While last time it was about sea, this time it was jungle. As I write this, my body is still recuperating from the physical extravaganza, we (yes, I was not alone this time) performed today morning. But the sheer awesomeness of the place was definitely worth the effort. When I heard about the place, some 1-2 years back, I was shocked to hear that there is a National Park right in the middle of the city like Mumbai. Somehow it didn’t fit with the image of the city – of course, not that I knew much about the city. But any outsider will get surprised on the first time. Ever since shifting here, I always thought to visit this sometime but somehow that time never came till today. This time it was one of the friends in my office group who proposed the plan and the YES was instant.
It was 6:30 in the morning and I was waiting for Chetan to drop by my flat from where we would be leaving for the Park. After much deliberation, we decided to let our Avengers take a rest for one weekend and go by auto since the plan was for cycling over there and you wouldn’t want a helmet and bike documents hanging around while you paddle.
We reached at around 7:30 and the gate was buzzing with youngsters. Another office colleague, whom I hadn’t seen but somehow he remembered me (I am famous!!! 😉 ), was waiting and he joined us as the gates opened at 7:30 sharp. And it felt like a school gate opened after the classes as people rushed to get into the line for tickets to the national park. Chetan bought the tickets while we checked inside to see the cycle stand. For the next one hour, we waited, walked around, gazed around the greenery (literal as well as symbolic), practiced cycles after booking them, got the brakes, seats, tyre pressure checked as the people joined. The response was overwhelming as we had 25% more participation than expected (we were 10 instead of 8 who confirmed the day before). The plan was to cycle till Kanheri caves which is about 7km from the National park main gate and then come back. The only thing we did not knew about the plan was the “7km” part.
It was in the first 300-400 meters itself, I realized I am no longer 16 year old Jay who used to cycle about 32 kms daily between school and classes. Yes, once upon a time, I used to do that for a matter of fact!!! The only consolation for me was that I was not the only one who realized his practical (feel like) age. And with every incoming upward slope, we grew one year older. I would like to mention here that the girl who proposed this plan is a National badminton player, zonal athlete, trained Bharatnatyam and Kathak dancer and jogs about 5kms daily. Needless to say, she was leading the cyclists group. However, it was only the first kilometer which took the toll on the knees. The sheer beauty of the park with trees on the sides, mountain in front and relatively empty road with fellow cyclists made us forget the fatigue. As we cycled through crests and troughs, one by one, the cyclists’ density decreased gradually.
But the best was yet to come. After about 2-3 kms, as we reached the junction with lion/tiger reserve on left and Kanheri caves on right, the clouds decided to join the party. It only has to be a dream to be driving down a cycle in a group through a lush green national park in the middle of the rain. Can anyone ask for more? YES. All we wanted now was a cup of tea and pakodas. Alas, we didn’t get that at that time. After taking a 10min halt, we cycled through the rest of the distance to finally reach Kanheri caves. We parked the cycles outside. There were 8 of us who made it till the end as Chetan and Astha were still on their way.
After an exhausting session of 7km, with empty stomach, who the hell would be interested in “caves”??? The only thing we were looking around was a chaay-naashte wala. And we did find him. By far, everyone was convinced that this had been the best outing of our group till date. The only thing that can get better from here was more rains. After a strong “cutting chaay” and a bonanza of pakodas and vadapavs to restore the lost energy, everyone decided to move ahead with caves exploration – finally (to specifically mention that there were ‘n’ number of times the thought came to everyone’s mind to return back but ‘something’ triumphed over that thought every single time).
As we kept exploring the caves, we went on a mini-trekking spree through rocks, carefully walking across. We walked, slide, jumped, climbed and, at times, slipped. Fortunately, all the bones were intact, at the end. It was an old partially destroyed temple which was the touch-down point somewhere in the park (somebody did say – we came all the way across for THIS???). On the way, saw a small crab moving across the aisle. As we started the return journey, the realization that there are cycles parked outside which needs to be taken back 7kms till the national park gate, swept across our minds. But, was there any other option? Just before we started our return journey, we stopped outside to have raw mango, jaamun (Java Plum) and cucumber to energize ourselves for the same.
The return journey was, to a large extent, uneventful as we (three of us – me, Tarun and Arohi) went non-stop till the national park gate, missing out on flamingos, deers and monkeys (as what the rest of the group said). The last 500m was a race (with complete knowledge of malfunctioning breaks) to finish it in STYLE!!! At the end, it was the pride of making it till the end than anything. It took about 20-30 minutes for the rest of the group to arrive as we took rest.
As we left the park, we took a group pic. I looked back and told myself, “Picture abhi baaki hain mere dost!!!”