For starters it wasn’t 400 km, more like 331 (give or take) if we have to believe Google Maps, but it sure felt like a helluva lot more than 400.
I reached the target on May 22, exactly a month after Majidbhai (The Faisal’s respected father) had called inviting me to the family homestead, but that wasn’t the first time I’d been invited. Khaled (The Faisal’s younger brother) had suggested several times over the last year that we should plan a ride down to their farm.
But as we know things happen when they are supposed to happen, and so it all came together when it had to. The circumstances were right, the timing as well, what with The Thakur clan deciding to go on a family vacation.
What an amazing experience it has been, notwithstanding the extreme heat, horrible stretches of non existent roads, necessitating a change in my game plan.
Plans are a’changin
As game plans go, the original, was to ride all the way down the West Coast to the town of Ratnagiri or thereabouts, and then cut over to the NH 66 and then on to NH 204. This was supposedly the longer, but more scenic route, hitting the pristine beaches along the west coast of India. Following this route would have meant covering a distance of appx 370 km, as opposed to the shorter route (mainly along the National Highways), which can’t be said to be scenic by any stretch of the imagination. A highway is a highway is a highway.
So that was the plan, but as plans go, they tend to change, as this one did, and how! Had I forced along the planned route, I would only have subjected myself to willing torture, what with the roads and heat. So I guess I decided to be more pragmatic (read chickened out), and changed the plan in flight.
Well I have two, bikes, (count three) if I include Kartikeya’s (my youngest son) Merida Hybrid, which I don’t usually count. Me on a Merida? Common, gimme a break! Not that I have anything against the Merida, but still.
So the tradeoff was between the two dual suspension bikes, the Iron Horse – Warrior Pro , a hard core downhill bike, with some neat modifications done by The Faisal @ Pro 9 Bicycle Studio (10 speed group-set, hydraulic brakes, thick tyres) and the Trek – Fuel (also dual suspension), coming in at around 14/15 kgs.
While the Iron Horse is an amazing ride and strides at a great pace once you push her to a steady gait, its a bitch to push on steep inclines, but boy does she hug the road when riding downhill, especially around the curves! She’s built for that after all.
The Trek on the other hand, is so much easier to push uphill, but takes a lot more rotations to keep her going on a flat, and you have to be that much more careful when cornering at breakneck speeds. I did touch around 60 kph on some stretches. Sheer exhilaration!
That the terrain is not optimal, and I’m going to be climbing quite a bit, I settle for the Trek – Fuel. And a wise choice it was, else I wouldn’t have made it as far as I did. My calves and thighs were taut in any case 🙂
Backpack & Contents:
I’m going to be on the road, two maybe three days, so was essential to ensure that I was carrying everything that I needed for this adventure. Not to forget, that its most certainly going to be hot, and its a simple case of HYDRATE or DIE, so 3 liter water bag, and the twin bottle-holders mounted behind my saddle, duly filled with that most precision of commodities – WATER, and a suitable amount of electrolytes.
Spare tubes – check, toolkit – check, cleaned and oiled chain – check, dry lube – check, tail and head lights (with extra backups) all charged up – check (not that I was planning to ride at night, but when you’re on the road, you never really know), power bank for phones – check, route duly plotted – check, potential overnight stop over points – check, mosquito repellant – check, bare essential toiletries – check, dryfit gear – check, sunblock – check. This is the pre-flight checklist, else its a no go. You get this gist? Its a whopping 10/12 kgs on my back, not something I really want, but can’t really do without.
I’m geared for the long ride and adventure ahead, so Castelli tights, Endura jerseys, body hugging dry-fit underneath, compression bands on my legs and arms, gloves, bandana round my neck, another on my head. Each is with thought behind it, especially the compression bands to lessen the muscle strain on rough roads, and the bandana’s to keep the heat off the neck and head. I’m a bit bald, see? The skin tight drifit? Well to keep the perspiration off the jersey. Did I mention the helmet with the built in UV shades? They don’t just look cool.
Part of the plan was to do three sessions a day, each of 3-4 hours, give or take, 5 – 8 am, 9 – 12 noon, and 3 – 6 pm. But I ended up doing 2 sessions a day, albeit longer runs. You can’t just ride 3 hours and stop! You need to ensure that there is a logical stop location, to cater to rest, refuel, and stay the night.
Maps, Way Points, Distances, Speeds, Road Conditions, Weather Conditions
Blow By Blow Account, Thoughts, Experiences
Peeps you asked for it, well a lot of you did, so don’t complain about the detailed narrative that follows. Besides this is just not for the cycling (and non-cycling) fraternity, but for myself as well. As I write, I relive this amazing adventure!
Friday, May 20, 2016 – Day 1
My track record of getting onto the dammnnn ferry at Gateway is not exactly good, and so true to form I get the 8 am ferry to Mandwa, as opposed to the 6.15. Why is that not a good thing? Its the heart of the summer, and the heat is scorching as the day progresses.
The original plan as I’ve mentioned was to get to Harnai Beach down the coast the same day, and push on, such that I reach target destination by the end of day 2. Simply put that didn’t happen, and only made it as far as Harihareshwar by the evening on day 1, a full 56 km short of the plan. It’s another matter altogether that I didn’t make Harnai at all. You’ll see.
I only managed to reach Kashid around 12.30/1 pm, and the minute I got off the road, took to much needed refreshments. The only breakfast I’d had was cold lime juice and poha….keep in light buddy, you don’t want to be throwing up due to a full stomach, and the heat.
Hydrated like a fish, a very light meal, and hammock snooze later, and I’m steeled to continue, but not before I put in a video-log of the progress thus far. Enjoy looking at my ugly mug and listening to my sexy voice :), or so I’ve been told.
The route took me from the comfortable hammock at Kashid Beach to Murud, up a fairly good incline, passing the Nawab’s (erstwhile ruler in a bygone era) dilapidated palace en route, overlooking the coastline. No wonder that….must cost and arm and a leg to maintain, and no privy purses post the Indian Independence :). It’s the perfect palace to convert into an upscale resort, and I’m wondering why that has not yet happened.
I arrive at the turn off at Murud, which takes me to the jungle jetty at Agardanda. Now this Agardanda is a good 9 km from the turnoff at Murud, but getting to the jetty is not exactly fun. You ride on and on through Agardanda, making the distance around 14 km, on roads designed specifically to test the linkages (my anatomy isn’t the best) of muscle to bone, and all manner of tissues in between. The road itself, is actually more like a trail, with dirt, gravel, stones and wide cracks in the road, therefore the jungle jetty bit kinda sticks.
Some cool refreshing sugarcane juice en route and I arrive at the jetty with perfect timing as there was a ferry unloading, just waiting for Mr Nagar to get on.
Exploring the country, off the beaten path, though arduous at times, almost always has its rewards. I discover that this Dighi Port ain’t some small fishing village port, but is capable of taking in fairly large sized vessels….not sure if it’s ship repair or ships waiting to be scrapped, or just loading bauxite. The ferry was also quite a surprise, as I was really expecting a small boat barely capable of taking my cycle and a few passengers. Au contraire, it is pretty well sized, and capable of taking on several cars, mo’bikes and a truck or two, apart from quite a few passengers.
The ride across to Bagmandla is about 30/45 minutes, and I’ve taken the time to kick my shoes and socks off, hydrate, splash water on my face, neck, rather hot bald head, and finally soak the bandanas in water before I don them again.
I’m off the jetty like a jackrabbit, meaning to ride hard and fast to Harihareshwar, by now knowing that the stretch target of Harnai Beach is just that, a stretch. Ride hard yes, ride fast, well let’s just say, not so fast. Pretty steep inclines, more of really bad roads, designed to test the dual suspension Trek, and of course I just have to mention the rattling of my skull bones. There are some pretty good downslopes but the roads are bad. Nevertheless, I throw the bike down the slope, wary that putting a wheel wrong will only mean pretty nasty cuts and bruises and perhaps a few broken bones. The Trek took the punishment like a pro, but nothing compared to the metal beast, the good ole’ Iron Horse. I missed her sorely at such times.
It was a “dammed if you do dammed if you don’t” thing….dammed if I’m gonna ride the beast up the slope, but equally wishing that I had her when riding down. Guess as much as we would like, we can’t really have it all. Now to find a bike that is light enough to climb with, but smooth on the rough downslopes. Something I’m seriously looking out for, cost be dammed. If I’m gonna being doing this time and again (as I surely am), I’m gonna need such a geometry.
The really bad part of this leg, was the fact that there are these dumpsters carrying bauxite from the mines to the jetty, and they don’t let up, and they just don’t care if you are on a teensy weensy bike. Finally, it was getting dark, and rather than risk riding at night with these monsters threatening to extinguish one’s existence, I decide to find suitable means of transport to get me to the Hotel where I’m gonna put up for the night.
Finally, I get to Harihareshwar, log in at this place called Harihareshwar Beach “Resort” (don’t make the mistake of staying there at INR 2,500/- a night), well after the sun has set, and all I now need is a hot shower, and some real carbs, to take me through to day 2.
Saturday, May 21, 2016 – Day 2
Day 2 of my adventure sees me up around 8.30 am or thereabouts. Now that doesn’t exactly leave me time to get on the beach, or go for a swim or anything other than get my ass in gear, and get on with the plan for day 2. But, as is my wont, I get in a few pictures …. can’t let the public down.
Fortunately, the ride to the jungle jetty at Bagmandla is a mere 4 odd km, and the roads are acceptable….perhaps I’m just used to the road conditions by now 🙂
The ride to Bankot across the water is pretty short, but I had to wait for at least 45 minutes on the jetty, roasting in the sun bearing down on me like its going out of style.
Now, this is where I think I made a wise decision, but I didn’t think so at that time. This is where I decided that if the roads, the killer inclines and the heat are all conspiring against me, perhaps I need to use some self preservation strategies. Namely reroute and get on to the NH network. Question is, can I? Is it too late? How far? How many km am I going to be adding? Valid questions ovot???
There are some pretty helpful truckers at hand on the jetty, and they look at me like I’m pretty daft! Where have you come from? Bombay!!!!???? They were like, you look like you can afford it, take a car dude! Anyhow, I explain to them, that this is my passion, and torturing myself is my favorite pastime, but for some strange reason, they are not buying this explanation. Waeva dude, have bike – will ride, you drive your trucks, no quarrel with you.
So the rerouting happens, and I am now making my way to Mandangad, via the steepest inclines encountered, and perhaps the longest ones on this ride. It can, of course, be my head affected by being in the sun too long, boiled to a crisp.
The roads, not too bad, I would even say really good on some stretches, but this stretch had me questioning of there is a God, he should put me out of my self inflicted misery. As I looked on ahead, all I could see was curve after curve, with no respite in sight, and when I did hit some flat stretches, they were far too short-lived for my liking. Were the truckers just having a go at me (having read the thoughts that ran through my head), and deliberately misled me? Nah! I don’t think so Sumir, why would anyone do that? Would they? Well, let the record reflect that they didn’t. Their advise, not to proceed down the coast and cut over to the NH, was compassion itself, and I’m sorry I doubted them, even fleetingly.
I hit some really fast downslopes and this was encouraging, not to mention that kept me cool, but when the final section ended, and I looked up and saw the snaking route up the hills to Mandangad, my heart sank. I thought I was gonna cop out, and even stopped for 15 odd minutes. I say 15 but it could have been a lot less, as my feet burnt up on touching the terra firme, and the soles of my shoes kinda merged with the molten tar.
This is what went through my head. Sumir, you make a big fuss about doing this trip solo, in this weather, at this time of the day, taking this route. And not only that, you friggin’ went and publicized it! Do you really have a choice, except to go on, or do you want to be called chicken? Fearing for my macho reputation was probably the most motivating factor, albeit via the route of negative discrimination. In the final analysis, I had to do it for myself, reputation be dammed.
And so, I finally made Mandangad, at around 1.30 pm, found this little shop and just sat myself down, rehydrated, recouped, and prepared to get myself to Chiplun via Khed. Sounds simple, afraid it’s not as it sounds. This route boasts of the famous Kasheli ghat, and this is what I am going to contend with, and so I prepare myself mentally. Truth be told, it takes me at least an hour to get back on the road, and finally I’m on my way, the final dash to Chiplun.
This stretch for some reason was not as taxing as I thought it would be, and the climbs though in the extreme category, didn’t daunt me. Fortunately on this stretch it was a case of balance, and what goes up must come down (this law of geography worked in my favor), and I attacked the downslopes with the greatest of zest, made the most of them, and made really good time, arriving into Chiplun around 4.30/5 pm. At Chiplun, well not exactly Chiplun but a few km outside Chiplun at a place called Shri Kshetra – Lote Parshuram, where the famous Parshuram Temple is located.
So the choices on places to stay were pure and simple, The Taj Gateway Riverview Resort @ INR 8000/- a night, versus INR 1,400/night. Price being the driver here, I wasn’t disappointed one bit, in fact delighted. Amraban Nature Resort, located bang next to the plush Resort, is value for money, with friendly owners, friendly staff, and the most delicious homemade thali for dinner, not to mention spacious and clean rooms. Guys, check this place out, really good.
I must ‘fess up that I did grab a quick bite at the plush resort next door, just for old times sake.
Ride, Eat, Sleep, Rave (no Rave though), Repeat, and thus I get dinner and crash, but not to miss the video log update.
Sunday, May 22, 2016 – Day 3
Its too early for breakfast, so I’m kindly served nice masala chai at 5:45 am, and before I know it I’m on my way again, but not before cleaning and oiling my chain.
Now this stretch from Amraban into the town of Chiplun is one joyride, an amazing, long downhill stretch, and its the perfect way to start the final leg. Not that it was downhill nor flat all the way. I did encounter the long, long climbs, but I’m off to an early start so the sun wasn’t as vengeful as the last two days. Yet, I’m drenched from head to toe, and I did get a chance to get some amazing lime juice at this random stall at the top of one of the long uphill stretches. At INR 10/glass there was room for 2 glasses, and barely a dent in the old pocket.
This followed an amazing long downhill stretch where I hit 55/60 kph. Superb, is all I can say to this. Of course, the long climbs are ‘awaitin and up up and up we go once more, and around 17 km from Sangameshwar, I just have to stop and get my breath back, do some stretching, as I had been doing all along. Prevents the lactic acids from building, you see, and this is a preventive technique to avoid muscle fatigue and cramps.
This is pretty much the last climb, and en route I get a call from The Faisal, who determines my whereabouts….. I had told him to look out for me between 11 – 12 noon, and I was just a little ahead of schedule. As I approach Sangameshwar, from where The Faisal’s place is around 60 odd km, we talk again, and all Faisal has to do is mention that he will meet me half way, spontaneity kicks in and I gladly say yes. Cheating? Surely yes! But I’m not ashamed. I’ve navigated the worst possible roads, done extra miles, some pretty daunting inclines, and so I’m not disappointed at all.
In hindsight, I should not have succumbed to that offer to be picked up ahead of the target destination, as there were beautiful favorable inclines all along the route.
I plonk myself at this dinky little roadside eatery, drink aerated water to my hearts content, and await the arrival of The Faisal and his merry band, comprising of Khaled, and the kid Mohammad and the little Abu. It is an hours’ wait, and then they arrive, hugging and patting of backs in camaraderie all around as they arrive.
The time spent waiting is not wasted, and is put to use for my final video log, here goes….This one is short, I’m pretty beat by now.
We make a couple of stops for some cold kokum juice, much refreshing, and sorely needed. The pick up party is thoughtful, and as they mount the Trek on the rack, I’m handed a big box of water melon and musk melon, perfect for the road warrior.
The Thakur Homestead
We arrive at The Thakur Homestead at around 2.30 pm, and I’m warmly welcomed with hugs and pats on the back by Majidbhai and Shakeelbhai (Faisal’s older brother – Abu’s father). Majidbhai reminds me that it is exactly one month ago, that he called me from the village, inviting me to visit.
I quickly shower, gobble the lunch served, and nap for an hour or so, and around 4 pm, I’m driven around the town, and to a beautiful vantage point a ways down the road to Kolhapur.
Back to base, tea is served with crumpets, and tidbits and come sundown, things become quiet in the village, and we go to bed pretty early as compared to Bombay.
Its a lazy morning, and the plan is to visit a nearby hill station, but that goes out the window, when I announce that I need to get back to the metrop ASAP, some developments at work, demand my presence.
So we run around a bit, and Khaled, Abubhai, Mohammad and I drive down this really steep incline, to the riverside in the village below. Beautiful, simply beautiful, so tranquil. Plucking and eating wild berries fresh off the trees on the way up, is simply a treat!
Lunch is served, a nap follows and at around 4.30 pm, its time for me to leave. Majidbhai, Khaled and The Faisal drive first to Pali, then to Hathkhamba, and finally to Ratnagiri, to wrangle a cheap ride home.
The Thakur Hospitality
What can I say, except not stop talking about the Thakur hospitality. Majidbhai, epitome of humility, of affection and selflessness, even washed my clothes on the sly! I’m just humbled. I can’t not mention that I was gifted 2 whole crates of mangoes, cashew-nuts, and what not! I wasn’t allowed to lift a finger, treated as an honored guest, and the icing on the cake, is the fact that the entire family abstained from eating any form of meat, fish, chicken, etc in deference to my choice of diet. This completely blew me away, deeply touched, and won over forever.
Thanks in Order
I think I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the constant flow of messages and calls in support of my quest. Juhi, Kavita, Sandeep, Bhavin, Veer, Rufina, and many others, too numerous to mention. Thanks guys, would be happy to take you guys along at some point in the near future. These are adventures worth embarking on. They surely test you but define you as well.
I’m back at work, back to the grind, and can barely wait to take up my next challenge……Keep you posted.