I was doing a project of exploring Mumbai - it had started by me starting cycling! I started cycling as a new project for the year - it started by being a fitness thing, but I got bored of going around in circles and started going further and further and exploring and discovering unknown parts of Mumbai (well...unknown to me at least) on cycle. By this time I had gone and explored various ancient forts of Mumbai - Sion, Sewri, Mahim, Worli, Bandra, Dharavi - by cycle. (You can check out the blogs by clicking on the links)
After doing this, the exploration bug kicked in a little more, and I started exploring even without a cycle. While going over the lists of tourist attractions in Mumbai - I saw that one of the main attractions was Mani Bhavan - Mahatma Gandhi's memorial in Mumbai. It was on the lists of all the Mumbai tour operators trips - and every firang visitor to the city seems to have seen it ... but I had never done so. It had never been in my mindspace at all - I had not known of it, not wanted to see it.
Well - this is 'diya tale andhera' stuff, and so I decided to check it out.
My friend Vijay claimed to know it well - as it was just behind his college - the Wilson college, Marine drive - and so we agreed to check it out together. I took an Uber and reached the place - and there was no sign of Vijay! He was late as usual.
The building was in a fancy neighborhood - Laburnum road, just off Marine drive. I thought rather cynically that Gandhi seemed to have chosen to live with this rich seth in a fancy location, rather than in a poor and humble place.
As per the Wikipedia entry - 'Mani Bhavan was Gandhi's Mumbai headquarters for about 17 years, from 1917 to 1934. The mansion belonged to Revashankar Jagjeevan Jhaveri, Gandhi's friend and host in Mumbai during this period. It was from Mani Bhavan that Gandhi initiated the Non-Cooperation, Satyagraha, Swadeshi, Khadi and Khilafat Movements. Gandhi's association with the charkha began in 1917, while he was staying at Mani Bhavan. Mani Bhavan is also closely associated with Gandhi's involvement in the Home Rule Movement, as well as his decision to abstain from drinking cow's milk in order to protest the cruel and inhuman practice of phookan meted out to milch cattle common during that period.'
In 1955, the building was taken over by the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi in order to maintain it as a memorial to Gandhi - and I wonder if they paid the family anything for this prime piece of real estate? It would be worth many hundreds of crores today!
I wonder what the family of Jhaveri seth feel about it now :)
Finally it was the day! We were off to the Kumbh Mela!
This would be my 4th Kumbh experience, and the second time that I would be going to the Allahabad - now Prayagraj - kumbh. The first time I went to the Allahabad was a truly life-changing experience for me, and I had very fond memories of the experience.
This time we would be going by train from Varanasi to Allahabad and staying in the Kumbh area itself. The UP government had invited hoteliers to create tented accommodation camps at the Kumbh venue itself, and had created a very spiffy Kumbh website as well. The individual tents were a bit expensive, so I had booked dorm beds for us for 4 nights.
Bharathi was very apprehensive about the whole idea - she thought the trains might be overrun by rampant crowds and the dorms would be a flea bitten mess. And she was not the one who had booked the tickets! Oh the humanity! She was professionally insulted!
'How dare you book tickets, you witless oaf?' she growled at me 'You are but a gnat or a cockroach compared to my glory!'
'But you only said that you will only book international tickets henceforth and India tickets are not worth your time!'
'Arre! Why should I book India tickets eh? I have seen all of India when you were still mewling and puking in your nurses arms! But how dare you book tickets? BE A MAN! Travel unreserved! Reservations are for wimps!'
Be that as it may - I should first put it on record that the Government machinery in UP has done an awesome job! Whether it's the bureaucracy or IAS or Yogi or Modi or BJP - kudos to all of them! I take my hat off.
Varanasi town and ghats were sparkling, the Ganga was clean and beautiful, and the Varanasi station was spotless! There wasn't even much shit on the railway tracks! The Indian railways is slowly but surely upgrading its train toilets from a hole in the floor to these fancy bio toilets which don't let the crap plop straight down on the tracks, but stores it away and treats it - and this has made a huge change to the stations. The train compartment was also clean and spic and span!
The train was late though. Oh well - I suppose you cannot have everything.
We took a rickshaw to the tent site, and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the camp and the dormitory. It was quite a large camp, with umpteen tents and at least 10 dorms. Each dorm had 2 toilet+bath in it, and they were clean and functional and completely non-stinky. The beds and bedding were also fine - comfortable mattress, warm quilts and completely bedbug free! And they were (comparitively) cheap. The camp had its own restaurant where they served ala carte and buffet food - a fancy buffet and a cheap functional buffet!
The next morning we were woken up noisy fellow guests playing loud devotional music and giving no fucks whatsoever for their fellow man. Indians can be real assholes. But never mind - we were at the Kumbh!
We quickly freshened up and went exploring. We were close to the sangam point where the Ganga met the Jamuna (and the mythical Saraswati) and we decided to walk it - but when we were approached by a boatman who offered to ferry us there, we thought - why not? A boat ride would be fun!
And it was! The waters of the Jamuna and the Ganga were extremely clean and looked really inviting - but too cold! Brrr. We decided to postpone the bath to the afternoon and just took a joy ride and got off at the Allahabad fort, where there is an ancient banyan tree. The legend is that in ancient times, pilgrims used to climb up this tree and jump down to commit suicide so that they would attain moksha! Akbar put an end to this by building a fort around it, and now its a Hanuman temple. I wanted to see it, but was scared off by the lines - it would take 3-4 hours in that line!
We walked all over the Kumbh area, looking for the famed Naga babas - but was disappointed to see that we were late and most of them had left already. The organisation of the Kumbh was really remarkable - full marks again to the government. Modi/ Yogi had really pulled out all the stops to make this a showcase event. It was so organised, that the real complaint was that it was over-organised! There were food, water and lodging facilities for pilgrims and loads and loads and loads of public toilets, which were regularly cleaned and maintained!
I cannot stress the hygiene of the place enough. It was a spectacular effort. There were enough toilets to cater to the millions and millions of people shitting and pissing out there. I remember the sad state of the Ujjain Kumbh when me and Bharathi had visited in 2005 - it was a huge mess. This was amazing.
I don't know why our news channels are not talking about this more - to have crores and crores of people visit a place - that too uneducated villagers with no sense of hygiene - and create an experience with no trash, no shit and piss, no outbreaks of illness, no stampedes and no security issues inspite of all the high profile VIPs visiting - is a most remarkable achievement. Great job! Well done!
The Kumbh area was so huge that we were all fagged out by the time we came back to the dorm. We chilled for sometime and then went back to the sangam for the holy dip - by boat. Boatmen had come from all over with their boats - our boatman was from Chitrakoot - 250 km away - and his group had rowed all the way! It was extraordinarily pleasant to sit in that boat and see the river, and the fort, and the bridge over the Jamuna, the hordes of beautiful white birds on the rive and the people lined up for the baths.
The bath itself was also amazing! The Ganga water was so clean! In spite of all the hordes of people around, the water was wonderful. I don't know how they did it - but I hope they keep on doing it. We were so refreshed by the dip that we decided to do several more dips.
This was the pattern of our stay there - we used to go in the morning for a boat ride and dip, explore the kumbh, come back and chill till late afternoon, go for a evening boat ride and dip, come back to the dorm to take a hot bath, have heavy evening snacks instead of dinner and then go and sit by the Jamuna river side when it got dark.
The main snaan day for us was Magh Poornima, when it was an auspicious day to take a bath. We had missed the major snaans - the Makar Sankrant and the two Shahi snaans - which was a great pity. That would have been a spectacle worth seeing! Chalo - next time!
We discovered that there were a few naga babas still around at the Juna Akhara, but it was their last day there. So we went hunting for them, and finally found them! So that was done too!
On our last day, we had a late night train from Allahabad station, so we took advantage of the day to take a look around the city.
I was again impressed by how clean the city was! The place was spotless, disinfected with boric powder, beautified by wall paintings, and was not at all crowded!
UP govt - take a bow.
We checked out the Allahabad museum - one of the oldest museums in India - and the Allahabad cathedral - huge and impressive, but unfortunately open only on Sunday and Anand Bhavan - the ancestral home of the Nehrus. There was a really nice photo exhibit on the life of Indira Gandhi, with superb B&W pics. Those old time newspaper photographers were real masters!
We still had time to kill, so we asked an autowala what to do, and he deposited us in the wonderful Chandrashekhar Azad park (formerly Company gardens) which is a real gem - one of the finest public parks in India!
Finally, we went to the station area and had some chicken after a long vegetarian stint. Delzad was tempted by some roadside rabdi - and this had some unfortunate effects...but I anticipate!
We had a day more in Kashi, and we originally planned to just veg out on the ghats and soak in the atmosphere and see the world go by. But just then I saw a sign at the hotel offering a taxi to Bodhgaya at a reasonable price.
I was instantly interested. I had been curious about Bodhagaya for a long time and this was a good opportunity to check it out. We closed the deal and left early morning by taxi. Getting to a taxi is an interesting experience here, btw - we were staying right on the riverside itself, and the only access there was through tiny labyrinthine gullies, where there was no question of a four wheeler coming through. Thus we had to walk through gullies and gullies till we got to the main road. I loved it - it was fascinating to see the life of Varanasi at such close range.
As it turned out, it was fortunate that we decided to go on a road trip that day - because it rained and rained. We were comfortable inside the car - but we would have been cold and wet on the river.
It was a long way to Bodhgaya - about 260 KM - and took more than 5 hours each way. The roads were amazing though - beautiful wide cemented highways - probably part of the golden quadrilateral. India Shining! Never thought roads in UP and Bihar would be so awesome! I would say that they are much better than Maharashtra roads! Inspite of heavy truck traffic - must be part of a great industrial corridor - we made good time and didnt get stuck in any jams.
At Bodhgaya the driver handed us over to an E Rickshaw guy, as petrol vehicles are not allowed to ply there. The E rickshaw took us to all the major points - the various statues, temples and monasteries built by all the Buddhist countries around the world. Japan, China, Korea, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Mongolia - there was even one from Bangladesh! The whole place was clean and neat and orderly.
The giant Buddha statue (Japanese) was clearly the main show - but each temple had its own nation specific charm.
The piece de resistance of Bodhgaya is the place where the Buddha went click, and said - Oh, I see! That is the whole point!
The 4 main points in the Buddha circuit are
1) Lumbini in Nepal - where he was born
2) Bodhgaya - where he said 'Aha! Eureka!'
3) Sarnath - where he have his first sermon
4) Kushinagar - where he copped it
As you can see - Bodhgaya is no. 2. He sat under a peepal tree and meditated till he saw the light, and that tree is called the Bodhi tree. The original tree is long gone - this tree is the 4th generation of that tree. There is an ancient temple built by Ashoka and various Buddhist kings in front of it, and there are many other places around....
the tree was where the Buddha sat, then there is a place where he walked around for a bit, then a place where he stood for a while, then a place where he took a bath, then a place where he....well - you get the idea.
Having come such a long way, the devotees want value for money, so they go around worshipping everything in sight.
The interesting part about Bodhagaya for me was the international range of devotees - there were faithful from Sri Lanka, Tibet, Nepal, Japan, Bhutan, China, Korea...all sorts...and also a handful of firangs. Each of them seemed to be praying in their own style, in their own language and with their own rituals. I found it fascinating!
There was a tibetan yagna going on, with a whole bunch of robed monks sitting and one guy rumbling out prayers in a very deep bass. There were some guys who were prostrating their way around. They would stand, then prostrate themselves, stand where their head had been while prostrating and then again take a dive! There was a whole bunch of people on a package tour from Sri Lanka - all looking like Indians...but not exactly. I smiled at them and they smiled warmly back.
It was a lovely place, and we spent a lot of time there.
So much time that our E rickshaw fellow was cheesed off. We were not allowed to carry phones inside the complex and had put them in safe deposit - and when I redeemed it, I saw 40 missed calls from the poor guy.
We had a bite to eat from a roadside rollwala and then left to get back - because it was a 5 hour journey back.
It was lucky that we left in time, because we got stuck in some ridiculous jams on the highway, and had our driver not gone off the road and into some really deep detours in deserted dark places where I thought he was going to rape and loot us - we might be in the jam still!
But alls well that ends well and we were back in the Palace on Steps and enjoying a last night looking out on to the Ganga.
We got into the Air India plane which had waited so graciously for bawa and he fell asleep almost immediately and probably dreamt of bawi temptresses, exhausted as he was by emotional tension, the unaccustomed physical effort of running in the airport and the mental trauma of getting shouted at by Bharathi SWMBO
Soon we were in Varanasi, and bawa didn't have to fly to Gorakhpur or jump with a parachute or sail down from Kolkata, so he was pretty chuffed with himself.
The airport taxi was a rip-off as usual, and I booked an Uber instead. Uber and Ola is the BEST thing that has happened to travel in India, and if any slimy government stooge or gunda political party tries to nobble these two services, then they will die of leprosy via special curse from me.
I was very impressed by Varanasi! This was my third visit here over the years, and I had never seen it looking this good! Wide roads, spic and span cleanliness, beautiful wall paintings - it was looking amazing. Yogi and gang have done an awesome job - Well done UP administration!
Bawa's brow furrowed, he sweated buckets, he held his head in his hands and he moaned and groaned. He was in a crisis.
I had just given him a choice - either we can go for a ride somewhere, or we can go to see the Kumbh mela and explore a bit out there. I had won a stay at a resort in Panna Tiger reserve as a prize in a photography contest, and wanted to use that and see new jungle. Also, Panna was very close to Khajuraho, and I had been eager for years and years to see the great temples of Khajuraho. I had tried to get Bharathi to come to Khajuraho but she just sneered at the thought of an Indian holiday.
'I have seen all of India when you were just pissing in your pants re...' she would say. 'Now I do only phoren holiday. I spit me on your feeble plans. How dare you make plans so late in the day? I have already made plans for 2019, 2020, 2021,2022....and you are making plans in Feb for Feb? Tchee...thooo...'
An ugly fat bawa was not the ideal companion to see the sensuous carvings of Khajuraho....but hey, he must have been thinking the exact same thing.
Anyway, I digress. What wasI saying? Ah yes...Bawa in an agony of decision, vibrating fit to burst... and finally he said 'Kumbh! Let's go to the Kumbh!'
'Oh?' I said, raising my e.b.s 'Really? Are you sure? You don't want to take your Thunderbird 350....or your Thunderbird 500....or your Triumph Tiger...for a ride?'
'AAAAAARRRGHHHHHHH' he shouted, like a strong man in agony. 'Noooooooo...we can go on ride anytime! But Kumbh comes once in so many years! We will go to the Kumbh!'
'Yeah?' I looked at him disbelievingly. 'In that case, YOU book the air tickets. So if you bail out, then you will pay for the tickets.'
'Gah!' he was stung, and immediately pulled out his credit card, like a duellist pulling out his epee. (No...not his peepee...epee is a kind of duelling sword) and booked off 2 tickets for Varanasi. (or Benares. Or Kashi. They are all the same )
I flapped around doing a lot of bookings for the trip, which much amused SWMBO. It was like a small baby playing with his doll kitchen in front of Gordon Ramsay. She looked at me indulgently and told me that whatever i was doing was wrong, and what was the need to do any bookings in India anyway, and it was so amusing to see people making bookings a week before travel - but it was good that I was doing something at least, and not sitting on my gargantuan fat butt as usual.
Finally the day dawned - D day. We were flying to Varanasi. Luckily it was not an early morning flight, so I had a relaxed breakfast, and Bharathi had ample time to tell me that I had overpacked and what was the need to carry such a big pack and that I was not carrying enough warm clothes and that I would freeze to death in the jungle and that I was WRONG WRONG WRONG...Oh, your taxi has come. Bye! Have a great trip! MUAH MUAH SMOOCH SMOOCH
I called up Delzad and told him to get moving! He is well known for cutting things extremely fine at the airport and rushing to the check in desk at the very last moment and demanding boarding and scaring everyone there.
'Chill dude.' he told me smugly. 'I got this. I am already in the cab, and might even be there before you, enjoying a cooling drink and flirting with the pretty ladies.'
'Yeah?' I replied, impressed. 'That's good. I have done a web check in for both of us and am carrying the boarding pass print outs.'
'Not required bro....but thank you kindly.' he said 'I shall reach well in time. toodle oo now....I am going to catch a refreshing nap in this taxi.'
'Tell the cab to come by bandra and not by SCLR...' I started to say, but he had already cut the call.
'Go by Sion Bandra and the highway' I told the Uber driver.
'But sir, Google is telling to go by SCLR Andheri...' he said
'Balls to Google. Google can be full of shit. They have dug up that road and the traffic is out of this world. Go by the highway.'
I put on my headphone and went into screensaver mode. The ride was uneventful and fairly soon we were at the airport.
I called up bawa 'Where are you dude? Should I wait for you outside to hand you the Boarding pass?'
This time his voice was tense and funereal, like a bandwala on the Titanic.
'No man....I am stuck in traffic...I am in deep shit.'
'Eh? Where are you?'
'Arre, I fell asleep in the cab and this idiot came by SCLR and we are jammed in traffic. I can't even open the door of the car, they are packed so close together!'
'Shit! What will you do now?'
'I don't know...You go ahead...I don't think I will be able to take this flight...Let me see what are the options.'
I went ahead and checked in and cleared security and made my way into the security well and called again.
'Where are you now?'
'I haven't moved much....'
'Why don't you move out of that silly road and move into BKC and towards the highway...'
'Listen... is Aurangabad in Bihar?'
'Eh?' the sheer inanity of the question caught me off guard. 'What?'
'Aurangabad...where is it?'
'Where...it's in Maharashtra of course. Ajanta, Ellora and all that...why?'
'I am getting a cheap flight to Aurangabad.'
I clutched my head. 'What?'
'Yes...spot ticket to Varanasi is very expensive. flight to Aurangabad is cheap.'
My head was reeling. 'But why would you want to go to Aurangabad?'
'Google Maps shows that Aurangabad is very close to Patna.'
'Abey IDIOT. That might be some other place. Some ersatz Aurangabad. Definitely won't have an airport. The fare you are seeing is for Maharashtra.'
'Oh really?' I could just feel him deflating like a Chinese balloon. 'Are you sure?'
'Of course I am sure. Anyway - why are you doing this? Call Bharathi and ask her for options. She will have a spontaneous orgasm at the thought of making a last minute travel itinerary and criticise you at the same time.'
After some time he called back, even more morose.
'Bharathi laughed at me.'
'Well...what did you expect?'
'Then she told me that the best option was to take a flight from Bangalore to Gorakhpur.'
'Yes...she said that I take an overnight bus to Bangalore and then catch a flight from Bangalore to Gorakhpur, then take a bus to Kanpur and then take a train from Kanpur to Varanasi.'
I started to laugh out loud.
'Don't laugh fucker!'
'HAHAHAHAHA HOHOHOHOHOHO HEEHEEHEEHEEE'
'Oh fuck off.'
By this time I reached the departure gate. It was now less than 20 min to the flight, but the gate was closed and everyone was just standing around morosely.
Hey, what's going on?
I went and checked and sure enough, the flight to Varanasi was delayed. Very interesting. I went and caught hold of the Indian Airlines guy and asked him. he admitted that the flight was delayed but we should be on our way in a few minutes.
'No no no..' I said and explained the situation to him. How long would the flight be delayed by? Was there enough delay for my friend to catch the flight?
The dude pursed his lips, unwilling to commit himself. But then he told me 'Look at it this way...the incoming flight has just landed. It needs to deboard passengers and luggage, get cleaned and serviced and then load all the passengers. Say half an hour. could be a bit more.'
Well! Looks like there is hope!
I called up Bawa 'Where are you?'
'I have just gotten out of the jam and am heading towards airport.'
'Listen...the flight is delayed, so if you can make it here - as in to the boarding gate - in under half an hour, you can still make it.'
The poor guy sounded like the guy with his head on the block and the executioner saying that he has to go and take a pee before the next chop. A stay of execution!
In the meanwhile Bharathi was in hog heaven, churning out idea after idea. Every 2 minutes she would call me
'Arre...Tatkal ticket available for Mumbai to Varanasi on train. only 8K.'
After 2 min. 'Arre... tell him to fly to Ahmedabad and then take train from Ahm to Benares'
After 2 min 'Arre - Tell him to fly to Delhi, open the emergency window and parachute down to Varanasi.'
After 2 min 'Arre...Tell him to fly to Dubai and take flight from Dubai to Benares'
After 2 min 'Arre - there is a horse and cart here...'
I had a relaxed cup of coffee, while the bawa nearly gave himself a heart attack sprinting through check in and security and what not. It's a good thing the CISF guys didn't shoot him or something.
But his karma was strong! He made it!
Gasping, purple faced, winded and mortally chastened - but he made it in time for the flight!
Just then Bharathi called.
'Arre - tell him to fly to Kolkata and take a boat to Benares...'
'No no...It's alright. He made it for the flight.'
'He did? Oh Damn! Er...that is to say... I mean...that's great!'
All praise to Air India! May they always be late at the right time!
Baba Vishwanath ka bulawa aaya hai! We are on our way to Kashi.
bawa showing off his boarding pass
Thank god for Air India. May they always be late.
Another monsoon Sunday! ITS TREKKING TIME! AND CYCLING TIME!
Delzad was out of town so this time I convinced Adi to join me for a trek. He was excited and scared at the same time.
‘My back is paining bro’ he complained, but I convinced him to come along – we will do a simple trek. I also wanted to do some good cycling, and after some research, decided on Kondana caves. I saw it in Harish Kapadia, and then read Ashutosh Bijoor’s amazing blog on his cycling trip there. As soon as I saw the photos I was hooked...what an amazing carved cave temple! I want to see this.
This would be the longest one way cycling trip yet – about 70 KM! Kondana was near Karjat.
I started at daybreak – about 6 AM - and set out on the Bombay Pune road. I had done Karnala earlier, and it was the same route till Panvel, where the highway split into the Bombay Goa road, and the Bombay Pune road.
It took me about 5 hours, but luckily it was cloudy and slightly rainy, and that kept the temperature cool. Adi slept off in the morning, and set out late – but that turned out to be a good thing, as it took him only an hour to reach karjat and he caught up with me as I was having some wada pav for breakfast.
I loaded the cycle in the Scorpio and we went off to kondivade village. This is also the starting point of the trek to Rajmachi fort.
After the trek to Visapur, Delzad was very enthu about doing more trekking. I was also enthu about doing some long cycling, and so I thought of Karnala fort. Its close to the highway, so easily accessible on cycle – and it was quite a nice trek – not too easy, not too difficult.
We decided to go on a Friday, so as to avoid the crowds. I would leave early on cycle, and Delzad would follow later in the Scorpio and we would meet at Karnala.
Home to Karnala was about 45 KM, which was not too bad but definitely not a pushover either. It would be important to focus on proper nutrition to prevent cramping. I carbed up in dinner, and carried some electrolytes and a couple of chapattis.
It took about 3 hours, and the only unpleasant part was the disgusting state of the Bombay Goa road – more holes than road. It was a nice climb up the Karnala ghat at the end of the ride and the Police guy at the gate was very impressed when he learnt that I had cycled all the way from Mumbai.
Delzad timed the driver perfectly and rolled up a few minutes after me, and we loaded the cycle into the Scorpio and locked it.
This Sunday I decided to avoid the cycle ride and do a trek instead. This was because Bawa - the actual owner of the cycle, from whom I have ‘borrowed’ it (wink wink)- requested me to go for a trek with him. As both of us could not fit on one cycle, we decided to drop the cycle and do only the trek.
‘But where shall we go?’ he asked.
‘Don’t worry re.’ I replied ‘I shall consider and decide on the day’ and spent Saturday evening watching ‘Deadpool’ and drinking a lot of Single malt whisky.
On Sunday morning we met up at Vashi, and had an excellent breakfast at a roadside idli wada stall along the highway. After reading ‘Trek the Sahyadris’ and consulting with SHE-WHO-MUST-BE-OBEYED I decided on Visapur fort.
Visapur fort had many things going for it – it was easily approachable by the expressway and NH4, we could bypass Lonavla city and avoid the crowds, I knew the way as it was close to Lohagad where I had been several times, it was a fort I had been wanting to visit for a long time, it would be much less crowded than the nearby Lohagad, and we could visit Sheetal da dhaba for an excellent lunch after the trek!
The easily findable part of it was crucial – as we were two navigation challenged people, who had managed to get lost and take the wrong turn on a single lane highway in Ladakh, and had reached all the way to Tanglangla pass before we realised that we were going the wrong way.
And sure enough, here also I managed to miss the turn to Malavali station inspite of having been there umpteen times, and had to take a U turn to get back on the right track. We drove past Bhaje caves and up the ghat and found the turnoff to Visapur. We parked the car there, and started walking.
It’s a Sunday – Let’s ride! Its the monsoon – Lets trek!
Lets do both- Bike and hike!
I tried to get She-who-must-be-obeyed to come for a trek, but she was still traumatised by the huge crowds at Tikona last Sunday and refused to come.
‘It’s a Sunday, and I am going to sleep!’ she announced. ‘I have to get up everyday at 6 to send your kid to school, and I need a break once a week!’
‘My kid?’ I said ‘I thought it was your kid...’ I broke off as a dangerous light came into her eyes.
‘If your stupid alarm goes off at 5.30 in the morning and wakes me up...I will find you...and I will kill you...after I finish cutting you!’
So I decided to go for a ride instead, and went through Ashutosh Bijoor’s blog for places to go to. I saw this post about his ride to Uran fort, and I was fascinated. I knew nothing about Uran except that it houses the new (well, not so new now) dockyard of Mumbai – the Jawaharlal Nehru Port trust – and is the place where millions and millions of trucks go to.
The idea of it being a historical place, with an ancient fort, fascinated me. I had to see this.
On Sunday I woke up bright and early (with a silent vibrating alarm, to save my life) and set out for Uran – about 45 KM away, via Vashi and Palm beach road.
I had attempted to go to Vashi earlier once, but I had been really scared by the very fast heavy traffic. It had been early in the year, so it was quite dark in the morning so visibility was an issue. But now I learnt that the trick is to avoid using the flyover, so that you can stick safely to the side of the road and out of harm’s way.
I crossed Vashi bridge for the first time on cycle, and was very amused to see the many people fishing from the bridge. They were very poor people and it was really basic fishing – they didn’t have a fancy pole or anything – just a plastic string and a hook. And there were so many of them! I wondered if they actually caught anything or this was just a way to get out of the house and away from the wife.
I turned on to Palm beach road, and really enjoyed that part of the ride. Nice wide roads, green and scenic, not much traffic – it was fun to ride on. I passed the huge Seawoods lake, and was amused to see a replica of Rodin’s ‘Thinker’ out there. I had passed by this place a million times, but had never noticed it before.
She-who-must-be-obeyed stood up and struck a dramatic pose, waggling her finger at me.
‘Today we shall go for a trek!’
I raised my eyebrows, and she immediately took that as an insult and scowled at me, and I rapidly lowered them.
‘I WANT COFF COFF...’ I waited for her to complete the sentence, but she only made a sound like a truck grinding its gears. After a second she continued. ‘I W ANT COFF COFF’ and again stopped.
‘Coffee?’ You want coffee?’
She just glared at me. ‘I WANT to go on a trek...coff coff. Cough cough’ Oh, she was coughing, and that frightening sound was her clearing her clogged throat.
‘Dude...you are not well...you are sounding like Ajit instead of Mona darling, and coughing away like a machine gun.’
‘Er...I mean...do you think that its a good idea to go for trek in the rain when you are down with a cold?’
‘tchah.’ She said. ‘Watch this.’ And she took a big breath, and growled ‘OK, all you germs...GET OUT!!!!’
And I swear, I could almost see all the germs, viruses and microbes rushing out of her body in sheer terror.
‘OK, let’s go.’
‘!@$#%@%%#(@ You STUPID SON OF A BLIND BAT! STAY IN YOUR LANE!!! @$$%&& GET OUT OF MY LANE YOU SLOWCOACH!!! #%$%*@#@ BLOODY ROAD HOG...WHO GAVE YOU A LICENSE??? #&*#!#^@@ TURN OFF YOUR BLINKERS YOU FOOL....’
This was me cursing at the traffic on the Expressway, because all the other drivers seemed to have taken an advanced degree in moronry with an additional elective of idiocy.
‘Dude...dont get so upset.’ SHE said to me. ‘You should be calm like me.’
‘Eh? Calm like who?’
‘Like me. Unflappable. Ice cold. In control of your self.’
‘Eh? Yesterday when the birds came and chirped at the window you cursed and threw things at them. One bird had a heart attack and died of fear when you glared at it. The dhobi still quivers and pees in his pants because you shouted at him for bringing the clothes late...and...’
‘Oh shut up. Be calm like me. See, once we get on the trek how calm and energised I will be. Everyone should trek in the Sahyadris in the rains. Everyone.’
‘@##@*@$T#@# THESE STUPID MORONS. #@$#@&~ HOW DID THEY DARE TO COME ON THE SAME MOUNTAINSIDE AS ME?’
Unfortunately for She-who-must-be-obeyed, it seemed that the whole of Mumbai and Pune had listened to her and decided to go trekking. SHE had chosen Tikona fort as our first trek destination this year because it was easy to reach and an easy climb, but it seemed that so had everyone else. There were vehicles lined up all over that narrow road, and huge crowds of first time trekkers caused traffic jams up the fort, and were making noise and generally disturbing the peace. It was like being at Dadar station in the rain. I was astounded, I had not seen crowds like this here ever.
‘@$^7#@ STUPID MANNERLESS BUMPKINS...MORONS...JAYWALKERS...HAYSEEDS....’ she was mumbling away.
‘Hey ...what about being unflappable and ice cold?’ I reminded her, but she only glared at me.
The weather was nice, it rained and soaked us, the mountain was green and the Pawna lake below looked wonderful. Tikona is a lovely little fort, with a lot of nice little sites – the entry gateway, the maruti bas relief, the water tanks, the Vitandeshwar temple on top, etc. It is part of the chain of fort in the Maval area – Tung, Lohgad, Visapur, etc. Its a very ancient fort – with traces before 07 AD – which makes it more than 2000 years old. It has changed hands many times over the centuries – the Nizamshah, Shivaji, mughals, Marathas, and then British. But by the end, warfare itself had changed, and Pax Brittanica made warfare obsolete and so all the forts became relegated to relic level. During the rains, it is a lovely place.
I blog about my travels - and the thoughts they set off! Sometimes the simplest destinations can be the most thought-provoking!