Nashik is not on everyone’s itinerary of India, but it should be. This boom town in the state of Maharashtra is a couple 100 km from Mumbai and is a unique and intriguing place – even by Indian standard where everything to a traveller seems unique and intriguing!
I lead a cycling tour of India that has crossed through Nashik the last two years. With a population racing towards the 2 million mark, it is known to be one of India’s fastest growing cities. The city got its name (so the story goes) from the Sanskrit word for nose. Hindu religious mythology tells us that Laksmana cut off the nose of Shurpanakha after she had attacked Sita, the wife of Lord Rama. Sounds complicated.
But that’s not why you should visit Nashik. Here are my five reasons why Nashik should be on your itinerary when you travel in India.
Wine – France, Italy, Chile, Australia, and now India as destinations for wine lovers? Yes, Nashik region is known as the young but eager wine region of India – the only wine region really in the country. The climate and the terrain make it idea for growing the grapes, and for the expanding middle class of India, there is a greater thirst for wine these days. For western travellers, it’s a pleasant change to have a glass of wine after going without elsewhere in India.
A beautiful array of fruits and vegetables, spices and coloured chalk powder fill the roughly assembled stalls. Take a stroll, and bargain over the price of some bananas, or just take in the clatter, the aromas, and the spectacle of market life – something all but lost where I come from.
Godavari River and the Bathing Ghats
Local residents come to the bathing ghats at the edge of the sacred Godavari River to clean clothes, to bath themselves, and clean off the impurities of life. Only eclipsed by the famous Ganges River, it’s the second longest (and I would hazard to guess second most holy) river in all of India. It is quite a site to behold seeing hundreds of people lining its banks its day.
A Holy Pilgrimage Site
Kumbh Mela happens once every 12 years, and Nashik is destination of this massive Hindu pilgrimage – in fact, its one of the most significant pilgrimages for Hindus worldwide. They believe that bathing in the Godavari river during Kumbh Mela washes away sins accumulated over 88 previous births! That’s quite a thorough cleaning! The next pilgrimage to Nashik is scheduled for 2015, and is expected to attract around 5 million Hindu pilgrims. If you are not Hindu, it’s probably better to experience Nashik at other times than Kumbh Mela, but being in this holy town, at any time, as you stroll past bathing ghats and temples, certainly gives you a taste of the deep religious significance of this place.
Hills around Nashik
Nashik town is a constant wurr of activity – noise, smells, and commotion at all hours of the day. When the excitement becomes overwhelming, it’s time to head into the hills. Our group cycled west from Nashik through Trimbakeshwar, and further along the road to Mokhada, and Jawhar. The countryside was stunning.
After being in a busy city like Nashik, the quiet hills with singing birds and peaceful village life were greatly appreciated. On a bicycle, it was tough cycling with some long climbs but we ended the day at a much lower altitude as we descended from the Deccan Plateau where Nashik town sits. Interestingly, this is the same route used for the UCI-sanctioned pro-level cycling race called the Tour de India.
Nashik was one of those places that caught me off guard. When travelling daily through new places, it’s sometimes easy to focus on the similarities you see in each new town or village. You can start to assume things will happen in a certain way. But arriving in Nashik the first time reminded me that each country, each state, and each region and city any where in the world hold unique characteristics and you can never assume anything. In Nashik this was quite evident and much enjoyed by me and the others in our group.