Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bike trip to Korlai fort and lighthouse

After a lot of pleading, last moment gaddari, fights, 2 hours scouting around Mulund-Thane for petrol, and air and phone refills, 3 bikes were all set to leave for Harihareshwar. The big plan was to meet up at Vashi at 5 AM.

I slept for less than 2 hours as Sonal called me well before the time I had set up my alarm. After a session of filter coffee at her aunt's place, we were off and I reached RAIT at 5.
I know... RAIT is in Nerul and 2 stations ahead of Vashi. I took a wrong turn and there was no U-turn all the way till Nerul.
Anyway, that didn't matter much as Mithun didn't turn up till 6:30--long story!

Harihareshwar started to seem too far away but we didn't give up just yet and decided to skip the breakfast halt so as to have a reasonable chance of reaching the place by noon.
Again, that didn't matter as Mithun took the road to Pune after Panvel instead of going towards Pen. The Harihareshwar jinx continues...

We caught up with them and the time was just after 7. After a hot debate of the options we had--Aanchal blocked all my attempts to steer the group to Karnala--decided to head on to some beach in Alibag.
There is a exit at the right that says "Rasayani" on the old Mumbai-Pune highway--every biker should try it out. The winding road passes through many small hills and is dotted with little villages. A (highly polluted) steam runs through the length of the road that ends just before Pen. I got some fantastic snaps over there--must try the route again!
We drove leisurely now that Harihareshwar was off our maps, and stopped for breakfast at Vadhkhal naka. Everyone was super sleepy but somehow managed to chew through whatever was on our plates.

We set out for Nagaon--this is the same place where Ashwin wanted to arrange our office picnic. It was a long detour through typically sleepy villages, which gave me the impression that the place would be good... but the place was crowded, commercialized, and we didn't like the beach.
The best thing about the Alibag area is that we are spoilt for choice as the next beach is never more than 10 minutes away.
We decided on Nandgaon which is after Kashid. En route, we stopped at Revdanda fort - I have passed this fort on ALL my trips but never noticed it. I still need to explore the area completely.
On Revdanda bridge, we could see a fort on the hill parallel to us and I talked the others into exploring it.
I had no idea we would discover what we did. There is a left after the bridge that leads to Korlai village. To reach the fort/lighthouse we had to go to the end of the village and then on top of the hill. As soon as you get out of the village, you find yourself on the side of the hill, on a rock track with the sea on one side and the fort walls visible high up on the other.

The entrance of the fort has a board saying it was a restricted zone and we need "permission" to enter, but we pretended to not see it. The keeper of the lighthouse was eager to show us around but there were a few other "official" looking people who didn't like us loitering around but Sonal's buttered them up in Marathi and they were taken care of.

The fort is pretty well preserved and we explored the entire north stretch. It was exhausting and the fact that we didnt have water didn't help our cause but the view was fabulous and it kept us going--first up and then down, and further down, and further, till we reached the sea. On the way we stopped for photographs, snatched a kid from a goat, and explored the doorways and canons lying around the place.

There is a huge wall just before the sea and a mini beach at the end, it would make for a perfect hidden getaway if the water was cleaner :P
We enjoyed the scene and dragged our feet back up to the top of the fort. We were in a mess, no water and no food. There was no food at the caretaker's place either and he asked us to go back to the village. I really wanted to get down to the beach and put to use the new shorts I had picked up from Nagaon beach but my stomach got the better of me.

We found a decent place 5 minutes down the road towards Kashid (just before the diversion). There was a nice long debate over whether there were other girls having food in there and we finally got in for a nice authentic cuisine. Plates of kombdi thali, misal pav, anda burjee flew off the table. The food was very good and it made up for not being in the water.

On the way back, I talked everyone into trying the jetty route from Revas. We rushed to make it in time but I knew at the back of my mind that we would have to be really lucky to make it during high tide. We reached the place before 6 but the boat was scheduled for 7:30. Bad luck--I was dead by this time with no strength to ride back home. I could have waited all night to catch the next jetty if I had to. The good thing about riding in a group is that I don't get to do what I want--which is good at times.
We rode back... 2 hours behind schedule... thanks to me.

After the bad stretch at Ispat, I could hear weird noises from the back of my bike as if something had broken. There were no lights over there so I stopped at Vadhkal nak, right in front of a police chowky. The cops were very friendly and tried to help me source of the noise. I tried rocking my bike, shook every part I could but there was no sound. Hoping it wouldn't resurface we rode on and thankfully, it didn't

I dropped Aanchal and Swapna misguided Mithun AGAIN on the way back! The trip ended just as it had started!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Bike trip from Mumbai to Rajmachi

Fridays are usually very busy in office and it was the same this time around. Our trip to Harihareshwar seems jinxed as something seems to go wrong every time we think of making it happen--it was the same this time around.
Saturday was the 6th of December, a historical day for more than one reason and to add to that, Mumbai was on high alert. Another reason to escape for the weekend.

Harihareshwar was left for another time and I was left thinking of alternatives through the day. My mind had almost settled on doing a trip to Jawhar--almost. While looking through the net for information I stumbled upon the account of a bike gang's trip to Lonavala. The last strip of 16 kms was total offroading and something that I had never done earlier. This was at 9:30 PM when I was almost about to leave for home.

I had been to Rajmachi earlier, actually that was my first ever trek and my most memorable one till date. It had taken us 5 hours in the blasting April sun (with no water reserves) to just make it to the base village of Udhewadi.
But that was through the Kondivade (Karjat) route--this was through Lonavala. I remembered how everyone we met last time told us how easy and picturesque the Lonavala route was and how we had taken the "wrong route" for that time of the year.
Like many of my other brilliant decisions, I made a last minute change and changed our destination to the twin forts of Manoranjan and Shrivardhan.

Everyone was informed and I roped in Dhaval who was still in office when I called him up. He got off his shift at 8 AM and he had office again at 10 PM. The 14 hours he had in between were actually meant for sleeping but he felt it was better spent riding bikes to remote villages and then trekking up forts. Who can argue with that!

We were off on time and zipped to Khandala stopping at Kalamboli McDonalds. After you get off the Lonavala exit the road goes on below the flyover and as soon as you get out, look out on the left for a road that leads down. There is a board on top of the entry point that says Summer Hill, you cant miss it. Ask locals if not sure but make sure you mention Rajmachi fort, the locals first directed us to Rajmachi point, which is lovely by itself but you would need a glider to reach the fort from there.

The road is OK for the first 8 kms. At this point we reached a dam. There was a wall of a mountain right in front of us and the road went left along its side towards more mountains. This is where the road ends and we were on a kuccha road that was more rocks and stones than mud and gravel. The road was the worst at places where it passes over smooth round rocks like those found in a river bed. These are river beds--but only in monsoons.
It was a terrifying to imagine how much more difficult this area would be in the monsoon... I look forward to finding out ;)

I had a fall on one such patch.
It wasnt exactly a fall, I was going up a steep 60 degree incline when my front tyre hit a rock, which threw the bike sideways. My feet slipped and the weight of the bike just seemed too heavy for my battle worn wrists. Me and Swapna got off and I let go of the bike. Thankfully, it didn't slide down the the incline.
Swapna had been taking a video of the ride while all this happened and she later told me that the first thing I asked after the fall was, "Did you get all that?"

The last 10 kms took close to 2 hours to cover but that includes many breaks where we just stopped our engines and enjoyed the view. The entire stretch is just too beautiful--nevermind the rattling human bones and bike parts.

At the village, we stayed at the same place I had stopped at last time around. Everything around was just the way I had left it. After a refreshing break and food and drinks we set off for the village pond. It was right at the edge of the plateau and the sight is worth the detour. The moon was out, undeterred by the afternoon sun--and it just added to the sight of the magnificent fort walls.

The trek to the top wasnt easy and we were left panting more than once. I got some good snaps and we headed down through a different route from the windy side of the mountain. We collected our stuff from the village and headed out 4 PM to make sure we reached the main road before the sun went down.

The setting sun allowed me a few more pretty looking pictures. We stopped at the top of a waterfall, or atleast what should be one in the monsoon, on the way back. This spot looks like a mini Konkankada from the top of Shrivardhan and the view of the forts from down there was no less brilliant.
The trip back was safely uneventful and I can now boast of having conquered Rajmachi twice.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The first mishap

Wiser from my first ride to office, I now knew that cycling all alone on a highway is a sure fire way to discourage yourself from doing it again. Pedaling slowly while everyone else zips by at seemingly supersonic speed was enough to dampen my spirits.
So for my second ride, I made a few changes...
  • Route was changed to skip the highway and go through LBS road.
  • Wore a t-shirt minus the jacket.
  • Pur on some good music to not let my thoughts wander too much.
I felt much more comfortable this time around, I climbed up the flyover easily and was zipping around west's market area when ta-daa. My seat just fell off.

It didn't make sense at first--how could that happen! I checked and found that the end of the seat rod had bent as I had attached it too much to the end of the rod. I should have kept some more of the rod inside the frame.
Not the end of the world, I figured I could still use my allen key to loosen the hold and put it back in. Just one problem, I couldn't find the key--it had probably fallen off when I got on my cycle in the morning.

It was 7 in the morning so I was thinking of turning back home to get my bike. It was the easier choice but I just dont think right at times. It would be a retreat back to safety on facing the enemy--I could'nt bruise my ego. I carried on, holding the seat in one hand and found a puncture shop opening within 100 meters. Unbelievable luck!

But the guy didn't have an allen key for the size of my seat. There was another guy who was getting his bike's puncture repaired at the shop. He was very helpful and managed to wrestle the seat back in. It went back in - but only till the part that had bent, so basically it was just about staying in and a good jerk would make it fall again.

I carried on thinking my incredible luck would get me to another cycle shop in the next 100 meters. Those 100 meters stretched on to well over 18 kms - and my seat fell off (I think) 8 times during the ride. I couldn't sit on the seat as it would just bend the rod further and I had to pedal standing up most of the time. I stopped at a few places to get it fixed but was shooed away. One bike repair shop at Powai, just in front of IIT, had the allen keys but the guy simply told me he wouldn't do it. He must have had a bad experience with cycles as a kid.

Well, I reached office after 2 hours and Rameshbhau told me off a cycle shop just outside the office road. I went there and the guy had the audacity to ask for 10 rupees to loosen and tighten one screw. The allen key that he uses cost me 6 rupees--I didn't bother pointing that out to him but simply made a mental note never to visit/recommend that shop again. It's worth 10 rupees never to meet such people again!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Back on the saddle after 8 years

I have wanted to buy a cycle for a long time now. After 3 years on the job and 4 years before that in an engineering college, my body is in the worst physical shape it has ever been. It's not all that bad because I try to travel as much as I can but my stamina isn't a tenth of what it used to be, as I realised one fine day gasping for breath in the office kitchen.

That really was the trigger, I decided that I shouldn't wait any longer and started to seriously look at the options I had. I could either get a cycle, or increase the frequency of my treks, or join a gym.
My friends and my trekking group dont manage to plan a trek/bike trip every weekend. A gym membership would cost more than a cycle and I think it's pointless exercising while listening to the latest Bollywood numbers in a conditioned room. Its a waste of effort and not sustainable because you are doing it for the sake of it. The day you stop--your muscles disappear and your stamina goes back to where it was.
If I cycle to work, even if its once a week, it will fit in as a task of my daily routine--getting me to work and back. And to add to that, I love cycling.

My first "cycle" was gifted to me on my first birthday by Krupakka. It was a yellow tricycle and I had it for a couple of years. I spent the rest of my childhood pleading with my parents for a real cycle. They promised me one every report card season and every other Diwali but I soon realised that they were dangling a carrot while I played the donkey.
Well they did get me one and I had to stand first in my class to see that day.

We checked out a few stores and finally landed at Ravi Cycles, Mulund (West). There was this beauty being fitted in the store--nothing like I had ever seen before. Jet black with fluorescent orange lettering, it had those fenders on the handlebar and a chain lock mechanism that hung on the frame in front.
It looked out-of-the-world and I was in love. It cost 1.5 times any other cycle in the store and I wasnt sure if Dad was that impressed with my first rank but I think he noticed the little hearts circling over my head because he actually got it for me.
I returned the favour by having my first crash while we took it home--my BSA SteetCat.

The envy of every boy who laid his eyes on it, my first love was with me for over 6 years and took me as far as Kopar Khairane in the south and Kalwa in the north, and I also owe all my "slow" cycling trophies and certificates to it. I stopped using it after I moved to junior college - I dont remember why but it wasn't in great shape after all those years. The watchman asked me if he could have it and nothing stopped me from handing him the keys. It was passed around in the group of Nepali watchmen but I didn't see it after a couple of years.

That was a long digression--let's get back to the present. So I knew I had to get a cycle and as usual my first stop was the internet. I subscribed to a few groups but the real breakthrough came after I joined the BikesZone

I did a bit of research and put up a post on the forum. The guys over there were very helpful and I decided on the
Hercules Ryders AV102. I loved it's look but then saw the ACT 105 which looked almost the same (except for the plastic fenders and carrier--but those can be fitted in right!) and cost 2000 less.
I found a dealer who said it could be done and I booked my cycle on the 8th of November (a Saturday). He promised to get it by Monday assuring me that it wouldn't be a day after Wednesday. The week went by without a call from him. I tried to go there on weekdays but I never managed to reach before 9, which was when his shop closed for the day. I caught up with him the following weekend and he asked for a few more days. I had paid the guy an advance and figured I could wait, I didnt get any calls from him till Friday, which is when he told me that my cycle had arrived from Chennai.

I landed up at the shop on the 23rd (a Sunday). I asked him to remove the metal fenders as I planned to put them on later. I headed home for lunch, went back at 4 PM and rode back home on my Hercules Ryders ACT 105 MAX--quite a mouthful.
He hadnt fitted the carrier and U lock that I wanted. I plan to go collect them tomorrow.

I knew it was going to be difficult to convince my parents about me getting a cycle so I never bothered. Dad disagreed but accepted my decision, he always does but Mom was as adamant as ever, she always is. I had to listen to a lot of stuff, I dont want to start on that.
The best taunt was that about my peers moving "ahead" in life, buying cars, etc while I backpedaled to immaturity and irrationality. Now how may times have I heard that before ;)

I carried the cycle up 6 floors to my home and was welcomed with a diktat that I couldn't keep it in the house. I tried reasoning with Mom knowing it would be futile--my cycle had to spend it's first day on the staircase. I didn't expect things to turn this bad but there wasn't much I could do in the situation.
But I had to do something with the frustration in my head and I decided to do something I would never have imagined.

My original plan was to gradually get back on the saddle, that would mean starting out with short trips to the market and in and around Mulund. Once I had the hang of things and settled to riding in traffic, I planned to commute to office once a week which would finally settle down to twice a week.

My cycle lay out on the stairs unsafe, easy prey to all the little kids who would simply love to try out all the gears, sit on it trying to imagine themselves riding it.
I probably would'nt care a few months down the line but I didn't like the sound of it for now. Without any real thought and simply to prove a point, I decided I would commute to office the next day--24th November 2008.
I wasnt thinking that:
  • My office is in Sakinaka--my bike's odometer reads 36kms after a round trip.
  • There is one major climb at Powai and several minor climbs on the route.
  • I was getting back on a cycle after 8 years and had very little highway experience.
I was only thinking that my cycle is safer with me in office then on the staircase all by itself. That night, when I went to bed at 2 AM, I set the alarm to 6 AM and tried to not think of everything that could go wrong the next day. The plan was to leave at around 6:30, which would spare me the traffic and pollution.

It was still pretty dark at 6:45 when I stood in front of my building, all geared up with a change of clothes and the helmet in my backpack. I was back on the saddle after 8 years.