I travel… but am humble

Ankita writes, and she writes well! Reading what she wrote recently, I cannot bring myself to remember that she was a part of a TV show like MTV Roadies!

Here, I let her take over:

Travel huh? I think people who talk intensely about how much they have travelled and what they have seen, are not the kinds that I can relate to. I am more of the person who would keep her travels to herself, for it is not the world to rejoice on but my own humble self. I am also humble enough to admit that I havent seen the world ten times over. Last week I visited my aunt who lovingly showed me pictures of Australia & USA. She has travelled extensively.With all due respect to her but somehow seeing the pictures I wonder how many people really appreciate or understand what they see. It’s more of a race to have as many pictures & whether you took one at Trafalgar Square or the Opera House. Did you stay in the famous 5-star by the lake or did you eat at the famous place at 5th Avenue? Did you gamble at famous Vegas casinos or did you shop at the Changi airport? I for once wanna thank god that am not in the same league (yes you see the slight hint of humbleness again).

I like to see the trees pass me by. I like to put the passenger seat reclining and lie down looking up & outside the window. You see the trees pass you, the streetlights and the stars(if it’s night). The whole feeling is like you are rotating slowly with the earth.Inch by Inch, day by day, night by night. It’s as if the whole world has stopped but you.I also love to sit at the back of an SUV and watch the colourful neon lights on the road that divide two lanes.Sitting at the back it makes me feel as if my car is leaving behind a blazing trail which others might follow. It’s not like I am Buddha on his path of enlightenment but maybe I am doing my little bit for religion.

Ride ’n’ Rain


relaxed hawk
Originally uploaded by recaptured

The lazy Sunday afternoon I was spending with the Boat Club Quiz Club in the COEP old canteen was brought back to excitement by Joseph’s proposal, that we go to some place called Tiger Tower Hill. All he knew about it was that it was a hill (duh!) near Kamshet. Monsoons, cameras and a new car was all the bait I needed to come along. But then he bowled me a bouncer – Naren’s ’96 E-class would also join us!

I would have been an idiot if I said no. So I did not 🙂

A smooth and quick ride on NH4 took us to Kamshet, where we stopped for a quick snack-break, and then asked the restaurant owner for Tiger Tower Hill. He told us it is near Lonavla. So we drove off towards Lonavla.

What we saw on the road then was horrifying! A Corolla Altis had apparently been hit on the back by what seemed to be a humongous vehicle with great force. That force pushed it into the road divider. Both its boot and bonnet were smashed! Thankfully the two people in the car including the person driving it seemed to be safe and unhurt.

This is where Joe got a call from Naren. He had seen a black Cedia cross him in the other direction, and he thought it could be us. Then they exchanged a few words about the Corolla as a reference point, and we met a few hundred metres from the spot of the accident.

We drove back to Kamshet. Turned out that a lane next to the place we snacked at led to the Hill. So much for asking directions from locals!

The road up to the Hill seemed to be okay. We kept wondering why Naren would describe it the way he did. Then we came to know. There was a detour from the road we were driving on, which was barely six feet wide. And this detour would have been done last a year ago maybe. And due to the rains it was kinda loose. Now we knew why he said that once you are on, you can’t reverse.

Since we were already some 50metres into this “road”, the only way to go was forward. So we did.

A narrow road with steep inclines, punctuated by expanses of flattish land with lots of grass, as you can see in the photograph, continued. On the way Naren gave up, his wiper was not working, and it would not be possible on such a road to get down and wipe the glass at any point.

The monster (by recaptured)

We spent some time discussing whether we go ahead – both the cars, whether we turn back – both the cars, or we go ahead – with all of us in the Cedia and the Merc standing where it was. Finally Naren decided to park his car with two of its wheels on the road, and we loaded all six of us in the Black Hawk.

The Black Hawk rose to the challenge and carried all six of us forward, until at a point the incline became too steep, and we smelled its clutch burning! Four of the people in the car – the entire back crew – decided to trek to the top, while Joe and I stayed in the car and drove it to the top.

A Thunderbird, a Pulsar 220 and a Scorpio were already parked at the top. The view was amazing! There was a trek that went further up, but we decided to stay where we reached, while Girish decided to go up.

There was also a trek that went down – beyond the railing, on to a neighbouring hillock. Our four companions went that way, while we stayed back to admire the car and shoot it from every angle and perspective we could think of – wide angles, closeups, macros, high-hat, top view, sides, front, back. Apparently the spot down there on the hillock was amazingly windy. So the buggers stayed there until the sun went down.

Joseph was getting impatient, because he had burnt his clutch and also because in the dark the road would be tougher to drive on. So we pushed off without our passengers, albeit at a slower pace, and asked them to come trekking down to meet us.

We reached the parked Merc, divided the ‘load’ between the two cars equally, and started off back home. On getting to the proper road, Naren stopped again. His awesome wipers had now jammed in one place. One could not move them even by hand! After some time fiddling with the fusebox and connections, he gave up and concentrated instead on getting a test-drive of the Black Hawk.

steel!

So Naren and Joe went off on a drive in the Cedia, while I went mad clicking the Mercedes – especially the three-pointed star.

They came back, and we split ways — one car to Pune, one to Mumbai.

On the way back, we found a place called Urban Spice. It looked good, so we went in, and ordered. The food was good too.

And from there, I took over the Black Hawk. I drove back till Wakad. It’s such a smooth car! Feels just the way it looks – powerful yet refined.

My flickr stream has not seen so many uploads in so few days since I guess I had discovered the cheap kit-lens macro method.

The Updated Great Driving Route

It is the route that touches the three seas that surround India. The highlight of the route is Kanyakumari, where we will see all the three, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal together. Then there is the Bay of Bengal at Pondicherry, the ruins of Hampi, scenic Coorg, the Arabian Sea all through the Konkan coastline and a short and sweet day spent at Goa.

There is no change over the last route we posted. It has only been fleshed out a little and a few errors corrected.

Day 1
Start: Mumbai

To: Murud
A striking beach, and the commanding fortress of Janjira, which is simply India’s most spectacular island fort. But we wouldn’t be stopping here beyond a couple of hours plus the time needed for us to ferry to the fort and back. Because we have to get further

To: Chiplun
Night halt

Day 2
To: Mapusa
For a short & customary stopover at Goa, and a night halt at Madgaon.

Day 3
To: Gokarna
Gokarna – or the cow’s ear, is a small low-key village, with temples and beaches, the best beaches being those reached via a footpath that begins on the southern side of its Ganpati temple.

Day 4
A day well-spent negotiating the roads of the Konkan Ghat, getting us to Mangalore, where we explore the city and then stay for the night.

Day 5
To: Coorg
Coorg, or Kodagu, is known for its cool climate, winding roads, rambling over forested hills and past spice and coffee plantations. There are some forts, temples, and a waterfall to see apart from the breathtaking natural beauty.

To: Kunnur
It may be a small and unexciting town otherwise, but there is Kerala’s most popular ritualistic art form, theyyam that belongs to this place. Apart from that there is a Portuguese built St. Angelo Fort, built of brilliantly red laterite stone, and gives excellent views of the surrounding beaches.

To: Kozhikode
The port where Vasco Da Gama landed in 1498, while on the voyage to find the sea-route to India. There is not much to see as a tourist, but is a good place to take a break, which is exactly what we plan to do here.

Day 6
To: Ernakulam
It’s next to Fort Cochin, another laid back town, famous for its port.

To: Kollam
A quaint little town, which is also an entrance to the Backwaters

Day 7
To: Kanyakumari
Imagine a place where you can see India’s three big surrounding water bodies meet! The place where land ends!
Kanyakumari is the “Land’s End” of the Indian subcontinent. Here the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea meet. Among other things to see is the Vivekananda Memorial, where Swami Vivekananda had meditated in 1892 before becoming an icon to the Indian/Hindu public.

To: Sivakasi
From Kanyakumari we move off to Sivakasi and spend the night in the house of fireworks in India.

Day 8
To: Madurai
Madurai – the home of the Meenakshi Temple. According to ancient documents, this city is 2400 years old, and was an important trade hub, especially for spices. You can imagine us photographers going mad photographing the temple, and the local people.

From here we push off towards Chidambaram for a night halt.

Day 9
To: Pondicherry
Pondicherry is the pocket of French culture and architecture in India. Apart from its calm and relaxed lifestyle and French connections, it is famous for the Auroville – the ashram of Maharishi Aurobindo.

The road towards Hampi would take us to Tannakallu, where we plan to stop for the night.

Day 10
To: Hampi
Glorious Hampi! The fascinating ruins of 15th century Vijayanagar make this place famous. In the legends of Ramayana, this place was called Kishkindha, the place where the monkey gods lived.

To: Sholapur
With 10 days well spent, we stay for the night in the small town of Sholapur.

Day 11
To: Mumbai
The beautiful drive back to Mumbai will be through Baramati, Pune, Lonavla and Khandala.

The Great Driving Route

Edit: Check out the updated route please.

The wait is over! Finally unveiling the route Ankita and I intend to travel for the Great Driving Challenge.

You can see this as a map on Google Maps. And if you like what we have planned, please take some time to vote for us. Only 10 hours remain as I write this.

From: Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

To: Murud, Maharashtra, India – 143km
A striking beach, and the commanding fortress of Janjira, which is simply India’s most spectacular island fort.

To: Chiplun, Maharashtra, India– 176km
Night halt

To: Mapusa, Goa, India – 290km
Short & customary stopover at Goa

To: Gokarna, Karnataka, India – 298km
Gokarna – or the cow’s ear, is a small low-key village, with temples and beaches, the best beaches being those reached via a footpath that begins on the southern side of its Ganpati temple.

To: Coorg, Karnataka, India – 472km with a night halt in between
Coorg, or Kodagu, is known for its cool climate, winding roads, rambling over forested hills and past spice and coffee plantations. There are some forts, temples, and a waterfall to see apart from the breathtaking natural beauty.

To: Kannur – 111km
It may be a small and unexciting town otherwise, but there is Kerala’s most popular ritualistic art form, theyyam that belongs to this place. Apart from that there is a Portuguese built St. Angelo Fort, built of brilliantly red laterite stone, and gives excellent views of the surrounding beaches.

To: Ernakulam – 284km
It’s next to Fort Cochin, a laid back town, famous for its port. Night halt here.

To: Trivandrum – 211km
The capital of Kerala. Short stopover before moving towards Kanyakumari

To: Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu, India – 89km
Kanyakumari is the “Land’s End” of the Indian subcontinent. Here the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea meet. Among other things to see is the Vivekananda Memorial, where Swami Vivekananda had meditated in 1892 before becoming an icon to the Indian/Hindu public.

To: Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India – 249km
Madurai – the home of the Meenakshi Temple. According to ancient documents, this city is 2400 years old, and was an important trade hub, especially for spices.

To: Pondicherry, Pondicherry, India – 337km
Pondicherry is the pocket of French culture and architecture in India. Apart from its calm and relaxed lifestyle and French connections, it is famous for the Auroville – the ashram of Maharishi Aurobindo.

To: Hampi, Karnataka, India – 618km with a night halt in between
The fascinating ruins of 15th century Vijayanagar make this place famous. In the legends of Ramayana, this place was called Kishkindha, the place where the monkey gods lived.

Back To: Mumbai, Maharashtra, India – 717km with a night halt in between (Sholapur maybe)

When Distance Shrank To Fit A Day

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!”

Ride Wet

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.


The NH4 before it rained
Originally uploaded by recaptured

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.

Litti chokha!

Are you a Bihari in Pune who is feeling homesick? Or are you a non-Bihari who wonders what delicacies Biharis have to flaunt? If either is the case the place to go is Anandnagar on Paud Road, Kothrud.

Over here in a shop called Litti Chokha you get awesome litti chokha. I just finished a plate and a half myself!

Here’s a picture to show you what it looks like:




Update:

They have moved from their old Anandnagar outlet to just across the street, near MIT, Kothrud. You can navigate to their location using Google Maps:

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