December departures I : Bangalore – Pune – Mumbai

 A trip to RoK & Rajasthan had been one of our oft-discussed topics – but the restrictions of being a corporate slave had prevented us from even starting to plan something meaningful. The closest we could dream about was to plan a 10-day trip, which included shipping the bikes till Gujarat, covering RoK and Rajasthan, and then shipping the bikes back again. Not a very exciting proposition, now that I think of it.

I have never been a big fan of “destiny”, but I guess this road trip was something that was destined to happen. A few sudden career decisions ( R leaving the corporate life to pursue something she was passionate about, and me switching jobs to take up another opportunity in a different city ), meant that we suddenly had a one-month-long window of opportunity before us. Within the space of a week, we had upgraded from a short RoK-Rajasthan trip to a full fledged cross country bike ride. Our final plan stretched over 28 days, starting from Bangalore, touching Pune – Mumbai – Gujarat – Kutch – entire Rajasthan – Delhi – Agra – Khajuraho, and ultimately stopping at Hyderabad, which was my next work location. The last week before the trip commenced was an especially hectic one – getting both the bikes ready and more importantly, preparing ourselves to sustain an entire month on the road, making sure that we packed only what was needed. The northern parts of India are usually pretty cold during this period, and we had to make sure we had sufficient gear to protect us from the cold. Many iterations of packing and repacking later, finally we reached a level of sufficiency – the right balance of enough clothes to carry us through the month and just sufficient luggage so that the bikes are not overloaded.

R flew down from Kolkata early on 2nd Dec – I had promised to pick her up by 0930 hours, but as expcted, pre-trip jitters and oversleeping meant I could only reach the airport by 1000. Picked up a somewhat pissed off R, had breakfast at A2B and rushed off to finish our last minute packing. For the first leg from Bangalore to Pune, we had a couple of more riders joining us – Battery on his RC200 and Lacto on his TBTS500. The starting time was yet to be decided, me and R wanted an early start so that we could cover maximum distance before having to stop for the night – but both Battery and Lacto had work to take care of before starting off. We debated for a bit about starting right off, then decided to stay back till everyone was free and start together. Sam and Cyan would also be doing the bangalore – Pune stretch in their cars, so they were aiming for a late evening start.

It was finally around 4:30pm when we finally started off – Bangalore’s Friday traffic had already started to pile up. I had to make (what I had assumed would be ) a short detour to return some stuff that I had borrowed from a friend – I asked everyone else to ride forward till yeshwantpur, while I would finish my errand and join them as soon as possible. This was the start of my misfortunes for the day – the detour of a 4 kms cost me about an hour, followed by sudden rainfall ( who expects rain in December?! ) which forced me to stop in an underpass and frantically cover up all the luggage. Soon I realized that while packing for the journey, I had overlooked putting my knee pads on – a very basic mistake and something that will probably cost me an hour more if I had to turn back in this traffic and go back to my apartment. So I called up Neel and asked them to bring it with them, I would collect it from them on the road once they caught up with us.

As usual, by the time I had finished covering up my luggage, the rain had subsided into a light drizzle – but not before leaving behind a giant traffic mess. And to add to my woes, there was a slow but steady decrease in the throttle performance – within a few minutes, even at full throttle I was barely managing to hold a speed of 60 kmph. By the time I had reached Yeshwantpur, it was clear that at this rate, it would be pretty difficult to even reach Pune within a day, let alone complete a cross country trip. A few frantic calls to my mechanic and a couple of pointless detours later, Keerthi, one of the IBR Bangalore chapter heads himself rode down to my location, in spite of the rain, to help. In the meantime, my mechanic Sundar had also managed to get hold of his friend ( who had a motorcycle servicing centre in Yeshwantpur ), who in turn sent one of his apprentices to take a look at the bike. There was some problem with the carburetter- the slide had somehow jammed up and fuel delivery to the engine was affected. A few minutes of carb adjustments, and my engine was back to normal! Keerthi rode with me for a few kilometers, to make sure that the problem did not recur. Once he was confident that everything was okay, he turned back towards Bangalore, but not before asking me to give him a call in case anything went wrong again. I’ve never been a very sentimental person, but I guess this kind of unconditional response to help someone in need almost made me teary eyed in gratitude. This was not the last time that I had to call upon the IBR community for help again during my trip, but more on that later…

A damp start to the megatrip😐😐 As always, the plans meant nothing – what was supposed to be an early evening start to avoid Bengaluru's abysmal traffic, was pushed back by a combination of avoidable and unavoidable factors. As I crawled across the ORR at a snail's pace, it started to rain – maybe to underline my decision to leave out the bulky rain gear from the luggage. Halfway through the city, realized that a small niggling problem with the throttle was slowly turning out to be a major one – had to go in the opposite direction, in peak traffic and rain, to get to a mech. Also realized that I had forgotten my knee guards – so now I would be riding to Pune without basic protection. Ideal setup to reach a bitter conclusion that this was not going to be one of those times when everything goes smoothly… But then, it is times like these that your perseverance shines through – and you realize that help is always nearby when you are patient enough to look for them. So for now – 1. Asked a friend who was driving to Pune later, to pick up the knee protectors and hand them over to me midway 2. The awesome IBRMC brotherhood is always there when you need them – just a message over WhatsApp and there were numerous people calling in with their suggestions and sending details of their mechanics. Keerthi Bhai rode down from his place just to help me out! #motorcyclediaries #saddleserenity #megatrip #bangalore #pune #ibrmc

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It was around 8:30pm when I crossed Nelamangala, and was finally out of Bangalore. R had carried on ahead with Lacto and Battery, now it was upto me to catch up with them. I took a 15mins pit stop at a roadside stall, had a glass of coffee to drown out the frustration of the last couple of hours and started chasing the others. The next couple of hours passed in a haze – focussed on the road and managed to catch up with the rest of the gang, who had stopped at a small, blink-and-you-miss kind of a dhaba just after Chitradurga. It was well past 11, and we were lucky to find a place still serving food on this stretch. The credit goes to Battery, who seems to have some kind of a hunger induced enhanced vision- the same guy who normally ignores everything other than the 100 metres of road immediately ahead, had managed to find this place, a temporary dhaba like structure without any lights/sign boards whatsoever. The others had already ordered roti dal and egg bhurji, so I just had to sit and eat – which i did with great enthusiasm. Had a brief conversation with a couple of police personnel, who were on their regular night patrols – I bet they were amused and surprised at the foolishness of attempting an almost 900-odd km trip in a single day.
Chitradurga to Hubli was mostly uneventful, four of us rode in silence through dark roads devoid of traffic. In fact, it was so dark that even with the headlights on, it was difficult to see beyond a few metres ahead. This was also the first time that we felt a little bit chilly – though that was only in certain stretches. Both me and R were using thermals below our riding jackets, but we quickly found out that thermals don’t really fare well against the rushing wind. Our next pitstop was at Hubli – we managed to shake off the fits of shivering with glasses of hot chai. We had to dig into our supplies of Red Bull to help us stay awake and alert. Hubli to Dharwad is one of the most dangerous stretches, and more so for smaller vehicles and 2 wheelers. The wide Asian highway suddenly narrows down into a thin single lane which sees a high volume of truck traffic all with high beam on, few with only one light. This stretch has a bad reputation of being a hotbed of accidents – so we were especially careful while travelling through this part. Even though we had planned to maintain a formation, within the starting 5 minutes the formation was totally screwed. ( R and Battery moved ahead with speed dodging the truck traffic ) while we both TBTS cruised our way through) Somehow with a lot of honking and close shaves, we had crossed the dangerous section without any mishap, except for a few small arguments and bruised egos.

The 2nd batch, which had left Bangalore at around 2100 hours  in their cars, caught up with us soon after Belgaum, almost at dawn. By this time, I, and in all probability, the other riders, had moved to a Zombie state ( red teary eyes and splitting headaches ), just somehow managing to keep on riding straight ahead. The empty highways after Belgaum only added to the drowsiness, interrupted occasionally by light spells of rain. None of us were particularly following the formation any longer – R had sped up much ahead, suddenly realized that everyone else was missing, assumed that everyone had gone on ahead without waiting for her, and was on the verge of a nasty tantrum when she was discovered by the Duster gang, around 10 kms ahead of the other riders ( who, meanwhile, had slowed down assuming that she was somewhere behind them ). Co-ordination really goes for a toss once you are tired, we got a good taste of that!

By the time we had crossed into MH territory, we no longer had the early morning advantage. And true to its reputation, the traffic in MH was crazy – not choc-a-block crazy like Bangalore, but incoming from all possible directions. Traffic rules and common sense – both of these were conspicuously absent – you had to literally be mindful of pedestrians/motorists/animals coming from all possible directions.

The typical smell of sugarcane hung around in the air, and roads were flanked on both sides by yellowish green plants. By this time, the sync between the group had almost ceased to exist. We ( R and I) had only a vague idea where the others were – most of them had gone on ahead. It was well past 10:30 when we reached Satara, stopped to give a little bit of rest to our sore butts and to our machines. Had a quick sync up with the rest of the team – the Duster had almost reached Pune, while the others had already crossed Satara. The road to Pune was mostly excellent – especially the small ghat section about 50kms before entering Pune. The reddish brown texture of the soil, coupled with the huge rocks strewn by the roadside, and the view of the city nested in the valley – it almost looked like a scene straight out of ye’ olde’ Western movies. To add to the experience, there were a couple of small sections where the road beautifully tunneled through the hills – if you are riding through one of them, you better take off your goggles before you enter, because once you are inside even the motorcycle headlights don’t help. We learnt it the hard way, riding almost blind till the tunnel ended!

Early morning advantage – you have almost the entire road to yourselves!

We crossed into Pune city limits at roughly 1300 hours, roughly ~5 hours later than we had actually planned to. Lacto was waiting for us just before the city limits, to guide us through the city towards Hinjewadi. Pune has a reputation ( and not a good one ) for being densely populated with two wheelers. What we did observe was that in spite of said density, traffic rules were not very strictly implemented. Around 50 more minutes of twisting and turning through traffic finally led us to Fabhotel Arya, our accommodation for the next 3 days, time 2:30pm. We had almost the entire place to ourselves – it was a huge reunion of sorts with people flying in from different parts of the country! We were among the last ones to arrive – the party had already started. Dragged our luggage upstairs to our allocated rooms and finally peeled off the dusty and sweaty clothes that we had been wearing for almost the last 24 hours. Joined the others in one of the rooms where everyone had assembled, had a fun time and then, regrettably, went off to sleep. The others ( at least some of them) did manage to make it to the event that day, but for both of us, the day ended there.

The next 2 days in Pune literally passed in a haze. I’m sure anyone who has had a sort of a reunion with college friends after a relatively long time, would understand my sentiments. We did manage to catch Steven Wilson, because that was the main reason behind all of us converging in Pune in the first place!

We had a fun time ( in hindsight ) being ferried around the city on a small bus which we had hired for the 3 days – though I am not sure if the driver enjoyed the same way. Things usually don’t go as planned when you have 30+ people to plan for – there were misses and lapses, but in the end what is important that we suffered them together.

Taken during one of those pointless trips from point A to point B, through point C which was completely in the opposite direction

One of the highlights of Pune was going out in search of good local food on a Sunday morning – we literally rode over some 20 kms just to find a decent place that served misal pav. Newal Pav was not a very big or conspicuous establishment – it was just another very small eatery tucked inside a very nondescript lane, one which you will definitely not find unless you ask some local to point it out for you. You have to park your vehicle ( which is hopefully a 2-wheeler ) bang in the middle of the lane ( you’ll probably find other vehicles parked the same way there ), and wait for a table.

Ignore the bulging tummy and focus on the fact that people just happen to park on the road

We had already decided to try out misal pav, but there was something else that also caught our fancy – a pink-ish liquid that was being served out in glasses. It looked very similar to a smoothie or some kind of fruit juice – so it was a natural assumption that it would be something sweet. But the first sip from a glass of Solkadi gave us a different kind of surprise – it was not even close to sweet, it tasted kind of like spicy coconut milk! Misal was a spicy but tasty affair – though it was surprising that people preferred it for breakfast! (R loved it while I cried my throats out, surprisingly it didn’t cause any gastric burns ).


Next stop was at
pishi’s place, somewhere near Viman Nagar. It is fun when you have family living in a different city – you can drop in almost unannounced, and still get treated to lots of  delicious food. We started off with a bowl of assorted nuts and chocolates, and went all the way to pasta, fish, rice and chicken!
It was the last day of the Weekender, and some of the best artists were lined up, including Anoushka Shankar, Karsh Kale, Shankar Mahadevan. It was not a really ideal end to the event, but then again, not everyone has the unique experience of being involved in a contraband-related misdemeanour! Some of us went into near depressed mode and decided to head back to the hotel, but the majority just shrugged it off and enjoyed till the end of the event. Dinner that night was a long winded affair at Sarovar – we had to wait almost around 30 minutes to get a seat big enough to seat 20 at the same time. Unholy quantities of food and beer were ordered and devoured – biriyani, chicken, kababs, kulfi, nothing escaped our burning appetites that night.  It was a good thing that some of us had considered bringing back the “I was there” mugs from the weekender, they were put into good use when ‘some of us’ decided to puke their guts out while returning back to the hotel.

Packing up and saying our goodbyes took up most of the time next morning – we were the first ones to leave at around 10:30am. Mumbai was barely 150kms, and we planned to make it before dark. Among the others, the Bangalore group planned to start in an hour and make it back by nightfall (in reality, they just took a short detour while going back and landed in Goa!), while the others were flying back late in the afternoon. Unfortunately, the faster and newer Pune Mumbai Expressway does not allow any two wheelers, which is why we had to follow the old Mumbai Highway, which was slightly longer , but compensated with beautiful views of the Western Ghats. The trick to follow the old highway was to choose the “avoid tolls/highways” option on Google maps, and Google will automatically trace it out for you. We also took a short detour from the highway, venturing into Lonavala. We rode straight till the Tiger’s (or Lion’s) view point, took a stroll around the edge of the cliff, and then were back on our way towards Mumbai.

And in that moment, we swear, we were infinite!

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While Google was mostly very accurate, there were small sections on the highway which were very confusing, and the lack of any signboards would definitely make it a lot more difficult to differentiate between the newer expressway and the old highway. There are sections where the two merge into a single road – for instance just before Khopoli, the old highway merges into the expressway, passes through a tunnel, and then again diverges away. For most of the ghat sections, the roads winded through the beautiful mountain side, through several amazingly beautiful locations and sceneries. Though we did not have the luxury of unscheduled breaks, we made a mental note to visit this place sometime later, with more time on our hands.

We were supposed to stay with a friend in Mumbai – but somehow that arrangement did not work out due to some circumstances. Once again, even before I could start worrying about this setback, help came from one of the IBR guys in Mumbai, Bhavesh – he unexpectedly invited us over to stay at his place. I mean, who does that for a couple of strangers whom you met for the first time just now?

We were in Navi Mumbai by 1600, stopped at the motorcycle store of yet another senior IBR member, were fussed over and treated to refreshments, and then safely escorted to the main road which we had to take to reach the completely opposite side of the city, to Bhavesh’s place. Had ample exposure to Mumbai’s traffic – some guy on a scooty while zipping through traffic even decided to take a tumble right in front of my front wheel – fortunately for him and for me, I was literally going at a snail’s pace and managed to brake in time. He got up, blamed some random cab for some random reason, collected the flimsy excuse of a helmet which had rolled away the moment he fell and was helped to the side of the road by others who had stopped to help.

Coming back to Bhavesh, to be honest, we had never met or even interacted with each other before this day, and yet here we were, enjoying his hospitality, along with delicious home-made Dalbati, prepared by his mother!

 

Authentic home cooked dal bati for dinner
What’s for breakfast : Bhakri, poha and piping hot tea!

We happened to mention about how we had heard countless allusions towards the fact that Mumbai never goes to sleep – and he was already calling other IBR guys for an impromptu meet at the Marine Drive, just so that he could give us a ride and show us Mumbai’s nightlife. So at 2200 hours in the night, we set out in his car, picked up Pratik on the way, and then made our way through Mumbai’s famous places, with a running commentary about Aamchi Mumbai. Spent around an hour at Marine Drive with other IBR members, and then turned back.

The city that never sleeps!

Had another interesting experience here – we had stopped near the Gateway to India, just to take a look at the famous monument. The lights around the place were not sufficient to get a decent photo, but still we have it a few attempts. While doing this, we were accosted by a motorcycle-borne policeman – he demanded to know what we were doing. On being told that we were just trying to click a picture, he wanted to check the picture, and we obliged. He was satisfied with what he saw, and let us go – and on being asked by Pratik, replied that videography was not allowed at this monument. Pretty weird, if you ask me – it could either be another made up impromptu law just to allow him to search others, or some enhanced security requirement put in place after the tragic 26/11 attacks.

Nevertheless, we returned back to Bhavesh’s place and retired for the day, with lots of memories and pretty happy that we could manage a tour of the city, even with the limited time we had at our disposal!

Up Next, our journey continues for our next leg, The Great Rann of Kutch, Gujrat.

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