Amidst my Himalayan adventure, here I am taking a detour to present a recent story. This particular ride was intended to visit a friend living in a village named Bhillar, Panchgani. My visit to him was long overdue and since I didn’t have any pressing urgency to be at home, I decided for a ride to visit him.
I started at 9 am in the morning and reached Pune around 12. After fixing some issues pending with my bike I left from Pune around 1 pm and rode on the NH4 – also called the Mumbai Bangalore Highway. After 70 odd kms, I took the diversion towards Wai & then to Panchgani. Panchgani is one of the popular hill station in Maharashtra. The road to Panchgani from Wai is a narrow ghat section with a mix of sharp and gentle curves. However, having rode here a dozen times, it didn’t take me much time to gallop the 18 odd kms. I just love the ghat roads, it enables me to play my bike game which is leaning on the curves from the apex. My earphones sang the title song from the famous Malayalam movie – Neelakasham Pachakadil Chuvana Bhoomi. If you haven’t watched this movie, go do it right away. This one is a cult movie for biking aficionados. Some of you may need translations though.
I wanted to surprise my friend so I didn’t inform him of my sudden travel plans. Was not really a good decision, as it backfired. My friend had left for Chiplun (a town in the konkan region of Maharashtra) due to a demise of his relative. Seeing no sense in staying back I decided to make most out of it with a real ride. The wanderer mode had struck and I started digging deeper in the villages, exploring the outskirts of Panchgani which is free of tourists. Without an agenda, nor destination & even no suitable place to pitch my tent, I roamed like a crazy idiot. On the way I stopped and asked a villager “Where will this road lead me to?” He asked back “Where do you want to go?” And I said “Don’t know, I am just roaming around”.
He gave me the most suspicious look top to bottom and left without saying a word. I thought to myself “You idiot, that was the stupidest answer you could give to that question. Now run before he calls the cops & reports you or worst, returns with a bunch of villagers to shoo your crazy ass out”.
Never the less, I kept riding and after few unknown roads, reached a place with a picturesque view of water body. Voilaa, my dream come true. I arrived on the road running beside the and reached the shore. The lake had dried considerably, the land I was riding on was moist, coupled with spreading shrubs & nestled between the mountains, it gave quite a panoramic view of the lake.
It was 5.30 in the evening. I had just pitched my tent on a suitable flat surface when I saw a tractor coming towards me & headed towards the village on the other side of the road. He stopped and asked with a smile & a fine Marathi accent “Where are you from?? Alone?? Going to be here all night?? Wow”. I kept nodding my affirmations & asked him about the security of this place. He assured me that I shall be unharmed by human interference. He further added “If anyone asks, tell them you are my friend, Baba Thorve is what they call me”. Very delighted by this gesture, I thanked and wished him a good time ahead.
The sun had set behind the mountains and it was dusk had settled in. I had to arrange for provisions. Though sceptical of leaving my tent, I was left without a choice. I tied the tent with strings to the hooks nailed to the ground so that it doesn’t fly away. I rode back to a village named Mugaao where I found this stall selling snacks. They promised chicken curry in an hour. I took my time to check on my tent as found the wind too fierce. But my sweet home stood rooted to the ground facing the wind fearlessly.
I whiled away the time roaming around the lake listening to the sounds of night. Nature had decided to reward me, the full moon rose from behind the mountains and the night went from dim to bright to very bright. The mountains were reflected on the lake and needless to say I speechless. The moment was simply WOW, the kinds that stirred something nameless & deep in you, the kind that made you go from a wanderer to a poet in no time.
I rode back to the village for my dinner and the food, believe me, not exaggerating, was the best Maharashtrian cuisine I ever had. The chicken and roti lured my taste buds and I ended up eating 5 of them. The stall owner Mr. Milan asked me for rice. Seeing my hesitation for rice, he added the rice is not the ordinary one, and I should taste it to believe it. With my temptation risen, I asked him to bring it on. The aroma was distinct and appealing. Forget Basmati, this was real deal. I already made my mind to carry a couple of kilogram to gift my mom so that she can feed me this back home….Lol
I rode back to the lake and parked my bike. Placing my head over the petrol tank and my feet over the back rest, I laid on the bike looking directly at the moon. I wasn’t over the magical spell it had cast on me few moments earlier. The moon and me engaged in a staring match. Finally the moon got bored of my face I guess, it started moving upwards. Here’s a thing, if you stare at moon for few minutes, you can actually make out its travel path which otherwise is not visible if we look at it casually. After all the moon is undoubtedly the greatest traveller on earth.
I crept inside my tent, took my jacket as a pillow and closed the tent zip to block the strong wind raging outside. For few minutes I lay wondering, I am alone here, near to a huge waterbody and by huge I mean very huge, any damn thing can happen & even if I call out loud at the top of my voice, not a single soul will hear. The situation messed my mind & the lashing winds on the skin of tent freaked me out. In the middle of the night, I sneaked out of the tent to see if anyone around was messing with it but there was no one except me. When the unwanted paranoia fades the wonder of it all sinks in. Now again, I crept back in the tent with a different feeling. I had half a smile and relished my night with nature. Just when I was about to close my eyes, something started squeaking very close to my tent. It was a tiny bird; I could feel his presence on the top right end of my tent. Anyone can imagine my surprise as here I was overreacting about the night and the fierce wind and here there was a tiny bird giving me company as if consoling me. This was the drama nature played, I was a character who was lulled to sleep by the little bird. I recorded the birdsong and slept like toddler on his mother’s lap. Who needs playlist when my mother nature gave me the song.
The morning was cold and I strolled the shore of the lake warm with my jacket & bandana. The birds were taking a swim and few others were working up a tan, sunbathing on the shore. The rays of the early morning sun fell on the lake and everything looked like liquid gold. The mountains, the lake the soil all basking in the sunlit aura. I stood a long time taking up the scenes the finally loaded the bike and went to Mugaon to the same hotel I went the night before to get some help with charging my body & my cellphone. and body. The phone was put on charge while I brushed & freshened and took in the much needed Misal Pav and Tea.
Well as I told earlier in few previous posts, by now I enjoy making people jealous of my travel escapades. The previous night I had whatsapped few pictures of the moonlit lake to my friends. Atul and Jagdeep were so green with envy that they made an immediate plan to visit me. The things jealous friends do… they don’t let you do stupid things alone. And as for me since I had nothing to do but wait for them I decided to do the waiting while riding throughout the region & visiting more than 20 villages, with the mountains & birdsong still in my ears.
I rode around 100 kms to the interiors of the region, witnessing the diverse culture of Maharashtra. The perplexed look every villager gave me, assured me that people here are not used to seeing bikers. I love this because it raises their curiosity & makes them more keen to talk to me and conversing with locals about their village & way of life is something I love. Differences in places & cultures are good, they broaden your perspective. Luckily I have received only smiles and caring guidance everywhere including the route I currently am on, which goes to say world is not so bad after all.
I rode through the villages to the other side of the lake and went up the ghats that surrounded the lake to have a view from a considerable height. On the opposite side, lay the hills – Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar. I rode back down from the hills through the narrow curvy roads, took another diversion & wound up at a dead end. A villager told me there is no road ahead. Okay!! So back I go to the food stall and wait with all the patience I can muster for Atul and Jagdeep to reach. It was 1.30 pm & the sun was up so I wasn’t particularly eager to ride in the scorching heat anymore but my boys still needed another hour to reach, so I chilled at the hotel smoking and gulping down bottles of colddrinks.
When my friends informed their arrival at Wai, I rode down to pick them up. From Wai we left for Mugaao. I had already planned to welcome and surprise them with the most breath-taking view of the lake which I had discovered earlier and that view was from the wall of the dam. Until someone rode past the wall alongside the road that leads to the village, they won’t see the dam so my route made it possible that they get a surprise view of the dam and open into a vast panaromic view of the entire lake. Their expressions told me everything I wanted to know. Hunger & heat were taking a toll on us so we rode to the village & filled ourselves up with Misal Pav and Vada Pav. We enquired with the hotelier if there is any good spot facing the lake to lie down till the sun turned mild and he mentioned his own field facing the lake. Thanking him for this God send suggestion, we rushed to the spot. We laid down under a tree with a lakeside view & the breeze hitting our face gently. The moments were light, leg pulling was rampant, laughing and gossiping on the stupidest stuff was our norm but today the location of the place and the atmosphere we were in made it ecstatic.
By nightfall we were searching for a good place to camp. I didn’t want to camp at the same place I camped the previous night so we finalized a place just about perfect to overlook the lake from a short height. The tents were pitched and the time was spent in usual boy things which included laughing at anything & everything, insulting each other, gossiping about bikes and bikers etc. I finally got some scope of night sky photography on the camping spot. People have candlelight dinners, we had our moonlit dinner under the open sky. The moon was sufficient for us since our pupils were adjusted to this brightness and everything around seemed very much visible.
The early morning was hot & sunny even though the time was only 7.30. We woke up with the hot sun shining on the tent. Contented with a pleasant sleep overnight we packed our stuff, answered nature calls and headed out to our now regular food stall to get our share of morning tea. We planned to visit one of friends Sunil in Panchgani & that was exactly to where we left after tea. Sunil received us at his village and warm hugs were shared. We spent most of the morning chitchatting about the old days we shared with each other.
Sunil had started a new venture – Kingberry Wines. It was first of a kind venture in India which made…wait for it… Strawberry Wines. Panchgani is a hotspot for strawberry cultivation & my friend owns several acres of strawberry farms. Having the source of home grown strawberries, he started his own winery. We went for some wine tasting and got our minds blown with the quality and taste of the wine. Now the trivia we learnt was strawberry wine is the most difficult to make compared to the grape counterpart. It takes more than a year to process strawberries & it includes numerous filtration processes owning to the hundred minute seeds present in a strawberry. Apparently, 6kgs of strawberries goes into manufacture of one bottle of wine. That is too much to ask for.
We went to his factory outlet in Bhillar and tried some more fine wine tasting.
When in Panchgani, visit Kingberry Wines. You will find boards everywhere guiding you there.
Our goodbyes were marked with more food & promises to come over soon again. We rode westwards towards Mahabaleshwar apparently playing and swaying on the sharp curves from the dense forest road to Poladpur which falls on the Mumbai – Goa highway and the Konkan region of Maharashtra. The ghats seemed never ending and there was a curve after every 100 metres of straight road. We rode north from Poladpur and took a detour after 16 kms towards east again to ride on the Bhor Varandha ghat for 100 odd kms which ultimately led us to the Pune Satara highway. Reaching the highway, we headed north toward Pune. I did a quick check of my bike and gave it a much needed wash, thanks to the offroading and trails I did over the last 2 days. My impromptu ride ended in another 3 hours from Pune to Ambarnath but not before stops at Lonavla and Karjat for our special chai and suttas!!