It was a dream. A recurring one.
I am on a cobbled street. I enter a big stone archway, the other side is a little bit darker. There’s a little water body on the “inside”. It’s very quiet, even during the day, no people around, but it feels safe. I feel calm. It’s lovely.
I have had this dream a few times.
I don’t anymore. Because I think I lived the dream. While walking in the alleys of Rome, I felt like I was where the dream used to take me. Deserted lanes lead to deserted lanes lead to lanes where people are shopping, merrymaking, performing, having their aperitif, and generally walking, lead to piazzas where more of the same happens, around a beautiful fountain, or a cathedral, or some statues. At every turn of every lane, I half-expected my dream to turn real, just as I remember it. That didn’t happen, however, the dream stayed at arm’s length throughout my journey in Italy.
Now let’s turn the dream to black and white. Because dreams are black and white? Or because like Vittorio De Sica’s films, I had loved Italy in black and white the most. The idea to go monochrome isn’t really my own though — Master of None did it with their first episode of the second season — which was the starting point of this idea of a post. They in fact paid a tribute to many Italian neorealist films, the most prominent one being the classic Bicycle Thief — they even named the episode The Thief. I didn’t get anything stolen, not at least in Italy. Yet there’s something in the air of Italy that forces me to relook at everything in black and white. Because black and white is pure, it’s romantic, and it goes deeper than just colours. Much like how Italy is.
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?
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.
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.
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’l 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’d 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.