Thursday, May 31, 2007

There and back again - 1

Km 0, Pimpri Chinchwad New Town, 6:45am

Q: Why is Pimpri Chinchwad New Town like a ball outside off stump?
A: Because it can be well left.
Km 21, Pune City, 7:10am

Breakfast. And coffee to top the full-to-the-brim stomach. One major lesson from the starved, tired-out rides of last year - eat and rest well when driving all day. Go slow enough to take in everything there is. The plan, therefore, is to go slow, take my time, see everything, do no more than 350km a day.

The friend who accompanies me for breakfast says I look like a Mithun-movie-villain in my jacket. Unmentionable things are immediately done to him.
KM 33, Start of State Highway 60, 8:20am

Last view of the city. I see the lego-block houses from the perch on the hill which the SH60 ascends. There’s the NH4 bypass below that unwinds both ways and stretches away.

A sharp bend around the hill, and everything spins out of sight.
KM78, Just before Mulshi, 9:25am

Ghat, first of many to come. Niggle in the back, first of many to come. I park between two huge mud banks –the road makes the base of a big V with them.

Not a soul, not a vehicle, as I look down into the plain below, at houses sparsely sprinkled amid swathes of green. I wonder what life is like in a dwelling that independent, one that stands all by itself, in proud isolation.

I lie down under a tree, rest my back and look at the sky.

Right ahead is the Mulshi reservoir that the SH60 holds hands with as it walks over the next 10-15km, before the reservoir dissolves into a once flooded field. The hills around are almost Egyptian – the sharp edges give them a pyramidal appearance, with the space in between plunging into canyons.
Km 105, 11:15am

Absolutely vertical rock face to my left, flinging a long shadow across the road and beyond – the perfect place for a break. I lie down on a stone barrier above the drop into the valley below, and look up at the rock face. The rockface obscures the sun, even though it’s almost noon.

I join the NH17 someway on. The frenzy of the trucks and cars roaring by infects me – I’m soon taking frequent frantic glances at my watch and odometer to furiously calculate speeds, I’m going after lorries that I’d have let go sometime else. I know I need a break, so I can recover a more easy, comfortable driving rhythm.
Km 159, Just before Mahad, 1:10 pm

I pass by a restaurant with tables facing a riverfront. I stop immediately, disregard shady appearance that seems to almost guarantee bad food, and go in. Waiters seem to take their time, which is just as well, so I can look at the river and the glimmers within the water, almost like stars at night.

Turns out the guys can’t even make decent rice-and-dal, but I decide a splash in the water would counteract the bad food quite well.

“Nadi me us side naha sakte hai, na?”
“Saab, try mat karo. Poora chemical se bhara hai. Chutiya factory wala hai us taraf - sab nadi me chodta hai.”

At that point of time Ruchi family garden restaurant ceased to be a family restaurant.
Km 166, Mahad, 2:30pm

Bad dal rice needs to be supplemented, and I wonder if I’ll find a decent place to do honours. The resolution to feed myself well on this trip already seems in grave danger.

This restaurant called Vithal Kamat, with enough cars parked outside it to assure me of some level of decency in the food. Turns out the menu has curd rice on it – all I need to offset worries of sad food!

“Yeh curd rice dena”
“Saab, alag nahi milenge. Yeh dish khichdi ki tarah hai, curd aur rice dono mix hoke aate hai.”
Km 176, Parle, 3:35pm

A globule settles on helmet visor. Another. Yet another. Rain!

Uh oh, if the monsoon beats me to Mangalore, I’ll have to pack up bike and truck it home. The day’s paper tells me monsoons are due to hit Kerala only around the 27th, so I’m hoping they won’t get it wrong by much. This is only a mild drizzle, and so is reassuring.

For now, I lie down inside a mantap of sorts, about which the local kids tell me,”Andar baith sakte ho, par bhagwan ke time me allowed nahi hai.”
Km 201, Top of ghat after Poladpur, 4:30pm

Rain again! This time it decides to pour down like it’s nobody’s business. I decide I’ll drive through it, particularly since the coming stretch is a descent from the top. I switch engine off, skate the bike down the ghat in the downpour. It’s 10km in silence, amid water pouring onto me, it’s like going down an enormous slide in a park.

In this ghat, as also others, you see up close the features of the hills that you’ve seen from a distance only a while ago. Silhouettes of peaks and gashes of green and grey resolve themselves into a thousand trees and rocks and hay and mud and tar. It’s the same thing on two altogether different scales, and you love both for completely different reasons.
Km 213, after descent from ghat, 4:50pm

I decide I’ll spend the night here, in the lap of the Sahyadris, amid the terraces that lace the enormous peaks. I park in a roadside village, and the temple is recommended to me as a place of stay. Good, good, say I. The guys seem disappointed that I’m not put off at the prospect.

I ask if one of the families will serve me food. In return for financial considerations of course, I add. No volunteers.

I’m approached by a newcomer, who introduces himself as the temple priest. Strangers staying in the temple is okay with him, he says, but he’s just an employee – the owner of the temple is an MSRTC bus conductor, who is out on duty, and may not approve.

I have to content myself with a walk alongside the village, and drive on.
Km 239, Lote-Parashuram, 5:40pm

I plan to get to Chiplun for the night, but I spot this resort of sorts sometime before it. A part of me tells me it’s going to be too expensive for me, but I check it out anyway.

Plush non-ac room for 600. Very neat, almost star-hotel-ic. Includes use of swimming pool. Yes! I take it.

I cool off over tea, and wallow in what calls itself ‘the best swimming pool in Ratnagiri district’. I look on from the water as orange fades to yellow to inky blue to deep black.