Chasing the monsoon
Poets have written odes to it, artists have tried to capture it on canvas, and you might fantasise about it over your daily coffee. But there’s little that comes close to experiencing the beauty of the Indian monsoon than on a bike in wild, open country, discovers Ismat Tahseen
There’s something about the rains. It’s magical and mesmerising. The smell of the wet earth when the rains first hit it, the landscape that turns almost silver-grey and the weather that becomes misty and cold. It’s also when India turns into a land of contradictions — the parched, cracked ground almost healing itself with the showers, the brown surroundings turning into a green dhurrie and the patterned, falling rain shifting the harried pace of life into a slow, unhurried one. The season also plays host to a commune of bikers, who have been awaiting the wet weather to explore the best rain-soaked vistas and routes. Here’s where the thrill is taking them...
On the way from Alibaug to Murud. Pic courtesy/TANMAY SHANISHCHANDRA
Off-roading around Mumbai
How about riding through the clouds, not too far from the concrete jungle of Mumbai? It’s not unreal, that is exactly what’s in store soon at hill stations around the city. For Amit Jambotkar, the first rains will prompt him to get his Enfield out and zoom off to his favourite spot — Rajmachi, about 25 km off Lonavala. “Roads get slippery in the rains, but here you have no roads, just a mud track with heavy, slush. It’s a rough ride, not meant for the faint-hearted. Sometimes, the muck is almost knee-deep, so you have to have gear control and keep your eyes on the road. It’s just the synergy between you and your machine; you don’t know what’s coming next. There’s a saying among us bikers, that if you don’t ride in the monsoon, you simply haven’t ridden at all,” he says.
LIKE A RIBBON: The Konkan coastal route turns green and lush after the first showers. Pic courtesy/Karan Singh Sood
Samuel Leslie, a managing editor at Mumbai –based Cactus Communications company, has his own fave for a quick getaway, a place called Nilshi, a lake area between Lonavala and Poona, about 110 km away. “It’s lovely but tricky terrain in the rains, with winding, slippery roads. I have to ride at 30 kmph and it takes four hours to get here, but once you do, it all seems so worth it. There’s a YMCA campsite and you can rent tents for overnight shelter and eat some hot food,” he says.
Avid biker Baljeet Gujral agrees that the lure lies in the sheer unpredictability that such a trip offers. “Of course, the weather being uncertain is a given, but so is the road ahead. One of the best routes is from Pune to Aamby Valley and Lavasa, which takes one and a half hours in a normal route but in this off-road one, it takes about three hours.
The breathtaking landscape of Ladakh can pose a tough challenge. Pic courtesy/VIR NAKAI
It’s also dicey — for one, there is no real ‘road’, second, you are on your own as the track goes through villages with a population of not more than 10 families. Thirdly, you have to ride through a forest area. There may be no tyre marks here to follow due to the rains, so you have to just rely on markings on trees left by fellow bikers or remember indications. But to be honest, the fun lies in getting lost here and discovering stuff. Many a time, the places don’t show up on Google maps so it’s quite secret. In fact, there are several such hidden routes on the outskirts of the city. Of course, you can’t take these routes post sunset,” he says. A former banker, he gave up his job and his wife gave up her teaching profession and they started their own company Enfield Bikers — to meet fellow biking enthusiasts. “We’d do it all over again, no regrets,” he smiles.
Waterfalls at Malshej Ghat. Pic courtesy/TANMAY SHANISHCHANDRA
Seeking rain in Ladakh
High altitude adventure is also in store. The rugged Himalayan landscape with its stark beauty — curving roads, treacherous yet breathtaking passes and pristine lakes — starting from Manali over Rohtang Pass, past the quaint town of Kaylon, up to Sarchu and the flat More plain and finally to Leh, is on many a biker’s list. For advertising professional Vir Nakai, the sheer challenge that the route poses is alluring. “Ladakh is a desert really, so you can’t call it monsoon here in the traditional sense — when it rains, there is no transformation of the landscape into green like you might see elsewhere. It’s very bare, there is no vegetation and no trees to hide under in pouring rain, so it’s no mean feat,” he says.
Komal Lath on her Konkan coastal road trip last year, a route she plans to repeat soon
“This route also has the world’s highest mountain path, the highest motorable road and several hairpin curves, especially at Khardungla and Baralacha Pass. The wind and rain is also so sharp at 17,500 feet. But navigating the road here is something else,” he grins, adding, “Sometimes there are such heavy rains that you have to leave your bike and turn back toward some shelter and hike back to your bike the next day.” Nakai gave up his profession five years ago when he realised his true calling — and started Helmet Stories, a company where they take bikers to this tricky terrain. “I have one line of advice to them — it may seem tempting, but don’t rip it; always ride with reasonable speed.” he says.
Off-roading through slush near Rajmachi, Lonavala. Pic courtesy/Baljeet Gujral
Mumbai-based photographer and biker Karan Singh Sood also says life’s philosophy becomes ‘Eat, Sleep, Ride’ during this time when he takes his bike to the Leh-Ladakh stretch every year to catch the rains. “There’s so much drama here — the roads are filled with melting snow and you have to go ride through water crossings, but it’s fun. The only other ride that came close to this was from Munnar to Thekkady, which was filled with twists in the road, coupled with hard rain and swirling mist, and many a time I almost skidded when I got my eyes off the road; nature can be a major distraction, you know,” he smiles.
In the ‘Monsoon
Mountains’ of India
One of the most beautiful monsoon biking routes is the 720-km coastline that starts from Mumbai’s outskirts to cover Sindhudurg, Raigad and Ratnagiri to end in Goa. The lush South-Western Sahyadri Ghats also called the Monsoon Mountains, come alive in the rains and present their own charm. Akshay Varde, founder and CEO of a biking company, Vardenchi, is waiting to catch the rains on his bike here with 10 other pals. “It would be my first time here,” he says. I’m planning to take the Mumbai-Goa route from the new highway, past Kolhapur and via Amobli. The whole belt here is said to turn so lush and at 1,500 feet above sea level, it would be like riding through the clouds! We plan to have no particular intinerary; we will just eat at small dhabas and see where the road takes us,” he says.
Routes and distance
Mumbai-Kaas plateau via NH4 or NH17 325km
Mumbai-Alibaug-Murud Janjira, camp at Naigaon (Alibaug) and back to Mumbai Roughly 400km
Mumbai-Goa (one way) About 600km
Public relations professional Komal Lath also plans to do the route with her husband and friends, this June end. “We had done the same trip last year too,” she says. “The ride was part of a well-planned biker’s trip in the Konkan region and we covered around 500 km in two days with stops at Ganpatipule, Pavna Dam etc. It was so memorable — I remember being soaked to the bones most of the time, so such a trip really toughens you. The best part of it was to experience nature so closely and eat the lovely food prepared indigenously along the way.”
To Vizag, on a whim and a prayer
Sometimes, the magic of the season also makes one do impromptu things, like it happened for IT professional Abhideep Bhattacharjee and his friend, last year. The duo were planning to go from Bhubaneshwar to Gopalpur (a Southern coastal town) and landed up doing the road trip on a bike all the way to Vizag as well. It turned out to be an adventurous trip in the record time of 2.5 days! “We had intended to just see Gopalpur,” says Abhideep. “When we reached there on Friday we spent the night and the next day on a beach, we overheard a few locals talking of Vizag. The weather had just started to turn and we thought, why not? Of course, people scoffed at us when we asked directions to get to Vizag as it was just too rainy. But then, the rains do things to you, things just happen you know,” he grins.
They started out immediately. “I’ll never forget the trip. Most time there was a shroud of darkness around us. First, light drizzles fell like snowflakes then it came down hard. The bike was moving at 30 kmph average and its headlight lit up only the next three feet ahead for us. There was only a 20-minute respite in between heavy rain, and after we changed our T-shirts twice, we finally just gave up. We finally reached Vizag and visited Tenneri beach that evening. It had grown dark and stormy and the little lamps lit there looked like fireflies; it was gorgeous.” he adds. Did he make it to the train on Sunday night at Kolkata? “Yes, after nonstop crazy riding from Sunday morning we got to Bhubaneshwar from where I took a train to Kolkata in time,” he laughs. The scenery is about to turn lush with the rain skies opening up. Are you ready to get wet on your bike?
(Includes bikes, fuel, stay, meals, back-up vehicle, medical facility)
>> One night-two-day trip to Lonavala/Khandala: Rs 5,000
>> Three-day coastal trip to Kashid/Murud/Dapoli: Rs 15,000-20,000
>> Five-day trip, Mumbai to Goa and back: Rs 35,000
>> Seven-day trip to Rajasthan: Rs 45,000
>> Seven-day trip to Ladakh: Rs 80,000