Neelkantheshwar is still a less known destination to many even being so close to Pune. It is Siva temple situated on a hillock, which is over 900 mt above sea level (1000 ft above Pune) and around 40Km from Pune near Panshet-Varshgaon dam. This is a must trip with your family, friends and kids (However, remember 45 min steep climb)
How to Reach?
There are three routes to reach Neelkantheshwar.
Exit NH4 at Varje Malwadi and travel straight towards Uttam Nagar - Kondhave Dhavde - NDA Gate. Stay stratight and cross Peacock Bay - Kudje Village - Khadakwadi - Mandvi village - Splendor Country Club - Make left before Katawadi village - Cross Katawadi Bridge - Make left towards Davje - reach Jambhali Village. At this junction, road towards your right will take you to the base of the Neelkantheshwar. Park your vehicle and walk for next 30-35 min to reach the top.
Exit NH4 at Sinhgad Road. Take left at Sinhgad Road away from Pune - Cross Dhayari Phata - Nanded City - Lokmat Office - Khadakwasla - Gorhe - Donje Phata for Sinhgad Fort - Khanapur - Rule Village. From here, you need to take a boat ride to reach the other bank of the river, walk another 2-3 Km to reach Jambhali Village & Neelkantheshwar base and then 40-45 min climb to the top.
Exit NH4 at Sinhgad Road. Take left at Sinhgad Road away from Pune - Cross Dhayari Phata - Nanded City - Lokmat Office - Khadakwasla - Gorhe - Donje Phata for Sinhgad Fort - Khanapur - Rule - Panshet - From here, take road towards Varasgaon. Once you cross the brodge, you will see small road on your right going towards Kuran Khurd - Jambhali Village / Neelkantheshwar base. This road is about 3-4 km and was in very bad state when I traveled.
About the climb - Nothing to worry about. Climb is on a 30 ft wide road (not tarred though) which will take you to the top. It has couple of hairpin bends and steep gradient at some place. Hence, vehicles are not allowed there presently. But looks like, long term plan is to build a motorable road to reach the top. Stairs are also being constructed along the road but work is not complete yet.
Tip - Don't start climbing between 11-4 Pm in hot afternoon (unless it is cloudy). There are no shades and You will get exhausted. However, there are small kids selling butter milk and nimbu pani on the route. Best time to start climbing is early morning Or after 4:00 PM. There are ample street lights on the road. So you can start climbing after 4 pm - reach the top by 5 pm - spend 2 hours - watch the sunset and then start climbing down.
What to see?
Neelkantheshwar hill is very wide on the top. There is plenty of open space.There is huge temple of Lord Shiva and the place gets its name after him i.e. “Neelkantheshwar”. “Neel” means “blue” and “kanth” means, “throat”. According to mythological accounts during Sagar Manthan (the churning of the Ocean), Lord Shiva drank all the effluent venom which gushed out, it turned his throat (kanth) into blue (neel). Hence, Lord Shiva is also known as “Neelkanth”.
Temple is not very old and like any other Siva temple. But the main attraction of Neelkantheshwar is hundreads of sculptures made from cement. The sculptures are mainly associated with Hindu mythology or events which has historical significance e.g. 10 Dashavatars, Ashtavinayakas, Kalia Mardan, Bakasur-Bhim story, Vaali-Sugriv yuddha, Sant Dnyashwar, Sant Ramdas, Shivaji Maharaj, Jesus Christ and so on. The list is endless.
Sarjemama, a forest ranger, has made these sculptures. He only found the Shiva linga on this hill, built the temple around it and made those hundreads of sculptures. Sarjemama is also associated with 'Vyasan Mukti Abhiyaan' and rehabilitated 4-5 lacs of alcoholic people. He lives at the foothills of Sinhgad and while going to Panshet (just after Donje Phata), you will see a signboard - "Towards the residence of Param Pujya Sarje Mama".
You can easily spend 2 hours on the top. The view from the hill-top is amazing.
This is the place from where you can see Panshet and Varasgaon dam side-by-side.
You can also see backwaters Khadakvasla dam and Sinhgad, Torna fort. The view is very beautiful especially in the monsoon.
There is a small hotel just outside the temple where you will get snacks like Tea / coffee, Soft drinks, Poha, Upma, Bhel, Bhaji etc. Mineral water is not available.
During Mahashivratri 1.5 lakh people visit this temple each year and there is Mela in the temple premises.