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Riding Roadless
An overnight Journey to Rajmachi Fort
by Santosh Kumar

Rajmachi Fort View
Rajmachi Fort View.

Every biker who travels in Maharashtra should have a quintessential belief in the Taoist saying "Journey is the reward, not the destination." This state in India may not be the most beautiful part of the country. It may not scintillate your senses with exemplary or breath-taking views, Konkan belt being the only exception. You may not enjoy the dry mountains and black sand beaches that the state offers to tourists. But what it offers best is the vast variety of roads. No other state boasts of the variety of roads as Maharashtra does. It has the finest highways in the country. For an intrepid traveler it has twisty roads and gut wrenching ghat sections. It also gives the best off-road experience in case one is looking for that. It is better to be clear that while traveling in Maharashtra you are looking for a journey that unveils inimitable riding/driving experiences all the way and not very cushy, pleasant tourist destinations.

This is a chronicle of a rare off-road riding experience that I had recently. Rajmachi Fort was the destination. As usual I was riding a Royal Enfield Bullet but what was unusual was that I was riding with 40 other Royal Enfield riders.

The ride

When Roadshakers (a group of people in Pune who have helplessly fallen in love with Royal Enfield Bullet motorbikes) informed me that they are planning for a trip to Rajmachi Fort, I thought it was supposed to be a usual weekend riding. They hastily added that it is going to be different sort of ride because of the route from Lonavala to Rajmachi. The road is interesting because there is no road at all. I had tried to visualize the experience but failed. I then decided to stick to one of my basic beliefs for that matter: if you can't visualize something go ahead and experience it.

Pune to Lonavala: 64 KMs.

I could not stick to the original plans because of a small trouble in my bike so I had to ride all the way to Lonavala alone. The renovated Mumbai-Bangalore highway offers very good surface - barring a few patches. You can push your bike to the maximum limit, provided you can stop it whenever you want. I had decided to ride in a lusty slow speed listening to the humming wind that whirls around the helmet. I had not ridden in this road for about a year and realized that the entire patch of this highway has changed so much. On both sides of the road innumerable restaurants and dhabas (roadside restaurants that serve spicy, tasty Punjabi food) have mushroomed. The road is well marked and comparatively safer now. The new Mumbai-Pune Express Highway has taken away a major chunk of traffic from this road so there is lesser traffic. With all these contributing factors together one can have a heavenly ride on this road.

My ride up to Lonavala was good and uneventful. I reached Lonavala at 8:30pm. Lonavala is the most famous picnic spot around Pune. It's a hill station at around 600 meters above the sea level. Weekend packers from Pune and Mumbai pour in to Lonavala during monsoons. During that season Lonavala would be decked with lush greenery and innumerable milky waterfalls from the surrounding hills. An overflowing Bushi dam adds to the excitement. Perhaps that's the only season you could justify your trip to Lonavala. The greenery, water falls, clouds, visitors, all of these disappear sometime in the middle of the winter and the place will look like a ghost of its monsoon glory. An adjacent hill station, Khandala, is equally popular with the weekend hikers.

At Lonavala, I joined the rest of the gang at Ramakrishna Hotel, which is bang on the old Mumbai-Pune road. It's an Uduppi restaurant (Uduppi is a place in Karnataka. Certain communities from there are best known for their restaurant management skills) that serves reasonably good South Indian snacks. You can get your share of beer too. There were around 40 Royal Enfields parked in the parking slot. Also there were riders from indiethumpers: a Mumbai based Royal Enfield group. I could feel a buzz of enthusiasm among the crowd, as they were raring to hit the road less traveled.

As I was late and the group was about to leave the place I had to gulp down some snacks and a bottle of beer quickly.

At 9:45pm the group began the second phase of the journey. Forty-plus shining machines were thumping together. It's a rare scene for an onlooker unless he had been to some of the Indian Army parade. They were in great glee and started giving thumbs up to the group. Yup, you feel nice about it.

Lonavala to Rajmachi: 15 KMs (trekking on two wheels)

In the initial patch itself, the road was too narrow to ride together, so we decided to ride in a row. The first one KM was a rough tarmac patch. I thought that the road was not as bad as I had visualized. Before I could complete my thought my bike quivered viciously and I could see a heavy cloud of dust in the light of my headlamp. Voila!! The road ends there. From there onwards I could see only a gray patch of dust and rocks winding through thick woods. Its up to you to decide whether to proceed further or return to the smooth highways.

The group was hell-bent on making it so no one turned back. We were on a rush - pure adrenalin rush. Your bike does not stop wobbling for even a fraction of a second. You can see the rider in front dancing along with his bike and being thrown up and down all the way. Loose stones and big rocks covered with fine dust make it an off-road rider's delight. There were dried up streams too. To heighten the ecstasy there was a generous share of twists and steep inclines. Whoever had a pillion was in a soup and whoever had a fat pillion was in a thicker soup. Often they had to jump out of the bike in order to save their skin. Hence if you have a girlfriend, think twice before taking her along with you.

At times, getting going was really tough because of the cloud of dust thrown up by the bikers riding in front. Literally I had to fumble through that. I could relish the earthy taste in my mouth and my lungs were reasonably filled with dust.

Along the route there were two steep climbs where many bikers got stalled. The surface was highly uneven and one had to plough through the mushy heap of fine dust. All of a sudden you might hit a rock and the bike slows down. If that happens, you and your bike start crawling back. Whichever way you may try or however hard you may try, you may not be able to salvage the situation. You will have to come back, pick up momentum and zip ahead in full force. Never try to jump out of the bike in panic and try to push it. You may fall down with your bike and if that happens, serious damage to you as well as your machine is assured.

By then the group was fragmented due to various problems. Broken cables, melted clutch plates, low maneuvering skills.problems were highly varied. Often, we had to wait for some riders who had difficulty catching up. At one spot we went to the jungle and brought some firewood. A bonfire on the road was a highly refreshing experience.

One by one all the riders managed to overcome these hurdles. After one hour of bone jolting ride, sweating profusely, all of us reached Rajmachi.

The Place

Rajmachi is a twin peaked fort overlooking the Ulhas valley and the Bhor Ghat. They are called Shreevardhan and Manoranjan. There is one temple between these peaks. Like most of the other forts in Maharashtra, this fort is also built along side massive cliffs of a mountain.

You ought to wonder. You have not spotted a single human being all the way but there are around 20 families staying at Rajmachi Village.

You can get food in the village. Don't expect any sumptuous cuisine here. They are basic but tasty. One Daal Chawal (a very basic Indian food) will cost you around 25 Rupees. Not a bad deal. The villagers also rent out their verandas to the tourists for sleeping. Mind you, it's open and you will get a good company of Mosquitoes too. This "accommodation" will cost you 15 Rupees.

We camped at the plateau. People began to disperse and formed small groups with whomever they are comfortable with. The entertainment was varied. Some were playing guitar and singing. Some group was thoroughly enjoying a variety of spirits. Sitting around a bonfire, jokes were flowing with spirit. After some time we had dinner at one villager's house. It was a unique dinner along with cows and calves in that house.

It was a memorable night. At around 3:00am we slept under the sky. The sky was blue and the breeze was sedative.

Morning chores for a Royal Enfield rider are standard. Check the Engine Oil, fasten the fasteners, shine the chrome and follow religiously an engine start procedure. The discipline with which they do all these may put even a Buddhist monk to shame. In the process some people found out that their tyres are punctured, there are leaks in the engine and squeaks here and there.

Next day morning we departed from the place. God, in the daylight when I saw the patch that we had ridden last night I was literally taken aback. It was that terrible.

The return ride was amazing again. We all took a small break at Ramakrishna Hotel. This time it was tea instead of beer.

The ride back to Pune was smooth and without any events. My bike and me were fully covered in dust, but who's complaining? I'll go back again in monsoons, and want to come back covered in mud. Yeah, both my bike and me!

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