“Chal jaate, aaj raatko hee nikalte” (C’mon, let’s go, let’s leave tonight itself) – these were the words that set in motion, a crazy, 36 hour road-trip.
It’d been a while since I’d caught up with ‘alanfromdoms‘ over a road-trip. The situation demanded that we correct this, so we decided to double it up and surprise ‘mekolhapuri’ as well. That one phone-call though was enough to set the road trip in motion. There was however, the question of getting to the ‘Car’.
Pre-adventures of Al & Tan:
Everything went well at first, with the BEST bus to the station and the train to Dadar from there. It was when I crossed over to Central Railway that things got a wee bit bumpy. A jam-packed compartment, meant that I ended up in an hour long train journey, trying to balance a wobbly backpack on the head. Made it out in once piece and was greeted with a dug up road near the building. It was here that I got to know that KDMC’s finest were building a drain system, so the car was parked at a safe spot, a short rickshaw hop away.
Wrapped up dinner, got ‘alanfromdoms’ to pack his bags and hailed an autorickshaw to get to the car. There was a co-passenger sharing the ride with us, even though this was a ‘direct’ ride (Kalyan-Dombivli autos don’t go by the meter). Cramped seating meant that ‘alanfromdoms’ threw his trip duffle in the nook behind our seat. Excited at finally getting to the car, we realized, that we’d failed to retrieve the duffle. Full frustration scenes set in as we backtracked our way to the stand from where we’d boarded the rick. But the guy was nowhere to be seen. Worse, we’d neither noted down the registration number, nor knew his name. Thankfully, the guy noticed the bag at the back as he ended his duty for the day and brought it back to us. Some embarrassment and much laughter later, not to mention the loss of 90 precious minutes, we were finally on our way.
Expressway mayhem and Poona stopover:
The delayed start had a carry-forward effect of sorts. To save some time, we took the Taloja-MIDC route and hit the Expressway. The truckers were in full-flow by this time. So, we got a full view of overloaded HCV’s crawling alongside each-other at 10 KM/H with no-one being able to go past them multiple times along this leg. To add to the mess were their non-functional tail-lights/stop lights, making things very hairy at a spot or two.
It was almost 3 am by the time we got off the Expressway. So we pulled into one of our highway spots and decided to sleep things off over a short pit-stop. We didn’t quite realize how fatigued we were until we woke up with the Sun shining brightly over us. Famished, we had a hearty brunch and set out once again, but not before managing a few interesting clicks of the sights around us.
Kolhapur was 3 hours away on the maps and we figured an hour odd in additional break time for fuel, snacks and stuff. So we were on-track for a 5 pm roll-in to meet ‘mekolhapuri’. The hunger monster struck again and we pulled over for some Mutton Roti & Tandoori Chicken at Karad. Soon after, the ganna-stalls (sugarcane juice) dotting the roadside became impossible to ignore and we pulled over again.
Ganna Juice has been a bachpan se favourite, though Bombay has shifted to serving increasingly watered down versions over the years.
Getting to savour freshly extracted sugarcane juice, grown by the farmer himself then, is an opportunity that is not to be missed at any cost. Got talking to Suresh, who shared that he grew the sugarcane in 10 Guntha of farmland that he owns. He told us how he then spends the day selling the extracted juice out of his converted, 3-Wheel Minidor Tempo. The happiness and contentment on his face is rarity these days, given how we’re all trapped in a rat-race. A few quick snaps, including Suresh’s and we were off again, with the promise to come visiting again.
During the freewheeling discussion on the finer points of farming and the rise of urban farmers, we were soon in the vicinity of ‘Praviram Hi-Tech Ropvatika’. This is a farming cooperative that sold high-growth saplings of popular fruits, flowers and vegetables that are found in the market today. Farmer education classes, better farming techniques and other support endeavours are all part of Praviram’s initiatives. Needless to say, we had to stop over and pick up a few for us – few meaning a hundred. Grown on a coco-peat substrate, the tiny saplings came in a flexible plastic pallet for convenience. Shetkari shopping done, we turned the car around amidst much laughter over our antics since the evening past.
We finally rolled into Kolhapur and surprised ‘mekolhapuri’ as the evening was settling in. The weather-Gods had blessed us with a cool breeze, making it ideal to spend the evening catching up. The cool thing about having ‘mekolhapuri’ around is that he knows some awesome food places in the area. This time, he introduced us, to ‘The Castle’ – a beautiful old-time stone construction bungalow that’s operates a snack café through the day and a busy restaurant for dinner. We sat there, the three of us, catching up with what’s been happening in our hectic lives since the last we met.
We marvelled at the beauty of the ginormous rain trees that had spread their canopy above us and wolfed down some yummy pizza and cold-coffee. The pizza here is pan sized and has this flaky crust which, I suspect, is made fresh every day. Loaded with toppings and delicious mozzarella cheese, we were in food-heaven for a long time. The great part was the coffee, slightly sweeter than required, but surprisingly yummy nevertheless. It cut down the heaviness of the cheese and left us with that ‘Happy in the Stomach’ waali feeling that I’m always chasing.
With the night settling in fast, we had to break up our small party, but not before exchanging promises of getting together sometime during the monsoon. Back-slaps and high5’s later, this ‘alanfromdoms‘ and I were back on the road. We took the Kasba-Bawada road, skipping the city traffic at that hour and joined NH4 at Shiye Phata.
We were soon in the thick of Commercial Vehicle traffic as they blocked all lanes while attempting to overtake the other at crawling speeds. Things were like this till Satara, post which they eased up and we then upped the pace. The trip had us rolling into the 2nd Food-Court on the Expressway way past midnight with fatigue starting to set in. Walked into McDonald’s and ordered the ‘Toy’ – the Happy Meal was complimentary and the Burger-Cola combo perked us up in no time. Quick-stop over, it was on the road again. Home beckoned and I had to bid adieu to ‘alanfromdoms‘ too. We took the same, Taloja MIDC route – the craters & speed-breakers feeling a lot more severe than on the way out. 3 Am and we’d reached the end of our exciting, adventure-filled road-trip. But I still had to get home.
Train-Travels, the adventure continues:
Much to my joy, I discovered that in all these decades of train travel, it was to be the first time that I’d be boarding the 1st train of the day, in the ‘Up’ direction on the Central Railway Line. But first, I’d to get a ticket. Which is when, the abandoned booking counter had be a little worried. Thankfully, a very sleepy clerk, did open the window ten minutes before scheduled arrival and issued me the ticket. Whee!
The train arrived and I climbed aboard. The compartment was filled with dazed commuters, still trying to shake their sleep off. The changeover at Dadar took its own sweet time coming, with Western Railway upping the excitement by switching platforms minutes before the train’s arrival. Moreover, the LCD displays were still in sleep mode, so I was only sure of the train stopping at my station after having commenced the journey! The seats were occupied even at this hour, with people that could be divided into two categories – those in deep slumber and the others, who were trying hard not to succumb.
A helpful rickshaw guy stopped right as I hailed him after having gotten off the train. Staying awake was a struggle by now, but the driver gave me one more reason to smile on this trip. As I tried walking off without waiting to collect the change, he stopped me, making sure he handed the coins back.
And so my friends, it was with a quiet wave of thanks, that this awesome trip had finally come to a sleepy, yet incredibly happy end.