Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Chasing the monsoon - Season 5

Morning 4 AM:- I woke up with bleary eyes, staring at an unfamiliar roof. It took me a while to figure out where I was. I could make out the outline of the apartment we were put up in Pune. I must have slept like a log for at least 3 hours. Not enough, but given the length of journey lying ahead of us, I was quite content.

Day 2 planning started after a couple of hours once the other chasers were woken up from deep slumber.

I was hungry for adventure and the first day's lengthy rides along the green mountainous roads in the rain were just recce as far as I was concerned. We set out targets for the second day:- Lohagad and Lonavala. It took lots of back and forth discussions to get the routes and schedule right. Finally, the plan was made to hit the two spots asap and head onto Mumbai for the night. I was super excited at the prospects of this plan. I haven't been to Mumbai after a very short visit while waiting for our transit flight to Kochi when I was in my sixth grade. The distance and the prospect of the wild chase entering a large crowded city was challenging, but I trusted my mates who knew Mumbai well. We were off soon, powered by the wonderful Poha, Misal pava and Idly.

Around 60kms from Pune, Lohagad has been in my sights for more than a year now. I had fallen in love with the fort just by visual appeal.
A random album in facebook, narrative by a friend, and follow up research, all that ran through my mind as we made our way through the inviting Mumbai-Pune highway gunning our engines in high spirits.

The regular route to Lohagad involved a decent trek. The trek promised to be mesmerizing in the monsoon, and we were already proven monsoon chasers. The image of the lush green routes dripping with fresh rainwater was too exciting to ignore. But we had a practical problem to solve. Lohagad lay right in the path to Lonavala and if we chose to trek the Lohagad, all our plans would get delayed. The distance to Lonavala and Mumbai would never get covered if we were to walk up the Lohagad. So I reluctantly agreed to the plan to 'ride through' Lohagad and move onto Lonavala. At least that is what we could come up, using Google Maps for guidance.

The route to Lohagad takes a deviation from the highway at a point and goes through Kachcha roads and villages. In spite of being an extended weekend, there didn't seem to be much of a crowd. Only children walking along the road going to school or village women carrying pots of water on their heads were visible throughout the route. We were just beginning to wonder why we were the only people on vehicles, when we almost fell into the first ditch. Technically a pothole, but practically it was a well.

We had ourselves deep in dirt when the first pothole led to many more of varying sizes and complexities. Large ditches of mud and puddles meant we crawled through slowly, trying not to fall and make a scene in front of the pretty girls walking in large groups, around and through the same puddles. Keeping our minds firmly on the road and grips on the handles, we moved slowly to the tiny waterfall on the way. I was riding the unicorn rented from a friend of Sumeet, one of the three chasers. Keeping it in control was no small matter. After the trip, I would observe significant muscle development in the region of my right forearm, all thanks to the wonderful accelerator of this unicorn.

Anyway, no sooner had we taken a few customary clicks at the crowded waterfall, the heavens opened up and the crowd of youngsters vanished under rain coats and umbrellas. I felt very jealous. While they laughed and walked up the scenic rocky routes under their raincoats,

we had an almost impossible task to ride the slick FZ and the monstrously unyielding Unicorn up the 60 degree slope that was fast turning into a river of mud through slippery rocks the size of  footballs. We stopped at a small shop to ask some locals if we could ride the bikes all the way to the top and continue to Lonavala. The local fellows in the shop made a mockery of us and asked us to take an auto. Hearing that, all our frustration turned to pure determination and we rode ahead with renewed vigour and confidence, with only the cold rain leaving no spot warm on us.

And so started the long and precarious ride. I had never in my life attempted such adventures with bikes, and never so far away with someone else's bikes. The unicorn's accelerator too didn't help in making it any easier to traverse the boulders and maneuver on the slippery mud. We made slow progress and to the amazement of the small groups of trekkers, we managed to climb most of the hill without much incidents, apart from a few times when we had to push the bikes up to avoid slipping all the way down. Then we came to this..

My heart sank on seeing it. But there was no turning back. I could in no way rely on my physical strength to push the heavy unicorn up this one. We both gave it our best to climb up the almost 75 degree mess. There were no foot holds, no even surface. Only deep sticky mud with lots of loose rocks. Even after many attempts, we found ourselves close to the foot of this small hill, bikes already covered in thick layers of mud and hot fumes emanating from the engines. Fortunately for me, a local boy came along and offered to help. He took over my bike and I resorted to supporting him by guiding and pushing from the back. Aswin did the same to the lighter FZ while Sumeet was on the saddle. Slowly, painfully, we pushed both the bikes up the 50m slope. Puffing, panting and covered in mud, we were close to exhaustion. But relieved off the mortal danger we were in, we thanked the boy and paid him Rs 100.

The road began there and all the tension and pressure of the dangerous climb were soon forgotten as we rode freely through the heavy rains, surprising many a gang of trekkers who would have been basking in the glory of having climbed that hellish path. Yes, we did the ultimate. We rode on heavy bikes through that difficult-to-climb path. Our euphoria and excitement was back. I could imagine myself as the heavy cavalry of Hannibal that traversed the impossible Alps to launch a surprise attack at the Romans. Soon we had our fort in sights, and were more than ready to unleash ourselves on it.

The trek up the steps of the Lohagad was refreshing after two days on the bike saddle. I could feel the fresh oxygen energize every cell of my body as my mind was seduced by the naked beauty of nature that was draped in the thin veils of fog that hung almost everywhere. Strategically crafted pathways, bastions, towers, large gates, all covered in slippery green moss gave an eerie feeling to the entire place.

Only the thick white fog that hung everywhere and the water that flowed down the steps reminded one that the fort was no longer operational. But standing at an isolated tower, I got goosebumps imagining being under the watchful eyes of hundreds of carefully positioned guards of Sivaji.

Needless to say, I was in love with the fort in its wintery, foggy, wet outfit. But I also wanted to love its green version and marked in my heart to revisit the fort in another season. As usual, I had to be dragged out of the fort by my mates. That was a fort we fought hard to conquer! I had to say goodbye with a heavy heart..

Soon, we were on our way to Lonavala. There wasn't much of interest there. Tiger's leap was the only point that was recommended. But the heavy rains and thick fog which had begun rolling all over the region made it inaccessible to us. We had a long way ahead and decided to skip most of the places,and apart from a beautiful waterfall we stumbled upon by the road side, we mostly focussed on riding to Aamchi Mumbai..
some costly snacks

The roads were perfect, the scenery mesmerizing and the rain kept constant companion. As I was wondering how Maharashtra manages to provide such good roads everywhere, we hit an even wider road with mind blowing quality of lanes and it smelled of international quality. I was taken aback and we riders exchanged amused glances while maintaining the bikes at top speed.

It was not until we noticed the angry stares and constant honking of trucks and cars that we stopped to think. Then it stuck us.

We were in the Mumbai-Pune expressway. Wow!!! Jackpot!! Wait.. what did that board read? "Two-Wheelers Prohibited." Shit. We realized that if caught, it would not just be a matter of paying up. Three mud covered, unkempt youngsters claiming to be engineers from Bangalore riding a rented bike from Pune with almost no papers and a Karnataka registered bike in someone else's name, speeding at 100kmph in the heavy rains on the expressway on Aug 16th would need a lot of explaining.

the illegitimate ones..
That was exactly when the police jeep we saw earlier came round the corner, and I thought I could see the wicked smile on the officer's face. We were screwed..

To be Continued..


  1. Wow..That was hell of a Ride I must say ..But I guess quite an Adventure Trekking on Bike used for general Purpose

    1. didn't realize the limitations of the bikes until we were at the point of no return :-)

  2. Interesting post! Beautiful pictures! We have visited Lonavla, and stood by that same monsoon waterfall! Lohagad is new to me, thanks!

  3. Ha ha ha, that was well explained mate ! Its not difficult to remember everything bit by bit considering the amount of times we screwed up ! That was heck of a Road Trip ! I wonder how we could (escpecially myself ) gather such strengths....we sure do ROCK ! Cheers !