The First Ride – by Manav Singh

Ahmedabad – Mumbai – Pune – Mahabaleshwar

24th August 2004 has been a long day for me. Other than the regular daily grind, the evening was spent at one of my colleagues place celebrating the birthday of his 3 year old kid. I get into my flat and have a look at the watch: its 11 O’ clock, and after a delicious lunch and a long day, I want to just hit the sack and sleep off. However, this night is different because tomorrow is the d’day when I have to begin my ride to Goa. Sleep is nowhere near me and I get into packing my bags for the trip. It’s around 12 O’ clock when I am through and deicide to force my self to sleep. The mobile alarm has been set to 5:30 AM…

The alarm buzzed and I was up at the next instant. Finally, the D-day has arrived and I get into final preparations. By 6:30 AM, I am all set. I wake up my flat-mate and ask him to help me tie the knapsack on the Humming Bird. He willingly obliges and by 7 O’ clock the fun is set to begin. I message Gautam who will be joining me from Mumbai and he immediately calls back asking me to wear helmet and ride safely. I also give a ring to my folks back at home in Lucknow and they too repeat the same thing. The next instant, I kick start the bird, idle it for a minute and push off towards Baroda highway. Due to the morning, traffic in the city is light and by about 7:15 I see a board announcing – “Ahmedabad – Baroda expressway – 4 Kms”. Though I had my reservations on two-wheelers being allowed on the expressway, I still decide to take a call and pushed off towards the expressway. However, the guard at the curve towards the expressway politely said no to my bike, and I am back towards hitting NH 8. The traffic is now heavy and it’s around 7:45 by the time I reach NH8. The traffic has now trickled down to a couple of vehicles now and then (there are no lorries due to the ongoing strike) and in no time the bike is smoothly doing 70 Kph. Occasional potholes (some were really elephantine) play spoilsport but I am able to avoid them. It’s around 8:45 that I cross Nadiad. The ride’s going great and there’s no stopping. I intend to make a stop after crossing Vadodara. Soon I am nearing the Anand cross section. Somewhere before the cross section an ST bus overtook me and the next second I saw a huge pothole before me. I slam the breaks hard, the bird slows down but the front wheel takes the plunge into the pothole. However, due to the slow speed, the bird escapes from being “hurt” and the next instant, I am on again. However, from now onwards, I intend to keep a distance of at least 10 meters from any vehicle, especially buses and lorries. Next time, I may not be so lucky. The ride progresses and by around 10 I am nearing Baroda. The trip-meter reading shows 129 Kms.

By now, I am feeling slightly hungry. However, I intend to take a break once I cross Baroda. So the ride continues, and after around 15 minutes, I am again away from habitat and riding in the midst of lush green fields. However, now I am riding a bit slowly and am on the lookout for a dhaba (it seemed that I had left all of them behind and there was none to be found now). By God’s grace, I spot a gathering of trucks at some distance, and yes, a board announces the presence of “Nutan Hotel & Guest House”. The bird was brought to a halt. The tripmeter reading was 153 and the clock showed 10:30. I was pretty happy at my progress and decided to treat myself to aloo paratha and tuar daal (incidentally, this was the only stuff available). While eating, I gave smses to few people informing them of my progress and got back few calls in return.

By 11, I get onto my cruiser again and the ride begins afresh. The potholes were growing bigger and more numerous now. Also, certain patches of the road were in pretty bad shape and it was much more careful riding, more so now that the traffic was also getting slightly heavy, mostly comprising cars and ST buses. At this point of time, the skyline started to turn dark and a few raindrops on my helmet visor made me think of stopping and putting on the raincoat. However, the rain gods were not too willing and neither was I interested in riding wet, and after 5 minutes, the rain-drops simply went away. So it was a win-win situation and the ride progressed. I was able to manage a speed of around 50 – 60 here due to the poor road conditions, but then the pleasant weather and lush green surroundings made riding slow even more enjoyable. In no time I crossed Bharuch with next major establishment being Ankeleshwar. I was happy with my progress and intended to take a short break after Ankeleshwar. The road conditions bettered slightly and I was able to do 70 plus from here onwards. Just before Ankeleshwar, I stopped for a while for a swig of water. I took stock of the situation here and was pleased to note that I will be able to reach Navsari by 1:30. I had initially planned to take lunch break at Navsari and it seemed that I will be able to keep up to that.

The bird was kick started again, and it was like getting back to life. Next destination was Surat, which actually lies at nearly half the distance between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. The road conditions were bettering, the sun was at its full, and it was getting hotter by the moment. I was able to ride at 80 plus from here onwards. The bird also took fancy to the roads now and in no time touched three digits. However, I felt more comfortable driving at 80-85 and so the reins were pulled till we were again doing 80 – 85 kph. After riding for some time, I felt like taking another short break and pulled the bird into a petrol pump. I remembered that my PUC had expired and before getting into Mumbai, I wanted to be perfect as far as all the papers were concerned. Now, a very good example of rules being thrown to the winds was observed while getting the PUC done – no checks, just 20 bucks had to be given to the filling station assistant, and I had the PUC certificate in my hand. On asking whether no check was required, the attendant smiled and told matter of factly that it was not required for petrol vehicles. So, now my bird was officially pronounced non-polluting and I took it back to the roads.

It was uneventful riding till Navsari where I stopped at “Gurukrupa” restaurant for lunch. The clock showed 1:45 PM and I was riding on my schedule. The trip meter reading was 352 Kms.

After a hearty Punjabi lunch (no Gujju food was available..sigh) the ride began afresh at 2:15 PM. As I had a good rest, I wanted to do around 100 Kms before taking another break. However, poor road conditions (at lot of places, construction work was in full swing) and slow moving traffic made the ride difficult and tiring. This continued till Valsad and I had to take a short break just after crossing Valsad.

Once I crossed Valsad, I was delighted to hit the 6 lane road which tapered to 4. The road was riders delight (Mandeep, you were very right about this) and it was in no time that the bird was doing 80 plus. Hey wait, what’s this familiar thump, and yes, there was the reason, another red coloured thunderbird riding besides me. However, the guy was in a mood to race which was a strictly no-no for me. We kept riding side by side for around 15 minutes when the counterpart bird moved out of the highway, and it was riding solo again. The sun was going down and the weather was getting pleasant by the minute. This stretch was turning to be the best till now. I was able to ride at 80 plus without any hitches and soon I crossed Gujarat and entered Maharashtra. The roads became undulating now and it was like riding on waves, especially as you could see dark, beckoning roads till the end of the horizon. At this point, I spotted a nice location where some good snaps were possible. So, the bird was forced to a halt, and couple of photographs were taken, the first one being of the majestic “Humming Bird” standing solo. The photograph adorns the desktop of my notebook pc now. After spending around 15 minutes here and taking in the beautiful scenic surroundings, we got back to the roads. However, the scenic surroundings made it a task to resist stopping and basking in the nature’s glory.

After riding for half an hour (or maybe even less), I couldn’t help stopping again. The bird was given a pose on the side stand, and my, the undulating road with the bird parked on the side was a wonderful sight. The same was captured by the camera to some extent, but take my word; it’s nowhere near the real experience. The signboard here showed Mumbai to be 117 Kms. I wanted to reach the outskirts of Mumbai before dark, so we were back on the roads, and the ride now progressed with average speed of 85 plus. Good road conditions and pleasant breeze made the last leg of the ride really enjoyable. It was around 6:45 that I crossed Virar cross section, stopped for 5 minutes and gave a sms to Gautam. He called back immediately and asked me to come straight to Mahim. So we got back on the road to take a plunge into Mumbai’s city traffic. As it was already dark, it was pretty slow and careful riding now, also now that the road and traffic conditions were worsening. Soon I was negotiating heavy two and four-wheeler traffic and it was really a tiring experience, especially as the road conditions were pathetic. The ride was very tiresome now and I wanted to reach Mahim as fast as possible (was getting a bit fatigued by this time). It was around 8:15 that I took the turn towards Mahim and stopped at the junction which led to Raheja’s hospital (I hope I remember the name right). A call was placed to Gautam and it was decided to meet behind Mahim Church. I was there in 5 minutes. The trip meter showed 567. Gautam reached the place in another 5 minutes and we were off to his place. Gautam’s parents had to leave the same night and we had to go to Dadar station to see them off. So after dropping the rucksack at Gautam’s cosy house, we went straight to Dadar station. Gautam went into the station and joined his sister in seeing his parents off and I and the bird took rest after a really long drive. The feeling of completing first leg of the ride, that too on schedule and without single hitch is really something that cannot be described in words.

Gautam came back at around 9:40 and we pushed off towards some good place to eat, drink and be merry. We stopped at “Culture Curry”, and in we went after duly parking the bird right in front of the main entrance of “Culture Curry” under the watchful eyes of the guard. The place was quite as desired and we began our small celebration by ordering beer and some snacks. Chilled beer was a welcome experience and so was the food and the peaceful ambience.

We were nearly through with our drinks that a gathering started taking place right next to our table. It seemed that a parsi family was celebrating the birthday of someone amongst them. Amongst them was a familiar face, and Gautam identified him in no time – he was Bomman Irani (remember the Principal of medical college in Munnabhai MBBS…). Few Goan songs transformed the tranquil atmosphere into a lively one; however, we were not very comfortable with the transformation so we quickly finished our dinner and pushed off towards Gautam’s place once again.

The day had still something in store for us and as we were negotiating a turn at Shivaji Park crossing, one lunatic from nowhere in particular just rammed into the bike with full force, even though I was able to stop the bike. The left side handle bar took the brunt and the rear view mirror along with the cables got twisted. Still, I was thankful that we got away without any major incident. The protagonist of the incident didn’t even stop and kept on to his run (God knows whom he was running from or after…). The mirror bar was straightened and we again got back to riding. In 10 minutes, we reached our destination. Now we had to do some planning for the second leg of our ride. Gautam was not able to manage leave for Friday and was in a mood to do night driving. However, I was not very comfortable with the idea, especially as I had experienced the road conditions and moreover, Dips had informed that the roads were in a pretty bad shape due to heavy monsoon rains. Still, we left the things open and as I had to attend one meeting tomorrow afternoon and I needed to call it a day.

The morning came and Gautam was in a mood to ride to his office (which was at Worli) on the bird. I decided to accompany him and off we went. One look at the speedometer and I was surprised to see that it wasn’t working. Ditto with the tripmeter. Things needed to be checked out. Once we reached Gautam’s office, we saw that the leg guard was also turned at an angle, and the speedometer cable was hanging out. Efforts to set right the guard didn’t yield any result as it was pretty tight and we were left wondering what might be the degree of injury caused to the person who banged into the bird yesterday night. Whatever, we decided to take the bike to some mechanic in the evening and left it safely parked.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as I had planned and I had to be in Mumbai for one more day. It seems that Goa is jinxed for me as this was the third time that I had planned for the place and had to cancel it at the last moment. Whatever, I went to Gautam’s office in the evening and we decided to visit couple of our mutual friends. So few calls were placed and it was decided to have dinner at “Howrah Bridge”, a bong restaurant near Church Gate. For the uninitiated, all other three except me were bong and relished fish like anything. So I had to play ball and go along. So off we went to “Howrah Bridge” and spent couple of heavenly hours together. Once Gautam and I got back to home, a new destination was planned (the ride had to continue no?). So we narrowed down on Mahabaleshwar. A quick consultation of the road map, and the route was all set – Mumbai – Lonavala/Khandala – Pune – Panchgani – Mahabaleshwar. So instead of this being a ride besides beaches, it was turning out to be a ride amidst the mountains.

Next day was pretty busy for both of us. Gautam got back at around 7 PM and we decided to at least give the bird a glimpse of the beaches. So off we went to Band Stand, spent around an hour there and later on we rode to Worli sea face. It was by 9 O clock that we decided to head back. As we were returning, suddenly, the indicators, horn and parking light stopped working altogether. My guess was that some connection with the battery had gone loose due to our small mishap day before yesterday at Shivaji Park crossing. However, I wasn’t much bothered as this was a minor issue that could be fixed easily and we continued towards Mahim. Everything was going fine when suddenly the accelerator went free. The bike was brought to a halt and I opened the right side handle bar cap to check out the damage. My fears came true when I saw that the accelerator wire had given away at the very joint to the handle bar. The spare wire was kept at Gautam’s place in Mahim, which was around 5 Kms from the place we were stranded. The first thought was to drag the bird till Mahim (what a stupid idea), but then, the real adventure bug struck. I pulled out the broken wire from the cap, tested it, and my, was I glad when I heard the familiar thump. So from now on, it was riding the bike on wire (ghode ki lagaam jaisa lag raha tha). Initially, it was a bit tough with the wire cutting into the fingers, but it was definitely better than pulling the bird for 5 odd Kms. It was around 10 that we touched base at Mahim. Over chinese dinner, we contemplated whether we need to slightly delay our move tomorrow and get the bike in prime condition. However, I was looking forward to get out of crowded Mumbai early in the morning and we decided to stick to the plan and be on the roads positively by 7.

Needles to say, it felt as if the alarm started humming (ringing would have been a better word, but somehow, I now prefer the word “humming”, any guesses why?) at 6 and by 6:45 we were ready to go. A look at the fuel indicator and we were off to the nearest Bharat Petroleum filling station (please note that the bike was being “pulled” by the wire). Humming bird could not even take Rs 400 worth of petrol and this surprised me as it appeared that I was just going to hit the reserve. Just one minute on the road, and I realized that a few additional things were amiss. Tachometer and fuel indicator were not working. Whatever, once on the road, the ride had to continue. We were on the look-out for some mechanic who could fix the accelerator with the spare cable I was carrying. Lady luck was with us and soon we spotted a place where sundry vehicles like trucks, autos, taxis etc were parked. Gautam had a feeling that we would surely get somebody here who could fix up the wire and right he was. A supposedly truck mechanic agreed to take a look and 10 minutes later and lighter by 10 bucks in our pocket, we were off to Panvel with the accelerator working fine. The traffic was light and soon we were doing 80 plus. Gautam felt like riding and I handed over the reins to him. It was in no time that we crossed Panvel and touched the highway. The plan was to ride till 10 and the take a halt for breakfast. The ride progressed like a dream till we spotted a nice cozy restaurant beside the highway and decided to halt for breakfast. The menu announced availability of all kinds of stuff ranging from butter toast to dosa. However, only thing we were able to get out from the cook was puri bhaji, which was really good and stuffing. With our tummies full, once again we were again on the road. Riding for ten minutes brought us to a milestone which announced that Lonavala was only 8 Kms. We were on the ghats next minute, and after driving for few minutes, we hit that section of the expressway on which two wheelers are allowed. The sky was cloudy and the mountain peaks were covered with mist. The view was absolutely heavenly and we felt like stopping and clicking some photographs. However, “No Stops” on the expressway signs were numerous and we continued to ride. Soon we saw Lonavala intersection and in we went towards Lonavala.

Once in Lonavala, we rode around the town stopping at couple of places. However, we couldn’t get the kind of spectacular view we got to see while driving on the expressway. Later we rode towards Khandala and took a break at Shooting Point. We clicked couple of photographs here, sat there for around half an hour, but then the view was not very enchanting. So we were off again to romancing the roads, as the idea was to reach Mahabaleshwar by evening. The road conditions from here were not very good and it was cautious driving all the way. Around 10 Kms from Pune, we saw couple of bullets parked at a small workshop and a mechanic working on them. I felt like getting the bike checked and see if we could make the non-functional parts working. The trouble was explained to the mechanic and soon he was working on the bird. In 5 minutes the check-up was over, and the doctor announced that the battery was totally out (I was totally bewildered how this could happen) and it will have to be re-charged. The diagnosis fee was 10 bucks only and still a bit surprised, we once again set-off towards Pune. However, before that, Gautam remembered that one of our mutual friends was based at Pune. Next instant, I gave him a ring from Gautam’s cell. The chap (people call him Devender Hooda, a pucca JAT from Harayana) was surprised to hear my voice from a Mumbai number, which doubled when I informed him that I was only 10 Kms from Pune, Gautam was with me and we intended to have lunch with him (obviously, he would have to foot the bill as we were his guests). The chap smsed his location to us and it was well beyond half an hour and 2:30 by the clock that we reached his office and called him downstairs. The bird was parked in his office parking lot and we were off to a nearby restaurant for lunch. However, our Mr. Hooda had entirely different plans and by the time Gautam and I returned from washroom, a pitcher of beer and some really inviting snacks were waiting for us on the table. Tell you what folks, a mug (Reviewed) of beer after a long ride is really refreshing. Further plans were detailed to Hooda and we asked him to arrange a bike for himself and join us. This was good enough for a couple of choicest abuses to be directed towards us of informing him at the last moment. However, Hooda soon started making inquiries for arranging a bike and charting out the route and schedule. Now this is really wonderful – while making inquiries, one of Mr. Hooda’s acquaintances asked him how come the sudden plan to go to Mahabaleshwar, and Mr. Hooda replied in his typical Harayanvi ishtyle, “Arre hamare kuch saathi aayen hain ek “khatarnak” si bike lekar Ahmedabad se, aur wo Mahabaleshwar jaa rahe hain. Ab hamen bhi unke saath jaane ke liye bike leni hai na”. Heard lot of comments about my dear Humming Bird, but “Khatarnak” was something new. Ok chalta hai…

Our sumptuous lunch was over by 3 O’ Clock and by that time Hooda was able to convince us to postpone our ride to Mahabaleshwar for tomorrow and take a night halt in Pune so that he could also join us. In the meanwhile, we could drive down to Sihanghad which was around 35 Kms from Pune, supposedly a nice place and spend the evening there. Gautam also vouched for the place as he had been there for his outbound training during his induction with BASF and the plan was sealed.

After paying a short visit to Mr. Hooda’s office, we were once on the road again. Road conditions were pretty bad, especially after Khadakvasla. However, it was good to see lot of people riding to Sihanghad on variety of two-wheelers. It is around 15 Kms ride on the Ghats to Sihanghad and the roads were pretty narrow. It really gave me sadistic pleasure to hear other two-wheelers and even some four-wheelers groaning while taking the steep climb while the bird was able to do the heights smoothly. We took a number of stopovers en-route and a good number of photographs were clicked.. The weather gods were keeping us in good humour and misty peaks greeted us once we reached the top. The ride took 1.5 hours with all the stops included.

The bike was parked and up we went up into the Sihanghad fort. Soon we were walking in the clouds, and my, it was a bit cold here. So, we decided to have a cup of hot tea. It was around 5:45 that we moved towards “Wind Point”. While walking towards the point, we saw a water body formed due to excessive rains and the camera went click again. At this point of time, a burst of strong winds made the mist move in and soon the waterbody was covered with clouds. The view was really fantastic and I wish I had a handycam to capture it. We were at the wind point for nearly 20 mins, but the mist had moved in and nothing of the valley down was visible. So I had to return without getting a good shoot here, and by the way, we had only few snaps remaining now.

It was around 6 O’ clock that we decided to head back to Pune. From a distance, I saw the bird parked, but something was amiss. There were no saddlebags on it. I ran upto the bike, and my heart missed a beat, both the bags weren’t there. The bags contained spares (clutch wire, chain lock, a tube and air filter) and my raincoat. Nothing much, but still …however, Gautam observed that the bike looked pretty different (in fact, quite clean). I also realized the same and yes it was actually a different bike. My Humming Bird was parked a few feet away with both the saddlebags very much there…phew, what a relief.

A single kick brought the bird back to life and we were off once again. There were couple of stops down the slope to take in the excellent view given by the setting sun, especially as it gave a different hue to the skyline. By 7 O clock we reached Khadakvasla Lake. I took the bike off the road and parked it just beside the water body. The twilight gave the water body a different look altogether, but pardon me, I couldn’t capture it as I had already exhausted all the snaps and was not carrying any extra roll. After spending a good 20 minutes here, and talking over a lot of things, we rode back into the Pune crowd (it felt really bad to be in the crowd after such a serene ride on the ghats). Soon we met Hooda and headed back to his flat. Man, he had already arranged a bike, and was all set for Mahabaleshwar. One more thing, there was a 10 year old kid riding with Hooda, and on seeing us riding an RE, he timidly asked for a ride; and our dear Gautam got off the pillion, and the kid was on the pillion seat in no time. We rode to Hooda’s flat and the kid announced, “Wah, mazza aa gaya, mujhe bullet bahut acchi lagti hai” (folks do we see another rider in making?).

In we went into Hooda’s flat and dumped our luggage in the first corner we could spot. Hooda and I once again went out to do some shopping (I was out of camera roll). We got back at around 9:30 and once again, Mr. Hooda was in a mood to celebrate the evening with Jhonny Walker whisky, which he had carried from duty free while he was returning from Singapore recently. Though I am very selective in drinking and take only white spirits, on Hooda’s insistence, I took a peg, and take my word for it, the stuff was really good. Gautam was looking pretty tired by now and we decided to call it a day. The plan was to get going again by 7 AM. Things were all set for a ride on the ghats.

The morning came, and brought it’s own share of surprises. Gautam was not feeling well, and announced that he won’t be riding further (remember, the bugger was planning to do night riding to Goa). So now it was I and Hooda and the bird, and off we went. A cool breeze was blowing and I felt like taking some jacket as it was a bit chilly. In about 15 minutes, we were on the Satara highway. The roads were not in their best shape, but we were able cruise along at around 60 Kph. We got onto the ghats and went into a pitch dark tunnel. Initially, it felt a bit scary, especially with the headlights of the oncoming traffic dazzling one’s eyes. The roads were wider here we could see few lorries here. It felt great to see them groaning while negotiating the steep curves (sadistic pleasure again) while the bird smoothly rode up the hills. The ghats finished up fast and we were on flat grounds once again. The roads here again were 4 laned but at places, reconstruction was going on. Mahabaleshwar is around 130 Kms from Pune and I wanted to do at least 70 – 80 Kms before we took a break. However, Hooda was not used to riding for long distances and hence, we took at break once we touched 60 Kms at a decent looking restaurant. One more reason for stopping was that I saw another RE parked there. It was around 8:30 AM and we decided to have some breakfast here. Unfortunately, only tea was available and we had no option but to go for it. However, the tea also felt like salted boiled water, so after taking down half a glass of it, we gave up. The cost of boiled water called tea was 10 bucks per cup. Hooda was just going to launch his tirade, but I was in no mood to enter into an argument here and was able to restrain him. Off we went again on the roads, the conditions of which were pretty fine now. We were able to do 80 plus from here. Soon we saw an intersection that announced Mahabaleshwar to be about 52 Kms. In we went and searched again for some hotel to have breakfast, but then again nothing was available. So we decided to have breakfast on the hills itself. Just before the beginning of the Ghats, we again took a break as Hooda felt like having a fag. Mahabaleshwar was 35 Kms from here, and I also wanted the bird to take long look at the Ghats before negotiating them. Hooda had apparently forgotten to carry a matchbox and went to search for it while I took rest lying down beside the bird on a mound. Hooda soon returned emitting smoke from his lips and sat besides me. The best thing about this man is that he adapts to any condition pretty fast and can be a very enjoyable company provided he wants to. Luck was on my side and Hooda was in a mood to make the best of the short break he was getting.

After 10 minutes, we were again on, negotiating the ghats. The good thing was that the roads were a rider’s delight and they were also pretty wide. Negotiating the steep turns and taking in the marvelous view of the valley down was an ultimate experience. This was my first ride on the ghats and I was enjoying every moment of it. The bird was riding smoothly and was enjoying all the attention of the people around. We reached Panchgani by around 10 AM. This place was a bit crowded though the view of the valley down was spectacular. However, we decided to keep going and reach Mahabaleshwar first. Panchagni was left for the return trip. Beyond Panchgani, the traffic was also lighter. We could see lot of small waterfalls and the white water flowing amidst the lush greenery was a welcome sight. We were enjoying every moment of it. There were lot of stops enroute and we kept capturing the nature’s beauty in the lens.

By around 11:30, we reached Mahabaleshwar “town” (read as crossed the bus station). The city looked deserted and wet roads gave inkling that maybe the rain gods had visited the place in the morning. We decided to take a slightly long break here and also get some grub. So the bird was brought to a halt next to a restaurant right in the middle of the town. We were feeling very hungry and were sure to get something here. However, inquires about the stuff available gave us the shock of our life – nothing. Lunch will be available only from 1 PM. We were the only persons in the restaurant and the area outside was also pretty deserted. Enquiries from the people around revealed that it was off-season that was compounded by incessant rains for past 15 days which stopped only a couple of days back. That way, we had been pretty lucky as we didn’t ride wet even for a single minute. Thankfully, tea and coffee were available and I managed to get a pack of coconut biscuits from a nearby general store. While having our “breakfast”, we also gathered some info on the places to see and narrowed down on few points. The Sun was out now and the mist was closing in. It was also getting a bit cold now. Hooda was wearing a windsheater, but I was in a cotton shirt and as I was in the front seat, I was feeling the wind more. But then, I was not carrying my jacket here. So I had to make do with my rain coat jacket which thankfully did the job. The weather had grown pretty misty now and I was afraid that it may rain. However, there wasn’t any but it was very careful riding now on as the roads were wet due to the condensing mist. But then, the misty atmosphere was a welcome delight and cruising in the same felt eternal. Our ride was soon interrupted by few people who asked that whether we had paid the corporation charges for taking this road to some God forsaken point. Obviously, we hadn’t. So we were asked to cough up Rs 10 each for both of us and Rs 30 for the bike (the bird was one-up here too). However, firmly believing in the view that the best things if life come for free, and having actually seen lot of beautiful places for which there was no charge, we made the decision of not to pay a single buck. The next instant, we were on our way back, more so that we were more concerned with the ride than the place.

We were on our way back to Panchgani. While on our way up, we had identified few points which offered a good view of a mountain river flowing across the valley. It was like taking a break after every 10 minute of the ride, taking in the magnificent view of the lush greenery & mist covered Mountain River and capturing whatever we could in the camera.

We touched Panchgani by 1:30. Both of us were feeling pretty hungry by now, and a “Hotel Ravines” looked inviting by its looks and the name too. So in we went straight into the restaurant. Once inside the hotel, we could realize why it was named “Ravines”. This hotel offers a magnificient view of the valley and we sat right next to the window opening into the valley, both of us not wanting to miss the view for even a single moment. The glass doors of the window were closed tight which were a hindrance to the view. So we asked the waiter to open the same. We were informed that the winds always remain heavy at this time of the season so the doors are kept shut. We still wanted to sit with open windows and the waiter obliged by slightly opening the doors, and the next instant we were hit by a blast of ice-cold winds that were making ear-shattering noise. We had to close the windows the very next instant.

After a leisurely lunch, we were back to what we liked best – the ride. The clock showed 2 O’ clock and we wanted to touch Pune by 4. While on our way back, we noticed a mud track leading to a jutty into the valley. It looked lonely and inviting, and the next instant the bird had taken the route. We rode till the point we could without rolling down into the valley. As a matter of fact, the place offered the most magnificent view of the mountains and the valley below. It was here that my “Humming Bird” got the best compliment till now– a family took liking to the bike, and asked for taking a snap with their two little kids on the bike. Obviously, I obliged. While the kid’s mom was taking the photograph, their dad insisted – “Bike ka photo pura aana chahiye, bacchon ki to phir lete rahenge”. Man, this was one of the greatest moments for my Humming Bird.

We were getting late now and got back to the road to Pune. Couple of water breaks en-route and we reached Hooda’s house by 5 PM. Gautam was ready to move and at 5:30, we got on the road to Mumbai. Gautam was riding now and I was on the pillion. We stopped to refuel after 15 minutes and decided to ride without a break till the horizon turned dark. We touched Lonavala at 7 and took a break at the outskirts. It was getting cold here and as I do not prefer riding in the night, I suggested that maybe we should take a break here itself. However, Gautam had to attend office next day, so we shelved that plan and were on the road again by 7:30. At this point, another Thunderbird with Delhi registration overtook us. Whoever was riding that bike, I confess that he was hell of a rider. I tried to keep pace with him, but gave up soon as he was going too fast for my comfort. Still, it once again felt nice to have the company of another RE, though for just a few moments. Just as we got out of the Lonavala, suddenly, the engine went dead. With all kinds of doubts, I brought it to halt. But then, the engine came back to life in one kick and we were on again. We had a magnificent view of the valley below, now that the lights were on. Felt like stopping and taking a snap, but then, we kept going. Riding on the ghats in the night, though for a short distance will remain a memorable experience till I do a longer stretch of this sort. Couple of breaks en-route and we were in Mahim by 11 (got stuck in a Jam near Sion). The best part of the ride was over and tomorrow I ride back to Ahmedabad.

The ride back to Ahmedabad was uneventful except for few issues:
¨ I planned to spend one night in Daman, but once I saw the place, after being to such beautiful places, I couldn’t really tolerate the muddy sea and the smell of the booze. So the plan to take a halt at Daman was shelved and the ride to Ahmedabad continued. Moreover, I had got a call (work had caught up with me) which made it imperative for me to be in Mumbai couple of days later and hence all the more good that I reached Ahmedabad at the earliest.
¨ The ride was much slower now, thanks to the heavy lorry traffic, which I suppose was on the higher side as the strike recently got over,
¨ I rode till11:30 in the night and took a break at Anand at one on my colleague’s place who was really delighted to have me, even though at this hour of the night.

I reached Ahmedbad and my abode next day by 11 AM. Total distance covered was 1903.6 Kms. The ride began on 25th August and got over on 31st August. Taking out the two days which were spent in Mumbai, average distance covered per day works out to 380.6 Kms.

God, when do I get the chance to go on the next ride?

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