Kutch, the wildlife in Gujarat, tasty food, pleasant weather, smooth roads were highlights I wanted to cover in the magnificent state in December 2016. But, a family wedding and my recent trip to Ladakh didn’t make it feasible.
Then I thought it would be better to visit the Rann in a season where there’s no crowd around. Tourists spoil the essence of a place, they produce a lot of noise, throw plastic bottles, booze bottles and plastic wrappers around. Then there are babies in the crowd that cry all the time, probably because their mothers were busy clicking selfies instead of breastfeeding them. With so many distractions around, you don’t get to experience a place in the real sense since many factors around adulterate the original experience.
In order to avoid the crowd, I had to visit Gujarat at a time when pleasant weather was ruled out. The non touristy season begins in March and ends in October. Riding around Gujarat between March and June was suicidal because of the summer heat. Months June- August have too much rain pouring in, it literally flooding low lying areas. So, the most ideal non- touristy time to visit Gujarat would be between September and October. The temperature too would be moderate during those two months (that’s what I thought).
When summer arrived, I did have a slight inclination of visiting Maharashtra in the monsoons but again, that’s a popular time to visit that state, so I scrapped that plan as well. In the month of August, I began looking at the weather calendar every day, waiting for the rain bearing clouds to end the show. First week of September showed some signs of the rain fading away and by Sept 9, I had the green flag waving. The engine of my KTM Duke 390 fired up at 6.30 AM on 11 Sept and I took off to Pune.
Spanning a distance of approximately 850 kms, it usually takes me 12 hours to reach Pune. Leaving home at 6.30 AM meant I’d reach the hotel by 7 PM at the least. The weather was moderate and shiny, making the vast green landscape look prettier than anything I could think of. As the sun and clouds played hide and seek, I was motivated to do my job of remaining in a speed bandwidth of 90-110 kmph.
For a post monsoon period, the roads were superb, tempting me to twist that throttle further but since my lovely ride was nearing 60000 kms on the odo, I didn’t want to stress her out. Road conditions after entering the state of Maharashtra deteriorated slightly and a short stint of rain ahead had me waste time in wearing my rain gear on. Once I had crossed the ‘rainy patch’, a lot of my time was spent on photographing an Iridescent cloud that looked more like disc. I felt lucky to have encountered such a rare, vibrant saucer shaped rainbow of sorts. I went on to the extent of stopping after 10 kms and photographing it using my DSLR camera while it drizzled!
But, with the possibility of the rainy patch heading my way, I quickly shot a few photos and forced myself to continue the ride. It got dark pretty soon, say 6.10 PM and I still had about a 100 kms to go. I covered the century peacefully and made it to the hotel by 7.30 PM. Minor deviations in Satara cost me the extra time I guess. I was pretty hungry and with no recent long ride present on my calendar, my bums had to be re-seasoned. After a shower, dinner and a video call, I didn’t realise I slept all night with the lights on.
I woke up pretty early but was in a mood to do things slowly. I intended to bypass Mumbai because of its horrible traffic and pitiful road conditions. But if I left ‘peacefully’ to reach Vadodara, enter Thane by bypassing Mumbai, then it would take pretty long to reach. Since I don’t prefer riding for long after sundown, the only option I was left was to enter Mumbai in the afternoon and spend the night at my grandparent’s house, a joint family of 15 people. Thanks to to my previous endeavours, I’ve gotten over the phase of relatives telling me how dangerous motorcycling on Indian roads is. Since I’m not bothered by what they say, they now resort to taking pride in my rides. LOL!
I got my chain checked at KTM Baner since it was produced an annoying sound during aggressive throttle inputs. I was more sceptical and fearful of getting stuck in a traffic jam in Mumbai though, not to forget that it felt a bit warm because of the humidity in Pune itself. The temperature increased drastically after exiting Lonavala and by the time I reached Mumbai on the Andheri- Pune link road, my fears about traffic got real. I’ve said this before, entering and exiting Mumbai is like solving a puzzle, especially due a lack of proper sign posts. The Pune- Andheri main road was jam packed with little movement, primarily due to a zillion speed breakers and signals. I began to get dehydrated, despite sipping water from my hydration bladder. At one point, I got off near a Pan wala to wash my face but he refused to give water. So much for the spirit of Mumbai? Na, I wouldn’t let one guy represent the city. It’s stupid to do so, besides I really don’t believe in terming the mandate people follow to earn a living as ‘spirit of the city’. It’s psychotic to call someone’s struggles as ‘spirit’ or ‘zeal’. It would probably motivate a person to struggle more and take false pride in it instead of motivating a person to make life easier, simpler and more joyous.
I then pulled out my backup water supply from the tail bag to help myself. My head was pulsating and I had to chill for a while. When I started again, I noticed the Duke’s temperature guage shooting up quickly before indicating a high coolant temperature warning. The KTM 390s, radiator fan failure was quite a common issue and I had suspected just that. With the engine’s safety feature kicking in once the temperature crossed 100 degree Celsius by switching itself off, I had to stop many a times to allow the engine to cool down before riding for a kilometre or two and then stopping ahead. I did experience some relief on the way when the traffic opened up and allowed more air flow into the engine to keep it cool. But, the Metro rail construction project on the Western Express highway brought my pace down, thereby repeating the stop- cool- start- stop procedure. It took me longer to cover 20 kilometres in Mumbai city than to ride 90 kilometres from Pune to the entrance of Mumbai. Metro cities have never made sense to me, and most probably, they never will. I made it home by 6.30 PM and stood under the cold shower for 40 minutes. Phew!
I chilled in Mumbai for another day and rode off to Vadodara. The NH8 section of Gujarat was too good, especially after considering high amount of rainfall it received this year. A room was booked for me by my family friend and the next day, I took the Duke of KTM to the service station that was 10 kms away from the showroom (but why?). To my horror, the service center had a 57 vehicle backlog that had to be cleared so I couldn’t get my Duke back on the same day. It wasn’t the usual service that needed to get done, only the radiator fan, engine oil, oil filter and air filter needed to be replaced. I pressurised them through a bit of cop influence and the rest was done by requesting them. To my surprise, the senior technician decided to finish the job in a jiffy! A minor checkup was done by a mechanic I knew personally at his garage, called Pintu’s garage. After a two hour wait, I rode back to my room and prepared for the next day’s hike. Yes, hike!
50 kms from Vadodara lay a town called Pavagad- known for the shrine of Devi Mahakali atop the hill. Since my faith the goddess was strong, I intended to pay a visit. Vehicle parking lay at the bottom of the hill and from there, one needs to walk up the stairs and pathways for about 5 to 6 hours. If you intend to reach faster, you could reach the top in an hour through the rope way. With the motorcycle being out of my sight, I decided to not ride it from Vadodara at all. Instead, I opted to travel in the Government bus, reach the bus depot at Pavagad and take the local transport uphill.
I started at 9 AM and by 10.15, I had reached the foresty town of Pavagad. Lush Green leopard habitat lay around the hill as I sat in a jeep filled with people. The new found freedom felt nice though, I didn’t have to worry about my motorcycle, riding gear or about my luggage and all that I carried with me was a hydration backpack and some loose cash. Some comfortable hiking clothing and shoes ensured things remained smooth. View from the cable car was staggering but the kind of sounds it produced inside could’ve wasted a heart patient.
After reaching the top, a two kilometre hike took me to the shrine of Pavagad. The views were blissful while the clouds paid a frequent visit. While descending, I bought some items that my mom had asked for and then stopped at a snack center to have Dhokla and chai. My stomach and the weather demanded the hot Dhoklas. It took an hour to descend and get a bus back to Vadodara, such was the cable car queue even in a not so preferred time period. I was sweaty, smelly when I approached Vadodara in a bus and the heat ensured I kept sweating until I switched on the AC my hotel room.
After cleaning up and chilling for a while, I packed my stuff for the next day’s ride followed by lip smacking dinner with my family friends I was keen on seeing some Black Bucks in action the next day at the national park, despite it being closed for monsoon.