It was 8 in the morning, once again, and I was ready with all my gear. The saddlebags on the rear seat, the turtlebag on the tank, knee-guards on the knees, elbow-guards on the elbows over the jacket sleeve, gloves and a helmet. The only difference was that this time it was an elephantine distance that was awaiting me. The last time I had done this stretch, it was in one and a half days’ time in the opposite direction. I was leaving my friend’s place in Bangalore, and needed to reach Pune the same day. Armed with confidence, but still doubtful of my and the bike’s abilities to conquer the task at hand, I hit the road. The odometer read 16708. This was my first time in Bangalore in some 15 years’ time, and the first time ever that I was driving there. The roads all seemed to look the same (though they do look beautiful and spacious), and every turn seemed to take me both towards and away from the destination at the same time.
While negotiating the early-morning rush-to-office/school traffic while still very much on the city roads, I started remembering the previous day’s journey – the 36 hairpin bends, the elephant cub and the deer on the roadside in Bandipur, the beautiful vista that the trees presented me with in the forest reserves, and then the mostly uneventful journey after leaving Bandipur. Anyways, I got to touch NH4 by around 9.30am, and hit reserve at 10.15. I had travelled 90km since morning. After refuelling, I set off again.
While I was having a discussion with Anjani the previous night, he had told me that the awesome rocks that I had seen near Ramnagar while coming to Bangalore marked the spots where Sholay had been shot. The road after Bangalore also had such stones & small hillocks. You could just imagine Gabbar Singh convening a board meeting of his executive team amongst those big imposing rocks, and asking his Company Secretary Mr. Sambha for his market evaluation as pegged by the government.
After a 50minute long brunch break (heavy eating to avoid stopping again during the afternoon) at one of the Vithal Kamats on the highway, it was time to go again. But before that I had to answer a few questions the attendant there had for me — the usual, where are you coming from, where to, why, how many, what is it, aren’t you brave, aren’t you mad. So while the odometer was showing 16868, I took off again.
Long stretches started disappearing behind me, and the sun kept shining. In January, the heat was scorching — such is the Deccan terrain in Karnataka.
The prime concern for me was the time I was doing. I wanted to maintain an average speed of 80kmph, else reaching Pune the same day would be impossible. To maintain that average speed one has to ride for stretches at speeds of 110 and above for a good amount of time. Not that it caused any stress to my 350cc engine, but it does show on mileage. And however much we Bulleteers like to say that mileage does not matter for us, fact is that when you are doing such a stretch, keeping a tab on mileage and the amount of fuel left in the tank is critical, especially when the petrol pumps are so few and far between. And to top it, there are even fewer petrol pumps who accept credit cards as a mode of payment. My mental powers were thus spent calculating the distance covered, the time spent, the amount of fuel remaining and my immediate cash and otherwise purchasing power.
If you do a simple calculation, my bike at such running conditions was returning around 25kmpl, which means that the approximate distance that was planned for the day would burn 32litres of petrol. Now my tank holds 14litres including reserve, which meand refuelling at least thrice during the day. And everytime it had to be full-tank. I was hardly carrying any cash, and as far as I have seen there are no ATMs on the NH4 between Bangalore and Pune. So the only way I had to refuel was by card. But I was not so lucky. Only once did I get a petrol pump which accepted my credit card. And that too was after roaming around in the fringes of Hubbali. While looking for the pump, I was caught by a local traffic cop wearing the supercool shiny white cowboy hat which is part of the Karnataka police uniform, who among other questions also asked me if I had paid Karnataka road tax! Imagine a biker with a Jharkhand licence plate, telling him he is coming from Ooty in Tamil Nadu and reaching Pune in Maharashtra at the end of the day, and he wants to know if I have paid Karnataka road tax! I guess there are similar policemen everywhere. Anyways, he was convinced in some time and in fact helped me with directions to the pump, and I got to refuel and leave the town.
The other two times I refuelled, my precious cash reserves were drained. In fact, at sundown all I had in my pocket was a measly Rs. 60.50. That, combined with the fatigue, hunger and the increasing realisation that I was not doing good time, which would mean reaching Pune very late, were tiring me out.
By 6.30 in the evening, I was nearing Kolhapur. That seemed to put some hope in my heart. Home wasn’t far. One part of me wanted to just pull the throttle all the way and be done with the journey. But then the pangs of hunger got the better of me, and I pulled over at the McDonald’s just before Kolhapur at 6.45.
There I met a fellow Bulleteer who was also returning from Ooty. It was Satya from Inddiethumpers, with a friend of his, who also belonged to that club. After the general introductions, we went our way towards our respective menus. Remember I told you about my fiscal condition earlier? It was still the same, but thankfully it was just enough to afford me a McVeggie burger and a cola float. Surprisingly a glass of cola is more expensive than a cola float at McD’s! Anyway, after having my fill and recharging my mobile phone in their kitchen, I checked the odometer. It read 17355. Total distance since morning — 647km.
For most people, and even for me on most days, that would be a distance worthy of 2 days’ riding. But there was a long way to go. I still wasn’t home. And I had to reach office the next morning 🙂
At 7.10pm I started off from the McDonald’s with darkness fast approaching me. Soon after I crossed Kolhapur, it started getting dark.
After I crossed Satara, fatigue became more demanding. But I decided not to stop. Not a very good idea, I will say. A couple of times I was so tired, I could not see the approaching road-divider that I would have hit (at a speed of around 100kmph!) had I not swerved nearly at the last moment.
When it was post 9.30 at night, the journey started becoming unbearable. It was dark, the traffic was as bad as it is usually between Satara and Pune, the weight and feel of the gear on my limbs were close to irritating now. When I finally hit the viaduct, it felt like I have almost reached, but still the journey seemed liked it would never end.
Non-stop riding for three and a half hours got me home, where the only thing I looked forward to was a hot water bath, and something to eat!
Thankfully my flatmate Girish was kind enough to quickly cook khichdi for me, even though he had had dinner outside. And I was not able to sit on the floor without a cushion (remember Saif Ali Khan from Dil Chahta Hai?). Funny eh?
When I parked the Bird at home, her odometer read 17593. 885km in 13 hours! 885km in one day! Bangalore to Pune in one day!
Girish, on hearing that I had left Bangalore only at 9 in the morning, had only one thing to ask me — “Were you chasing a Volvo from there? 14 hours is what a Volvo takes from Bangalore to Pune!”
One has got to ride on the NH4 when it’s raining this heavily, atleast once!
The wet roads, the green surroundings, the fog, the constant prick of rain drops on the face, and the wet and squeaky shoes, low visibility, the constant worry about the contents of the saddlebag getting wet – all of this adds to an experience that is unforgettable.
Yes that is exactly what the bloke would tell you, who leaves home when it’s overcast, on the way gets drenched to the bone, and takes five hours to complete a journey which he, with a good amount of pride, usually finishes in two and a half hours, and does not want you to think he’s miserable.
A trip that I had planned for 6AM today started at 8. Whom can I blame for the delay when the whole convoy consisted of only yours truly?
Anyway, the point is that Lonavla, Khandala and the Ghats look and feel breathtaking when it rains. When you are negotiating the hilly roads of Khandala Ghat in this weather, you can hardly see anything but the one vehicle ahead of you, and only because they have put their tail lamps on at 11am!
Apart from the awesome scenic ghats, it was the breakfast I had at Amber Garden a little before Lonavla that kept me going. Well, I waited there for over an hour, clicking the clouds, the water and the flies. And when I decided to move because the downpour seemed to be waning, it poured like there was no tomorrow shortly after.
Next time, got to waterproof everything when going on a ride.