Back in the September of 2009, I was interning with Honeywell Automation India Ltd. in Pune after I completed my engineering from VIT. I was staying alone in a 2BHK near Pune station and I used to find weekends extremely boring. I used to make regular visits to Bibwewadi and to VIT (the Robocon team of 2010 had started work) but other than that it used to be quite dull. Most of my friends used to be pretty busy during the weekends (read lazy) and the others had shifted out of Pune. But I always found good company in Abhishek, Avi, Rajul and a mutual friend Arpit.
We always tried to meet during the weekends and plan a ride to places in and around Pune. Actually, we were pretty enthusiastic about riding around to unknown, unheard and inaccessible places (inaccessible was only for Avi, the guy loved off-roading to some dangerous places). So on a Saturday evening (if I remember correctly) Avi, Abhishek and myself met up and decided that we must go to some nice place the next day. It was the end of the monsoons so we did not have to bother about heavy rains and decided that we could go to this place called Lohagad Fort near Pavna dam in Lonavala. Avi was quite keen on going there as he had just 'discovered' a back road to it, to avoid the national highway 4. Though highways are pretty fun and you can cover large distances in a short time we wanted to avoid it just to explore the back roads. Sometimes the scenery can be amazing and the ride can be stress free due to absence of traffic. So, we decided to push off early in the morning so that we could ride back before it was dark.
|Fixing the flat tire|
At 7 a.m. the next day Avi and I met up and were waiting for Abhishek's call because he would pick up Arpit who stayed in Hadapsar. We decided to meet outside Big Bazaar at Hadapsar. Upon reaching there we saw that Abhishek was busy getting his rear tire repaired as it had a puncture. The guy repairing it told us that there were about 4 puncture holes and it would be better to get the tube replaced rather than to fix the holes. After much discussion and haggling with the shopkeeper we finally decided to go in for a new tube. All this dented our pockets slightly. But what we really lost was not money but time, a lot of it. It was already 9 a.m. and now our stomachs were grumbling. We had originally planned to get breakfast somewhere on the way but now we had to get breakfast out of the way before leaving. Abhishek suggested that we go to Baker's Basket at Wanowarie because you get some good hot breads in the morning. Four young guys with a big appetite doesn't necessarily make for a quick breakfast. It took us about 10 a.m. to finally get out of the city and on to the highway.
Our route was: Mumbai bypass up to Chandni Chowk --> left turn for tolled road to Paud --> right turn at Paud bus stand for narrow village road all the way to Lonavala.
The road was very good right from Pune up to Paud and since it is tolled it had been maintained quite well and didn't show too many signs of wear at the end of the monsoon. For any of you interested in a smooth winding road this is the one! You can keep a brisk pace of about 50-55kmph on your motorcycle and still negotiate the turns on the ghats quite well. Since the roads are good you can almost put your leg down (definitely scrape your legs if you have the Yamaha R15). At Paud bus stand we asked a couple of people to confirm the road ahead and headed off towards Lonavala. This village road wasn't that great. The top layer had come off leaving a lot of foundation stones exposed making it an extremely bumpy ride in some places. What was worrying me even more was that my motorcycle's fairing was a bit loose. Trust Bajaj people to give you top notch stuff on their 150cc bikes and this is what you get. Every time I hit a bump I felt as if my fairing would fall off. On the other hand, the Honda Unicorn that Avi and Abhishek had were doing very well (darn their mono shocks from moto-gp) so they were able to go pretty fast. Now all this was really frustrating me. I was just waiting for a patch of smooth road to rocket ahead. Finally, we approached a small bridge over a river and the road got smooth. I dropped a gear and yanked really hard on the throttle and away I went!! This is when something really really weird happened. A huge swarm of bees was hovering above the road and when I went past they started hitting against my helmet and my jacket. For a second I didn't realize what was going on! I couldn't stop or the bees would start stinging and I was so scared that I couldn't keep my eyes on the road. I just hung on till I cleared the bridge and then came to a stop. Avi and Abhishek didn't realize what happened cause the bees had moved away by the time they came. I threw off my jacket to make sure there weren't any bees inside and had to wipe off a dead bee from my helmet visor (yuck!!).
As we kept riding the road kept getting a little worse but the scenery was simply amazing! Since it was the end of the rains the hills and the paddy fields around us were nice and green and the air was not too hot. Even though the sun was directly overhead there were enough white clouds to make the sunshine bearable. As we were going along quite happily Abhishek asked Avi and me to ride ahead of him and check his front tire as he felt it was deflating. We stopped to check his tire and did feel that there was a puncture. Now this was really bad. We were in the middle of nowhere and had a puncture and that too on a front tire which was a little more worrisome because removing it would involve handling the disc brake and the calipers, which if not handled correctly, would completely jam the disc and would require the complete bleeding of the disc oil. We stopped a motorcycle going by and asked directions to the nearest village. As luck would have it there was a village about 1km ahead of us. We reached the village and found a puncture shop. We asked him to inspect the tire and he said that he would be able to fix it but we had to wait till the electricity came back. We asked how long that would be and he said that there was no electricity for the past 2 days!! To all of this Abhishek said "I need to be in office tomorrow man!!"
In such situations it is Avi who would take some good decision cause he is a little more brave than most people. According to him, if it was really a puncture then the tire would have gone flat by now. But the tire seemed quite alright. He asked the repair guy to fill in some more air in with whatever pressure he had left in the pump. He did so and the tire swelled a little. Upon closer inspection of the air pin Avi found that the pin had been slightly dislodged and was continuously leaking some air. Relieved at finding the solution, we headed off.
The road finally let us in the area of Pavna dam, but our destination was nowhere in sight and neither was the town of Lonavala. Being a little confused we decided to take a break to check the maps to see if we were headed in the right direction. It was also a good opportunity to take some pictures. Much to our disappointment and confusion, the map didn't tell us where we were! We somehow figured we must be on the right way and that were were on the opposite side of the lake and needed to go around it to reach the fort. Later on we figured we were right.
By the time we reached the power station of Pavna we were pretty sure that it was the right way. We double checked with a few people we saw near the power station and headed up the hill. Now this hill rises from the edge of Pavna dam and the road goes right up with it. It was quite a climb and all of a sudden the temperature dropped. The clouds seemed to get closer and the vegetation got thicker. The road then cut through a hill and at the end of it was a diversion to a dirt road going still further up the hill. This was the way to the fort.
|Pavna in background|
We stopped there to take a few more pictures and then rode up. The fort, like all others in the Deccan, was built on a rocky jutting on top of a hill. In the times of Shivaji Maharaj forts were of supreme importance to a kingdom. It served as a granary, township, defense center and also a place of rest for travelers.
|Lunch at the fort|
By the time we reached the base of the fort we were hungry again. It was already 1 p.m. and we thought we should eat something before climbing up. We got a decent plate of poha (flattened rice with spices) and some tea to drink. After feeling refreshed we set off for the climb. It wasn't as steep or as long as we had thought. Just a short flight of stone steps and we were in the fort. There weren't too many impressive structures showing that the place had not been maintained well at all. But the view was simply fantastic! You could see the Mumbai-Pune expressway in the distance on one side and Pavna lake on the other side. All the hills were carpeted in green. The climate was very cool and there was a continuous blast of wind from one side of the fort. The fort also had a view point which was at quite a distance. We were making our way to it but then dropped it halfway cause it was getting late and we had to make the trip back home. What was more worrying was that it was getting cloudy and dark too. We took some pictures and headed back down. By this time it was pretty cloudy and one couldn't see the fort from where we left our bikes. Luckily we had come prepared with raincoats. We put on our rain gear and headed towards Lonavala so that we could take the highway back home.
By the time we made our way back to the highway it had really started to come down. It was pouring by the time we hit the highway. The general idea during heavy rains is to ride quite slowly but Avi seemed to think otherwise. He lead the pack and started to set a speed of 80kmph+ for us to follow. Though I was pretty scared to go so fast on such slippery and smooth roads I did take a chance. The experience was just unbelievable! At those speed in heavy rain, raindrops were hitting my hand with such force that it felt like needles were pricking me! (none of us had gloves by the way) It was a 50km ride back and most of it was in the pouring rain. But as soon as it stopped the wind at those speeds actually helped dry us up before we were back to Pune. We made it back to our respective homes by about 7 in the evening and I am pretty sure Abhishek and I had trouble sitting upright in our chairs in the office the next day.
This trip was by far the most memorable bike trip I have had in Pune. We then decided that we must make it a point to do as many rides as possible before we set off for our respective careers. That didn't happen eventually. However, we were back together this year for a nice drive from Pune to Diveaagar which is for another blog.