Some 30 odd kilometers from Pune, surrounded by lush greenery all around I pulled over the car and stepped out. The wind was light and so was the rain. It was drizzling across the landscape that looked more like a canvas of infinite shades of green, complemented by the lightness of the blue sky which stretched across the horizon. The usually barren mountains were covered with a fur of green that created relaxing visuals. Just then a rather screeching sound of disc breaks disturbed the tranquil of the situation. It was Amit, first of the two cyclists who had pulled up alongside the backup – vehicle dripping wet, which was a mixture of sweat and rain. Not far behind was Rahul, utilizing all his strength to gain lost ground. They got off their bikes to take some customary selfies but most of the time was spent admiring the beauty around. We had traveled our of the city where earlier we saw joggers, walkers enjoying fresh air that was unpolluted by vehicles plying to and from the city. A hot cup of “morning chai” being shared by young couples overlooking the beautiful backwaters of the dam, before setting out for the day.
We had left as a team from Chandni Chowk in Pune at 6 am. While the cyclist chose the route via NDA, I had driven down to the shores of the Khadakwasla dam backwaters for the first cup of Chai for the day. The scenes at Khadkwasla were mesmerizing. Decent amount of rains had filled the dam to its brim. This ride has graduated to an annual ritual now. Some call us insane for doing the same route over and over again, some just feel we should drive down in an SUV.
The ride is like a small (90-100 kms) ride on cycles – before we go on let me clarify that I have managed to skip the cycling part for the past two years and been a part of the support crew in the backup van. The virgin beauty and undisturbed scenes of the countryside are difficult to capture in cameras or describe in words, it can at best -“be experienced.” The colors change with the first few showers. Beautiful flowers of various sizes appear to peep from behind shrubs or atop treetops. Villagers dressed in colorful outfits dotted the serene green landscapes adding fervor to what nature had already spread out.
A few kilometers down the road we crossed a beautiful bridge. The stream was a small bubbly one tumbling over rocks and turning around subtle bends enveloping the fauna around. The bridge was old with cobwebs lining the sides. Beads of water droplets decorating the cobweb made it sparkle like a pearl necklace against the sun. The shining roads washed clean by fresh showers made the next leg of the ride look all the more appealing. We set out with the boys in the lead this time and me towing along not far behind. My aim was to ensure they both were in sight and I could respond if help was needed. The pace was set, the boys were clocking close to 25 kms to an hour on their bikes. The steep inclines were up ahead, that was the tough part. We decided to take one more quick halt to refuel water bottles and bite on some energy bars. Not to mention, the scenes around were mesmerizing. A small house with wooden door and window frames stood stoutly in the middle of lush green rice fields.
The rice fields were swaying with the wind as it intermittently picked up pace. An old man dressed in a white kurta and a soiled dhoti. probably out of working in the fields, walked with his stick tucked underneath his shoulders and behind his back. His eyes shone against the sun that played games with the green colors around. His eyes instantly lit up, when he saw me aiming my camera towards him. He wasn’t sure what I wanted. His look bore a blend of bewildered and astonished, just the right time for me to release the shutter and capture him forever. He kept walking with eyes filled with unanswered questions as he passed us and took a narrow muddy path into the grassy fields. The boys had their quick bites and took to the pedal. Heavy pedaling was the order of the hour for the next few kilometers. Puffing away Amit broke into the lead around the first dew bends. I stayed back to see them move ahead of me. After capturing a few crisp nature shots I decided to move ahead of the two and wait for them overlooking the winding roads of the mountain terrain. Sharp turns and inclines made me speed up the hill without stopping for the cyclists who were pushing hard at this point. Each pedal was a fresh fight gathering every ounce of energy and utilizing it to make the crucial move ahead. Sweat was dripping off the foreheads and muscles trembling to respond to the pumping heart rate.
I perched myself atop the hill, just short of the pass where the team had planned a routine stop to admire the nature. The mountain ranges looked magnificent as they stood mightily along the horizon. The view from top offered a vantage point overlooking the winding roads leading to the top and fields in the far distance. Just as I saw Amit push his way against the incline and pass by me in a few minutes, my eyes were trained on the road below looking out for Rahul who had fallen back a little. Amit signaled he would carry on and wait at the routine stop about half a kilometer ahead. A quick throw of egging words and I turned back to look out for Rahul. In a few minutes he appeared on the road below waving at me frantically. He needed help ! A flat tire. The last thing you would want on that leg of the ride. We hoisted his bike on the rack and took the curvy road up to the point where Amit waited for us patiently. The spot was a scenic spot that served hot chai and pakodas. A favorite among the passing crowd, people stopped and refilled their tummies along with enthusiasm for the rest of their trips and headed on.
We on the other hand had a job to do. The flat had to be replaced and luckily Rahul had a spare tire-tube on him. After an initial struggle and some expert guidance from Rahul, Amit finally managed to put his skill to use and get the tube into the tire and the tire back on the bike. We had lost precious time but it turned out to be a good leg stretch break for the boys. A few cups of chai and some pakodas later, the boys had put on some lost calories and I had put on some excess ones with free guilt. We spent some time capturing the beauty around us.
The scenes were surrounded by mighty forts of Rajgadh, Torna and Sinhgad. The sahyadris were intimidating to say the least. The mandatory shots at the one tree point were taken before we sped off on the next leg of the journey. The next leg was a beautiful tar road that made the lives of the cyclists easy. They had picked up pace and were covering quick ground making my job slightly tougher. The road was relatively busy with vehicles and small children returning from school. Happy smiles an frantic waves provided for an additional dose of motivation before the cyclists turned at a point for yet another round of hot chai.
Back on the road, the fun was just starting as we passed some local villages, green stretches of soyabean and rice fields. People stopped the cyclists to ask them where they came from and were taken aback when they heard the response. We were easily 50 kms or more into the ride when we decided to break for lunch. Lunch was pre packed from home and it tasted delicious. In no time we wiped off the goodies and gulped down some water to wash it down.
The last leg was going to be a busy road and would not provide a pit stop so we have to take one now. A quiet lunch and a mandatory chat by Rahul with the local villagers as little kids examined the bikes for their gear-chain systems had taken away a good twenty minutes. We were well past one in the afternoon and had about two more hours of travel left. Rain kept us company till we had reached our destination which was a blessing in disguise. To complete this ride on a sunny day would have challenges beyond imagination. The curvy roads gave way to intercity highway traffic which urged the boys to buckle up and stay attentive. Passing by some beautiful scenes like the Bhatgar Dam and brimming backwaters, we entered the city of BHOR, our final destination. A good 90 kms and over seven hours of cycling we were at the farmhouse to spend the rest of the evening in a way utmost deserved.
“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930), author of Sherlock Holmes
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