Neelkanteshwar temple between Panshet and Khadakwasla
If you are looking for the definition of a “Hidden Jewel”, then go to this place. Nestled on top of a small hill between Khadakwasla and Panshet dams, the Neelkanteshwar temple is the ideal place to experience nature as well as mythology. There is a Shiva shrine in this temple and it seems that it gets very crowded during shivratri, but the USP of this place are the hundreds of statues depicting every indian mythology story that you can think of. It is almost like “Amar Chitra Katha” coming alive in the form of statues. Added to this is the magical location of this temple with the backwaters of khadakwasla dam flowing down in the valley and the Panshet dam on the other side giving a “switzerlandish” feel. Click on the below image for a bigger resolution one.
How to go to Neelkanteshwar temple from Pune (Magarpatta City): A trip here would take you a total of approximately 5-6 hrs. 2 hrs to go, 2 hrs on the top and 2 hrs back. You first have to reach Khadakwasla dam (From Magarpatta: Go towards Swargate, Cross it and go on the one-way road to the t-junction, turn left, take the first right at the Mahalaxmi temple signal, this is the sinhagad road which will take you directly to Khadakwasla dam). Just before the dam, there is a road going down to the right with NDA on the sign. Take this road to go parallel to the dam and reach the other side. Once you reach the other side, turn left at the t-junction.
The above map starts from this road with the dam being on the top right of the map. The white line shows the route you have to take to reach the temple. After around 11 kms of winding road, you will see Splendour Country Club resort on your left. Keep going for another 3-4 kilometres and you should see an arch pointing to the left with signs for Shree Kshetra Neelkanteshwar. From here, the road looks bad, but it is ok to drive on with few bad patches in between. You will cross a bridge and come to a t-junction. Here, take left and keep driving. The map below is a zoomed-in version from this point (i.e. after taking the left after the bridge).
As you go along this road, you will see an arch on the right (click here to see the Arch’s photo). You have to take the right and climb up the hill. Going straight will take you to Panshet. Around 200 ms after you start climbing, you will reach the end of the village where you should see something like the photo below.
Many people park here (1st parking) and walk the rest of the way. The first time we went there, we had many kids along with us. So, we decided to drive as close as possible to the temple. A good decision! The distance between the 1st parking and the 2nd is at least 2 kms and it is all uphill. Unless you are in for a trek, better drive over to the 2nd parking. But, a big BUT, the road from the 1st parking to the 2nd is bad, full of rocks and loose gravel. I had taken a video of the road (with the camera attached to the bonnet) on the way down from the 2nd to the 1st parking. Check it out below and then decide for yourself whether your vehicle can handle it. The photo below is just before the 2nd parking. (Update as on 27 DEC 2016 from a fellow traveller – Road between 1st parking and 2nd parking is very good except for around 500m stretch in between. So please take your car to 2nd parking.) The cut part of the mountain is the place where you start your walk. For those with Google Earth, use this to see the location of the temple and this to see a flyover of the route from Khadakwasla.
From the 2nd parking, it is a steady uphill climb of around 20-25 minutes to reach the temple. Barring summer, this should be an easy and enjoyable climb giving you ample photo opportunities. The moisture in the air and the lack of a heavy lunch made us huff and puff our way to the top, but as you can see in the snap below, the local villagers made easy work of it barefoot!
Once you enter the temple, you are greeted by a huge sleeping Hanuman. Maybe he was too tired by the time he reached the top! Once you climb to the left, you see the Dasavataram and if you look beyond the statues and onto the valley below, you will be greeted with a view which i guarantee will stay in your mind for a very long time.
You can easily spend 2 hours on the top seeing each and every statue and trying to recollect the story behind the same. While Akshara was busy identifying the characters she knew e.g. cow, snake and the ummachis all over place, we had a nice time discussing the stories associated with them. See the photos below and check how many stories you remember!
Advice from a fellow traveller (Sandeep Jain): Temple caretaker also provides dormitory (bedding/blanket in a closed hall adjacent to temple). It may not be so comfortable for a family, but a great arrangement for group of trekkers who want to plan an overnight stay. The place is full of wild mosquitos (my kid had 50+ bites, would last for 3 days and heavily itching). So pls put odomos cream and cover yourself fully (I didn’t face this personally, but the last time i went there was 2 yrs back).