I just rounded out my second year in India and for a change of pace decided to stay in the country this holiday season instead of travelling back to the states, instead opting to celebrate with friends and close the Christmas weekend with an amazing group motorcycle ride in the Aamby Valley, a large expanse of golden, grass covered hills, lakes and streams, and scenic mountains about two and a half hours (by bike, anyway) outside of Pune.
Let me tell you, first of all, from a passenger’s perspective, about our household bike, the Royal Enfield Bullet. It looks cool and it's called Kali. It’s matte black and super sleek. Kali, in Hindu belief, is the goddess of time, and this rings true because for the first twenty minutes or so she’s a relatively comfortable lady…until reality sets in. There is no suspension. Every road bump sends my ass flying about 6 inches off the seat and I contemplate, pretty much the entire time, the best ways I could try to land on the pavement (or whatever else off-road terrain we were on) with the least amount of injury to my precious face should she decide it’s my time to fly. Then there is an awesome steel bar right at my left calf which I’m sure has some purpose but digs into my muscle constantly, leaving love marks that remind me of my epic journey for days afterward. I digress – for all the complaining, there is something freeing and exhilarating about cruising down the road on the back of a bike and after our trip this weekend I’m definitely hooked.
The Aamby Valley is breathtaking. In winter it’s dry and a little bit smoky from the cooking/rubbish fires in the villages, cold in the morning but warm in the afternoon. The landscape is golden wheat with patches of hearty sun-loving wildflowers, and the trees that remain are scraggly and dark green. The landscape slowly transitions during monsoon around July and the gold is replaced by nothing but green, everywhere. It covers the mountains like carpet, and delicate flowers that can only exist in the humid, favorable conditions of the season bloom in large clumps. The rains also bring waterfalls by the dozen, and an ethereal misty fog, giving the visitor a real feeling of being in paradise found.
Our motorcycle ride, like many of our trips out of the city, began before sunrise at about 6:00am. It was 55˚F (13˚C) and freezing! Bundled up, we broke out of the city on the west side near Kothrud and used the scenic regional roads beneath the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, cutting a sharp left south at Kale where did a little dodgy off-roading down what Google Maps simply calls “Unnamed Road”. We headed over the top of Pawna Lake, stopping for an Indian buffet breakfast (and bathroom break) at Cloud9 Hills Resort around 10:00am, and thanks to the sunshine were finally able to peel off some of our layers from the morning.
By 10:45am we were on our way. We headed south on Lonavala-Aamby Valley Road where we did some more off-roading and had to stop a few times to check Google Maps and ask for directions. We rode under Mulshi Dam and through Paud via Mulshi Road (Highway 60). It was at about this point when Kali began to randomly break down due to a fuel filter issue.
This happened 8 times. Once at a major intersection in midday city traffic, a few times on the outskirts of the city, and for the last time about 3km from home, in the middle of two lanes (and if you know Indian traffic you know that “lanes” is subjective). We ended up at home around 3pm, and I spent the rest of the day with a phantom “thump thump thump thump” in my head, and a slightly dislocated feeling in my hips. It was an awesome first ride though, and I’m excited to get out for more. I hope one day I’ll get the courage to ride my own bike, but until then I’m happy to sit on the back, enjoy the view, and take awesome pictures.