by adivasis). Broad as a sari and three metres long, they make great dupattas or can be stitched into sarongs. Should you decide to stay, head back to the NH3 towards Igatpuri where a number of resorts suit virtually all pockets.
If you are into angling, carry your gear along as the fish here are supposed to be quite tasty. For a small price, some locals will be willing to fry them for you. Instead of urbanised faux Malvani, settle for the delights of a smoky local flavour to the fried catch. You are better off carrying your own food and water, but you could also drive to Igatpuri and tuck in at one of the dhabhas. Do stock up on fuel as petrol pumps here are few and far between.
This remote interior is a real break from the city. No colleagues calling you, since there’s virtually no network along the river. There is a wild camp which offers tour packages at Kherwadi village, but reservations are a must. These can be made at +91 22 25451234/25306340.