Tatooine

I dream of this place often. I have been there, and I haven’t really been there. Was it the desert planet of Tatooine, or was it closer home, on our very own planet? I remember the Sun shining mercilessly and the winds chilling our bones, especially in the shade, and the magnificent clouds dotting the impossibly blue skies.

This was the day my trip ended, of Ladakh.


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Down Low

A view down low during a coracle ride on the Tungabhadra river.

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Day 6: The Day it Ended

Apologies for not updating the blog live after Day 2.

I have notes for every day after that till the time my ride ended, but could not post anything, owing mainly to the lack of network access, and also to the fact that we were tired and slightly upset about the progress at the end of each day, and needed to catch up on sleep.

I plan to share the memoirs of those days soon. But today it’s about the one incident that cut short my trip by half, gave me my first fracture, and got me to my first ever proper operation.

Day 6 began early for me. I woke up at 3 AM as we had planned. We wanted to hit the road at the earliest possible, and wanted to cover the 250 odd kilometres to Leh by sundown. The planned take off had to be delayed because there still wasn’t enough light outside. So we started riding at around 7. After having scaled up the Gata Loops, we took a short break at Lachulung La. I sped off from there after clicking a few pictures, leaving the others behind.

We reached Pang at around 10 after passing through some intimidating, gigantic and impressive rock formations. We had thukpas for breakfast at Pang, played with the local kid who wanted to drink Slice from our glasses but his mother would not let us feed him, and met our friends from Bangalore once again. Having left Pang at around 11, we took another 25 minutes to reach the cold desert: Moray Plains.

It’s a stretch of land some 50km long, which is surprisingly flat, considering that it is between the Himalayan peaks. It’s mighty, it’s scary and it’s beautiful. Most of the beginning of it is covered with juniper shrubs. One track with a signboard marked “Diversion” goes amongst the shrubs, where we took our bikes for around half a kilometer, stopped, posed and took pictures. Then we decided to turn back and take advantage of the immaculate tar road that evidently was not a ‘Diversion’. Getting such a road after the kind of ride we had done for the last 3 days, all four of us felt like kids in a candy store! We started riding at 80-90 kmph like there was no tomorrow! And the road did not seem to end. Except that it ended. We came across a heap of rubble, around which there were a few people working on the construction of the road. That was the last we saw of the tar road. After this spot, it was either a shadow of the road covered in stone chips and rubble, or dirt, or (god forbid) sand for as far as the eye could see.

We rode for an hour or so on the plains, trying to keep each other in our distant vision. At times I would see a SUV going parallel to us in the dirt at quite a distance. At times I would see some makeshift cabins near the foothills, presumably there for the road construction work. And at times I would see my friends approaching me.

Our riding skills were being tested, and we were having fun.

I don’t remember what happened after this.

No, seriously.

My entire bank of memories of what I think were the next 20 minutes consists of a frame, a vision of a splitsecond, where I am falling on the ground, and I can see the bike fall from under my feet.

The next moment I remember, I was being woken up by my friends. I felt dizzy. I felt needles all over my body, my brain, and my eyes. I presumably was dreaming while unconscious. Of another ride. Somewhere else. On being awaken, I felt like I was suddenly transported to somewhere unknown. I asked Siddhu who he was, and where we were. Everyone who had stopped to see and help were shocked. I wanted Siddhu to drop Anish a message, not realising that we hadn’t seen what a network signal on the phone looks like for 3 days now. I thought we were in Panchgani, though I kept saying Mahabaleshwar.

After about 10-15 minutes, my memories started coming back to me and I realised that I was in the middle of my long awaited Ladakh trip, but I still was baffled about how I fell. Somebody rode ahead and got Anish back with him.

Anish started questioning me about where we are going, where we started from in the morning, what we ate for lunch (trick question!), presumably to check for any damage to the brain. I took off my jacket to relax, and felt a searing pain in my left wrist. When I saw the wrist I was taken aback! The palm had twisted, and the bones were bulging, making it look weird and scary.

I would have gone under a panic attack, had it not been for Anish and his first aid training. Promptly he covered my entire arm, from the palm to beyond my elbow, with his sweater, used one of our knee-guards as the splint, covered it with crepe bandage, and warned me not to try and move my hand. To make sure, he made a sling with his scarf and hung my arm in it. Then he asked me to press his fingers with mine as hard as I could, just to make sure the fingers were alright.

I kept asking him what the date was, and how I would reach Leh, and he kept assuring me that they will get me to Leh, no matter what.

Lucky for us, a mini-truck was not far behind. This was part of the convoy of the foreigners riding Bullets who had started from Manali, and whom we kept meeting on our way so far. The driver, Sunil, let me sit in the shotgun seat and took me to Leh, all the while conversing with me, giving me things to eat and drink, and in the end dropped me at the Snow View hotel, where I waited for the rest of the gang.

We were so far thinking that it’s a displaced wrist, and that after setting the bones right, I could go to Khardung La and Pangong Tso with a cast on the wrist, sitting behind Anish on his bike. But that night, after seeing the doctor at the SNM Hospital and getting the X-Ray done, we were told that my wrist has fractured.

We met the orthopedic doctor the next day, and he confirmed it was a fracture, though a unique one, and advised surgery within 10 days. I decided then to drop the trip, Khardung La, Pangong Tso, the Hemis festival, Kargill, Drass, Srinagar, and returned to Pune the next day.

It’s been a month since the surgery and I am well on my way to recovery, what with snapping fingers and playing open chords on the guitar, but I shudder to think of what would have happened to me if Anish or anyone with knowledge of first aid wasn’t around to take matters in his hand and immobilize my wrist – which, even according to the doctors at SNM Hospital, was the absolutely right thing to do.


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Day 2

Day 2 of the trip or day 1 of riding was anything but fun.

The bikes, when being loaded from Pune, were stacked upright – all the weight was being supported by the rear wheels only. We were afraid our engine oil would leak out.

But nothing of the sort happened. What happened instead was a bent handlebar in one bike and a broken headlight switch in another.

After jumping through the bureaucratic hoops to get the bikes out of the station, and getting some fuel from a nearby pump, we went to a garage to get these problems fixed.

The day’s breakfast & lunch needs were satisfied at the garage itself with a few packets of chips and soft drinks.

Finally we began to ride at noon towards Chandigarh. Hardly had we ridden one hour that heavy rains started, and it became severely windy. During the rainproofing at a bus stop we met a few other riders from Bangalore who are also heading to Leh.

After the rains died down, we stopped at Gulshan dhaba for good old rotis, maa ki daal and aloo-pyaaz ke parathe.

The ride after the lunch has been largely uneventful. We passed through many places including Ambala, and stopped for good old Punjabi dhaba style dinner (including the oh-so-lovely maa ki daal) around 40km before Panchkula, where we put up for the night.

Day 3 travelogue soon.

Day 1

The Duronto is a very interesting train. Its bogies don’t all look the same. They keep feeding you till you want to run away. The staff is super efficient, and don’t let you keep the floor dirty for long.

Add to it the bunch of cute and noisy kids travelling with us, and you have all of us confused (“Are the vacations not over yet? My cousins/nephews/nieces have started going to school already!”). And that the non-stop train decided to stop at so many stations (technical hault they said, picking up your food they said. Oh yeah? Then why does the curry at dinner taste just like the curry at lunch?). And Siddharth decided to befriend the catering fellow, Praveen Bhai, but still didn’t manage to get us ice creams with our dinner.

The journey was also educative for all of us. We didn’t know, for example, that there’s a show on Star One at 8.30pm everyday except Tuesday, called Pyar ki Kahani, which is about vampires & werewolves (isn’t that so very original?)

And the same little gentleman who informed us about PKK also left us looking for answers when the following conversation happened:
Boy: aap bike chalate ho? (Do you ride bikes?)
Me: yes
Boy: Kaunsi? (Which one?)
Me: Bullet
Boy: kyon? (Why?)
Me: uhhh
Boy: Hero Honda chalao (Why don’t you ride a Hero Honda?)
Anish: (grinning wide) I’d like to see you answer that Amit
Me: (still looking for words)

Day 2 has already begun. We’re off the train, trying to get the bikes off. A little bit of preparations and we hit the road.

The rider in me is itching to do that. I can already see the Karmic cycles churning. This ride is going to be important for me. Delhi has welcomed me. It’s a clean slate once again 🙂

Qasam UDaanjhalle Kii

When this rider was little and rode bikes only as a pillion (or sitting on the tank), he dreamt of a place. A place high up in the mountains. A place where the landscape was white and brown, and the sky was bluest. A place where the terrain was unforgiving but the people were friendly, where monks lived, where kids were as pretty as dolls, where houses were clustered atop hills. A place where it was scorching hot out in the sun and chilling in the shade just at the distance of a few feet. A “cold desert” which was nowhere near Antarctica!

The place where, as he would later know, riders would go in big numbers every year. The place which would later become one of the hottest tourism spots in the country, where a major TV reality show’s first season would be shot, where a motorcycle company would organise an annual trip to.

But before all that, for him it was the place where Dara and Karan went on horsebacks to capture Yogi Thakur, who was out of jail and wanted revenge on his old accomplice Raja Singh, and Bacchulal of Akaalgadh fame spoke the immortal words “क़सम उड़ानझल्ले की” (qasam udaanjhalle ki).

Err what??? Are you wondering whether I have lost it completely?

Ladies and gentlemen, I am talking about the movie Joshilaay, the one which began as a Shekhar Kapur movie, but couldn’t be completed as such. It still is one of my favourite films to relax with. One of the reasons for this is Shekhar Kapur’s direction in the first half, another being R. D. Burman’s score, then there’s Anil Kapoor’s on-screen attitude, and Satish Kaushik with his inimitable dialogue delivery. But more than that, what drew me, the little would-be-rider, into this movie was the unique looking “desert”. Never before had I seen a place so beautiful and interesting being portrayed as a badland. Before Joshilaay, deserts and tough places were always amidst the sands of Rajasthan or rocks of Karnataka. Which is why this movie took me in so deeply. Joshilaay introduced me to the dream that is Ladakh.

Years later, I would see another movie. Not so commercial. Never seen at the theatres. The only popular star this movie has is Danny Denzongpa. And if you cared enough, Raj Zutshi. Set in Ladakh, shot in Ladakh, with dialogues in Hindi and Ladakhi. The cinematography and direction wowed me again, but in a manner different from that of Joshilaay. It wasn’t a hero film or an epic film. It was a sensitive film, telling an intricate story of a girl, and her father. Frozen continued the dream I have had for so long.

But why am I telling you about this dream of mine? Because it is going to come true soon.

Amongst the two big & impactful pieces of news in my life, this one is more urgent and delightful. I am going to Ladakh after all these years of dreaming. Along with my steed.

Towards the end of this month, three of my friends and I are riding off from Jammu towards Leh. Yaay!!!

Preparations have begun. The countdown has started. I dream of Ladakh every day now. I plan to keep the blog updated with the preparations, and with the ride as and when it unfurls itself.

For you to enjoy, here’s an all-time favourite song of mine from Joshilaay, and then a short scene from Shivajee Chandrabhushan’s Frozen. Towards the middle of July, I plan to start sharing my impressions and interpretation of the land. Hope it lives up to whatever expectations you have from me 🙂

Next on Ladakh: For The Happiness Of My Feet

Dahanu Madness

Cross-posted at the Firelords website.

We’ve spent 7 hours on the road so far. Through highways, crowded towns and unbelievable traffic, 3 bikes, all with pillions and the customary luggage sets – saddle bags, tank bags, and other types of bags tied with bungees – had just crossed probably India’s busiest and most crowded area. And we still had a long way to go.

We left the beach town of Dahanu at 4.30 in the afternoon. That was because the working ones amongst us wanted to reach home and sleep before midnight. Good luck with that now.

The tea has come, and we are waiting for the bread & omelettes we had ordered. As we sip our tea, one of the riders goes to answer Mother Nature. The owner of the joint got curious with our attire and paraphernalia. He came and sat on our table and started asking the usual questions we riders face everywhere we go. Are you professional riders? Where are you coming from? Which way are you headed? Is this a hobby? Are you a club? Do you do this often?

Ride In

It all began when Sagar suggested Dahanu as a riding destination. None of us had even heard of that place, so we immediately agreed – how many times do you expect us to ride to Mahabaleshwar and Lonavla?

After a few weeks of deliberation and preparations, the ride began early morning on Saturday. Everyone was asked to meet up at the Talegaon tollbooth at around 4 in the morning. At around 4.30, there were only 3 bikes there including mine, but by 5 we had the full quorum, and we started riding west.

The gang comprised of a motley set of riders: speed hungry veterans, riders who wanted to enjoy the slow thump, bikes with new block-pistons whose running in restrictions ensured that they could not cross a certain magic number on the speedometer. As a result, we hardly rode for long stretches, and the distance which should have been covered in 4 to 5 hours, took us eight!

But it hardly felt like a burden. For the fast ones amongst us, it meant stopping at eating/smoking/tea joints and waiting for the rest, and for the slow ones it meant stopping where everyone else was waiting for them, get a quick bite/fag/sip and getting back on the road without even catching a breath.

Riding in our patent chilled way, we reached Dahanu in clusters – the fast ones first, and the ones who had flat tyres or dry tanks the last.

Dahanu finally!

Once you reach Dahanu, all you see are uncluttered expanses of clean, good roads, with a minimum of people on them and a vast beach beyond tall trees on your left and grand looking resorts on the right.

We had bookings in a resort called Pearline. However, each of us was under the impression that we had to look for a certain ‘Pearl Resort’. Close enough! So most of us kept searching the beach road for an hour, and every time we looked at the board that said Pearline, we wondered how close these two names sounded and had a quiet giggle. We finally stopped when we saw familiar bikes parked in their parking lot and wondered some more.

After fighting with the resort’s receptionist, manager and the owner regarding our bookings and availability and rates of AC rooms, we settled in, had lunch, and crashed for a nap. After which, we did the most obvious thing – we headed to the beach with our cameras and bikes.

The beach is quite unlike anything I have seen before. The sand is a dark shade of grey, and the waves are docile, almost as if marching in files under a strict leader, coming to submerge our feet ever so politely. And with these waves come the tiny hermit crabs – those parasitic crabs who invade the shells of molluscs for protection and grow into them. All of this adds up to the serene & pleasant sunset experience.

Further up north from where we were put up, there was a small village market, where you get fresh sea fish amongst other things. And on the seashore, there were groups of fishermen working on their fishing boats behind the fishing nets which divided the beach from the road. I started wondering if this is the same place, same beach as the quiet and peaceful one I was shooting away in half a kilometre before.

While shooting the beautiful scene of fishing boats through fishing nets, I heard the familiar thump of a gang of Bullets riding by and turned. The gang had started on a hunt for a famous sea-food joint called Crazy Crabs. They went ahead and I saw them disappear in the darkness beyond the market, which evidently was defining the limits of the Dahanu village. A couple of minutes later, one of the riders called me up to apprise me of their plan. So I followed them.

But even after riding for around 20km I didn’t hit any decent patch of civilization or anything that looked like an eating place. So I stopped to click the beautiful row of coconut trees against the moonlit blue sky. I decided to ride further ahead to look for my friends, when I met up with some other Bullet riders, also from Pune, and got to know that this Shangri-La called Crazy Crabs is in fact in the next village, which is quite some distance from where we were. By then news was in that the gang also broke up, got lost individually in chunks, and were returning in chunks to the resort, prioritising the needs of the moment – hunger over taste.
And so we returned to the resort and had our fill under the starlit skies.

The next morning a couple of the guys wanted to go see the sunrise on the beach. After wondering for around half an hour where the sun was, they realised that Dahanu is on the western coast, which meant that their pursuit was absurd even conceptually! The disappointed lot returned to breakfast, and began planning the return. There were a bunch of students who had no worries in the world, so they wanted to stay back another day to catch another sunset. But the majority of us were eager to get back and catch a good night’s sleep in Pune before we went back to the Monday grind.

We broke up in chunks again. A few left Dahanu just after breakfast, while the final bunch of six decided to head back at 4.30 in the afternoon after a sumptuous lunch and a little bit of lazing around.

Head Home

So we did. The ride back from Dahanu till Ghodbandar was smooth as expected but we, being what we are, stopped even then for refreshments twice in that stretch. And then, we reached hell: traffic at around 6 on the road from Ghodbandar to Thane/Mulund is nothing short of hell. It took us 3 hours to reach Thane! By that time we were getting hungry and impatient. And we couldn’t agree on a place to eat at 9 in the night!
Anyway, we decided to ride on, get rid of traffic, reach Panvel and think only after that.

By the time we reached the Panvel end of the expressway, even a dinner at McDonald’s sounded like a gourmet meal. So we headed into uncle Ronald’s, unloaded our bags, helmets, jackets and the likes on an unoccupied table and went bazinga on the choicest of mass-manufactured burgers and iced tea.

When we started heading back, Nipun on his Classic 500 just took off on the expressway without even waiting for us. We waited for him in front of the McDonald’s, lest he realises his mistake and turns back, or he catches some trouble on the prohibited highway. But hardly ten minutes had passed when I got a call from him – he had reached Khopoli! Wow! I asked him to stay there and wait for us. We headed on the NH4 route, but on the circle at Panvel’s entrance we lost another rider: Yogesh didn’t bother following us towards the cleaner and simpler route towards Uran, and went directly towards Panvel town instead, despite our continuous honking, calling out, and calling on the phone – he conveniently ignored all of it.

So the remaining two of us went ahead on our planned route, resigned to our fate. But just where the roads merge again after Panvel, we chanced upon Yogesh, who was bewildered with the realisation that he and his pillion were riding all alone through the town! We went on to Khopoli to find Nipun waiting for us in front of a small restaurant. We went in, and ordered a round of tea for everyone.

And it hit me: we’ve spent 7 hours on the road so far, and we are still around 90km from home!

Every minute spent in the restaurant was now making me irritable – I wanted the warm feeling of my own bed and my daily dose of Eagles to lull me to sleep – and it was getting pushed further and further by the minute.
We finally finished our tea, bread, omelettes, Nature’s calls, and Mr. owner’s questions and hit the road again.
Khandala, the Khandala Ghats, Lonavla, Talegaon and Dehu Road – all went by without any stops or eventuality – and we hit the last leg of our journey home.

Our last regroup was at the Wakad Bridge, where we exchanged pillions on the basis of proximity to our destinations, and parted with a promise of exchanging the ride’s photographs as soon as possible.

Solo Saturday Ride: Nighoj

A lazy Saturday and no friends around – what’s a rider to do? Ride of course. Solo.

So I did. 90km from Pune on the Nagar Road (SH 27), a certain SH 51 branches off to a village called Nighoj, beside which flows a river through giant potholes. I had heard about this place from Joseph, who showed me its pictures on flickr by other people. The ones that stayed with me were clicked by Suhas Desale and some other [email protected] members.

And ever since I had seen those photographs, I wanted to go there.

So this lazy Saturday afternoon (the 26th of December), after grabbing a bite at the FC Road Subway, I just rode off on Nagar Road. After around 70km of riding on the awesome 4-lane highway, which included a bit of ghats and loads of beautiful corners, I reached Shirur. Just when I crossed the Shirur town, there was the Ghodnadi river and its bridge which were my landmarks. I crossed the bridge and kept an eye out for a left turn. It is a sharp left turn, that comes just when the SH 27 is turning right, and can be easily missed.

So I took the turn, and realised that not all state highways are made equal. From a 4-lane Nagar Road, I was now on an almost one-lane “State Highway” to Nighoj. It took me another 20km of a mix of okay roads and almost off-road patches to reach the Nighoj village. The highway turns right when leaving the village. On the turn I thought it would be wise to stop and ask for the place I wanted to go to. The only problem was that I did not know what the locals called it. And I cannot speak Marathi! Luckily the two construction workers I asked seemed to be well-versed in Hindi, and they guided me in the general direction of the place, and advised me to ask for “Kundaa” (कुंडा).

When the road turns right, on the left you can see two big facades – the kind you see at the entrance of a locality or as entrances to “holy areas” surrounding temples. The roads beyond these gates are as good as dirt patches, so I braced myself (I forgot to wear my back-support when I left home!). I drove in to the second gate, and took the most obvious turns and corners, and conveniently got lost in the fields, all the while wondering if I was on the right track. I stopped on the way twice to ask people where the “Kundaa” was, only to realise that they were speaking such a dialect which even my Marathi flatmate would have trouble understanding. As a last resort, I brought out my phone and decided to do some googling. Now the phone I have, the Samsung Marine, is an excellent conversation starter, is very good with the waterproof, dustproof and shockproof thingie, and is good with the voice and decent with the messaging, but it’s not built for data connections. Three times out of four when I try opening a webpage on its primitive browser the message I get is that the file being loaded is too big for its teeny-tiny memory. Of course it’s a tough phone, don’t expect brains from it. But I digress. With my fingers crossed, I googled for Nighoj on it, and managed to load a post on a blog just enough to catch the necessary keywords – Kundaa Devi and Kukdi. So I asked another local, who spoke to me in Marathi, and I gathered from whatever I understand of the language, that I had to turn back, almost till the Nighoj village. So I turn back, and stop to ask a shopkeeper in the village, who literally walked me to the obscure looking exit on the left which would take me to the destination. This by-road made the road I was travelling on so far look like the Autobahn. Who would have thought that you would have to take such a road to reach such a popular spot? That too without any signage. Anyways, it took me another 3-4km before I saw another gate welcoming me to the Kundmauli (कुंडमाउली) tourist area. Another couple of kilometres, and I reached a plateau-like clearing, with a couple of temples. So I parked my bike, took off the bag from the tank and walked forward. And was amazed by what I saw.

The locals call this area Kundmauli (कुंडमाउली) or Kundaa Devi (कुंडा देवी), and there is a temple called Malganga (मळगंगा) over here. There is a temple on either side, and there is a narrow bridge that takes you across.

After I spent around an hour exploring one bank of the river and clicking pictures, I realised that I was losing light – it was sunset time. Since I wanted to catch up to SH 27 as soon as possible, I packed up, and rushed back to the bike. Then it was half an hour of almost off-roading, followed by an hour or so of smooth highway riding, and then another half an hour of moving through city traffic, before I had dinner and landed up in Aundh, drinking with a couple of Firelords. A perfect end to a day well-spent.


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