In the beginning…there was a plan
There we were, eating each other’s brain on the best places to head on a ride to at a minimum distance of 500 kms (one way) and get away from the city’s hectic pace.
We were confused between Omkareshwar, Mandav and Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh. Everyone who got to know about our upcoming weekend trip advised us against traveling in the heat and facing the tough election crowd in MP.
Sourabh was set on travelling to Pachmarhi and I was tied between Mandav- a city of ancient ruins and historical significance, and Pachmarhi-a beautiful hill resort in the Satpura ranges also known as ‘Satpura Ki Rani.’
Finally, after a lot of debate we got to a common conclusion and began preparations for the 1800 km roundtrip over the weekend to Pachmarhi.
Our plan of action was to leave by 8 on Friday evening after work and reach Pachmarhi by 11 am the next day. It was to be just the two of us so we were ensured of minimum delays due to our disciplined style of riding.
And then, Sourabh decided to play it cool and posted a simple query on the ‘HV Kumar’ forum. ‘Which is the best route to head to Pachmarhi in the night?’
Within a few minutes a barrage of advices and (abuses from fellow rider friends in the inbox) poured in. Friends which included Rohit Upadhyay, Krishna Ragunathan, HV Kumar himself and a few others advised us against heading on that route especially during the night time.
Fortunately, Amit Nikam from Amravati gave a call to Sourabh and suggested Chikhaldhara- a hill station in his district and kindly offered to cancel his own plans to head to Pachmarhi. He was gracious enough to suggest a good place to stay in Chikhaldhara and show us around the area over the weekend. I got in touch with Roshan Bawankar from Nagpur who informed me that he would be joining us as well.
This seemed to be a start to an interesting and exciting weekend indeed.
FRIDAY IS HERE!!!
Trying to catch up on a few hours of sleep, heading back home from clinic, office, the service station and then saddle up, we were on a tight schedule indeed.
Sometimes, all the pre-planning and preparations in the world can go down the drain due to unexpected turn of events.
I was frustrated as my motorcycle wasn’t ready from her doctoring and Sourabh had to change his rear tyre and fix a few dents. With a lot of running helter-skelter we still managed to squeeze in a refreshing nap before riding out at 8 pm sharp.
At 7.50 pm (praise be to the biker gods!) we were astride our motorcycles and navigating our way out of the ever worsening Pune city traffic. We were in full superhero mode, keeping a distance of 10 feet from each other, connected on our Sena SMH10 headsets and smoothly avoiding the commercial vehicles blocking our way.
The start route:
We set out from Pune at 8 pm, I was apprehensive about the traffic as heavy trucks and trailers slow the Ahmednagar route at night. I had promised myself to avoid eating as I did not want to fall asleep while riding. (Even after years of disciplined non-stop riding, I still feel nervous about hindering my fellow riders unnecessarily.)
As usual Sourabh was all chilled out and planning the food stops for the entire route. The best delicacies at our route stops were photographed into his brain.
We stopped a bit ahead of Smilestone Café, Ahmednagar Road to refuel our tanks just before the petrol was set to get over. We did not have time to refuel as we were stuck at work during the day. A fresh, light breeze was blowing in the night and our respective club flags were fluttering gaily.
We reached Aurangabad at 11 pm and were quite hungry. We spotted a rustic, vegetarian dhaba called ‘Deluxe Dhaba’ and attacked the food as soon it was served. Dal Tadka and Shev Bhaji, (a famous local Maharashtrian dish) was our nourishment for the night. After a few quick cups of tea, we set off again at a steady pace.
We stopped at a place called Chikhali for Sugarcane Juice (Can you believe it?) at 2 am in the morning! Curious night-bus travellers scanned us and our respective motorbikes and then we saw a policeman trudging towards us. I wondered why he wanted to speak to us. He asked us where had we had ridden in from. Sourabh answered that we are travelling to Chikhaldhara from Pune.
He gave us a curious glance and inquired the time we had embarked from our city. Sourabh replied that we had left at 8 pm. He was taken aback, he just couldn’t get over the fact that we were already here in Chikhali. We explained to him (and the curious listeners surrounding him) that we when we ride together, we rarely take long breaks and are used to riding at a non-stop pace. (It helped that we were connected on the Sena SHM-10 dual kit as it keeps boredom and fatigue at bay.)
Chikali to Khamgaon:
Sourabh has spoken to the locals and they advised us to ride to Chikhaldhara from Akot instead of Akola as the two lane roads were moderately decent and we could save a few kilometres from our ride. As we approached Khamgaon, we decided to give Amit Nikam a call and inform him that we would be reaching our destination in a few short hours.
A sleepy Amit told us to slow down our journey. He informed that he would take some time to leave as our earlier estimated time was way later that our estimated arrival time of now. We could clearly understand his predicament; we had already met quite a few people who were flabbergasted at the pace of our journey.
So, we slowed down our speed, we were now riding at 75-80 kmph and Sourabh who is new to all-nighter rides was feeling a bit woozy.
Anyhow, the slowing down of speed was beckoning drowsiness towards us. Sourabh slowed down at a small courtyard outside an office on the pretext of eating biscuits and drinking water and lay down on the ground to steal a nap. I was not used to sleeping due to previous rides as a solo lady motorcyclist. So I stayed awake as a night watchman and protected my knight from harm’s way. Who could mess with two scary looking motorcyclists with saddle bags and flag poles, big helmets and complete riding gear? And Ninja techniques to (steel-toe) boot!
Sourabh woke up after 20 minutes, while I passed the time on Whatsapp and Instagram. He was refreshed and we decided to ride on ahead.
We crossed Shegaon and Akot at a speedy pace and then I heard a voice filled with trouble mumbling through the Sena. Sourabh was feeling uneasy and we couldn’t find a tea-stall for a quick sip of refreshing tea. We managed to find a place to rest outside a school in Anjangaon.
25 minutes of nap time while I watched the sun light up the sky. Finally, shook Sourabh awake out of sheer boredom and gave a call to Amit Nikam who informed us that he had an issue with his motorcycle and would take some time to reach. We decided to ride on towards Paratwada and wait there for Amit. I asked if we would get Parathas and Wadas to eat at our next stop. Sourabh slowed down his bike to give me a disgusted look. I couldn’t help but crack that PJ!
We reached Paratwada and crashed under a tree in a field by the road side. Amit was taking some time and we waited patiently for an hour even though we were excited to head towards the hill station. Finally, Amit turned up on his Thunderbird 350 as his Duke 390 was facing issues.
Onwards to Chikhaldhara:
And the fun began. Dhanno was facing some trouble just when the ghats started and it was time to roll, coughs and misfiring did not let us reach our destination at the pace we were aiming for.
Sourabh took over Dhanno as I was getting nauseated due to the sudden jerks of the motorcycle. From Paratwada it was a short ride of 35 kms or so, which took us an hour to complete due to motorcycle issues.
Resort Melghat here we come:
A quaint resort overlooking the hills greeted us. It was sunny but windy at the same time even though it was 8 am in the morning. Sourabh mentioned that it seemed like it was daylight of 11am at 7 am. We decided to freshen up, grab some sleep, have lunch and head to Melghat Tiger Reserve.
The rooms were quite spacious and had coolers installed. The beds were comfortable and the bathrooms clean. What more could a traveller ask for?
Delicious Waradhi Chicken, Paneer Bhurji and Dal Tadka are what we attacked out of sheer hunger. Three hot cups of tea and we were all set to ride to the forest reserve.
As Dhanno wasn’t fine, I sat pillion with Sourabh and Amit rode his Thunderbird named ‘Blackout’. Roshan Bawankar was going to join us late evening from Nagpur. We wanted to go for the afternoon safari so we decided to ride ahead without him.
Sourabh took some time to test Incognito’s bash-plate sponsored by Via Terra Gear to Urvashi.
It took us an hour to reach the forest office for reservations. We booked a safari jeep with an open top. We had a talkative and informative guide with us who knew his way around the place.
The Safari started at 5 pm and we weaved through the forests filled with dry vegetation and tall trees. The first wildlife we had a glimpse of the regal Sambar stag and then a group of white Langoors as well.
After a bit of scouting, we managed to see a sounder of wild boars walking through the forest. A few dancing peacocks entertained our sights as we passed a small stream. Their majestic feathered tails were a treat to our sights. Just when the tour was coming to an end, a herd of Wild Bison or Gaur with white stockings on their hooves blocked our way. They watched us slowly crawl our way between them in our jeep. The herd mother closely scrutinizing us for any odd movements.
Observing us calmly: Pic by Amit Nikam
This was certainly an interesting and educational safari. The driver and guide told us that tiger and animals sightings in general were very few in the reserve, so they had built water ponds for the animals to encourage the animals to move around. They fill the ponds at night and the water is completely over by morning just by the sheer number of animals who visit for a drink of refreshing water. The forest reserve assigns men to take care of the water ponds. On our way back, we spotted a serpent eagle and Amit quickly captured some amazing shots on his DSLR.
This Safari made our decision of purchasing our very own Gypsy even stronger as this vehicle was taking us through every up and downhill climb and dirt route with ease.
We got done with our safari at 7 pm and had to rush back through the dark forest to greet Roshan before he rode in. We took a wrong route and were stopped by forest officials who gave us a lecture but Sourabh spoke to them calmly and they let us continue on our route without any hindrance.
Roshan was waiting for us to return at the resort, we were glad to see him indeed! We quickly ordered for dinner and starters, settled down with our respective drinks and talked long into the night sharing biking experiences. Sourabh was all excited to dole out his worldy gyaan in the context of motorcycling especially to Roshan. Gyaani Baba Jai Ho!
I was fast asleep all through the evening and woke up at 11.30 pm as I had stayed awake the entire previous night. Luckily, dinner was not eaten yet so I joined them for cold food in the breezy cold night. And more Sourabh Baba gyaan was doled out. Was fun to talk to Amit and Roshan and hear how they got into motorcycling and it was lovely to see their intense passion for biking.
We were all dead tired! It was time to sleep and we struggled slowly into our rooms at around 2 am in the morning. It was lights out time.
Sunday Morning at Chikhaldhara!
We tried fixing the plug that Roshan had got for Dhanno from Nagpur. Unfortunately; we did not have the right kind of tools so fixing the motorcycle wasn’t an easy task. The only way out was to take the help of a mechanic on the way back. We lounged in an open field for a while.
There was a dirt road uphill so Sourabh and Roshan went all out on the dirt while Amit and I captured them in action. I was sorely missing out on the fun.
We heard about a famous dhaba in Paratwada called ‘Punjab Rao Patil’. It was famous for Waradhi Chicken and how could we miss out on a famous delicacy authentically prepared.
We ordered for Paneer Kheema Curry and Waradhi Chicken Curry. Oily and spicy Waradhi style chicken was certainly delicious but the odd dry and thick bhakari was certainly not a delight to the palate. Paneer bhurji in curry form is a bad idea. Warning: Do not ever ever ever try this at home.
After lunch, we stopped at a mechanic who replaced the plug for us with the right tools. We bid a fond goodbye to Amit and Roshan and thanked them for their wonderful company and warm hospitality. It was truly sweet of them to ride all the way to Chikhaldhara to spend time with us.
Pitstop at Dhule!
We were sorely exhausted. Dhanno performed well for 5 kms, but after that, she kept on misfiring and giving hundreds of jerks. We were riding at a speed of 70 kmph and sleep was overpowering us due to the slow pace. We had now been riding for 5 hours and had crossed Khamgaon. We stopped at a dhaba for a nap but decided not to eat.
We drank cups of tea and lots of water instead. There had been an accident on the highway so our pace was even slower than before.
We wanted to reach Sourabh’s hometown to give his mother a surprise visit but things were looking bleak. We were 200 kms away from Dhule. By the time we were in the district, it was 1.30 am in the morning. Luckily, Sourabh’s relatives resided in the city and so we crashed at their home for the night. They were very happy to see him after ages and were very sweet to us. We slept off immediately and woke up early the next day.
After a meet and greet with all the relatives and a quick cup of tea, we were off again in the direction of Narayangaon. Dhanno was fine for around 20 kms to our delight and then finally gave up on us, out of sheer desperation as it was an EFI issue; we decided to tow our way back home.
We harnessed Dhanno to Incognito with strong rope tied to the chassis. It required a lot of co-ordination as a very strong jerk would course through both motorcycles if we let the rope go slack. We had to maintain a steady tension on the rope and it was certainly a task to weave through all the village traffic.
At one point, we stopped by the side of the highway and spotted a person on a Royal Enfield passing by. He spotted us and stopped immediately, and so did a car. They were from the nearest Royal Enfield showroom situated in Malegaon.
They offered to take Dhanno back to the service station and fix her completely. We were tempted to stay back and get the work done but we had a promise to keep and also get Dhanno back to Pune as soon as possible. We thanked them and took their contact details in-case of an emergency and continued on our journey.
We kept on riding at an average speed of 80 kmph. I even took a video of Dhanno being towed from my Iphone 4S. Eventually, we reached a deviation which would take us through a route which was covered with gravel and dirt. Sourabh took Incognito ahead gingerly while I balanced Dhanno behind him. Unfortunately, the tow rope wedged and started wrapping itself on the front disc brake and speedometer cable drive and I shouted at Sourabh to stop and broke a fall with an impact on my right leg. My knee took the brunt with a sprain but luckily, the motorcycles did not fall which I was glad about. And this ended a 100 km long towing spree.
The speedometer cable drive was crushed into smithereens! We untied the tow rope and moved on ahead praying that this should be the last of a series of unexpected events. The only time we made a stop was to drink Neera (Palm tree) juice from a highway stall and relentlessly pushed our way to Sourabh’s hometown. Sourabh even pushed Dhanno on uphill climbs with his foot which was commendable.
We reached Home!
We were dying to reach home. Get unpacked and take off our gears and crash under the fan. We wanted to gorge on heavenly food prepared by Sourabh’s mother. We wanted to reach our destination as soon as we could.
And we reached home finally! Aunty was pleasantly surprised and extremely happy to see us. Dhanno was parked and so we parked ourselves as well.
We had a grand time after a torturous ride. Played cricket with the neighbourhood children, talked a lot, took a family nap together in one room which was super fun, Sourabh’s mom made an attempt to groom me by combing my hair which was a daunting task after a ride. Sourabh’s extremely adorable sisters, Poorva and Uma, Sourabh and I went for the ‘Goddess MuktaBai Yatra’ where we had fun on a giant wheel ride. After that, we played games and shopped in the fair’s stalls. We ended a gala time with Narayangaon’s famous ‘Mohan ki Bhel’ and Ragda Pattice.
We got back home and enjoyed ‘VaranPhal’ prepared by Sourabh’s mother which is a mix of dal and boiled flat wheat slices. Sourabh slept off while I enjoyed chatting late into the night with his family members. We woke up early in the morning, and bid our goodbyes after a strong cup of tea. Luckily, Dhanno did not give trouble on the way back. We headed directly to our workplaces and got on with our work as if the last three days of adventure never even happened.
It was certainly an amazing ride to Chikhaldhara and we got to know how good a team we could be. It was great to meet friends and spend time with family as well.
Signing off: Until next time, Team aCOA.