Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Kolad Magic!

You know the ‘adventure weekend’ is off to a good start, when at the first dinner halt, you find the tables are set on 20-feet high stilts. And after you’ve climbed a rickety ladder, your order is taken by the manager, who could pass off for a benign politician. And when even the whimsically ordered fries turn out to be exceedingly good!

The menagerie:7 happy adventurers, two guides, one attendant, two vehicles and 3 bicycles.

The destination: Kolad, a dozy little town 3 hours away from Mumbai, and just off the Mumbai-Goa road.

The plan: Drive to Kolad, take turns to explore the countryside on cycles and camp in the wild.

It was midnight when we reached Kolad and found a little spot off the main road to camp. The air was redolent with the thick sweet scent of wildflowers. A delicious nip hung in the air. That, and the starry night sky lured some of the bravehearts to bring their sleeping bags out of the tents.

In the morning, a curious knot of village children gathered at our campsite. We must have provided an amusing spectacle as we wrestled with the tent pegs, did warm ups and tested the cycles. After a hearty breakfast, the first three cyclists set off, while we tailed them in the two vehicles.

It was a pleasant, sunny morning. The roads were in superb condition as we zipped through hamlets with quaint names like Paoor and Kudli and Sanasvadi. When I got my turn at the pedals, we’d reached the ghats and the start of a gentle incline. For the next two hours, one enticing thought kept me going as I gritted my teeth, tormented my muscles and worked my way uphill – that I’d soon be rewarded with a heart-stopping downhill slope, and I’d rip through it with my eyes streaming and hair flying!

At one point, as I stopped to catch my breath on a narrow pass, I came upon an unfamiliar sound in the air. A silence so deep and pervading that it seemed to go on forever. In that timeless moment, the only movement came from a tiny yellow butterfly flitting in the yellow grass and from my heart doing the lambada in my ribcage. It was one of those soul-perfect moments that one seeks endlessly but only rarely stumbles upon.

Just when I’d run out of gears and my legs were all wobbly, I spotted that elusive downhill slope. And as it turned out, the group had broken for lunch. That’s Lucky Leela for you!

After a Maharashtrian-style lunch replete with bhakri, fiery chicken curry and a mug full of toddy, we retreated to a shady copse to escape the fierce noonday sun. Later, we rode some more, until we arrived at a perfect night stop - a flat plain which dropped steeply into a lush green valley. No tents, we decided, let’s sleep under the stars. We stretched out lazily to watch a glorious sunset, munching on ‘Melange de Jaipur’ (a needlessly fancy name for Haldiram’s Bhujia Sev!)

The incandescent gibbous moon rendered torches unnecessary. And a crash course in astronomy and dinner later, we eased into our sleeping bags, waiting just long enough to sing a cacophonous ‘happy birthday’ for A at the dot of 12.

… and then all hell broke loose!

The mild, pleasant breeze transformed into a furious, raging hurricane. It was like a dozen freight trains roaring by. I opened one eye and peered out of the sleeping bag and was instantly pelted with a mixture of hay and loose mud. The flapping tarpaulin began to sound like a thunderclap. No rain Lord, we prayed, no rain! The wind had swelled our sleeping bags, giving it a balloon-like appearance. And we fervently hoped that we wouldn’t have to climb down the gorge the next morning to recover our bags and shoes! Still, I not only managed to sleep intermittently but also to have bizarre dreams.

Sunrise the next morning had no effect on this renegade wind. Was this a message to beat it? We wasted no time in setting off.

From the mountains, we detoured to the sea. To a town called Shrivardhan, 40 kms away. Another fiery Maharashtrian lunch later, we hightailed it back to Bombay.

As we neared the city limits, long-silent cell phones started beeping out belated messages. And items from my To-Do list started popping back into my head. It was back to the grind, but one was ready for it now…

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