Sunday, November 22, 2015

Pedalling for Peace : From Powai to Bhor Ghat

Ignore the 17 hrs 42 minutes shown for walking the entire stretch in the map...  

I didn't walk.  I cycled. :-)

I participated in the Pedal for Peace Cycle ride   ,  organized by Shri Mirza Saaib Beg , from Powai Police Station to Bhor Ghat , on Saturday 21st Nov 2015.   We would ride  our cycles  from Powai , via Airoli, Panvel, Chowk and Khopoli to the Bhor Ghat.

One of the many Ghats (mountain passes)  in the Sahyadri range, the Bhor Ghat now stretches for 18 kilomters as a path connecting Khopoli in the coastal plains to Khandala  in the Hills of the Western Ghats/ Sahyadris.  In the ancient  days, it was a route that connected the ports of Choul, Revdanda and Panvel on the Konkan coast to the Deccan plains.
historical significance as it was the ancient trade route connecting the ports at Choul, Revdanda, Panvel etc. on the Konkan coast and the surrounding areas on the Deccan plateau.
-- Read more:
historical significance as it was the ancient trade route connecting the ports at Choul, Revdanda, Panvel etc. on the Konkan coast and the surrounding areas on the Deccan plateau.
-- Read more:
historical significance as it was the ancient trade route connecting the ports at Choul, Revdanda, Panvel etc. on the Konkan coast and the surrounding areas on the Deccan plateau.
-- Read more:

History has it that the feasibility of having a motorable road/pass connecting Khopoli to Khandala  through the mountain was indicated by a local Dhangar/tribesman called Shigroba.  The British swung into action  and Mumbai and Pune got connected  first by road, and then by the  Great Indian Peninsular railway (GIP Railway)  with 28 tunnels and old bridges in 1863.

Those zooming by at great speed on the Mumbai Pune Expressway today, miss out on many things that those who frequented the old Mumbai Pune  Rd, NH4 , saw.  

The mandatory stop in Khopoli at a place called Ramakant for Vadas.  The gentle climb initially past the Tata Power station , and loaded trucks, stopping on the side, before mobilizing for a tough climb. Truck drivers , very considerate of small cars, letting them safely overtake after checking oncoming traffic.  Descending traffic giving priority to ascending traffic.  Traffic passing by a famous small temple, with truck drivers and others , alike, flinging coins into the sanctum , and a priest standing outside handing prasad to cars and trucks in motion.  The amazing high gradient hair pin bend in the middle of the ghats, making people admire their own driving,  and emerging from a tunnel just before Khandala , on to a waiting area,  and standing with bonnets open to cool cars, while folks cooled themselves with ice golas.

The modern Expressway foodmalls are not a patch on all this.  But we followed the old Mumbai Pune Road NH4  since cycles are not allowed on the expressway.    

We started from Powai at 4.30 am. Meeting up with riders at JVLR, Panvel  etc, along the way  , around 8.30 , we were 32 people at Khopoli, taking a refreshment break before  attempting the ghat climb.

I have a gearless bicycle, which makes it all the more difficult, and over several weeks , I have  improved my stamina and strength that allows me to successfully climb across steep inclines. But the Bhor Ghat gradient is different .  (Graph courtesy Powai Pedals FB page).

A little bit after the temple , 2 fellow riders and I  got extremely tired and it was not possible to pedal on.  We stopped a tempo , and they kindly took us till Lonavla  after loading our bikes . When we got off,  we realized we would have to travel backwards, cross the expressway and then ride back again to join our fellow riders. After much to-ing and fro-ing, we reached the Bhor Ghat Police Station. 

We enjoyed a Daal Khichdi lunch at Lonavla, after which we decided to descend the Bhor Ghat, a very enjoyable ride, where we hardly pedalled. Just braked every now and then. It had been very hot when we climbed, and it was now getting cloudy. 

At Khopoli, 8 of us decided to return to Mumbai proper by suburban train from Khopoli. We were extremely tired.  Fancy gradients and gearless bikes do that to you  sometimes . Khopoli, the last station  on the central railway in the Pune direction, is a starting point. We took a train till Karjat, loading our cycles (cycle ticket : Rs 100)  and sitting with them in the luggage compartment.

 Another train from Karjat , to points south around 70 kilometres away by train opened our eyes to some social ills.

It started raining outside . 

We were threatened by a posse of milkmen and their leader type (in whites and googles)  and asked to get out of the luggage compartment of the Karjat CST local train. We had valid tickets, for ourselves and our cycles, and had got in like everyone else, and refused to vacate. We were threatened, they even tried to mishandle the bikes,  and  some even tried to cause trouble for me , the only girl in the group of 8, by sitting inconveniently. They were pulled up by my fellow riders, who exchanged places with me, and we watched these "milkmen" non chalantly open up milk cans and pouches, and systematically adulterate them all with water of presumably doubtful origin.  Right in front of us.   Then they got off at Ulhasnagar , presumably to smile innocently and sell bad milk to unsuspecting folks. 

We got off at Ghatkopar, where the motorman of the train must have stopped the train for a few seconds extra , just to have seven cycles disembark from a crowded luggage compartment. 

We rode back to our respective homes, but not before I lost my way in the traffic and rode in the wrong direction of Asalpha (towards Saki Naka) . Till GPS came to my rescue, and guided me back on to LBS Marg , from where I knew the roads.  Very clearly, the bike had not had its fill of kilometres.

A thrilling ride totalling 105.81  kilometres ,  my third 100 + ride,  a good assessment of my own stamina and strength, where I need to improve,  and a confirmation that Mumbai traffic is the pits.

Started at 4 am from home, reached back at 7 pm. 

The group assembled outside Powai Police Station at 4.30 am . (This photo courtesy the Powai Pedals FB page/Nirbhay Singhal. )

 On our way , before proper sunrise , somewhere after Panvel . 

Small towns along the way, complete with more traffic, rumblers and zebra stripes . The day has just dawned.  And the Sun sees us !

Old Mumbai Pune Road,  NH4, still used by light and heavy vehicles.  The day has begun, and we cycle on .

 Me with the youngest rider, Pankaj, still in his teens . Completing his first 100 kms during this ride . Bravo ! 

I don't think the lady in the banner had anything to do with it, but we stopped in Khopoli for some refreshments , before beginning the Bhor Ghat ascent. Our chariots, taking a much needed breather. 

Naturally, this called for a selfie.  Extreme sunlight, heat, often points to evolution in clothes, and this time , for me , it was white cricket sleeves  , by themselves. (I didn't know that such things existed )

 Three of us, super fatigued from the huge gradient, decided to take a tempo instead of riding the last part .  This Ozgur, my fellow rider .

The three cycles must have thanked us for this unexpected luxury. 

 View from near Bhor Ghat Police Station, just before taking the Lonavla/Khandala exit.

On the road leading to Tiger point.  Sai, Avik and Elan in the photo. 

Sai, Avik, Gaurav. Pankaj and Vilas Sawant (behind me)

At Bhor ghat top, overlooking the valley.  L to R,  Pradeep, Vilas, Pankaj, Gaurav, Sai, me, Avik. The photographer is Elan.

Stopping on a road that leads to either old Khopoli road or Expressway . We needed to take the old Khopoli Road. 

 One more photograph, without  humans and machines.

Very clearly,  mere cycle ka ek photo to bantaa hi hai !  Trouble free (touch wood) performance across many rides so far.

What has the world come to, when folks stop in the middle of amazing vistas to check tiny screens beeping here and there? 

Our group that decided to take a Central Railway suburban train back, waiting at Khopoli Station. 

Our 8 cycles , loaded in the luggage compartment, along with us , standing and sitting in typical local train style. 

 Some folks even managed to get seats ! 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

62 kms , Colaba & Kyani and Co......

Approaching the end of the year means sunrise is a bit late and it is a bit dark around 5:45 am .   By the standards of my previous rides that started at 4:00 am , this was a bit late.

Nevertheless , six of us from Powai Pedals,  started on our ride to Colaba around 6 am.

(Map Attribution By TIFR, Nichalp (TIFR) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Colaba was one of the southern most islands that formed the island city  of Mumbai/Bombay.   These islands were initially owned by the Portuguese, who presented them as dowry  to the British Kind Charles II when he married the Portuguese princess  Catherine of Braganza. Typically, this action of the government in Lisbon was greatly opposed by the Portuguese in Mumbai and Goa and they kind of did delayed tactics , which angered the British King, who simply leased these islands to the East India Company , in   1675.  An establishment on this tiny island marked Old Woman's Island, was held on to by the Portuguese , and the British got control much later. Today this exists as the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in middle Colaba.  Thanks to reclamation of land around these islands, these are now interconnected and collectively referred to as the Island City/South Mumbai. 

Now a business district, naval cantonment, at one time populated by mainly Parsis and Christians , and a very popular tourist and shopping area, it is also home to some interesting Irani restaurants.  We decided to breakfast at one of these, south of Colaba , near the Metro theatre.      

 Kyani and Co , established in 1904 , by Khodadad Shokriye , who came from Iran, today his great-great descendants run the place.  Known for its iconic Irani Tea, Mawa Cake, Brun Maska , and  full strength egg dishes, sandwiches and custards,  all for amazing prices. 

We cycled via the Eastern Express Highway all the way to the Gateway of India , which is actually at one end (northern) , of Colaba.   Had a brief halt outside the Taj Mahal Hotel , ( as we are clearly not the types that can manage halts inside the Taj . :-) .... ).

Then cycled back towards Metro and Kyani and Co for some amazing breakfast of mawa Cake, Eggs  , Brun Muska and tea .  Fortified, we then made our way back across around 30 kilometres  to reach our homes a bit after 10 am, before the heat kicked in . 

Our faithful chariots ,  now used to traveling across all kinds of roads . This one, bravely gearless ,  is mine. 

The Taj mahal Hotel in the background. This was the target of , subjected to  and destroyed in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks , and carefully and painstakingly resurrected to its old glory later.  This photo  clicked as we take a breather between the hotel and its sea front promenade.

A selfie of the group at the Taj.   Very clearly,  there is always a population of folks in Mumbai going places, regardless of how early it is, even on a Sunday. 

Breakfast calls,  and we cycle down Mahatma Gandhi Rd towards the Metro Theatre (now called Big Cinemas ).  Kyani and Company lists its address as  " Jer Mahal Estate, Opposite Metro Cinema, Marine Lines, Mumbai" . 
Easy to find  !

 The Brun Maska !

 Our group,  having ordered, waiting for it all to appear .  It appeared, was thoroughly enjoyed,  and one of the waiters obliged us and clicked . 
The group, full, happy and raring to go , on the ride back .

Monday, November 9, 2015

Two wheels, 78 kms, Brun Maska , and Apple Pie ....

As early mornings get cooler,  cycling at dawn becomes an extremely enjoyable experience, regardless of distance.

A group of us from Powai Pedals decided to cycle to National Centre For The Performing Arts (NCPA)  at Nariman Point at, what used to at one time, be the southern tip of the Mumbai Peninsula.  That is , till various other localities like Cuffe Parade etc happened.

Started at 5.30 am from Powai, and proceeded along the Eastern Express Highway(EEH) to  Chaatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) .  CST was earlier known as Victoria Terminus in honor of Queen Victoria, and the Victorian Gothic Revival (Indo Saracenic Revival) architecture of the station is a reminder  of that. CST today is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

We proceeded  via Town hall/Asiatic Library to the Gateway of India. Earlier an ordinary fishermans jetty, it was developed into a landing place for British Royalty and Viceroys and Governers during the British Rule. Built and completed  in 1924, in the Apollo Bunder  sea front , it is a popular tourist area for Humans and pigeons alike.

South Mumbai has some very traditional iconic Irani Cafe/ eateries and the breakfast of Brun maska and Apple Pie was greatly relished after an almost 35 kms cycle ride .

We proceeded to Nariman Point and Marine Drive, and were amazed at the hordes of folks walking there early on a Sunday morning.

Nariman Point , one of the few places in Mumbai NOT named after Historical Indian Emperor/Kings and/or  British Monarchs,  was actually named after a the Bombay Municipal Corporator Mr Khursheed Framji Nariman, who intiated and followed up the idea of reclaiming land from the  Arabian Sea near Marine Drive , and creating a Business District . In 2006, this was the 7th most expensive office space in the world.  By 2012, Bandra Kurla Complex too over, and Nariman point slid to 25th place.

Cycling along the Bay past Marine Drive , Chowpatty, up the Malabar Hill, and down to Pedder Road , we cycled on past the SiddhiVinayak Mandir at Prabhadevi , and then crossed over at Dadar to the Eastern Express Highway , to proceed back to Powai.

A total distance of 78 kms.

 The  Gateway of India, which is also the location of the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel , which was the target of the 2008 horrendous terror attack,  has a big police presence. This was very early morning hours, with not much vehicular traffic, but reasonable human  and pigeon traffic.  

I have often wondered how the pigeons learn about the best places in Mumbai where they can get free meals.   This is somewhere in Front and a bit to the side of the Gateway; thousands of feathered friends enjoying an early breakfast guarded by Mumbai Police barricades, as it were. 

 A view of the Gateway Of India. clicked  from somewhere in front and across the road from the Taj Mahal Hotel. The area to the right of the photo , is open sea. 
Far away in the background are some government buildings and commercial, and naval set ups,  from a time when Ballard estate was the primary business district of Mumbai, before Nariman Point.

 One of the pleasures of long distance cycling, is finding such menu boards, in Irani cafes, catering to early morning folks like us.  And I did not have Golden Sponge Cake, Bread Pudding, Fiery Ginger Biscuit or Mava Cake . 
 Here was extremely fresh bread, baked just that morning. I would have bought and lugged it home, if it wasn't for the load in  my backback, as I cycled back around 38 kms, on my gearless bike .

 Yes. I had this apple pie , along with Brun Maska , and  milky tea. 
Great taste , great energy,  and great fun.

On the parapet at the southern edge of Marine Drive , near Nariman Point. You can see the other members of our team.  This parapet, is always hugely crowded during evenings , as people enjoy the breeze and the sunset.  You can see high rises of Central Mumbai in the background, and the Chowpatty beach in their foreground; this beach is the venue of the biggest Ganpati Visarjan event every year.

Our old faithful bikes, enjoying the breeze, and taking a breather  while we take photographs.  the one in the centre is my bike.

Our team member Disha, who initiated the idea of this ride.  Enjoying  a well deserved break and the breeze.  We would be riding back via the western seaface and central Mumbai later. Again a distance of approximately 40 kms. 

That's me.  With  the Trident  Hotel  building in the background. Along with the Taj Mahal Hotel, this was also targetted  in the 2008 terror attacks .   Marine drive is blessed with  a broad sidewalk dedicated to pedestrians , something unusual in a vehicle obsessed, car crazy Mumbai.

Another view of the Marine Drive, with our group members, possibly examining the photos they clicked on their phones.

 A parapet level view of the other end of the  bay, which is Malabar Hill . Just below the parapet, on the side away  from me, they have installed tetrapods to break the waves, as well as  a safety for those who might slip down .  But people of Mumbai continue to treat them, albeit illegally,  as isolated sitting places , watched by the crashing waves, that surround them at high tide. Mumbai Police have been known to come and rescue such people.  

  The western end of the Bay, across from Marine Drive, Nariman Point etc. This is the Malabar Hill area,  with abodes of the rich and famous, like captains of industry, old families, and the Governer of Mumbai, who lives at Raj Bhavan , the huge wooded area at the edge of the promontory at Malabar Hill.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Old Jettys and Prohibited Forts.....


This was a cycling trip to see Sewri Fort and Sewri Jetty .

The British, after receiving Bombay as dowry in the wedding of King Charles II, suddenly realized its utility as an excellent harbor, compared to Surat, which was then their HQ, and decided to shift to Bombay/Mumbai.

Sewri Fort was one of the Forts built by them , in the island of Parel (as it then was) overlooking the eastern seaboard of Mumbai.   The British were always fighting the Mughals, and this was made more difficult by the Siddis of African Descent who aligned themselves with the Mughals, and kept attacking Mumbai.

This Fort was built in 1680 , as a defence fortification along with the Mazgaon Fort. A total of almost 7 forts were built by the British across Bombay.  This fort was attacked by the Siddis  over time, and was even captured by them in 1689  along with Mahim.  Over time, the regional powers lost power, and the Fort was ultimately used by the British to house prisoners.

I had never seen the eastern seaboard of Mumbai, and had heard about the flamingoes that migrate there in December and January each year. This was too early for Flamingoes, but  I decided to cycle to Dadar and meet up with a friend who  was also a cycle enthusiast and lived around there. We met up at Dadar TT under the flyover, and then she and I proceeded to the Sewri Fort via Wadala and under the Eastern Freeway. .

The Sewri Coastline has swamps and mangroves, which are a place of choice for flamingos to lay eggs, but the coastline is also a place for small boats , fishing trawlers, boats undergoing maintenance and  what looks like ruined boats. A large portion of the Sewri  Jetty is under the administration of the Bombay Port Trust. Its distinct ecosystem comprises mangrove swamps, mudflats and creeks that make it a protected area.

Sewri Fort,  is actually managed by the Archaeological Survey of India.  It has been extensively repaired , and doesn't actually look like any other normal Fort.  Unlike other historical  Forts  it has no embellishments reflecting the  building customs or art of the times it was built in.  Just a very practical defence oriented no-nonsense construction. Landlocked on 3 sides and at an elevation of 197 feet .

At the entrance to the Fort, we were greeted by a sign saying "No Entry". 

On seeing two of us, females , an elderly gentleman came up to us, and told us that entry for females was prohibited, though males ventured at their own risk.   We did not see any visitors.  When we enquired about why the ban of entry for women, we were told there were safety issues, there had been untoward incidents , and therefore the women's entry was banned.

It is a sign of the times that we live in, that a Fort that was built for protecting , is now being used for unlawful and dangerous activities by miscreants. 

We cycled along the coast, checking out the Jetty area,  taking in the view in the early morning, and returned to Dadar for an excellent breakfast , before I cycled back  approximately 22 kms along the Eastern Express Highway.

This ride was a  total  distance of around 45 kilometres.

Early morning around 7.30 ish and we ride along the coast.

The sea, the swamp, the lumbering boats and the Sun emerging  in the haze.

Boats, rested and probably organizing for their daily outing.

Close Up of one such Boat, nicely anchored , next to another boat called Umiya.

Looks like low tide  and I click my bike in honor of a troublefree ride. So far.

The Sun, like so many who commute , out on its daily round over Mumbai , and a boatman and some driftwood in the swamps ready for a new day...

Does he wait for someone ?  Can he smell the boat ?  Old faithful in the Sun..

You can tell , morning has broken, and the sky is blue again.  The jetty, potholed in true Mumbai style, and my bike, posing in the Sun.

The Sewri Fort must wait. I hope the situation improves and maybe one day I will get to visit the place.