It's hard to write about a journey made 6 years ago without getting sidetracked into nostalgia & painting whatever memories are left in a genial light. My reasons for wanting to make the trip were twofold; the need for a holiday & having done precious little in the reckless line of activity, a need to rectify that. The others had their reasons also, which are their own & it'd be pointless to wonder what those were. Suffice to say, the collective yearning of 3 very different guys metamorphosed into the events of one week.
In 'Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance', Pirsig speaks about how different the same journey can be when taken by motorcycle & by car. Very true. A car journey, while comfortable, seems to isolate you from the road. There is no such feeling on a bike. You are there, in the moment, for every kilometre that you travel, willing the wheels to eat away the space to your destination. The bike ride makes you conscious of every part of your body, especially when your back & posterior begin their indignant protest. I could have easily romanticised the experience for you, reader, but this is my version of events & I try to stay true.
For one, the initial thrill of embarking on the journey wore off after about 2 hours, to be replaced by the knowledge that our destination was a long way away. The road after Katraj Ghat was terrible, full of potholes & detours since the NH - 4 was being reconstructed as part of the Golden Quadrilateral. We did not have mp3 players to break the monotony of the grey landscape & resorted to crooning songs until our throats gave up the exercise as a bad job. Personally, the hardest thing to do is to stay awake, lulled as you are by the steady drone of the engine and the soporific scenery. After 11 am, the October sun beats down with a vengeance and the road begins to shimmer. I have a faint recollection of Ashish yelling my name out once with more than a tinge of alarm in his voice since I'd begun to noticeably list to the right.
To combat this, we took breaks ever so often. I tell you this without any shame; the feeling of stretching your legs & letting the blood flow to the nether padding is positively glorious. Naturally, the discomfort increases in magnitude as the hours go by & you find the riding time between breaks becoming shorter. It's all part of the experience. Around 12:30, about an hour from Kolhapur, we halted under the blessed shade of a few lonely trees bordering the road. There was an earnest discussion about hunger & the massacre of food that would take place at Kolhapur. The silence thereafter was heavy, leaving the crickets to pierce the fatigue with their cries. Not a soul in sight besides us. The road behind us was impassive & the one ahead was indifferent. Right then, in the middle of nowhere & out of nowhere, a man selling Kulfi appeared in front of us. Perhaps I was slightly stupefied by the heat but there would have been no surprise evinced had he unfurled wings & announced his divinity. We duly contributed enough money to ensure that his children would go to Harvard, ate our fill & carried on.
Lunch at Kolhapur was supposed to last half an hour at most. We did not move for about 2 hours. The superb food induced some reluctance in our gung-ho no doubt, but it was the sol kadhi that ultimately seduced us completely. Looking back, perhaps this was the universe's way of preparing us for what lay ahead.
Kolhapur onward, Ashish had been instructed to take the Amboli Ghat but there was some hesitancy on his part as to the veracity of the information. So, 3 innocent young men did something that made sure we will remember this journey till the day body & spirit part ways. We asked a waiter how to get to Goa via the Amboli Ghat. There was a pause, the shortest of pauses that suggests either hesitancy or recollection as the 3 worlds held their collective breath & watched. "अम्बोली घाट नाही, तुम्हाला अम्बा घाट घयाचय" (You have to take Amba Ghat, not Amboli Ghat).
We left Kolhapur at 2:00 pm... & rode on.
Song for the moment: La Partida - Gustavo Santaolalla