I still can’t believe I did what I did – cycle in Mahabaleshwar, of course that by itself is no big deal but riding down the picturesque ghats covering approximately about 40 km from an altitude of 4370 ft above sea level and the high point being a stretch of 11 km nonstop descend with the valley on your left and the hills to your right at an average of 40 - 45 km/Hr surely is.
It is strange how things fall into place and shape up to become memorable experience (but guess one can say this about most things in life). When Faisal and Zubair had mentioned the downhill ride in passing a month ago, I had mentally made a note to make sure I would participate. Personally Hill stations outings is not my cup to tea, but cycling in Mahabaleshwar and the riding downhill – wow – anytime.
This experience belong to 11 cyclists from Andheri, Bandra and Goregaon; some veterans, some regulars and some rookies; the youngest being 23 and the fittest being 53 (no pun intended for David a competitive cyclist barely broke into a sweat while we were huffing and puffing) and the others in between. Were we known to each other - not really – but we were all Cyclists looking forward to that one ride...
BKC Bandra was where we dismantled and loaded the bikes on the bus. Some learning the ropes, some tying the ropes J all in all between the veterans and the rookies the bike were secured and we began our ride of 300km to Mahabaleshwar - it was 11:00pm. The journey was fun in itself – PJ’s of all kinds were shared we had FJ’s as well (Faisal Jokes). Kenneth was all charged and sang numbers one after another with Bang Bang Lulu being the popular demand J. Around 03:00am most tried to catch up with some sleep, Zubari the overzealous organizer stayed on guard.
We reached Mahableshwar around 6am and took up a room to freshen up. For some strange reason the boys seem to be over excited to be dressed for the occasion and most had got on an average three pairs of change for a 24 hr trip – no Kenneth, Amit, Faisal I am not indicating anyone in particular J - guess boys will be boys.
We then did some short rides before breakfast – at the start of all our rides we would have the routine huddle where Faisal, Zubair, Amrish & Rishu would reminded to maintain speed – not to get carried away and ride recklessly – avoid overtaking – watching traffic – signaling – warning riders behind you and also designate riders who would be leading the group and who would stay behind.
On our second short ride we had a small mishap where one of the cyclists skidded on some gravel. Fortunately it was minor bruises and after the immediate first aid as a precautionary measure we took her a hospital for dressing and the tetanus shot.
Breakfast was at Majestic – it was delicious. Veg burgers / double omelets / masala omelets were the order of the day. Fed and rested we started on our ride of 16km to Panchgani. Cycling through the ascent and decent, enjoying the view of the Sahyadri Hills all around – the valleys – the lake – the greenery – the red soil – it was amazing like poetry in motion ;) The weather was pleasant and we also had the good fortune of having overcast skies. We kept an easy pace and halted as required to avoid big gaps between the first rider and the last.
While at Panchgani would anyone miss the strawberries and cream so Mapro garden was an obvious halt. The cycles and our gears attracted quite a bit of attention and we even had the request for photographs (David was skeptical whether they would appear in some tabloid J
After filling our bellies with Strawberry cream and ice creams and making purchases of syrups, jams and all the good stuff for friends and family, we proceeded to the Panchgani Market – by now we were all itching for the downhill experience. With the routine warnings in place we began – for some reason it was false alarm and boy of boy we still had to cycle 3 - 5 km before the final descend began.
And then suddenly, we were zipping downhill in pregnant silence as we realized - This Is It! The peddling stopped – the speed increased - in a single file we were all going downhill - you knew right then you were experiencing something very special.
Amrish spotted a large plateau and mentioned it would be interesting to take a short halt – unfortunately most had proceeded and could not be called back. It was a wonderful view of hills all around but the plateau you are on and also made a good photo op.
We then continued on the nonstop downhill ride – it is difficult to key such an experience. It was a wonderful mix of visual beauty and sheer thrill - imagine the high hills to your right juxtaposed with the steep drop of the valley to your left. The view of the farms and foot hills below, carved rocky hills by the side and hills that we had just left behind was a 3 D experience totally out of this world. The wind blowing in your face - the miles being eaten up in good speed - was an experience which you could only hope would last forever. On an average we were doing 45km/Hr with a max of of 50km/Hr for my pack – Some went up to 55 - 60 km/Hr, even over taking cars and trucks.
It is amazing how matured and responsible cyclists are especially the more experienced ones. They are always on the lookout for you – I remember Saurabh telling me to keep left a couple of times when he saw I was out of line. David not one to talk much kept his role of keeping behind the slowest rider. Zubair / Faisal were generally the mother hens keeping a look out for their brood. I guess an experience like this makes you take matured decision as a lot is at stake if you don’t comply.
At the foothill we met with the rest of the pack and decided to cycle a further 11 km to SH 4 towards Satara before we loaded the cycles back. This last stretch of cycling in the heat was the endurance ride. Unlike the downhill ride every km was an effort but totally worth it. Towards the end I was counting every km we passed. Have to say hats off to Amit and Rohit who were new to distance cycling - they did not give in to the temptation of loading the cycles and taking a more comfortable ride in the bus.
Finally we were at 11 km SH 4 mark - we had done approximately 68km of cycling over a period of 6 Hrs (including all the halts) . Washed and refueled we dismantled and loaded the bikes. Generally where ever we went we found a lot of curious bystanders – guess this is a part and parcel of being a cyclist – just hope that we are able to inspire people to take up cycling it will definitely make a fitter and cleaner planet.
Famished our next stop was for lunch so to say as by the time we found a place it was 6pm already. Around 25km before Pune is a dhabba cum restaurant called Joshi Wadawale they serve amazing thali with Jowar roti – it was a good meal so did people enjoy their batata wada and missal pav.
The trip back was comfortable with the regular camaraderie, joke sharing and picnic songs – Kenneth the next time we will figure a way to accommodate for your guitar and hopefully most will be able to accompany you for the Bang Bang number. After a stop in Khandala we reached Bandra around 09:30pm. By now people knew the routine of unloading and put together the bike in good speed. Though we were exhausted the Andheri folks (Amrish , Rishul, Amit, David and me) still had miles to go before we slept J so after saying the byes the five cyclists began their final lap. 11:00pm I was home safe, happy, exhausted and proud of myself – I am sure most were as it was then that the achievement of the day sunk in.
Now for the vote of thanks J A big thank you cyclists.in, many thanks to Faisal and Zubair for making it happen, Upasna for being a good sport and making the most of the trip as best as she could and the final cheers to all who participated – Amrish, Rishu, Saurabh, Amit, Rohit, David and Kenneth as Zubair had mentioned without participation of cyclists such as us, event such as these would not be a success.
* Have made some changes as per updates from David 01:00pm Mar 16
P.S: This is an old blog which I have just uploaded... hope to do these kind of rides soon