Every journey starts with an itch and I started getting mine more vigorously since a year or so. After innumerable Mumbai-Pune and occasional Nashik, Sangli, Satara trips, a long drive was in the offing; but a strong desire to acquire an Enfield before I go vroom held me back. But that was not to happen and I kept myself contented with my highly under-estimated Fiero F2 as of now.
About my lady and my baptism with long rides: I bought this Feb 2004 beast from a former colleague against vox populii in Nov 2006. Though he didn’t kept it as well as I do, a ride gave me a feeling that the beast wants to own me and hence I obliged. The first opportunity to test waters came in March 2007 to attend a close friend’s wedding at Sangli from Pune. A to-&-fro ride of approx 700 kms in a day was a confidence booster. Mumbai-Pune trips, which felt herculean initially, gradually became a breeze and were executed without a hiccup, non-stop. Last year, I substituted a cancelled Gokarna trip by a solo ride of Pune-Nashik-Tryambakeshwar-Mumbai in a day, ~500 kms. Enfield is altogether a different experience, but folks; Fiero was a revelation. I am game to tear flesh and suck blood to prove that Fiero is a monster bike in a silken wrap.
November 21st,2010 will go down as folklore in the annals of history of bike rides 🙂
I left Pune at 10.15 A.M. for Nashik to attend a friend’s wedding. Things were hunky dory and the mood jovial. The climate was romantic and riding was a pleasure. Except a small bottleneck at Sangamner and some minor “disturbances” by aloof road crossers, the ride was pretty unobstructed. Reached Nashik at 2 P.M., enjoyed the wedding and showered much needed blessings on the groom for the trying times ahead 🙂 Meanwhile, the climate suddenly changed its temper and from a bright sunny day, it got cloudy and then showery. I recoiled and started my return journey by 5.30 P.M. assuming that these were non-seasonal showers and would stop a few kms later; but God had a different plan in place for me. The showers became a drizzle and the drizzles morphed into a downpour. By the time I reached Sinnar, 20 kms from Nashik, I was drenched and shivering. I thought it better to stop and resume the next day but the Taurus in me was in its elements that day and I stubbornly rode ahead. The downpour got more heavier and riding was becoming impossible. My nemesis were dark roads, fast wind and zero visibility. I was unable to see anything with the visor and rain droplets wouldn’t let me see sans the visor. The gloves had stuck to my fingers the way gum sticks on hair. Feet in the shoes seemed to have replaced the blood in them with water. The cold stiffened my soaked body and it cranked from all the joints and corners, which in turn started revolting. And there I was, like a ruthless dictator crushing all revolts and crossing every KM with an unknown divine zeal, sometimes following a truck taillight with just an eye open at 30-40 KMPH. Eventually covered the distance of 220 kms in 8 hours comprehensively F****D up.
Aghaaz to an Ibn-Batuta:
The Dandeli trip was on my mind since the Nashik ride. Preparations started by extracting wisdom from bikenomads and xbhp.com. After the due-diligence, I started on 21st December, Tue at 2 P.M. The beginning was highly depressing. The heavy bag containing the paraphernalia was loosely tied and started falling as I hardly rode for 2 kms. I tried to park the bike on the middle-stand to fix it and lo… the bike fell down. To pick up everything was like lifting a mountain. I lost my confidence in the process and fear and apprehension seeped in. Nevertheless, I decided to move ahead. Had lunch, refueled the tank on reaching the highway near Katraj by ~4.00 P.M.
Day – 1: Pune-Kolhapur (Distance – 250 Kms):
So, the bike started hovering on the highway. I was docile by not crossing 80 kmph due to a little fear. By the time, I reached the Satara Ghat, the bag faltered again. This time, I took some time and secured it well and that being dealt with, I could cut loose with confidence and cruise at 100 kmph on the long stretches of NH4. Took a quick break at Satara before reaching Kolhapur by 9 P.M. Relished the best mutton I have ever had @Opal near ‘Tararani Putla.’ People think anything “kolhapuri” means infinite amount of red chillies and that is absolutely wrong. Kolhapuri food is not about red chillies but about rich spices and a very delicate methodology of cooking. Loved every bit of the delectable dinner. The hunt for accommodation started with usual few searches ending in “rooms full”, extortionist rates, etc. Finally, after a failed enquiry at a lodge, I, disappointedly asked the office boy of a lodge about some cheap accommodation. The lad, initially strayed out suggesting far flung places but suddenly stopped and said “hamara dormitory bhi hai dusra road pe, 120 rupiya.” I suppressed my excitement and composed myself. Visited and checked out the “Chalukya Dormitory” bang at the ST bus stop and found it surprisingly well-kept, neat and clean. Highly recommended for ‘fantars’ for whom lavish night-stays is a moral-crime. Comfortable and cozy. Another hurdle – parking. Solution: The lodge provides parking to dormitory folks at the show of a receipt. Roamed around the city for couple of hours before hitting the sack.
Day – 2: Kolhapur-Belgaum-Khanapur-Londa-Ramnagar-Ganeshgudi (Distance – 200Kms):
By the time I checked out, it was 1 P.M. Some of us might have read the story of “Mamaji ka chashma”. Something similar happened to me. I was unable to find my Helmet & rode a good 5 kms stretch of the road multiple times in search of it, in vain. As I was about to park the bike to go to the shop to buy a new one, I noticed the helmet was dangling on the rope that was used to tie the bag! Crossed Belgaum in a blink. Had lunch just before Khanapur. After leaving Khanapur, I asked one biker for directions. After some ego races for a few kms, we got talking while riding and by the time we crossed Londa, we became good friends. Christopher was a native of GaneshGudi. He took me to his home and since it was Christmas time, the delicacies his mother had cooked were offered to me. Co-incidentally, his father, just like me was a huge fan of Baba Ramdev and that gave us another reason to bond well. Sequeira uncle arranged my stay at “Hornbil” resort at a discounted rate.
It was 10 P.M. by the time I settled in the resort. Mingled with couple of disgruntled managers who entertained me with their tireless boss-bashing and I could tweak the intensity of the venom with a few provocative comments, a practise one masters working in corporate. They saw me as their saviour, ensuring optimum service to me. Thawed myself at the fireplace and retired at around 12 A.M.
Day – 3: Adventure at Ganeshgudi, Kulgi, Dandeli:
Given that I reached the jungle in the night, I could see its beauty only in the morning. Dense and a lush green forest, serene and calm, soothes your senses. The songs of the birds perched on tall trees let you forget the screeching Radio Mirchi you usually wake up to. The free flowing river just takes away all the stress. Sunlight peeking through those trees has a balming effect on the body.
Got up early to avoid missing the rafting bus. Exercised, had a hearty breakfast and while waiting for a rafting call, joined a local guy for fishing. Netting a fish after a tiring and endless wait can be more gratifying than winning a noble prize was the revelation of the day! The 9.5 km rafting experience was out of the world. A team of professionals manage the activity very safely. The boat rides through 8 rapids, mostly Grade-2, implying usually safe passages with slight difficulties. There are areas where the boat passes through the jungle with blissful tranquility. The guide was well-versed with bird spotting and spotted many exotic ones for us. In between, I jumped off our boat and swam in the free-flowing river along the raft for some distance. This was my first ever experience of swimming in a free flowing river, swimming parallel to the raft and I just can’t describe the pleasure in doing that. The return journey to the resort was 30 kms by road but my quest of playing with water wasn’t quenched yet and I dipped myself again after reaching the resort. Checked-out and a bill of 3400/- Rs. made huge hole in my pocket for the resort stay and rafting. I kept beating myself for being so lavish and took a while to be consoled that sometimes it was okay to splurge!
Reached Kulgi Adventure camp, a government run lodging facility in the midst of a dense forest around 25 kms from Ganeshgudi. The camp has 7-8 tents and a dormitory. Tents are ordinary and deluxe. Deluxe tents have attached toilets and ordinary ones don’t. The cost is 300/- for O and 550/- for D. I choose an ordinary one because all others were booked, including the dormitory. The camp has its own canteen which serves simple, home-made but nutritious food for Rs. 40 per thali. Meanwhile, I set out for Dandeli town, a 23 kms ride, to refuel and to withdraw cash. This to-fro ride was a thrilling experience as I was riding in the thick forest, pitch dark, chilling night and a trace of humanity visible once in 40-45 minutes. Fear of bike malunctioning, coming to a grinding halt kept the thrill quotient alive. After returning, I had dinner and then joined a group from Pune, to spot wild animals in their SUV. The group was impressed to know that I was on a solo ride. Idiots, though are found everywhere! When one visits a forest, it’s pertinent to be sober. These morons were trying to focus laser lights on birds parched on the trees in the dark. Some folks go to the forest only to drink while some scums want a “DJ” in the thick of a forest. For all those of you folks, who have screwed up the planet and are not only insensitive to nature but are even arrogant about it, my only request to you is to please die ASAP. This world does not need you!
Did I say that while returning from rafting, we encountered a King Cobra sitting right in the middle of the road with its fangs out ??? Man it was real big and very very quick… !!!!
Day – 4: Kulgi-Yellapur-Magod-Ankola-Gokarna (Around 250 Kms).
Started my day after a sound sleep amidst pure air and serenity of the forest. Every deep breath brought in a gush of a new life-force, refreshing the mind and body right to the core. I leisurely wandered in the forest, had breakfast and set out for Cyntheri rocks, around 28 kms away from Kulgi, through the dense forest, a biker’s dream to ride through those winding roads. Cyntheri rocks are natural rock formations on Kali river and reach the height of 70-80 ft. A natural marvel.
After returning from Cyntheri rocks, I was reluctant to leave the forest. The more I visit the forest areas, the stronger grows my belief that I am not made for cities. I belong to the wilderness. I know what you are thinking, but I will prove you all wrong one day and that day will come. 🙂
Eventually I decided to leave after lunch with the Forest officer-in-charge, Mr.Naik, who was a picture of a relieved child after having gone through tensed moments since morning due to the visit of senior officials.
Left the forest and reached Yellapur. Was disappointed to fail to visit Sathodi falls as it closes by 5.30 P.M. and it was not possible for me to make it on time. Had tea at Yellapur and while going to Gokarna, veered towards Magod falls which turned out to be an embarrassment. The falls are to be seen from a KM away through the railings. The 40 kms, though unyielding, was a great fun to ride off-road. Take a left turn from Ankola and you are on NH-17. Gokarna is around 25 kms from Ankola. Just before reaching Gokarna, met with a small accident when I could not see the under-construction road due to darkness and my bike went off the road which was at 6-7 inches height. I controlled the speed but due to the weight of the bag behind, could not stop it from falling again. Luckily, nothing drastic happened. Picking the bike with that heavy bag again was a huge effort. It was 10.45 P.M. by the time I reached Gokarna town. Was damn tired having ridden for 9 hours and 200 kms and particularly after the accident. Settled in a dirty room for Rs. 350 and slept off as soon as I closed my eyes.
Day- 5: Discovery of a Paradise.
The day started with the search for an accommodation so that I could vacate the room by 12. I took my bike and started first from Gokarna town itself.
The town is predominantly a pilgrimage center with the temple of “Mahaganapathi” right next to the beach. The beach is thronged by Indian pilgrims. Foreigners are interspersed in the crowd too. I don’t know what they do there as they are not allowed in temples. Also, I doubt they can drink and consume drugs there.
I rode to Om beach, a 7 km drive from Gokarna. The road to Om beach is one of most exotic, beautiful and picturesque I have ever seen. On the way to the beach, I offered a lift to a guy. While riding he mentioned about this Paradise beach which is very beautiful but inaccessible through road. The Columbus in me jumped in joy and I gave Om beach a miss.
There are 2 ways to reach Paradise. One is by boat from Om beach. I chose the alternative route through Tadadi village which is around 15 kms from Gokarna. While riding, I kept on asking for directions but no sign of the beach gave rise to concerns of being fooled. All I could see was a river which was crowded by fishermen and their boats. Reaching a dead end where the river met the sea with no beach in sight, gave rise to two apprehensions, one of having taken the wrong route and the another of being duped. The name of the village was “Balekan”. Asking for accommodation in the village puzzled me further as they insisted that I will get it at the beach. For the elusive beach, one has to climb through a hillock across a small stream of water. I parked my bike at the side of the dead-end, crossed the stream by foot and started climbing the hillock but lo.. I was lost again. There was no way there and not a trace of human being for help. I saw a labourer after waiting for 15 minutes and he suggested I go further. Time was running out as I had to check-out at 12 and it was already 11.15. Walking few meters again was a dead-end with only bushes around. I shouted for directions as I saw labourer far-off. Luckily, his boss gave me precise directions. A long walk on the hillock through the mazes of bushes and a precarious climb down unraveled the THE SIGHT OF REAL PARADISE.
The beach, which can be mistaken for any Mexican coastline, is exotic and supremely beautiful interspersed with small rock-hills on which you can sit and watch the sea-waves washing the small shore in the evening. It isn’t huge, just less than a KM, with huts made up of coconut leaves and bamboos. It is surprisingly clean and thankfully not yet crowded. A week’s stay would end up in you knowing everybody else.
I went to a hut and was surprised to see an American running it. Actually, Joel has been living in the hut since a few months and was volunteering to manage and run the hut with the owner Pavan, a 20 year-old boy. The huts were full but when I pushed to find a ‘scope’ he offered me the “store hut” which he could empty out and clean. I said “no problem.” I was joyous on discovering a heavenly beach after a painful search and finding an equally adventurous accommodation.
I rushed back to Gokarna to check-out from the hotel, went for Ganpathi Darshan and came down to Balekan. Parked my bike at Pavan’s house and kept the heavy bag there. Took a small bag with necessities along with me to stay at the hut on the beach. Pavan was a picture of all that is not right with India away from the glamour of national highways. A village which is burdened by ages of stinking customs and dogmas, illiteracy and most poignantly, hatred amongst themselves. His father preferred drowning himself in hooch than to take on life, while his mother worked hard to keep the family boat afloat. Pavan, in his late teens had taken on the mantle to run the family but corruption and lack of opportunities were too harsh for his newly formed spine. He and I developed an instant rapport and he shared his plight with me as if he was sharing it with a relative who had come from the land of fortunes to relieve him off his miseries!
The best activity on the beach was to do nothing ! Or may be take a bunch of books and finish them off. Or get hooked to someone talking anything under the sun. My first day was spent with folks in my hut which comprised of a farmer from Ireland, a curtain salesman from London, 2 Israeli soldiers, an American Carpenter, an electromagnetic engineer from Ecuador, an environmentalist from Peru, and couple of other folks I didn’t know about. The evening was just plain time pass. Later on a chic came for dinner at our hut with her group. The group left but she continued chatting with us. It was a full moon day (night?) and watching the beauty of the beach at mid-night was the sight of gods. I finally retired at 1.30 A.M. when the eyes pleaded to close.
I spent the next day leisurely without even touching the bike. Morning was spent on the beach, baking, jogging, running and eating. Moved to another hut which was buzzing with activity with a ‘mehfil’ like environment. I joined a couple of folks playing chess and in no time was defeating people one after another and was on my way to becoming the champion of that miniscule world. Meanwhile, a group started playing music with some more folks joining in the symphony. That was the beauty of that beach. One or two folks would start something and gradually everyone would join in. Given that some folks were professional musicians, you can imagine the musical night!! Superb. I dedicated that day to music and chess and of course “natural beauty.” A fireplace bang on the beach till mid-night was another experience. End of a fun-filled, pleasurable and relaxing day.
Day – 7: Recoil and rewind:
Reluctantly, I started the return journey at 1.30 P.M. Although I am already lazy, something in the air on the beach makes you even more laid-back.
There are 3 options to choose from NH-17 to NH-4 for Pune. One through Savantwadi-Amboli-Ajra-Uttur, second via Kudal-Kankavli-Gaganbawda-Kolhapur and third via Chiplun-Mahad-et-al. I was tempted to take the Chiplun-Ratnagiri route but NH-17 is would have added a few more hours. Also, given the paraphernalia that I was carrying, I didn’t want to take the risk of riding on NH-17. A friend discouraged me to choose Gaganbawda route due to safety concerns. So, I selected Route 1 as I was familiar with that route and it passes through the scenic and exotic Amboli ghat. By 9 P.M, I reached Savantwadi. On a local’s recommendation I relished a fish thali at “Bhalekar.”Surmai was fresh and tasty but it seems oil in Savantwadi was cheap. Solkadi, as usual, was soul-soothing. The story of the first and last night of my journey co-incidentally turned out to be similar. A tiring journey, sumptuous dinner and an elusive but cheaper and better accommodation. Spent the night at a dormitory “Sadhale mess” for Rs.100/-.
Day – 8: On the road, more road and more and more road.
Began at 10.30 A.M after having a hearty, heavy breakfast. Crossed Amboli, then Ajra and touched NH-4 at around 1.30 P.M. Befriended a fellow rider while asking for directions. Narendra owns a small hotel in Uttur. Over tea at his hotel, we discussed plans to revive the cottage industry in Maharashtra and bid good-bye promising to meet soon at Pune. These plans are similar to those plans which are made in hallowed precincts of our legislative buildings. 🙂
As mentioned earlier, the NH-4 in Karnataka stretch is like butter but becomes ‘khichdi’ in Maharashtra. Becomes a 4 lane highway and is used by all and sundry from bullock-carts to tractors to autos who follow highway etiquette like our politicians follow our constitution. Had lunch at around 3.15 P.M. near Karad, took a little breather and started again. At one point, it was 4 P.M. and Satara was 78 kms away. I resolved to reach Satara by 5 for which I raced with foolish insanity crossing Satara at the stroke of 5. Took a little break and started the last leg my journey on a docile note the way I did on the same stretch when I started; but this time it was not out of fear but of an accomplishment that fear can be overcome by taking it head-on. Also, no matter how great the journey was, there is always a sense of belongingness, warmth and comfort as you inch closer to your home. Perhaps, because deep inside you are just like those birds of Dandeli, who fly to far flung locations eventually to come back to their nests to relax, retire and relive the memories of the voyage that are now etched in the memory like “shloks” on the stones in temples of India.
Reached home at 8 P.M…exactly 7 days and 6 hours later…..
Liye sapne nigahon mein, chala hoon teri rahon mein, zindagi aa raha hoon main….. !!!!