After a long time, I was back to cycling. I came across the Midnight Cycling Event on the Facebook page of Mumbai Travellers and instantly felt like going for it. A cycling adventure from Colaba to Bandra via Marine Lines, Haji Ali, Worli Sea Face and Shivaji Park was tempting enough. In a group, it would be even more fun.
I wasn’t sure if I would be able to finish the stretch. The only cycling in Mumbai, I had done earlier was a 6km to and fro route to Kanheri Caves from the entrance of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. That was more of an uphill climb in the onwards journey, and I had found it fairly comfortable. This one was, however, a flat land tour.
12:25 – Left Colaba
At 11:30, as communicated, I reached the designated place which was a cycle shop in one of the small lanes off the main road in Colaba with hundreds of cycles parked on both the sides of the road. There was a large group of cyclists ready to leave as they awaited few of their members.
As I watched them leave, I shook hands with one of the fellow from our group as they were also awaiting the earlier group to leave. I heard him speak Gujarati and later on, I realized that he had come with his own group of friends and family. Pulling a bunch of Gujjus, including me, to cycle in the middle of the night from Colaba to Bandra is indeed an achievement Mumbai Travellers can boast about.
Colaba was buzzing even past 12 with some of the restaurants fully occupied, possibly, in their peak hours as it was a Saturday. A lot of public movement didn’t really suggest the actual time of the day.
As the rest of the group members arrived, we left from Colaba after a customary national anthem and a set of instructions by the group coordinators who accompanied us during the entire tour.
12:40 – Nariman Point
After a quick 15mins ride, we reached Nariman Point. The instructions were to cycle in one line and not to overtake. The objectives were twofold – to avoid hassle with speeding cars which is almost a norm in Mumbai post midnight and to stay together in the group. This also meant that the group would be as fast as the slowest cyclist. It reminded me of Eliyahu Goldratt’s “The Goal”. However, that hardly happened as we were humans ;). As long as people did not overtake the instructor at the front (there was one in the middle and one at the end to ensure the group remains intact), it was just fine.
Nariman Point, unfortunately, was quite crowded due to Saturday night and there was very less space to enjoy the moment. We stayed for about 15 minutes there and recuperated the lost energy before the second leg of our ride started. Probably the shortest leg – to Marine Lines which was just few minutes away.
01:10 – Marine Lines
The plan was to have a long break here. While we were traveling in a group, people still did not know each other except for the ones with whom they had come. I, being the only person in my “group”, was unknown to everyone and didn’t know anyone. The instructors planned a round of introduction people know each other – fully cognizant of the fact that unless exciting, the introductions will be forgotten quicker than Gajini does.
As the introductions started, I realized the group was very much heterogeneous with people ranging from enthusiastic and experienced travelers to first timers who had touched the cycle after years. Perhaps that’s the beauty of travelers clubs. You do come across like-minded people but then there are amateurs and there are professionals. However, each story inspires you in its own way. I would remember a lady who had been an avid traveler; roamed around the country, stayed with the locals, sharing their food, learning their lifestyles. There was a gentleman who wasn’t much into cycling, neither he had that physique for the same but still accepted the challenge to experience something new – pretty much like me. There was another gentleman, oldest in the group, had touched the cycle after about 25 years. And then, there was the lady who had come especially for this cycle tour, all the way from Hyderabad.
After the introductions, we, again, hit the paddles for our next stop which was supposed to be directly, the Worli Sea Face, about 8kms away.
02:05 – Breach Candy
It was the upward slope of Hudges Road that split the group into two (or probably many). Fortunately, I was able to keep up with the pace of pros of cycling and a teenager who raced past me. However, by the time I turned to August Kranti Marg, I knew I needed a break in spite of the downward slope. I was happy to be among the frontrunners. It gave me confidence that my body is still capable of such adventures.
Once few others caught up with us, we marched ahead, planning to stop at the end of the downward slope at Breach Candy. By this time, the group had realized that Worli Sea Face would be a long stretch. Hesitantly, the group coordinator agreed for a stop at Haji Ali.
After clicking some group pictures on the road, we headed off to Haji Ali which was just about little more than a kilometer. It was a quick break just to catch some breath. The place wasn’t so clean and we were probably looking forward to a nice break at Worli Sea Face which is a heaven past 11 in the night.
02:35 – Worli Sea Face
I looked at my phone and saw the time. I felt that we were very much ahead of scheduled time. This won’t last till 6 as planned since we were now just 10kms away from Bandra.
The humid and gentle breeze at Worli Sea Face was quite refreshing after a tiring ride. Besides our group, there was hardly any human life there. I looked towards the west and all I could see was – waves in the proximity, turning into a black blanket on looking further, merging with the dark sky glittering with stars at the horizon. ‘This is one thing that hasn’t changed in the ever changing Mumbai’, I said to myself.
However, our long break plans were cut short a little, by the police van, perhaps not comfortable with congregation of so many people at this hour.
03:30 – Shivaji Park
As we started our penultimate leg, the body had started to give up. At times, I had to just paddle off my seat as it was getting difficult to adjust to the seat. I realized, I might just need to sit on the pillow the whole day, next day. Perhaps, few others also shared the same feeling. However, these are the times, when groups help to keep the spirit up. Alone, probably, I might have given up.
In about 15 minutes, we reached Shivaji Park, our last break. After parking the cycles outside, the group coordinator told us that we can relax on the ground if we want. I was already ecstatic to be there and lying onto the ground would only add to that. As I got the first glimpse of the ground, I exclaimed in my mind, “This is where it all started” – if the God’s devotees understood what I meant.
I took some pictures of the ground, the entrance and the Balasaheb Thakeray’s Memorial with a burning torch at the center. We relaxed for a while and then headed for the final non-stop 6km led till Band Stand.
04:20 – Band Stand
As I cycled, I was flip-flopping between the idea to just go on full throttle and finish before my body gives up or to relax and calmly get this over along with the group. I chose the latter but my patience slowly started to give up as we reached Hill Road. So, I said tata-byebye to leisure cycling and headed off to finish the final two kilometers as early as I could.
All was going well till I realized we need to climb up one half of the final 600m as the other road was a one way and there could be cars storming past at midnight. This was the only time in Mumbai when all the Porsches and Ferraris could live up to their reputation. One can only dream of driving at 100-150+ during the day in Mumbai.
Finally, it was a touchdown at 4:20. I was glad that I completed it as I wasn’t sure about that at first place. And being among the firsts made the feeling even better. After a long time, I had felt so exhausted. However, with 12 hours desk job, about one hour drive both ways in a comfortable car and uncontrolled diet, this was much needed.
As I crashed to the bed by 5:30 after reaching home, feeling terribly sleepy, I was sure of a good night …umm well, day sleep 😉