Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Magical Konkan - A Ride Report, Part 1

I made a hurried entry into the ST bus and grabbed my window seat. Next to me was a grumpy faced old lady with a big sack next to her. Her pretty faced teenage daughter was sitting across the aisle. The bus was filled with villagers and with cleated shoes, baggy shorts and a backpack on my back, I was easily the odd one out.
Ameya helping me load the bike on the top of the ST bus
Just a min back I had successfully managed to fasten the bicycle on the roof top along with help from my brother in law. I was on way to Guhaghar to join the rest of the gang on our maiden 8 days Konkan Ride – Mumbai to Goa. Unlike the regular bus route, we were going to take the old SH4, disconnected at multiple places by creeks and river crossings, but rewarded by views no less than Magical. I was supposed to start with the other 4 riders from Alibaugh, but had to alter my itinerary due to some personal emergency. As per the new plan, I would be joining them at Guhaghar by the end of the 3rd Day. It helped immensely that  my friend Mihir had arranged a Bergamont Vitox 6.3  for me from Pune which I was supposed to courier back once in Goa. So there I was sittting in the Swargate – Guhaghar ST bus, appreciating the countryside.

By around 5 pm , I was at Guhaghar. Guhaghar is a sleepy little town , with just a small hamlet of houses and shops, with the beach being 5 min walk. We saw lot of shops selling confectioneries made of local products like alphanso, kokum etc.

The home stay booked was just a km from the bus stand and an old gentleman , who turned out to be owner of the homestay, welcomed me with a big curious smile. He was keen to know more about the ride and was excited about the fact we are going to unpack and assemble the bike from the box. Krish, Varun, Sumit and Rajiv arrived a little later in the evening. This was the 3rd consequite day of riding for them, over some really hilly terrain. It was good to see them.

That night, over some fried surmai, fish curry rice and solkadi, I caught up with  Krish A, Sumit and others on stories and happenings in the last 3 days. Most of the talk was around the scenic beauty of the route, and the amount of climbing they have done. There was also a lot of talk on the road conditions and some great time they had riding on one of the beaches. I was really itching to start my trip.

Day 1 ( Guhaghar to Ganapatiphule , ~80 km)

My Ride Begins
 After a nice and long breakfast, we kicked off the day's ride at around 9.30 am. I had the freshest of legs, but I could instantly make out why the terrain has been the centre of the talk last night. Immediately after we crossed the town, the climbs started . The terrain remained heavily rolling for most of the day as we kept riding through the western ghats. We crossed forest stretches and lots of mango farms. 

The road leading to the Tavsal jetty
My First Ferry Crossing 

The ride so far was good, but to be frank, it was event-less. Also, the ' magic' I was expecting was missing, and I just hoped it would get better. Little after noon, we reached Tavsal, from where we had to catch the Ferry to Jaigarh.

Getting into the ferry, and on our way to Jaigarh
It was my first ferry ride after long, so I was looking forward to it. Not the same with the others though. They had boarded 4 ferries in the last 3 days, with one of them being a very adventurous one that could only take 2 bikes and 2 passengers at a time. They had to cross that one in 2 shifts. Anyways, I got to ride my first ferry of the trip soon, and we were at Jaigarh. 

The lunch at Jaigarh

It was around 1.30 pm, and we decided to stop at Jaigarh for lunch. Now, one of the reason I do bike tours is to taste the local cuisine. The idea is to stop at non fancy little places where locals eats. After a bit of searching , we located a small local eatery where  some truckers had stopped as well. 
The lunch at Jaigad. The mackarel fry was delicous.
The place served some great bangda( mackarel) thali. Here again, Krish, Sumit and others had started getting bored with the konkani cuisine. Sumit complained about lack of variations and said he can't take any more of that konkani fish curry. But, it was my first lunch of the trip and there was no way I was going to give up. I gorged on the fish and topped my glass of solkadi thrice.

The gateway to the beach ride. Waiting for Varun and Sumit.
I finally get to my share of Magic

I was still looking out for the 'spectacular' part of the ride and even starting to get a little impatient. A lot has been talked about the amazing views the route offers, but they had eluded me. Post lunch, the terrain seemed to have eased a little and the climbs were more gentle. It continued for another 10 km like that and after a sharp downhill, we found our self on a road right next to the beach. My first real view of the sea and the sand. Someone said 'lets get on to the sand', and we rode right on the beach. 

Yeh, our private beach.

Miles of miles of hard sand , not a soul in sight.
Riding on the sand, with the waves kissing our tires, I finally had my share of Magic
It was one one of the hardest sand beaches i have come across and the ride along the sea made the day. The evening sun shinning on sea, the cool breeze on our face, the hard sand beneath the tires with not a soul in sight. I finally had my share of the Magic I was so looking forward to. For 5 long kms, we had just the sea waves giving us company and then we got onto the tarmac again. One more hill and an hour later, we were at Ganaptiphule.
Around 5 km from Ganapatiphule

Unlike Guhaghar, this was a much bigger town. After a shower and visit to the famous Ganaptiphule temple, we walked down to one of the eateries that the locals recommended. Everyone was super hungry and we gorged on the food. Food was great, and that place seemed to be a hot among visiotors.The surmai fry was the best I had in a long time . On the walk back, we stopped by an ice cream parlour and chit chatted on the great time we had over multiple cup of amul ice creams.

Day 2 ( Ganapatiphule - Ratnagiri-Pawas-Adivare ~85 km)

We were all ready to start by 7 am, when one of us noticed that Varun had a flat. Apparently, Varun had missed inspecting his tire before the trip and has been having frequent flats since the last 4 days. On inspection, we realized there was actually no rubber in multiple places. Every change of tube in no time resulted in the next flat. It took some ingenious effort for the team and we eventually managed to start the ride at 8.30 am. Now we were not sure if his time is going to last  even for the next 5 km. The plan for Varun was to somehow reach Ratnagiri and then try looking for some tires. And just hope for the best:-)

After a nice long climb, we were at the outskirts of ganapatiphule, entering bhandarphule. Memories flashed back and I remembered my trip 15 years back when me and 2 of my roomates had taken a bus down here from pune and stayed at one of the cliff view resorts at Bhandarphule. From bhandarpule we had taken many walks down to Ganapatipule. 'The town has changed', I told myself .The familiarity made me feel good though. 

The Magic was Back!
The road runs along the sea
The terrain kept heavily rolling. The road cut through the western ghats like the day before, but this time we were right next to arabian sea offering us terrific cliff views. The Magic was back. It kept on like that for a pretty long time, and we kept shuffling between riding and taking pictures. It was the best part of the trip for me !
A coconut break
Cycle touring can be taxing on the body, and  mind. Many times, when the going gets tough,  I tend to ask myself  why I am doing this? Is it worth the suffering ? Part of the answer lies in roads like those that makes you forget all the pain.
The Magic was back. We stopped to appreciate the views
Riding by the sea, I could  answer myself why I had gone through all the sufferings

Some more answers to questions thrown by life!

The Tire Hunt for Varun

After many breaks, we reached Ratnagiri. On priority was to find a replacement tire for Varun's Bergamont. It was not going to be easy because the rim sizes used on these bikes are slightly different than the local rims. I mean different sizes. And guess what ? We actually found a shop who has tire for the rim! We were elated and celebrated the occasional with a lavish spread of breakfast on one of the local udupi restaurant.
Yeh, we got the tire! Jyoti Cyle store comes to our rescue.

Varun getting his tire replaced.

The View from top, Kishore Kumar and the Escape from Sun

Gentle rolling climbs, great surface

Post Ratnagiri we were greeted with some relatively flatter roads. The terrain was barren with open fields on both sides. We pushed on hard to cover some lost time, but the afternoon sun with and the occasional long climbs made it harder and harder. Finally we stopped at a lone shack on top of one climb.
Break Time!

I came to know Krish A had reached here almost an hour back and has waiting for the rest of us.  As soon as I hopped off the bike, Krish A informed us with a big smile that the shack makes some of the best masala chai, and he had savoured many cups till then. However, after sweating out in the sun for the last 2 hours, tea was last thing in my mind. I just crashed onto one of the benches the shop had and wished the ride just ended there for the day !
The Rejuvinating Lunch break
After 30 min or so, I woke up to the radio playing some lovely old kishore kumar songs and amidst some vada pav and misal pav related discussions. Aparently those were the 2 options available to eat. All of us feasted on both, and followed up many glasses of Kokum Sarbat.
The long rest has recharged us. It also helped that it was nearing 3.30 pm and the sun was not at its notorious best. It was time to move on.

The Adivare Sun temple and the flock of Hornbills

Vijaydurg was still around 50 km away, and we wanted to reach as close to it possible while the daylight lasted. Krish was as usual ahead of us when we saw the sign for the Kanakaditya sun temple, a  800 odd year old temple located in the forest. I realised Krish has missed the turn and Kedar, a friend of us , had told us repeatedly not to miss ' The Adivare temple'. We tried calling Krish, but there were no phone signal. The rest of us continued to the Kanakaditya Sun Temple. 

Through the forest, to the Sun temple
The route goes through forests and some steep hills, and it was a good little adventure ride. We temple has lovely architecture, the place was serene. We sat there for a long time , soaking in the serenity and chatting with the pujaris.

The Kanakaditya Sun Temple
The Sun Temple from a different angle

Just when we were about to start our ride back, I noticed a huge bird fly by, making a whosh-whosh sound by its wing. 'Hornbill' , I whispered in  Varun's ear. Never seen one before in real life, and I was thrilled. Soon we discovered the area has loads of Hornbills residing around in multiple trees. They seemed to be in harmony with the local people, and nobody seemed to care!

The hornbills! They were very shy, and every time we would try to take a pic they will shy away
The steepest climb of the whole trip. At least 50% steeper than any climb I have done till date!!

Krish A, the Flying Mascot!

The Adivare town was 3 km away, it was getting dark. Our headlights were on by the time we reached the town. 'Your friend was waiting for you  for the last 1.5 hours here!' one guy screamed.  'He went looking for you', another sighed. 'Where were you all?' , one more curious local wanted to figure out. We explained we could not co ordinate as phone signals were not working. and assured them not to worry. We told 'Krish would be back soon'. And so was Krish, in 20 minutes. We checked into Adivare temple guest house that night – the only accommodation in the town and used a local tailors phone to call our home .
Temple Guest House

To be Continued......

Monday, February 2, 2015

5 Reasons why cycling will get more mainstream in India

For a developing country like India, cycles are still commonly used in villages and small towns. While it is a means of commute there, our cities and urban areas have started adapting to cycles in a different way. We are starting to embrace the bicycle more as a lifestyle than just means of commute. And we trust that this change is here to stay and cycling will only become more mainstream in the coming years.

1. More and more Indians have taken up competitive cycling especially at a later stage

Image Courtesy: Hyderabad Racing League
Several Indians are now serious about competitive cycling. Some of these are active trekkers and mountaineers, while some are corporate employees who train in the comforts of weekends. In fact several competitive cyclists are those that have embraced the sport at a later stage in life.

In fact, currently several professional cycling teams such as The Specialized KYNKYNY Cycling Team have started being formed. Another huge inspiration is Anu Vaidyanathan, India's first woman to have completed an Ironman. She is also the only Asian (male or female) to compete and finish an Ultraman. 

In our very own Hyderabad, we have seen several competitive cyclists including Raman Garimella, an engineer who quit his IT job to take up professional cycling. He finished in the top 10 in the National Road Racing Championships in 2013 before moving to Germany to pursue his interests along with pursuing a masters degree in sports.

Dr. Vignan quit practising medicine in order to train to become an elite Ironman triathlete. He is representing Telangana in the ongoing National Games in Kerala. As of 2015, he has won Hyderabad, Thonnur and Pune Triathlon. He aspires to compete as an elite in Ironman 70.3 starting this year. 

2. The number of triathlons and brevets are on the rise

Image Courtesy: Hyderabad Brevets
The last few years have seen a steep rise in the number city-based races, brevets and triathlons. In 2010, brevets were organized only in 2 cities in India and by 2013, the same grew to a whopping 8 cities (which also includes Hyderabad). India is also ranked 14th worldwide in official brevet mileage. Randonneuring is here to stay and across the country, there have been some really inspiring randonneurs.

There is also a visible increase in the number of triathlons and bicycle races. Hyderabad itself has a Hyderabad Triathlon and the Hyderabad Racing League, which have been active in recent times.

3. Celebrities have embraced bicycles

Image Courtesy: www.bollywoodmantra.com
Recently, in an interview well known South Indian actor Sarath Kumar spoke about his love for cycling for close to 3 whole minutes. He is an avid cyclist and enjoys the sport not just for fitness, but has also ventured into competitive cycling.

Famous actor Vikram, also admits to have embraced cycling especially to lose weight as part of his preparation for the role in his recent movie, I.

In Bollywood’s scheme of fitness, actor Siddharth Malhotra (of Student of the Year fame) has also been spotted cycling on busy streets of Mumbai. And Bollywood’s poster boy for a muscular physique, Salman Khan has constantly supported cycling and has also been spotted several times commuting on his bicycle!

4. Our roads have bike lanes!

Image Courtesy: bangalore.citizenmatters.in
Officially, the municipal corporations have started recognizing the need for dedicated cycling lanes. In a country where most cities have clogged roads, more bicycles will in fact ensure lesser traffic!

This started with Bangalore introducing a bicycle lane in Jayanagar. Though it was not exactly a complete success, the Directorate of Urban Land Transport has planned 3 more dedicated cycling corridors. There is a plan to include a 22km cycle lane in Gurgaon as well.

Hyderabad also has dedicated bicycling lanes in Gachibowli along with the option of renting bicycles. This trend is bound to increase the number of people opting to commute by bicycles more regularly.

5. Because, cycling is the new golf

Image Courtesy: www.caleidoscope.in
There have been recent reports that cycling is replacing golf as the networking sport in America. For a country like India, where golf never caught on, cycling definitely is a sought after sport for networking. In fact this sport can be easily embraced by corporations to better build teams and need not necessarily be competitive as golf thereby helping build better working relationships. In golf you are necessarily competing against each other, whereas in cycling, a group enhances the energy levels. 

In the current culture and lifestyle where exercise is external to everyday work, this is a fun chance to merge the two.