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Sleepless in Mumbai

How does the city that never sleeps appear to a bunch of enthusiastic cyclists? From Nariman Point to Bandstand, forty participants paddled hard to discover a different side to the Maximum City

It is said that Mumbai is a city that never sleeps. I had dismissed this claim as city jingoism and exaggerated love but was proven wrong in a few weeks.

Cyclists at the start of the trip along Marine Drive
Cyclists at the start of the trip along Marine Drive. Pic/Bipin Kokate

However, what I had not heard is how beautiful Mumbai gets in its final stages of insomnia. The Arabian Sea works a little harder, blowing sprinkles of water with the wind to ensure windswept bodies shed the tiredness of the day and carry on. Cars zoom past, appearing like jets of light from far away, and yellow lights of the street merge with gigantic lighted towers kissing the sky. Away from them, older houses with long balconies and many doors look out at the road, in what was once the limit of the city, standing in dimmer clusters as if to guard the stories they carry.

The cyclists negotiate traffic.   Pics/ Bipin Kokate
The cyclists negotiate traffic. Pics/ Bipin Kokate

So, when I came across the option to cycle a 20.8 km-long stretch that starts from Colaba Causeway post midnight and ends at Bandra Bandstand before the sun rises, it was an obvious choice. The website, that had put it up, is called 365hops.com and they led to the group, Mumbai Travellers, which arranged the trip.

Go the distance
On the night, the cycling enthusiasts could be identified as a sudden crowd of casually dressed folk wearing sneakers and waiting on the pavement in Colaba. A little away, cycles would be allotted before briefing us about what can and cannot be done while cycling and during the breaks. Everyone got bottles of water and burgers before embarking on the journey.

The group of 40 was a mix of men and 11 women. Some, who were traveling the route for the first time; others were regular cyclists on a different journey this time; some who were cycling after several years like yours truly (not sure if I would fall off) and still others who try to make it each time the event is organised. There were doctors, engineers (a lot of engineers), homemakers, chartered accountants, businessmen and some among the organisers who quit their jobs to try something else.

The bikers share a light moment

Their identities were revealed when everyone was asked to introduce themselves at Marine Drive. And it was clear that another facet of the city would be revealed through them. I came to know people who refused to become boring despite pressures of life and work. "I am an engineer and I haven't done anything exciting in years. So, this will be the first," a young man said, and someone echoed, "Me too, though I am an accountant."

Dipanjan Sinha experiences the trip
Dipanjan Sinha experiences the trip

The crowd gelled. Of course they were regular people, but were driven that night by the idea of doing something unusual. They were there to test themselves with the challenge of over 20km cycling and a chance to relish every building, every road they go past and every turn they take.

 the introduction session by the organisers at Marine Drive
The introduction session by the organisers at Marine Drive

City slickers, all
"I do not get a chance to see the city like this. I live in Thane and from there I mostly come to this part for work. In cars, you go past places but hardly get a chance to admire," a young businessman, who kept complaining about his sore derriere after a few kilometres, said.

The energy at the beginning was, to use the cliché, magical. After wobbling for a while, my cycle steadied, and I was navigating the traffic. Some cars sped by and some groups on motorcycles were taken aback. A few of them hooted, some laughed and then getting bored, sped past. A few heads popped out of cars, asking if this was an event they could take part in. A young man, too keen to explain the process to a young woman's head, missed hitting a parked car by a whisker.

As we reached Worli junction, it seemed that the wind was taking us forward. We rested and hit the road again. The uphill roads, as we headed towards Haji Ali Dargah, were finally getting me exhausted. But it is perhaps in a journey like this that a novice like me realises the beauty of the cycle, as you keep moving almost effortlessly just following the motion of the pedals. By the arrival of this epiphany, we had reached the Dargah, which I only had a chance to see fleetingly before. I reveled in the beauty of the moment — savouring slowness in Mumbai — as we approached the point without whooshing past.

Home stretch
Revived, we headed for Shivaji Park. This was past landlocked areas, with two storied homes with slanting roofs. We spotted quaint bungalows that make you sad with desire. When Shivaji Park arrived, my legs were unable to do much. We rested there and ate burgers. Someone gave up and arranged for the cycle to be sent to the destination (the clause for the ride).

Finally, we headed to Bandstand. As we were riding past Mahim, one of the organisers, Rakesh Yadav, introduced me to the area. "You get amazing Biryani here. And for Falooda you must come to this shop. You don't know Falooda?" As we chatted, he asked, "Can you smell shit?" Though an inappropriate question, I could.

"Well, you are entering Bandra," he confirmed. We moved past the stench to enter cobbled streets and swanky bungalows. A few of them strikingly beautiful and some rare with Portuguese architecture. I halted for a few seconds near a house, enjoying the freedom of a cycle. We were back beside the sea. It was Bandstand. Parking our cycles, we threw ourselves on the promenade.

How to sign up
Mumbai Travellers, a travel lovers club.
Call: 8692022777
Log on to: www.mumbaitravellers.in
Upcoming trip: They will have another cycle trip scheduled for next month. Check website for details

Checklist

>> Wear light comfortable clothes
>> Book fast when announced (spots vanish soon)
>> Keep yourself fit
>> Don’t refuse (food) burger if not carrying food yourself
>> No smoking during breaks
>> Don’t race. It is not a contest.
>> Don’t take part if you won’t be able to complete. Imagine going all the way back to return a cycle.

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