21st August, 2016
"Yet another weekend gone doing nothing?", "Why didn't you utilize your Saturday?!", "What did you get out of sitting on the bed all day long?". Well, uh, I had no answer to these questions. I had a million other thoughts buzzing in my head then. I think it was dawn. "Did the sun rise already?!", I was hesitatingly asking myself. "Is that the noise of the exhaust fan or is it just drizzling?" Or perhaps, I'm just hearing fading noises from my half asleep, forgetful dreams. I could not be sure. While, one minute, I had so many thoughts in my head... there was a moment, suddenly, when I went blank.
And then... I could hear it, faintly, at first, but slowly becoming clearer by every passing second. It was a song. Why did this song come to my mind out of nowhere?! No, I did not wonder about this, then. I could not care less about anything for, after all, it was Ustad Sultan Khan & Chitra's beautiful, "Piya basanthi re" that had come to my mind. And just like the music video starts with a slowly growing audible lyrics sung by the Ustad, himself... I could hear it in my dream. Honestly, I can never be sure for how long I heard it. (Sleep is mysterious that way, isn't it?) I could then start seeing the video play in my dream... as if I was there... Present, while it was all happening. Like, it was not just a music video.. as if, it was.. real.
How many of you remember the start of the music video? The first minute of the video you watch, you will notice these lush green mountain tops, muddy and slippery roads, water seeping from the hills onto the pathway making it look like a creak. I've always wanted to go see such places. It is just beautiful - "Must definitely be Himachal, right?", this must be what I was thinking of, trying to figure where this place was... Just then, I opened my eyes (with great difficulty) with the song still stuck in my head (Boy, it was going to be stuck in my head for the next few days). It was early in the morning. Too early to my liking. Why couldn't I just sleep?! I don't remember what I was thinking then but I remember quickly grabbing my laptop, opening Mozilla and then Google... and then typing the words... "Malshej ghat".
Let's get a little off topic - Little back story here: Me and Malshej ghat have a history.. When I had come to Pune (on deputation) in the first week of April on my bike. I knew I would go to Lavasa, Kamshet, Sinhagad, Mumbai-Pune Expressway, etc. Because, they were always on my list. But, Malshej ghat.. it was different. I had not heard much about it until few months ago. Though it always tops most lists out there for best places to visit around Pune in monsoon I did not bother to surf information about it. I don't, usually, always choose the best. I choose what connects to me. But then, one evening at work, when I had time to kill, I started reading about it. And the more I read about it and saw those pictures the more it became clearer to me that I will, definitely, some day go there. I just fell in love with it.. in love with this idea of being there, you know, and watch those water falls while I'm drenching in the drizzle, myself. It was a beautiful image in my mind. So, naturally, I had planned many times to go there but somehow it just never worked out. Heavy downpour made us cancel the first time we had planned; Landslides in that area (according to the latest reviews) the following week, was the second time. And the other time, it was my friend falling prey to dengue - I was warned not to go alone there and he made me promise too to wait for him.
People have reviewed it to be beautiful but very dangerous - All the more reason why thrill-seeking junkies would want to go there, perhaps. It always has heavy rains, huge land slides, pathetic and narrow roads (reviews again), with curvy ghats - A recipe for disaster. Add to it, the fact that I ride a KTM RC 390 (Could break your back on bad patches) with a pair of 12700 kms used Metzies, does not bring any confidence (Damn, I have got to get those tyres changed!). And with my friend hospitalized, colleagues disinterested in going on bike rides with a seemingly demented loser like me, I had no option but to sit and stare at a laptop screen watching documentaries (the third best thing I love to do). So, I had to wait. And slowly, I gave up on the idea of going there this time. Perhaps, some other time, I thought.
Now, back to where we left - I typed "Malshej Ghat" (for I can neither afford the money nor the time to visit Himachal) and played the song "Piya basanthi" on my phone (Now that I think of, I think I would not have gone on this impulsive ride of mine, had it not been for this song). I started to check the distance, the route to take, weather and road conditions. What was I thinking?! I had decided that I would not go solo there. "K, you promised your friend that you would wait.. wait for him until he gets back from the hospital" - the logical and cautious part of me reminded. I guess, the drifter in me had already taken the driving seat that morning and was in no mood for all this. It was a 300 kms ride both ways. And more importantly, it was a Sunday. So, no rest-day.. instead, it would be a painful and hectic Monday that will follow. The cautious-me wanted to remind about my bike's condition too. It hasn't been to a service centre since my Hyderabad to Pune ride in April. Abused on the roads, ever since.. in the rain and sun, everyday, without any parking roof at work. It was making clinking noises with a loose chain; The rear tyre was skidding once in a while too. But, I could not even bring that point up... because the lyric "Kaahe sathaaye, aaajaa" was buzzing through the headphones, into my head, in Ustad's voice. God! I have got to stop this madness before Chitra's voice starts with that line, I thought, only in vain. Chitra had already sung - Piya basanthi re, kaahe saathaaye.. aaja. Was it the mountains themselves calling me.. or someone else that was asking me to come meet them there..?! It, most definitely, must be a simple song playing games with my stupid and silly heart. But... I had to find out now, didn't I?
It was a sunny morning, unlike any other day of the monsoon so far. That should help, I told myself. Freshened up soon while my roommate laid merrily on his bed. Took my jacket.. and the rain gear too, just in case (You can never be too cautious). Had my breakfast and then saddled up with my small backpack which had the rain gear, a water bottle and a biscuit packet. Well organized for such an impulsive and unplanned trip, don't you think?
I witnessed all three seasons in just a matter of hours, that day. And all in their extremes, I must say. I took the route - Wakad-Chakan-Towards Nashik-Aalephata-Malshej Ghat. It was all city and just-out-of-city roads with constant traffic for half the ride. Never for a second, did I feel like I was on those lonely highways that I am so used to now. Nashik road is busy, I have to say. Now, by the time I had crossed Chakan, I was sweating like a pig under my leather jacket. I was cursing myself to have brought it along. Because, I could not put it in the bag-pack for it weighed a lot and was hurting my back when in my backpack. So, I put it on again, but this time, I unzipped it a little and let the air in. That helped, but only until the ghat section had started, sometime after Chakan. There, I had to zip it up, button it too.. because it had suddenly gotten very chilly. Clear skies, fog all around, breeze as cold as a December dawn - Then, I thought that this leather jacket is one of the best things I have invested my money in. It was doing its job to perfection, protecting me from cold. Hands were covered in protective gloves and the helmet visor always on. So, I had nothing to worry about... Well, only until I crossed Aalephata, that is. It had started to drizzle and then soon the rain-gods lashed me with heavy rain drops as I picked speed. I had to stop, take my jacket off, change into my rain-wear from there on. I could barely ride and my vision was bad due to mist on the visor. Rain drops hit me even harder on my hands (the only exposed part, for gloves had to go into the back-pack) while I tried to twist the throttle. With great acceleration comes hurtful pain in the rain, dear reader. I had reached Malshej Ghat in 3 hours 45 minutes. Google showed it to be 3 hours approximately but then I did not rely on google maps and trusted strangers on the roads, as always. And they did not disappoint me, as always. :)
Despite the extreme weathers, 305kms of ride distance, the all-city-ride with constant traffic, the really bad road conditions (especially, when you are getting close to Malshej ghat) and my RC 390's dwindling performance (courtesy your ever-procrastinating narrator), I had liked the ride, all of it.. till then. Now that I had reached the Malshej ghat (well, the start of it), it was time for reality-check.
Are you aware of the feeling you get when you imagine something or someone in your head, to be this perfect, impeccable being/thing, even though you haven't seen or met them before.. and then when you finally see/meet/spend time with them.. it all just goes away.. like a blip vanishes on a radar? You build them up to such great heights in your imagination (for no reason, at all, of theirs) and then.. just a teeny-weeny quirk of theirs will bring it all down, disappoint you. You know that feeling? Well, most of us will be aware of that feeling, I am sure. But what most of us won't or will only experience very rarely in our lives is when that very person/thing is exactly or much better than what we have imagined them to be. And, I should tell you, that feeling is just incomparable. You will never feel more content than that moment of your lives and it only takes someone/something special to make you feel that way. And when you have found it/him/her then you should know that they are your eternal love. And, I am quite sure that you will fall in love with all their quirks just as I fell in love with Malshej ghat and it's quirks on that fateful, misty and cloudy noon.
The moment only turned more magical with the song "Piya basanti re" playing constantly in my head. Wondering what's so much to love about? See for yourselves (below).
See you on the other side,