Riders thrive by heading off to unchartered destinations, and I am not any different. For me, riding to new destinations is more exciting than a blind date, as it promises me an unparalleled experience of driving on unfamiliar roads, leading to unknown places.
It has been a while since I whet my appetite of exploring a new destination, and I was looking for a place which would blend together some hard riding with the exhilaration of wildlife. After some deliberations over a couple of beer meetings, Dajipur Bison Sanctuary near Kolhapur was nominated to be our host for the next ride.
GETTING THE BASICS RIGHT
Co-Rider: It is essential to always choose your co-rider meticulously. Stanley has been my fellow rider through many rides, over the last few years, and thus was a natural choice for this trip.
Distance: One thumb rule that we follow, while picking a destination, is that the riding distance should not be less than 200 kms from home and not more than 500 kms for a 3 day trip. This ensures that not only do we get some good riding but the trip also offers reasonable time to relax and explore what the destination has to offer. Dajipur fitted this criterion with one-way riding distance of approximately 480 kms from Mumbai.
Itinerary: Given that we are moving beyond the secure confines of our city, it is important to plan the itinerary in detail. This ensures that we are absolutely clear about the routes that we are to take while riding in and out of the destination. We, generally, prefer to choose a different route while riding back since it makes for a new trip in itself.
The Right Vehicle: Riding on rough terrains requires one to be well equipped, and the vehicle is an essential part of the same. We generally ride on our respective Royal Enfield Thunderbirds, and it was our companion this time around too.
Protective Gear: Finally, it would be foolish to venture on the roads without the right protective gear. Life is too valuable to lose it because of the lack of protective gear.
DAY 01: MUMBAI – PUNE – KOLHAPUR – DAJIPUR
Starting Off: We started off our day at 6:30 a.m., two days prior to Christmas, when we were greeted by the chill of the winter morning. We had a long day of driving that awaited us, and we quickly got started. The feeling of being on the highway always makes me feel liberated and humbled, and it is this melange of emotions that makes me reach for it again and again. After some hours of driving, we took a breakfast break at the beautiful Khandala. We bumped into a couple of other bikers during the break who told us how they were on a southern odyssey covering Bangalore, Ooty, Pondy and back. While it did make us feel as if our trip was like one to the next-door grocery store, we spent little time in focusing back on the roads and were back on the highways within minutes. It took us another couple of hours to enter Pune, from where we continued on the NH 4 towards the city known for its spicy food and ubiquitous ‘Patil’ surname: Kolhapur.
Towards Kolhapur & Onwards: It was a long ride to Kolhapur with an hour spent on lunch and bio breaks. By 4:30 in the evening we were sipping tea at a street-side joint on Kolhapur’s arterial Station road. Odometer reading: 399.5 kms. After a brief chat with the tea vendor, we realised that we still had 70 odd kms of ride ahead of us with the winter sun sinking fast in the horizon. Radhanagari is the last major town before Dajipur and is the most popular place to ask for directions while going to Dajipur. We quickly refilled our fuel tanks and commenced on the last leg of our ride to Dajipur. I knew in my heart that this would be the most thrilling part of the day. Negotiating the unruly Kolhapur traffic and ‘work-in-progress’ downtown roads, we finally hit state highway-SH 116. Like any other state highway, this is a two-lane road with unpredictable bad patches and unannounced animal movement. Since this was the first time we were riding on this road, not knowing what lay ahead, it was crucial for us to maintain our aggressive pace to reach the destination at a friendly hour.
Finally There: Asking for directions on country roads after sunset is quite a task. Throughout the ride, the sight of Radhanagari milestones kept us at ease. SH 116 is the chief road that connects Kolhapur to NH 17, which is the Mumbai-Goa highway and thus has a decent amount of traffic. As it turned dark our headlights came to life and it became more difficult to see and avoid the potholes. However our progress was better than we expected and by 7:30 pm we were just 5 kms away from Dajipur. This called for a break and we pulled over on a small bridge over a village pond by the road. The moon glistened across the dark landscape and the sight was absolutely spectacular. Smoking it up in the feeble glow of our bullet tail lights was like a celebration of sorts. Finally five minutes before 8:00 p.m., we reached our hotel. Odometer reading: 484 kms. It was actually an inconspicuous holiday home by the roadside with a modest verandah and a compact lobby. The hotel was located within a cluster comprising a few roofed village houses, a grocery shop, and a bus stop that stretched less than half a kilometre end-to-end.
Sumptuous Dinner at the Dhaba: We were informed by the hotel attendant that dinner wasn’t served at the hotel, and that meant that we would have to make it to a dhaba, a kilometre away. So, we set out on foot in the pitch black night towards the dhaba on the dark highway with just having learnt from someone that a buffalo was killed by a tiger atop a hill adjacent to the highway a few days back. The dhaba was a quintessential countryside truckers’ paradise. However, the spicy chicken dish that we ordered, made in authentic Kolhapuri masala, made our palates fall in love with it. We were sure to come here again. After more than twelve hours of riding on the clock and digesting our rustic dinner we finally called it a day at 10 p.m. by crashing into our stodgy prince-sized bed.
DAY 02: DAJIPUR
Lazy Start: Next day, we rose early to a Sunday morning sun. The freshness of the countryside air was rejuvenating to our city lungs. The attendant at the hotel treated us to a scrumptious breakfast and multiple cups of hot tea. Soaking in the winter sun and chatting away to glory, we didn’t realise when the sun passed midway through the sky. It was time we freshened up and made our way to Dajipur Bison Reserve.
Disappointment at the Bison Reserve: As we moved out of the hotel, we moved towards the manned checkpoint of the reserve, very close to the hotel off the highway. After having paid the entry fee, we made our way towards the main gate of the reserve, which was just a few kilometres away from the checkpoint. The ride, to the main gate, wasn’t a cakewalk though. It was a rock-strewn earth track with a steep gradient– a complete off-roading experience. Stanley and I had to rev up our 350cc engines and push the torque real hard at times while maintaining a fine balance between the clutch and the accelerator. When we eventually reached the main gate, we were greeted by an old man who seemed to have been flummoxed on seeing us. We were informed that the main watch tower was atop a hillock nineteen kilometres inside through a serpentine and steep earthy road just like the one we had taken to reach this point. This obviously meant that it wasn’t advisable to make that ride as it would be very difficult to make our way back to the main gate before 6 p.m., the closing time. Most visitors to the place take a local taxi very early in the morning so that they can return by about 2 p.m., the time when were planning to enter. This meant that we were leaving the reserve with utter disappointment.
Dajipur Talao – A Respite on a Disappointing Day: Fortunately, the road back offered not only a picturesque view of the Dajipur Talao- a reservoir created by the Radhanagari dam but also some great photo opportunities at a local monastery and surrounding fields. Finally, roving around Dajipur, we reached the hotel by sunset. Soon it was time for dinner and I was excited like a small kid to walk a kilometre on the dark highway back to the dhaba from last evening. It would be an understatement if I said the culinary experience outmatched the previous days’. We were more lavish in our ordering as this was to be our last opportunity here unless fate was kind enough to get us back to this part of the world- A highly unlikely scenario for foreseeable future. We called it a day after packing our bags for the next day’s ride back to Mumbai.
DAY 03: DAJIPUR – PHONDA – NANDGOAN (NH17) – MUMBAI
Early Start: It was 5:30 in the morning and I was standing outside the hotel enjoying the quietude of the village and the highway. Dawn was still almost an hour away and the star-studded sky looked simply marvellous. I was anticipating a long day of riding. We left at 6:15 and started our ride on SH 116 through the ghats leading to Phonda- a major town after Dajipur. We passed acres of fields, sleepy villages, and tortuous photogenic roads enveloped in crisp early morning fog. We stuck to SH 116 post Phonda and rode till we intercepted the Mumbai-Goa highway (NH17) at Nandgaon at 8 am. We were 380 kilometres from Panvel with not less than 8 hours of hard riding in front of us. After a quick breakfast at a highway restaurant, we set about on our Thunderbirds. Riding on the Mumbai-Goa highway had always been exciting to me given the two lanes without the divider, sudden curves, intermittent ghats and the old-school overtaking by barging into the opposite lane (no sarcasm). Following the ‘man-in-the-mirror’ principle we rode through the highway as a tag team. The power and torque provided to me by my Royal Enfield Thunderbird made me fall in love with it, again. Lunch and tank re-fill was at Chiplun just past noon. Though it was December, the sun was unrelenting on the highway and we thought it would be wise to take breaks after every couple of hours of riding.
Back to Mumbai:It was only by 6 in the evening that we reached Stanley’s house at Panvel. After a brief chat about our ride and a departing high five to my chum, I set out on the dreariest route of my thrilling 3 day ride. I was headed back to my home in the suburbs of Mumbai wading through the city traffic and numerous signals. After having ridden fast and smooth on the highway, riding in the city feels like a slap on your face. A couple of hours after Panvel, I finally rolled into my parking lot. I had completed 14 eventful hours on the road. My odometer clocked 993.5 kilometres and the dust and the grime of all that mileage was imprinted not only on my Bullet but also on my face.
About Rider: Rohan Potdar is a riding enthusiast and loves to take his camera on his escapades. He feels that the experience of being on a highway on his Royal Enfield is quite liberating and humbling at the same time. He has merged this love for photography and travel on his Facebook page.
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