A strange but known feeling goes through my body and I open my eyes with a start, just to remember that it is only the cool water from the showerhead. “Was it two days ago?” I try to remember when we last had a bath. As I work up a good lather and get under the shower again, the heat, the dust and the grime of the last two days washes off and it feels like if there was heaven anywhere in the universe or out of it, it was right here, in my bathroom, under my shower. Remembering the two days gone by brings a smile to my face (I noticed it in the reflection on the bathroom mirror that I was smiling) and I start toweling myself dry. This has been the fifth long ride through the bamboo and teakwood forests of The Dangs (9th for me, including two camping trips and a couple of one day flybys). The idea started somewhere in April last year when we were looking for a riding destination where we could freak out without any need to worry about the continuous ringing of the cell phones and the piling workload in our respective offices and workshops. I had done the Dangs quite often earlier and not knowing what response I would get, I suggested it as a probable ride destination. Zenosh had been through the area earlier and he seconded me and that was that. The ride was finalized; we had a hell lot of fun during that ride and three more rides later on in the same year. In short, everyone was hooked. We wanted to do a final ride of the season before summer set in its full glory and it was too hot to move outside. We also wanted to do an anniversary sort of thing to commemorate the first Dang ride we had done. So when I put up the suggestion of another ride through Dangs last month, the group responded with a positive attitude. Lots of deliberations, yeses and nos and maybes later Anshuman, Chandraprakash, Gaurav and I were the final list. Aviral had yessed, then noed, then maybed and then yessed and then noed again. Uncertain as ever. Rocky had exams so it wasn’t possible for him to ride. Others had commitments at work, as it was the end of the financial year. Compromises were made but the ride was on. Anshuman had to come to his sasural to visit. And it was decided that he would be here on the evening of 24th. Chandraprakash (CP) was supposed to be at home with his family in Barmer, Rajasthan to celebrate holi as this was the first time his dad was in India on a festive occasion. On the 16th he called up his folks in Rajasthan and told them that he had exams during the holi and wouldn’t be able to join them. He was in for the ride. I, as usual, had to ride just for the hell of it. There was too much fuel in the tank making me uncomfortable. Even the bike was itching to do a high-speed stint so that it could breathe freely on long winding roads rather than suffocate in the city traffic. Just a few days earlier CP’s bike had started behaving strangely. We decided to check it out. Prevention is better than cure. But when we opened up the head there was nothing to be prevented. The damage had already been done. Not by CP but by the mechanic whom we trusted. He had done up CP’s engine just 3000 kilometers back and it was already showing signs of damage. On closer inspection we came to know that not only the mechanic had done a bad job on the engine, he had also swapped good parts and put in damaged or old ones. Even the piston was an old third oversize seized one in an over-bored standard block. The floating bush had floated to heaven and the bearings were shot to hell. We decided to try to do up the engine ourselves. After all we were just going to replace all the bad stuff. But then we decided to entrust this job to my old mechanic who had done up my 500’s engine about 6 months back. We went looking for him and fixed up a day when he would come to my place and open up the engine at my home itself. We had to get him the parts and he would ensure that it was money well spent. We agreed and he completed the job on the 22nd evening. We had a dilemma. The weather was bad real hot and the engine was new. We started deliberating whether to take the bike on the ride or leave it at home and run it in at leisure. The ride got better of us and throwing caution to the wind we decided to take the bike. Anshuman and I agreed to ride slowly and keep CP in our rear views all the time. The evening of the 24th arrived and we were waiting for Anshuman to arrive. He called up to say that he had had a small spill, nothing serious, near Navsari and was taking care of it. We asked him if he needed help, we would ride down and put everything in order but he said everything was ok. We decided to wait at Hotel Valsad for him and gave him the info. An hour later Anshuman arrived and after a short chai session we were off to the World Famous Now in India Hotel Satnam. CP hadn’t had anything since the morning breakfast and Anshuman had a long ride behind him to make both of them hungry. Half a dozen alu and gobhi parathas and half a kg of dahi later everyone was fit enough to reach my place, the stop for the night. Anshuman also brought bad but expected news. Gaurav, as usual, wouldn’t come for the ride. Something important had come up at the last moment that couldn’t be avoided. CP said he’d have a pillion. We decided I would carry the pillion and CP would travel light with a little luggage. Most of the luggage would be on Anshuman’s bike as he had a luggage rack fitted. Until this moment the route for the ride was not even discussed once. An old phrase came to mind “Sometimes the destinations are not important, but the ride is.” At home we packed our stuff. We took as little as we could to avoid loads, just the bare essentials. A change of t-shirts, oil for the bike, sleeping bags, light windcheaters, cash and cameras. The morning of 25th arrived with a clear blue sky and cool gusts of wind. We got ready and had a nice breakfast of alu subzee and pooris, complementing it with chai. Picking up our stuff we went down the staircase to the garage and started loading the bikes when CP called and said he was waiting for us downstairs. He also had brought the cameras with him. We asked him to come inside so that we could load the stuff and have a final check of the bikes. Anshuman’s bike had some clutch problems and had an idling difficulty. I adjusted the carb a bit and the idle held better. A cursory glance at CP’s and my bike and we were ready to ride. Then the bombshell dropped. CP introduced us to his pillion. NIMBARAM or NIMBA. A good guy at heart who wont speak unless he had a comment to make and that too a nasty one. That’s when the legend of Nimba was born. I took him pillion and Anshuman and I raced off to the petrol pump while CP followed with Gaurav and Sandeep who saw us off till Dharampur. We headed off to Dharampur. The roads as usual were deserted and beautiful with the scent of mangoes in the air. The orchards lining both the sides of the roads threw a much-appreciated shade on the roads. We rode at a leisurely pace of 50 to 60 kmph, taking in the greenery and the morning cool. In a couple of hours was going to get hot. A few kilometers later, Anshuman and I decided to speed ahead and take some photos while CP chugs along with Gaurav and Sandeep. Some kilometers down the road we stopped and started the mandatory photo session, the first of this ride. I don’t know whether there is something in the road or what but no matter how fast or how slow you ride, you are in Dharampur in 20 minutes. And so was the case this time. We parked by the roadside at a chai tapri and ordered chai for everyone, while CP and Nimba went crazy over bananas. A short photo session later, Sandeep and Gaurav bid us goodbye and after the mandatory ride safe advises we left for Wilson hill while Sandeep and Gaurav raced back to Valsad. Wilson hill is a toughie, with 11 loops that go round and round. The roads are bad but it has to be done just for the sheer fun of doing it. And the views from various stops along the route are fantastic. We reached the starting point of the hill and started riding a bit slowly as we didn’t want CP’s bike to suffer. But there was a kahani mein twist here. CP’s bike was doing great. It was Anshuman’s bike that was overheating. So we waited at the end of the 4th hairpin for the bikes to cool down. A few sips of water for all of us and sutta for Anshuman and CP. I took some photos with the handycam and tried out the 16x zoom that was impressive. Someone had dropped a couple of eggs there and their shells had broken up. We noticed them only when CP was sitting on the rocky ledge above them. We made a huge story out of it and called them CP ke ande. This got CP very worked up while Nimba enjoyed it a lot. After some more bickering around we decided to quit Wilson hill and go to Vansda and have lunch there and plan out our next step. All agreed. The ride to Vansda was uneventful. The soft curves of the road were as inviting as ever and throwing the bike into a corner and seeing the other two bikes behind me imitating the same motion in tandem was hypnotizing. Took a lot of photos along the way and stopped quite often. It was noon and the heat was hot. Any spot of shade was a welcome recluse from the sun beating on us. We reached Vansda by lunchtime and heaved a sigh of relief. Anshuman’s bike was causing some problems and we wanted to get it checked from a mechanic. Looking around we were directed to one but, it was holi and the mechanic was closed for the day. We decided to have lunch first and go to Vansda town to see if someone would help us out. Lunch was good and after relaxing again for the umpteenth time we proceeded to Vansda to hunt for the mechanic. Holi and weekend meant that Vansda was celebrating. Roadside stalls of various local items, imitation jewellery that even Bhappi Lahiri wouldn’t have seen in his wildest dreams and goggles to put Govinda to shame were being sold. Locals dressed in the traditional outfits were performing some sort of dances and a procession was going round. We asked around for some mechanic and a kindly soul led us to a bullet specialist’s home. The guy, Usman bhai was there and while Anshuman went back on foot to take some photos of the locals, we explained to him what was wrong with the bike. He took a test ride and asked us to follow him to his garage. He would open it up and do all that was required at the garage as he had all the tools there. We had a tool kit and we offered him to use it but he politely refused saying he could work better at the garage. We followed him and were surprised to find that this was the same guy to whose garage we had been earlier and found it closed. So after a chai he started working on the bike. The tappets were too tight and the clutch too loose and he adjusted them both. Anshuman took a test ride and we took some pictures. Satisfied with his work, we asked him how much we owed him. The good soul refused any money and said that today was a chhutti and chhutti ke din hum kisi se paise nahin lete. No matter how hard we tried, he didn’t accept a single paisa from us. In the meanwhile we got talking about where we were going and what our plans were. I asked him who the range forest officer for Vansda was these days. It looked like it was our lucky day. We knew the range forest officer very well and not only that, just as we were talking about him, his driver came to get some stuff. I introduced myself and he remembered me from my days at the Tata workshop. He gave us some tips about who to meet at Vansda national park and how to go about getting the permission as the range forest officer had gone home for holi. We thanked him and raced off to Vansda national park. Jayantibhai, the national park gate incharge and Faruq, the chicken swindler, met us at the gate. His eyes started shining as he saw potential customers ready to be swindled and imagined his own plate full of chicken leg pieces, which he had cheated us of. We didn’t want to have chicken for dinner. It was too hot for chicken. Jayanti bhai told us to meet Mr. Bamaniya at the timber depot in Waghai village and he would provide us the use of the campsite with the machan and entry to the national park, we thanked him and headed for the timber depot. The district forest officer and the assistant conservator of forests had paid a surprise visit and Mr. Bamaniya was busy covering up his problems. We waited outside for the DFO to leave. Passed the time clicking photos. A guard came to ask us whom we wanted to meet and when we told him, he took us to him. When we requested him to grant us permission for the campsite and a visit to the national park, he started asking us foolish questions, but luckily the ACF was an educated and a reasonable man and he actually ordered Mr. Bamaniya to grant us a written permission for everything we asked for. After thanking the ACF profusely, we went to get the written permission inside the office. Not to be intimidated, Bamaniya started his nonsensical questions charade once again. Why we wanted to visit the national park, why we wanted to sleep at the campsite in the machan only, why we were traveling on bullets in this hot weather through Dangs, these were some of his questions we tried to answer sincerely. He asked for some identification and I showed him my WWF membership card. Then I let the bomb fall. We had been coming here since the last 8 year and were in constant touch with Mr. Barad, Mr. Pandya, Mr. Joshi and Mr. G. I. Naik, the chief conservator of forests himself. This seemed to do the trick and we were out of his office with the written permission within five minutes. While we were coming down from the village, we saw Jayanti bhai going some place and assuming safely that it would be some time before he got back to his post, we decided to go to the Gira Falls. Gira falls do look wonderful during and after the monsoons, with lush greenery all round but they are amazing with the onset of summer. The trees and the grass on the surrounding hillocks had dried up and there was no water at the waterfall. The tourist season is almost over for this place. So we took our bikes right to the top where we got the best view all around. Parking our bikes we decided to do a short trek to the other side and see how the surroundings looked from the other side, a different perspective. The trek did us good. Loosened up the stiffened limbs and a chance to go somewhere we wouldn’t have gone otherwise. The view from the riverbed was amazing. We saw parts of the forests surrounding us we had never seen. The sunset and the moonrise began all at once and it was one of the most beautiful scenes we had ever seen except for dating some supermodels or driving fancy cars or riding super bikes in our dreams. We clicked photos like mad, to capture all this beauty in the cameras we carried. It would be quite a long time before we returned to this place and till then it would have a different character, lots of changes would take place, just like we change continuously. A strange but comfortable closeness arises when you think of the similarities between a human being and nature and gradually you begin relaxing and feeling at home. We felt at home too. Realizing it was getting dark, we hurried back to our motorcycles and were ready to ride off to the gates of the national park, but not before we took a handful of pics again. Then off we were to meet Jayantibhai and make our arrangements for the night and the next morning. Jayantibhai to our disappointment was not back but the guard, as it was holi and he was fully drunk, claimed that he was the king of this area as of now until the hangover went away and he and only he could approve us whether to stay at the campsite and visit the forests in the morning or not. I quietly told him that I knew where the Incharge Officer, Bamaniya Saab lived and I would be glad to fetch him and bring him here and show him your condition. Listening to this he was all ears and started supporting us and talking in friendly terms. But again there was a problem, his drunken senses didn’t let him understand what the written permission contained and he insisted that this was a permission only for three people and we were four so he wouldn’t be breaking the rules by allowing one extra person. It took a long time to convince him of the contents of the letter and finally he saw the light and agreed. While leaving I put 30 bucks in his pocket and he even wished us good morning and sleep well. Laughing, we left for the campsite. Doing the dirt tracks at night is one of the most wonderful forms of riding a motorcycle. Especially when the track leads to your bedroom is 2 kilometers long, has a full moon shining and reflecting in the river on one side and the forest on the other side. We did a slow run absorbing the beauty of the night by the gallonful into our minds and hearts and reached the campsite where we went straight to the machans. A familiar voice, one that I had heard many times earlier greeted us and I realized it was Mandu, our guide during all our previous rides and the caretaker of the campsite. After the usual greetings and hellos we showed him the permission letter and asked him about the sleeping arrangements. It was a bargain. 200 bucks for one tent. The tent included gadda, takiya and rajais. We ditched the tents in favor of the machan and within no time Mandu and his helper had all our luggage untied and stowed away at the top of the machan and the bedding laid out invitingly. But we still had one job pending, dinner. While we were getting ready to go for dinner, Jayantibhai came personally and asked us if everything was fine and up to our expectations. We thanked him profusely and asked him to join us for dinner but he politely declined. His family was waiting for him. Mandu had the same reason though we managed to rope him in for the morning breakfast. We rode off for dinner. Alu parathas, paavbhaji and poha for dinner followed by chai for dessert with lots of leg pulling in between and we were back at the campsite to sleep. As we climbed the machan, the full moon was illuminating everything in its full glory and we couldn’t help but click some photos. Nimba discovered that only the on button of Anshu’s Discman was damaged and if he held the button continuously it would work ok. We went crazy with the logic and laughed. We were amazed at his prowess in sleeping. We continued for some more time about this and that and when the conversation steered towards English novels and films, CP went to sleep. Anshuman and I were still awake and suddenly with a sudden burst of energy Anshuman started singing and shaking CP and Nimba awake. CP got up with a start like he had been slapped hard and Nimba didn’t even budge. His snoring continued. After some foot tapping Nimba Ho Ho Ho singing we gave up and the three of us kept talking till each of us dozed off into a comfortable slumber. The dawn came up a bit chilly and as we came out of our blankets and stood on the machan shivering a little we took in the campsite bit by bit. I had been there a lot of times before, but Anshuman and CP were really impressed. The morning began with an unmissable and ever-present photo session. Then we headed off to the bathrooms to freshen up and get ready to take over the forest trails. CP and Anshu wanted to have tea first so they headed off towards the restaurant while Nimba and I brushed our teeth and washed our faces. Leaving the luggage on the machan we decided to join CP and Anshuman and have breakfast. Nature has a way of making u feel real hungry and that’s what we were feeling. Ready to tackle a grizzly with our bare hands we headed off to have breakfast. While we enjoyed Poha and tea, Anshu and CP came back to refresh themselves and came back with Mandu. After all of us were satisfied and our stomachs full we headed to the national park. Taking the fee receipt and paying the entry fee took 10 minutes. the same guard who was the king last night did the honors and he didn’t forget the money I had put in his pocket. He overlooked the cameras and even the bikes making out the receipt for only 4 people who were trekking through the forests. After thanking him we kicked the beasts to life and thumped our way slowly to the mango orchard in the middle of the forest, which would be our first stop inside the forest. The trees had shed their leaves and it was early morning so heat wasn’t such a big issue. Here and there clusters of bamboo stood, waiting their turn to dry up as the earth lost its moisture. Some brave teakwood trees with their feet in the water and heads in the skies were still green, having reached some source of water that would sustain them for a few days more. The others looked at them with some admiration and some jealousy. But it is the way of nature. Forest fires had been started in some areas in a controlled manner and large areas earlier covered with grass were now just flat grey plains littered with the ashes of the burnt grass and shrubs, which would serve as a fertilizer as the rains came making the forests the greenest of green once again and rejuvenating the drying flora. We took all this in with a barely suppressed admiration of the strange ways of nature and rode on shaking our heads in wonderment. At the wadi, Dasru the caretaker welcomed us as usual. I’ve been here many times and know him personally. We’ve even slept in his thatched hut and he has been more than happy to kill his private chicks for us for dinner when we were tired of the camp food. His eyes crinkle at the sides and his smile creases his ebony face as he shakes hands with us. He is in a bit of a hurry and asks us if it would be fine if he couldn’t join us. We let him go his way and we trudged to the river bank at the bottom of the wadi traveling over a time worn path, now filled with leaves of bamboo and teak trees which form a mosaic of golden, sepia, brown and green like a welcome carpet for some important visitors. The site of water was welcome to all of us and soon we were removing our shoes to dip our feet in the cool water of the river. Anshuman and I went to the other side and clicked some mandatory images while CP and Nimba dry cleaned themselves as best as they could. A couple of hours later we decided to ride down the other couple of trails around the forest and then have lunch and head for Mahal, our stop for that night. The trails were hypnotizing with the trees having shed almost all of their foliage. We had a clear view up to very good distances. Only the crunch of the leaves as our tires went over them, the muted thump of the bullets and a steady clatter of loose tappets accompanied us as we picked our way through unearthed stones and fallen branches. The birds kept a running commentary for the information of other spectators who were monitoring our progress remotely somewhere. We stopped at a couple of places to click the langurs who seemed to be everywhere except where our cameras were pointed. They made a hell of a ruckus and shrieked and ran away no matter how softly we tried to reach them. The jungle does have ears. We reached the watchtower where the forest guys climb to see the progress of the forest fires and took in the view around. Then we came down and took a detour to another trail, which led us to a village some 5 kilometers inside the forest. A Parsi who runs a school there welcomed us and we had the sweetest tasting and the coolest water there. His house was strongly built of bamboos, mud and teak rafters and was a cool respite from the heat that had entrapped itself in the forests. We sat there for some time and just let our bodies and bikes cool. Then we started back the way we came to come out of the national park and have lunch and head off to Mahal before it got too late. Coming back to the campsite where we had slept for the night we settled the dues and gave something extra to Mandu who was all over us and started for the restaurant. After a semi lunch sort of thing, we headed off to Waghai to top up our fuel tanks and run off. CP’s ORIGINAL machismo seat clamp broke and he tied it with Anshu’s Bhangi Cord. Mr. Barad, the old RFO of Vansda had been transferred to Kalibel and we were anxious to meet him as he would be our support to get us accommodation at Mahal forest rest house for the night. The afternoon heat was shimmering in waves on the road and after a couple of bends we came to a fork in the road. We took the upper road and soon we were at a place from where the road we were going to take was clearly visible. We took some photos while CP and Nimba strutted around half naked, changing their clothes. This is where Nimba revealed the innermost and the most feared secret of his torn ganji. After this brief rest session and a few sips of water we started for Mahal again. A few kilometers uphill and CP sounded his horn. We stopped and he said he felt his bike was losing power and overheating. Being cautious as he was running it in, we stopped again and shared jokes and viewed the photos taken earlier on the handycam. Then we started again and took the turn to Kalibel. The heat was increasing by the minute and we didn’t want to stress the bikes so we stopped again after some kilometers and decided to wait out the heat a couple of hours. CP produced Five Star bars from his saddlebags and we chewed on them gratefully and took long swigs of lukewarm water and dozed a little. A strong and hot whirlwind blew by waking us up and we decided it was time to move. The temperature had dropped a bit and we were feeling refreshed. We chugged towards Kalibel and entered the village at a sedate pace. The village was empty due to the holi and a few hombres were loitering around. We asked the direction to the forest office and on reaching there asked for the concerned person. Bad luck he was not there and we were told to head off to Kalibel check post where someone might be able to tell us something. Keeping our fingers crossed we headed off to the check post. A few kilometers later we were at the check post and we were told that he had left for his hometown just a couple of hours ago. Disheartened by our bad luck we decided to have something to eat and we could do the rest later as we were hungry. The nearest place where we could find something edible was Vyara, which was 30 kilometers away. Having no other options we headed to vyara. Moods spoilt, we were stopped by kids asking for money due to the holi. They had blocked the way with bamboos and would throw color on you if you didn’t pay up. Seemed like CP was the worst affected. As soon as the kids demanded money CP jumped off the bike, put it on the stand and went to the nearest kid who was holding a jar of colored water in his hands. CP snatched the jar from him and ran after him like death incarnate. The kids were so scared that they dropped the bamboo and raced off to their respective homes. Hoping not to make a big scene out of it we revved up our bikes and raced off from there. We reached Vyara and were hunting for a restaurant where we could get something to eat, when suddenly Anshuman spotted a sugarcane juice stall and we all halted there for a glass of refreshing fresh juice. It was three glasses later that we posed the million-dollar question to the juice stall owner, was there a restaurant where we could get some food?? While Anshuman switched on his phone. The phone started going crazy with all the sms that had not been delivered. Anshuman checked them and gave us the good news that a big contract had been finalized by his partner and the bad news that he was needed in Ahmedabad as soon as possible. Now this was a brain twister. On one hand we had this wonderful trip and on the other hand Anshuman had this really really good contract. Forests can be visited again. A gone contract is a bad thing. We decided to cut the trip short and headed to Valsad where Anshuman could pick up his luggage and head off to Ahmedabad. To make this trip worthwhile in the last moments, we took a different road that passes through Bhenskatri and emerges in Waghai village. All thought of food was abandoned as we raced the sun to reach Valsad. Anshuman’s headlight bulb had given away and only one filament was working. As the weather was getting cooler we picked up a bit of speed and hit Waghai at a dead run. The market was open so we decided to take a breather. There was chicken biryani being sold right in front of us so Anshu and I ordered a plate each and CP and Nimba went to search for something vegetarian. Just as we were discussing about CP and Nimba having raw baingans and pattagobhi, they emerged satisfied with something good they had. We ordered a round of lassi and after the glassful disappeared everybody looked like the cat that had eaten all the malai from someone’s kitchen and was smiling to itself. For the first time in the whole day we could think straight. Paying up for the lassi and biryani we raced off towards Valsad. At Dharampur we stopped for a chai and called up Sandeep and Gaurav to come to Satnam dhaba where we would have dinner together. They agreed. When we came out from Dharampur a puny biker with triple seats started racing us. First we didn’t mind, but then Anshu’s headlight went off completely and this guy started doing dangerous things like overtaking us wildly and slowing down abruptly. My 500 has an exhaust leak somewhere and whenever I hit 110 and let the throttle off suddenly it gives a loud bang accompanied by a ball of fire. I didn’t tell anyone about it but told Anshu to be ready to follow me as I start racing with these idiots. Anshu agreed and soon I was picking up speed. The clutch had gotten quite free and was slipping like hell so I said whatever happens I am gonna scare the daylights out of these guys. So I throttled up the bike as much as I could. As the clutch slipped the bike gathered rpm but moved sluggishly. The guys thought that bike mein dum nahin hai and were just starting to get happy when the 500 shot out like a real bullet from a rifle and off I was whisking right by them, Anshu in tow. These guys got the adrenalin rush and started picking up the pace. Just as I crossed 110. I noticed that these guys were just some hundred meters behind me, I suddenly let the throttle off and the flash bang happened. It was enough to scare these buffoons and while we laughed our way to Valsad, they were not to be seen again. We stopped at a bridge to take some parting shots when we saw the headlights of a motorcycle approaching. We waited to see and these were the same guys. After the blast they had stopped somewhere so that they could let us pass off and they could come easily. The blast had really shaken them up. We decided to have some fun and let them pass a good distance. Then we started the whole thing again and flash banged them once more. They were so frightened that we didn’t see them after that. At Valsad, we were greeted by Sandeep and Gaurav and when we told them about the incident they went crazy laughing. We raced off to Satnam dhaba for dinner and talked a lot of nonsense on the way. After dinner all of us headed to my place where we uploaded the pics to my computer and viewed them nicely for the first time. After that CP left for Daman with Nimba and Anshuman packed his bags for his ride to Ahmedabad the next day. We slept a satisfied sleep and woke up at 6 am the next morning. I woke Anshuman up and after a cup of tea went down with him to load his bike and perform some final checks. Everything ok he started the bike and let it warm. After the mandatory and heartfelt ride safe, I watched Anshuman take a left and merge with the early morning traffic.