We were riding to Panchgani this weekend . An all time favorite in the winter or monsoon’s, the ghat roads leading up to Wai and then the small town of Panchgani – sitting high up looking down at the wai valley and dhom lake – is both pristine and inspiring. This particular ride was to be the first of a series of rides called BYOB – ‘Bring your own bike’ series of weekend rides. The idea is about exploring the locations on the outskirts of Mumbai and Pune on the weekends, with old friends and new. Get that motorcycle you love out of the city and re-discover the reason why you first dreamed of owing your own bike.

It so happened that I got the opportunity to meet an old friend on this ride, we used to hang out in college together , doing stuff you did in college, trying as much as we could to make sense of our education and degrees.Eight years had passed since we last connected and I was thrilled to know my friend had recently bought a Duke 390 and was thoroughly enjoying riding it across the country. We decided to meet up with some mutual friends and ride on the weekend to Panchgani.

The ride from Thane to Lonavala was without incident ,except the gear lever on my motorcycle was loose and would keep coming off when I needed it the most. That fixed, I was riding again , munching miles in the bitting cold but liking the ride in the early morning dark , the white strips leading the imagination, making its seem faster than you are actually going. We stopped at Kamath’s (at Lonavala) for a bite and the smell of the first orders of chai, medu wada, upma , and missal wafting out into the parking from the kitchen to the side had us parked and seated in no time. The pleasure of eating fresh hot food ,on a cold morning on the road is satisfying, and Kamat’s does an awesome job of setting you back on the road with your stomach full and spirits soaring.

As we were seated at the restaurant , Two other riders- unknown to us – joined a table beside us. One was riding a bullet Thunderbird and the other,the new offering from Harley Davidson India – the street 750. Curiosity of course got the better of us and we stepped outside to finish our chai with a sutta and to check the baby Harley. At first sight it’s pretty- plain but curvy with a nice front ferring , unflattering though is the lack of quality that the parts have, and all in all I felt it wasn’t too appealing.While we wondering why Harley would do this;a group of super bikes went by , about 6 in all, their exhausts screaming in glory .. my favorite was an orange and white R1 , the rasp , put a smile on my face , the kid in me going that’s! What I have to get.

Seeing this- my friends, the other guys, the super-bikes,was a pleasing situation, the number of people heading out on their motorcycles on the weekend is definitely increasing and for me, an enthusiast myself, it’s a sign of good times to come. The more riders the more fun – me thinks.

Post breakfast and the usual banter of PJ’s , phone calls , photographs and taking in the morning, we left for Pune. But this time we took a diversion and rode into Lonavala, further down towards Tiger point and then found and followed this sweet back road that runs into the forests close to the Indryani river. In some parts you had excellent tarmac and then it would just disintegrate into dirt and gravel paths lined on each side by the forests of the Sahyadris. We didn’t care, the changes in terrain just added more fun to the ride, and some of the places we passed made us wonder why we choose to live in concrete jungles and not plant more trees.

Further on we came to the Aamby valley gate and had to make a de-tour from there,as they would not let us ride through. We eventually found our route that tracked around the beautiful Pawana lake towards a village called Paud and then onto another series of single lane mini – ghat roads that lead us out onto the Mulshi – Chandini chowk route.

If Pune is cold at night during the winter, then it’s as hot during the day ,and waiting for our friends from Pune – who were stuck in trafiic – was not fun, as we soon started boiling in our riding gear. Lassi and fruit juice keeping us company till they arrived, and when we finally did set off, we skipped the usual Pune – Satara highway, taking a route to Wai, through Bhor, and some of the higher mountains in the Sahayadri Range. On this route we passed through ghats, forests of mango and sal and almost no traffic , much unlike the highway that would have been full with tourists heading out for the weekend.

The weekend brings with it holidays and good times but also a rush of people taking a break at a popular hill-station like Panchgani. This is not a good thing if you don’t have reservations at a hotel beforehand. The only campsite and a beautiful one at that was booked out , option 2 was overpriced hotels filled with families and all the trappings of your average touristy joint. Option three was a wild card – A home-stay that one of the riders had heard about the last time she was in Panchgani. We decided to Recce and were pleasantly surprised to find a peaceful oasis just behind the market , complete with a large garden and a British raj reminiscent bungalow that were to be our rooms. The switch board even had the old type of lever switches, with the caretaker’s mobile number scribbled on the white peeling paint of the board.

Though the rooms were not the best, we got one large enough to fit the five of us and were least concerned about staying indoors, after all the weather was great , we had just eaten and were happy to find a place so easily. So we decided to ride and explore Pachgani and further down the road Mahableshwar.

Although extremely crowded and filled with cars, buses, hotels and people, both Panchgani and Mahableshwar are nice places to see. If you are a foodie then the number of options to check out are quite varied. We settled for place called Bageecha – a large fast-food place that serves up all kind of quick bites and is graced with photos of famous people – Anil ambani, Shakti Kapoor (a real life and a reel life villain) and some other people I didnt recognise but they had a photo up there , immortalized with their stop at Bageecha’s. There was even an odd ball in the lot; it had a picture of a group of Caucasian tourists and was aptly titled ‘foriegners’ . I wish i had taken a photo of that picture..

The mulberry and strawberry shakes though were some of the best had so far.

As a evening drew in and the cold descend once again we thought a bonfire would be in order , which our land lord willingly set up at a nominal fee. The ammunition for the night was picked up and by the bonfire we sat , talked , laughed till it was too cold and we were three sheets to the wind.

The next morning , we left to get breakfast at a place called Lucky’s in the Market. If you are in Panchgani this is place for breakfast. Having tried out, I think, almost all of the items on the menu, we headed back to home-stay and for those of us who had to catch sleep , passed out right away. By late afternoon we left from Panchgani back towards Pune and on the way came across an oddly amusing sight of an minor accident between two cars that were each part of a different convoy of tourists (two large families I think) that decided to take up the matter right on the ghat road it self .. so everyone from the little girl, her brother , the aunties, the teenagers and the young married couple of each convoy had surrounded the two elders of each group, who were by now engaged in a weird staring joust and hand gestures, doing nothing but only causing a major trafiic jam on a winding ghat road in Wai..