Three For The Road: Short Biking Trips To Escape The City
Last year, over the four months of the monsoon, my boyfriend and I took any chance we got to escape to the delirium-inducing green of the hinterland. A car may seem like a more obvious choice for a rainy road trip. But because we had no car, his Royal Enfield Classic 350cc served as our steed. Believe me, once you’ve given yourself over to bike tripping, the road offers up sweet and unexpected rewards.
It’s quite a trek to the top of Kalsubai, the peak named according to a local legend after a harassed daughter-in-law who, to escape her marital home, climbed to the top and disappeared. The route is well marked, however, and there are steep iron ladders over the tricky bits. These are broken in places though, so carry first aid. On any given day, you will find a number of people attempting the three-hour ascent (when we went we even encountered a group of school teachers who had been misled about the length of the trek, and were struggling to cope with their wailing charges). Yet the sheer size of the highest peak in the Sahyadris means you will mostly have quiet along the way. There’s a temple, dedicated to Kalsubai, at the top, but it’s the spectacular views that will really restore your faith (if you’re a believer). You get an unbroken view of the Bhandardara dam and miles of green as far as the eye can see.
Distance: Kalsubai is about 152 kms from Mumbai on the Mumbai-Nashik Highway. It took us around four hours to get there with breaks.
How to get there: Take a right from Ghoti towards Bhandardara. After you cross Khed, ride for about 20 kms until you reach a village called Baari (ask, because you might miss it). You can park in the village. The villagers will help you with directions and there’s a chai shop – ask locals to point you to where it is – run by two brothers who will be happy to arrange for tents and food at the top should you decide to stay overnight.
Where to take breaks: We recommend making this an overnight trip as the climb and descent will wear you out, making the ride back without a rest more of a pain than a pleasure. If you don’t want to camp on the peak, descend and travel to Bhandardara, which is about half an hour away and where you can find room in an MTDC resort or a small hotel.
When to go: The monsoon is great of course, but November to February is lovely and windy for this kind of trek as well.
Beware: Monkeys on the iron ladders. They’re likely to leave you alone if you do the same. Come down before nightfall or risk losing your way.
Like a treasure hunter who has squirreled away a precious stone, the boyfriend was reluctant to give up this day trip to the internets. The Bhavali Dam area is a scenic gem of mirror lakes and a gentle waterfall. When we arrived there, we found that a small landslide had blocked the road to the lake, so we parked the bike and hoofed it over. We spent the day by the waterfall. You won’t find shops or the like anywhere close by, so take a picnic lunch with you. We filled our daypacks with water, chips and homemade pâté and had a lazy lunch watching birds skim the polished surface of the lake.
Distance: Bhavali Dam is about 167 kms from Mumbai on the Mumbai-Nashik Highway. It took us around four hours to reach with breaks.
How to get there: About 2 kms after Igatpuri, take a right and keep riding for another 4 to 5 kms until you reach a tiny hamlet. Go past that and you will come upon this breathtaking body of water.
Where to take breaks: Stop at the more popular Vihigaon waterfall on the way. When the monsoon is at its peak, adventure sports nuts get a kick out of rappelling down it. On the way back we took an alternative route through the fields and came upon a garden about ten minutes from the dam. We jumped the fence (there’s an actual entrance way on the other side) and climbed to a lookout point from where you can see trains chug along a railway bridge across Kasara ghat.
When to go: Now! Before it’s destroyed by holiday homes and busloads of chaddi-banyan-wearing gangs. Word is that MTDC plans to turn the area into a ‘tourist spot’ replete with a garden and amusement park.
Beware: Traffic on the way back. Once you get there you will be tempted to linger over the sunset. If you do, then you’d do well to stay overnight in Igatpuri.
About 4 kms from Ganpatipule lies a little-known stretch of beach called Malgund. The sea is relatively calm, but watch out for a few rocks. We stayed there in a small sea-facing resort called Tranquillity. When I say ‘resort’, I really mean a small group of cottages with the bare essentials. But the place is clean and the staff is friendly. If you love to swim like we do, you’ll find it difficult to tear yourself away from the water. We recommend you bring your bike right on to the flat sand where riding is a biker’s dream. In the evening, we took the winding roads to the Jaigad lighthouse, built by the British in the early 1800s. You have to get there before 5.30pm if you want a tour. We were late, but managed to wrangle a visit along with some other tardy bikers. The lighthouse is perched atop a cliff and offers panoramic views of the Arabian Sea.
Distance: Malgund is about 335 kms from Mumbai on the Old Bombay-Goa Highway. It took us around nine hours to get there with breaks.
How to get there: Follow the road to Chiplun and then take the diversion to Ganpatipule. Carry on for 4 kms after that to Malgund.
Where to take breaks: Ratnagiri district is beautiful to ride through and we stopped frequently at mango orchards and fields. The road is also dotted with Malvani restaurants serving up cheap and mouthwatering seafood and mutton thalis.
When to go: The area is beautiful during the monsoon but the sea is probably off limits. November to March meets the Goldilocks rule for weather that’s just right.
Beware: Potholes and stray cattle on the Old Bombay-Goa highway.
1. Bike trips are not for the faint-hearted. There will be chafing.
2. There’s an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Riding alone is liberating, but riding with a pillion has its advantages. They can navigate, spot petrol pumps and generally be good company.
3. Wear loose denims to add a cushion in case of falls and comfortable shirts that cover your arms. If you don’t, you will get sunburned. Both your pillion and you must wear full face helmets.
4. Carry two light bags instead of one heavy bag. You will want to stop and explore, and there’s no boot in which to leave your luggage.
5. Take helmet locks.
6. Don’t ride at night and watch out for trucks.
7. If you’re riding an Enfield, then know that garages along the highway rarely have the right tubes and spanners for the bike. Carry tubes and a toolkit along in case of flats.
8. Last but not least, if you see anything from a distance that grabs your attention, go to it. The advantage of having a bike is that you can go off-road or seek out small country paths that are inaccessible to cars.