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Friday, August 21, 2015

BiKronicles 7 (Part une): Pune – Goa – Hampi – Bengaluru

Southern sojourn we’ll call it love. You get a head start before me and I’ll chase you down :P
How else will sparks continue to fly between us love! *said I to my unromantically romantic Abeer*

Locations and Distance:
Mumbai-Pune via expressway [150 kms]
Pune-Goa via Kolhapur NH4- entering the state border through Karnataka (Chorlaghats) and BelagaviNH4AandpassingMollem. Headed to Anjuna Beach via Mapusa [430 kms]
Goa-Hampi via Ponda - Hubballi-Dharwad (NH4A) – crossing Hospete (NH63) to Hampi [360 kms]
Hampi-Bengaluru via Hospet – Chittradurga (NH13) – Tumkuru (NH4) [350 kms]
Fuel: INR 4000/- that included 6 refills through the whole stretch. We always tanked up because fuel costs kept getting cheaper and we saw that as an advantage. Pumps aren’t easy to come by on long stretches so we thought it best to be cautious and full rather than wanting for trouble. Hired a scooter on the other side of Hampi that cost us 150-100 (the latter for petrol).
Road conditions: As we proceeded south,NHs were divine. There were uninterrupted stretches of highway that felt like we were gliding on butter paper and they were good to the bike and the rider. Mileage was positive and journey time was cut short extensively when the anxiety of bumps, potholes or ill-time speed breakers were not primary. Small villages and talukas are always marked with small steep speed-breakers or multiple ones. That is something I have learnt over the rides. Keep an eye out for villages. Forest roads and ghat roads always seem to have a steep slide on the side of the road – if large incoming vehicles decide to hog your lane and force you off the road, its best to find the closest spot to “off-road” or else the bike will slip and fall on the side. The Kolhapur NH was brilliant. Waves and stretches of untouched scenery was breathtaking and the weather was an added bonus. There was just one McDonalds and KFC side to side on the highway (Sarnobatwadi service road). The Chittradurga-Bangalore stretch was one of the most memorable stretches we did this time. We touched 120 easily and didn’t falter or need to stop.
While entering Goa, the state border was a nightmare. Additionally, 30kms of the Karnataka stretch when leaving Goa was pathetic and dangerous. Clearly, Goa was unforgiving at both times for some strange reason. Not so good roads were also the case from Goa untilHubbilli-Dharwad enroute to Hampi. The roads to Hampi were amazing except darkness fell super fast. Once we crossed the busy town of Hospete, we were met with poor to zero light on raw to near raw stretches. The roads were jungle-like but it was impossible to tell if there was anything or anyone ahead. High beams is another major issue as night time riding was quite marred with those abusing the beam feature causing near accidents. I was perplexed to see lone standing men or women under canopy of creepy looking trees and foliage in absolute darkness. Their silhouette was outlined only when our bike headlight temporarily illuminated their shapes and I could not imagine even walking that stretch alone. Getting to Hampi was slightly tough after darkness fell as no one was in sight (literally) and most folks spoke in Kannada. Few conversed in English as we seemingly neared the destination and helped us get through narrow by lanes of a village and then to Hampi main street. Abeer was tad lost as the view for him had changed from nearly 8 years ago when he had visited. Apparently, a lot of the structures and hotels had been torn down and I was glad as it looked like the result was more visibility to the rocks and heritage site. At night they looked threatening and eerie but that focus shifted after the 2nd day there. We also encountered some RE bikers on the way to Hampi and went back and forth on the highway. They cruised at leisure but Abeer gunned her because of his anxiety with inability to see in the dark. Traffic discipline in Karnataka state is worse or at par with Maharashtra. Everyone is in a massive hurry to get god knows where. Our main issue was cattle and animals. They seemed to sunbathe EVERYWHERE. Breaking at a speed of 120 without making steak sandwiches of them proved to be a massive learning. All this was overshadowed by the changing scenery. By now I had seen shades of nature only painters at the Louvre could imagine on palette. There were massive windmills projects and I was stumped and ridiculously elated to see sensible use of natural resources to power the state. Sophisticated windmills stood tall in fields and clusters. I intended to get a good shot of them but didn't manage one. The roads within Hampi were surprisingly commutable. Even within the village, the network through parallel roads were clean, well-kept and navigable. Such instances surprise me as the affinity for a jam was high and yet I found no jams, no incessant honking, yelling, or any of the traffic crimes city folks come installed with. We stalled the bike for 2 days to give her and us some rest. Thereafter we were constantly on foot as we always do. We even navigated to the other side of Hampi (wild or sinful side) by boat (takes about 5 mins and a few bucks per head). Thereafter we explored Sanapur Lake, Tungabhadra Project strewn landmarks, Hanuman Temple, Whispering Rocks and many internal roads that diverted along the rest of the REAL heritage site. We hired a scooter at the embankment for 100 (petrol cost)+150 (rent cost), which made our commute super fun. Mopeds are available too but lack of storage and possibly lesser fuel capacity is a deterrent. However, I vouch for it.Roads are well made, maintained and have bleak traffic or none whatsoever. Thereafter, the final route for this leg of the journey was Hampi to Bangalore. We wound our way out of Hampi towards NH13 and gunned for Chittradurga. Enroute we met a fellow Enfielder and now fast friend from Auroville, Sriram. Made a quick stop at Chittradurga town had lunch with Sriram and his father and gunned the bebe to Bangalore via NH4. Traffic hit us at Yeshwantpura but we reached Nandi-Durga road in 15 mins.
Speed: On the best roads as described above, we hit 100-120 easily with no breaks. On the worst and especially weather-beaten roads riddled with fatal potholes, we cruised between 40-60. The chilled air and sometimes-poor visibility and forest canopy slowed us down even further. The route after Bangalore (BiKronicles 7 [part deux]) had us restricted at 80. Route from Hampi to Bangalore via Chittradurga was 60-80 followed by a straight 120 on NH4. Within Hampi, there was no scope for speeding, however, on the scooter run the speeds were 60 on clear roads.
Weather: This was done through the month of August which is monsoons or receding monsoons in India (I call it moody monsoons). It is the 1st time in a span of 2 weeks I experienced biting cold, torrential downpour, incessant drizzle, spring sun, intense heat and general good weather. It was an amalgam of all seasons chasing us to our destinations. I’d say we coped supremely well as we routinely shifted between rain liners, plain t-shirts, boots and trekkers, waterproof covers and just hanging it all out to dry. Our gears were #Spartan and #Cramster pro gear mesh jackets. The bebe (Royal Enfield) was used for transporting us and our belongings in chameleonic shapes and forms across state borders. She held well through horrible stretches that proved near fatal while inversely well through the smooth roads. There was intense heat at night in Goa contrary to the early evening weather, which prompted us to get a non-AC room and cool again the following morning. Load shedding was present from 10pm through 3am – worst time ever for me. Hampi was pleasant weather all evening and early mornings but would pick up its signature heat through the noon.Bangalore was the same and remained absolutely pleasant until 11 Aug 2015, when it rained heavy and incessantly – crippling my chances at catching my flight on time*.
Stay: Amigo’s Guest House/Homestay, Anjuna, Goa (INR 700/night). Run by a sweet couple and family with the sweetest boxer and dachshund to protect you. Self-contained large rooms, equipped bathrooms;3 mins stroll to Anjuna beach. Self-contained rooms, with a balcony, overlook the garden at the back. Mango, banana, pineapple, jackfruit and avocado trees grace the surroundings, as does the various spice bearing vegetation.Hampi we stayed at Reshma’s homestay (INR 200/night) and it was perfect, pleasant, comfortable and convenient. It is located in the lane of Mango’s restaurant, which we attacked for ALL our meals. Bangalore was with the baby brother.
Random notes:This trip began on a 1-destination note: Auroville. Wishlist since 2 yrs to have Abeer visit the French colony and revive the Francophile within. After 2 failed plans, I concluded that fate had the bike within the Auro frame; hence the incessant delays. The plan changed face in the 2-weeks prior to departure. We ho-hummed through Coorg, Varkala, Munnar, parts of KA state and the likes. Even contemplated just sticking MS state. Finally, at random, it was decided – Mumbai-Pune-Goa-Hampi-Bangalore and back home. I was content. Abeer left for Pune ahead of me and I followed suit after a lengthy workday and a painfully long bus journey. I had the chance to stay and catch up with an old school friend – more like my baby sister from the yesteryears and she was ever so gracious in keeping me amused and comfortable till 2 am where we stayed up and chatted about school and words we exchanged. Thank you darling Tarana. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I tried to adjust from a pint sized 2 ft baby to a now grown gracious woman with her own flair and business sense. She cooked for me, her father spoke to me till I finished my absolutely delicious dinner of kheema, mutton curry and rotis. I was at home. Till I surprisingly found myself adherent to the 5:45 am departure the next morning that boyo had warned me off. A grumpy sleep deprived start after, we took off. Everything as mentioned above was perfect and I enjoyed the whole process. I even patiently put up with the numerous attaching and detaching of the rain liner in the Spartan jacket. Truth be told, it can get painfully hot in there. We reached Goa, drenched, frozen and wet. Instead of wanderlusting after Agonda or Palolem we gunned for Anjuna out of sheer exhaustion. After a quick survey of a few homestays, we settled on Amigo for a simple non-AC room (frozen that we were). The evening was spent cleaning up, strategically laying things to dry and heading to the beach for some beers and dinner. By now I had not slept 2 nights in a row and my body was screaming for rest. We gorged on seafood platters and 6 bottles of beer. Yep we did. Just then, around 10 pm, lights completely went out and all our adjusted pupils could catch was dark rocky silhouettes in the ocean. We headed back in and got another beer for the yet unsatiated boyo. He needed it and I obliged. All that beer had to vent somewhere and my huge pet peeve of bathrooms came to haunt me as we walked in absolute darkness to bathrooms that looked like Japanese horror movie scenes. I was afraid if I shown the light to any corner other than where I was, I was sure to find a face and some long dark hair. We went back to crash in for some much-needed sleep. I swear I slept about 30 odd mins before waking up to harsh humidity, swarming mosquitoes and no breeze. This went on till3 am and Abeer had a tough time getting me to sleep. Apparently, the 6+ beers worked magic for his brain. He was riding so I didn’t disturb him. Next morning after a few bites not really breakfast worthy, we left from Panaji city for Hampi. 1st time I learnt that breakfast in Goa is mostly vegetarian. Eggs and sausages would have to wait. We made the mistake of wearing light clothes and I went a step further by donning shorts. The result was incessant rains, biting cold and discomfort. Abeer made the 1st stop after we crossed the Goa-KA state border. I noticed a tiny jam at the state border (Karnataka) where trucks and large multi-axle vehicles quietly waited as a mother tried to shield her newborn calf who had strayed to the middle of it all. She nuzzled the little one to keep moving to the side to safety. It was a moving sight for me where everyone waited patiently for the whole moment to pass. This was followed by something unpleasant and potentially dangerous event too. Once we took a break, there were peering and sleazy eyes scanning me all over. Literally, people had paused to see me in shorts;I was drenched and uneasy from the peering now more than the weather. Abeer insisted I go and change into jeans, which I desperately wanted to do anyways. I found a hotel with a bathroom a mile behind the main restaurant. There were no women in sight. I walked hesitantly inside, walked past walked looked like a bar, some stretch of corridor and to a near horror looking bathroom that wasn’t worth changing into. The male and female toilets were poorly covered by an outside meshed window. I quickly managed to get out of my shorts into my jeans using my boarding school skills but was wary of a man standing with a sickle about 6 odd feet near the bathroom entrance almost blocking my exit. He inched closer and blocked my exit by precariously standing with his back toward me. He stood there breathing heavily, not directly looking at me but his body language screamed anything but minding his own business. I was instantly gripped with fear and wondered if I would be able to reach my phone and call Abeer in time as the phone was sealed in a waterproof neck bag. I focused on getting the pants all the way up, buttoning it and getting ready to shove and bolt (if needed). All the wet clothes, skin and weather coupled with no one within earshot AND a sickle wielding man did not make things quite smooth for me. I decided to call out loudly in the hopes of startling him. It sort of worked but I took the opportunity and ran with my boots still unlaced. The fear had caused tears to stream down my face and I was very relieved to see Abeer who told me that next time he would come with me to such places. We ate eggs and pav (I barely managed to swallow lumps of it) and instantly left. Thereafter, it was a trip on Mars surface for a good 30 kms, I lost my MiBand fitness gadget, we dropped a ‘hopefully drying-now wet’ shoe and I ran back a couple of meters to retrieve it, and then stopped at a village centric highway dhaba to grab a grub. I was very happy to devour a thali and we moved on from there. The roads were fantastic and the weather even better. Vehicles irrespective of their size, shape and condition cut across lanes 1-4 in a matter of seconds with the efficiency of an F1 racer who expectedly came in the top 10 but not quite. There were some close shaves and some patient maneuvers. A few triumph and RE riders were conspicuous by their style and of course gear (us included). By now I was used to being a spectacle especially when we stopped for breaks in populated places. The route to Hospete-Hampi was a dream ride. Although we were gunning the bike, darkness was sinking faster than anticipated. We captured a fantastic sunset at the outskirts of Hospete and then proceeded to battle major darkness and ill-lit roads into Hampi. Was perplexed myself how folks stood in absolute darkness in corners, under shrubs and canopy and behaved like there was no apprehension or fear. Of course, locals I guess. I didn’t dare look back for fear of encountering one of the many movie demons I’ve fed my stupid brain. We managed to make it to a near packed Hampi. Our stay was one of many new learnings and fascination for me. It reminded me a lot of Gokarna. Friendly, open-minded locals, home stays and mini boarding and lodgings. Fantastic organic meals cooked with respect and ingredients used to their full wholesome goodness potential. Absolutely EVERYTHING one would need for the duration of your stay there. Bare minimums and simplicity being the key. We stayed at Reshma’s guesthouse. She was a hospitable young lady who ran the lodge with her mother. Everyone wakes up at 5 am and begins holy rituals and the day’s start. Hot water was the result of the old-fashioned heater prongs, which meant saving electricity and using only as much as we really needed. I was in love. Abeer and I had a tiny room to us with a large bathroom and a bed with mosquito netting. Some inbuilt wall shelves and a mirror. That’s precisely the extent of the materialistic content of this room and it was perfect. Parked the exhausted RE and proceeded to have 2 blissful days of just us, explorations, sunrise and sunsets, fantastic food and good weather. It was pleasant, cold nights, and inversely hot days. There were cafes and internet booths, which were WiFi enabled. Apart from that, no part of the tiny town was network riddled. In a way that’s PERFECT. You disconnect yourself and connect only when needed for a brief period. Mango café became our home and abode for the duration of our stay. There were several foreigners and Indians. But the plethora of folks was a likeminded bunch. Several bikers also visited here in pairs, lone travelers or as groups. Don’t be perturbed by the guesthouse or hotel accommodations. They are indeed fantastic inside as a 1st timer may assume there is better than this. Although we were drained out when we arrived, Abeer insisted on taking me to the banks of the Tungabhadra that overlooked the ‘other’ side of this town. He insisted we stay at the same place he did some 8 odd years ago. We realized that much of the town, that was recently built on tourism demand, was torn down and a basic bare minimum was retained. We turned back and stayed inside the main city. The Virupaksha temple and scores of boulders and mantappas that loom in the dark surround it. Everything from bovine beings, cats, dogs, insects, bears and even monkeys coexist in perfect harmony. People were accommodating, kind, and eager to make your stay more than comfortable without questions or judgement. This characteristic is the polar opposite of helpful city folks who with the intent of helping you, go the extra mile with a lecture or a taunt in order to have you choose the alternative they preferred or profited from. The other side of Hampi is equally or rather more beautiful and takes you ‘inside’ the world of Hampi. Stretches of inexplicably balanced boulders against a landscape of toiled and irrigated fields meet the eye. The roads are well connected and semi pucca. Scooters and mopeds on rent are your best bet. Besides I'm always for giving the locals a bit of business. We scootered our way up to Sanapur Lake and the Hanuman temple which is a decent trek up a massive boulder spot. The reward up topisn't just divine blessings but a breathtaking view (360°) of Hampi. Surprisingly well connected with 2 housing buildings and a water tank on the ‘peak’ had become one of those ‘anything is possible’ junctures in my life. We lunched at the Whispering Rocks (an organic rustic stay in the forest area of Hampi) and vowed to come back during season time to stay on one of their huts or eco cave lodgings. New friends - check. At one point, we took the bike out to the closest town with an ATM to withdraw some money and have the bike checked by a local mechanic. Apart from the routine oil changes etc.the thing that struck me was when the mechanic dislodged a trapped dragonfly from the engine, walked carefully to a tree nearby and lay the insect to rest there. I thought ‘wow if this was any other place, they would crush or throw it away like solid grease'. I was awestruck with the humanitarian attitude and smiled. We ran into the Wolfpack Enfield riders (Vivek and Co.), exchanged a few notes and moved on like all routine encounters. The approaching side of Hampi is pure vegetarian cuisine and no alcohol zone. One does not even get eggs here. The across-river side is everything-goes area. One maybe dismayed when you read this but trust me, you won’t feel any remorse or withdrawal unless, drinking and partying is the aim. The other side can be crossed by a ferryboat that leaves almost all day till about 5pm for a nominal fee. Alternatively, one can road trip it by going around Hospete-Hampi roads by covering an additional 50 kms. We preferred to stay put and rest the bike.
The day we left Hampi, I was sad. Something had been bothering me on a personal level and the reality of the trip coming to its planned demise was what I was preparedly unprepared for. We packed in a good breakfast, bid our temporary farewells and set on the road to Chittradurga. Language proved to be a challenge and then not with all the hand movements and big grins… Despite the communication in a mix of English, Hindi and Tamil, we managed to make it to the main route toward Chittradurga. Roads were half-decent but not as bad as the worst I had seen so far. I was looking forward to Bangalore for some city feel, friends, family visits and the breweries. There came a moment where some random “smart” dude tied his bull to one of those mileage markers on a bridge and left her unattended on a 4-way highway. The result was the bull walked all the way to the opposite end with the rope noosed around her neck. We slowed the bike down only to have the rope caught in our engine. I got off and lured her to a standstill, got the rope separated from the engine and prompted rest of the traffic to slow down as well as the bull would be dragged and surely killed if it continued the being frightened, stuck and attempting to cross back. I still pray it’s safe. After this drama and yet another visual lesson stuck in my head, I focused on the road. Somewhere along I flashed my thumb and a smile under all my vigilante-esque gear at a lone Enfielder who was on a 350 with quite the gear load on him. He intercepted us and we stopped for a chai break and routine bike notes exchange. Jaya Sriram is a young 20 something architect from Chennai who resides in Auroville and like us is a solo rider. He has covered many terrains on his classic vintage 350cc and prefers his own self for company. He was only too happy to have us give him “pseudo” company and we realized we are all headed to Bangalore. Sri kept his speed to a decent oscillating 60-80 while we gunned the girl toward a 100. After 2 brief breaks AND exchanges, he suggested we halt at Chittradurga for a quick bite and then move on nonstop to Bangalore. As we decided to do so, somewhere along the way, an Enfield with 2 mid-elderly gentlemen intercepted him on the way. They all seemed familiar to each other until Sri cruised by us telling us with a beaming smile that the pillion was his father. We were already at Chittradurga and all 4 of us sat down for an Enfieldian meal of puris and bhaji. Was an interesting exchange where Abeer was given advice and a soft nudge to carry on from Bangalore and head to Auroville and further down south. There was jest and laughter as they all realized in mins I would be the one missing my boyo. Thereafter, we hopped on our bikes, said our goodbyes and moved on. We cracked Bangalore in a swift <3hrs. Roads were butter paper and traffic well behaved. Weather too was exceptionally decent. The bike at this point had started to rattle and vibrate a lot. To a point that her mirrors wouldn’t stay steady. The engine clearly had a mishap somewhere and no matter how hard we tried or Abeer tried to give her a listen, we couldn’t figure the EXACT problem. At Hampi she was decently serviced with a brand new oil change as well. None of that mattered at this point when even attempting to make her hit above 80 proved to be strenuous. It was probably the 1st time she refused to cooperate with us which was criminal on a road and conditions such as the ones I described. We reached NandiDurga Road and instantly hit the RE service center. Without so much as a loosening a bolt, a diagnosis of crankshaft issues was made. This is like a doctor listening to you describe your fever and bluntly state you have dengue or malaria without the appropriate tests. We proceeded to take her to my brother’s place and rest her for the night until we decided what to do with her. It was Monday morning and I had a flight the next evening back home. Abeer had a train back to Pune with the bebe in cargo. Somehow, I knew it was not to happen.
We proceeded to hit the haunts: Church Street social, Watson’s, Windmills craftworks, The big pitcher etc. over the next 2 days. We even browsed forums to check the most highly recommended mechanic in Bangalore, someone named Nandan near Yeshwantpura, who looked at bebe and declared a good 3-4 days' worth of work. We were stumped and disappointed to a degree I can’t state here. Abeer opted to stay back the rest of the week and I was to fly home and make his travel arrangements available when they were ready. To this point, Bangalore weather was hot to pleasant until it decided to create the biggest jam for me and send out torrential rains making it impossible for me to make my flight. This made it officially a black mark on my flawless “no-flight-missed” track-record. Some quick thinking from the brother and kind GoAir officials, I was changed from an 8:30pm flight on Tuesday night to a 5:30am Wednesday morning flight at no extra cost. For me having to share one more night with my love was more than I could ask for as the familiar heart-in-my-throat feeling sank in. Yes I’m spoilt for loving him so much. After a few hours of rest, I left. Weary, sleep deprived, mix bag of emotions and NOT ready to touch work. I landed and headed straight to work in my avatar reserved only for the office premises and the kind no one recognizes me in. I had accidentally left my office ID card behind and given the organization I work for, a tempID was out of the question. Hence, le brother and boyo had to rush to BlueDart it to me at INR 400/- and it arrived in the nick of time (no adventure however miniscule escapes us). Thereafter, the bike bled us dry day after day until the cost reduced from 23k to a yet staggering 12k (this after some heated exchanges with RE officials that Abeer had gotten connected to). We were both angry with her and #RoyalEnfield for the shoddy piece of junk metal that she was eventually reduced to. 11 August 2015 marked her 1-year anniversary with us and it ended with a celebration followed by slumping unholiness. We decided to sell here there and then itself.

What ensued after is in my next blog post and frankly I was in for a HUGE surprise. :D 
Posthumous mention: After this trip, on 18 Sep 2015, Sriram informed us that his father passed away before his time due to a fatal cardiac arrest. I met him so very briefly and yet the experience over a lunch followed by numerous conversations with Sriram revolving around his father and his influences, almost felt like we knew him. A sad and untimely passing indeed. May he RIP.