Only, the green wasn’t too easy to spot. The lakes were dry; the ground looked desiccated. The weather had no semblance of that of a hill station. I have to admit, we were disappointed. It wasn’t a good time to visit the place, as the driver of the cab we rented, told us. The monsoon would do the place good, I thought to myself.
The view from one of the points, of the valleys nestled between Lonavala and other hills and mountains was in a way, infinite. There are some inherent things that do not easily go unnoticed. Magnificence for instance.
There were a couple of camels around, adorned in rajais (quilts) of bright colors. There was a seating area made atop them, around the hump. We did not take the ride though.
At Tiger point, the most popular of all the view points, we walked around a park like area, as we waited for the sunset. There were tons of monkeys hoping to find some foodstuff. At 6:35 PM, the sky looked like it had been painted in hues of purple and orange. In the middle, the sun looked ferocious, just a tad bit above the horizon. And as it began to disappear gradually behind the hills, it looked just like all the sceneries I had painted as a little girl. And soon, just the tinted sky remained; the crowd of tourists dispersed.
Before we got home, we drove to a close-by elevated point with a good view of Hiranandani. Pranav showed me a building which was once the widest in Asia. I sat on the pavement and looked around. After five mins, Nair stamped the butt of his cigarette, putting it out and we left for home. I didn’t feel too alright, it was the traveling perhaps. But there were so many places I wanted to see. For the first time, I had done some research before traveling. Ignoring my feverish feeling, I freshened up and told myself that this was going to be good.
We relaxed at Costa coffee a while. The hot chocolate was soothing; it did my throat some good. We walked across the road to Galleria to grab some food. A couple of hours later, we left for a long drive. Dhivya, one of their friends, joined us.
We went to Bandra first. Bandra West to be more specific. Known all over India for its “urban coolness” and “glitzy shopping”, the suburb was colorful, lively and swarming with riveted girls. We got down at either Linking road or Hill road, I’m unable to recollect. As Chandna had told me earlier, it was a charming place for a stroll in the evening while making occasional entries into random piquant shops. We were evidently late, most of the shops were closing for the day. We managed to find a stretch of shops still open; we began there. We went into shoe shops with promising discounts, lingerie shops and clothes shops. An hour later, we got back to the car and got in, ignoring the unhappy expressions we got from the men.
We then drove via the Sea Link. Pranav explained to me how easy the bridge had made life for anyone wanting to commute between Bandra and Worli. What would have taken one – two hours at the least now took a minute. My fascination for the sea made me sit up and listen intently as I stared outside and upwards fascinated. It was a beauty, the bridge. The city, from the bridge, looked like it was more alive than it was through the day; typical of all that Mumbai is known for. With Nair at the driver’s seat, the drive on the Sea Link lasted less than a minute.
A while later, Pranav showed me Haji Ali Dargah far away in the sea. It shone bright standing out from the dark waters surrounding it. It looked elegant, just like in the pictures, just like I had pictured it. This was the one place I wanted to see more than all others. I wanted to walk on the pathway with the sea ‘s mildly surging waters hitting the edges. I wanted to walk to the middle and experience all that I had read from pages on the internet. Sadly, we didn’t have adequate time that day. Haji Ali was out of sight in no time. I was shown Mukesh Ambani’s residence, the name of which I later found out, is Antilia. Most of what I could see was made of glass; I’d have never realized it was a residential building, had I not been told so. It was grand, it stood very very high in a funnily disproportional way though. 27 floors I was told. I was amused. After a turn somewhere, Nair pointed to me the stretch of sea along the road. It was Marine Drive.
We parked the car and found a peaceful place to sit. The wall was lined with dykes to assuage the waves. I looked at the waves, like I have always looked at them: amazed. There is something about seas and me, I do not know to explain. I can sit and stare for hours. I could smell the saltiness. My hair could certainly feel the humidity of the sea.
I was shown the circular building rotating ceaselessly about its vertical axis – the Ambassador hotel. Nair pointed out to a faraway point where the numerous spots of light seemed to end. He said it was the Nariman Point. I remembered that name clearly from the 2008 Mumbai attacks. I let my eyes wander around. Next to me, a girl aged about 12 was trying to get hold of a toddler running around. She looked like the little one’s nanny. Soon, it was time to get going.
We dropped Ajay at Dadar. He got on his bus to Pune. We headed to Hiranandani where I met Pratham, a friend from college, next to one of the fountains. It was nice to see him after a year. We chatted a while and hugged good bye.
As I got home with Chandna, I realized it was a trip for me and just another day for the others – all Mumbaikars.
We left the apartment and hurried to the close-by shopping complex named Galleria, to grab some food. I sat on the pillion seat and marveled at the buildings of Hiranandani that stood high and slightly alike with their classy facades. Designed completely in neo classical architectural style, the township flaunted a stark difference from the rest of Mumbai. Hiranandani is known to be the most elegant of the residential townships in Mumbai.
In half an hour, we were in Aaditya Nair’s new car, heading out of Mumbai.
Mumbai apparently wasn’t going to be a respite from Hyderabad’s scorching heat. With its humidity as an added pain, it irked everybody. With shades on and sun screen lotion dabbed all over my face, I was prepared. Chandna and I, we sat at the back and caught up on happenings, friends and gossip. Soon the sun began to retire for the day, thereby lessening the heat. The woofers reverberated continuously as we played some good music and it occasionally sent out fervent vibrations. I jerked suddenly as the back of my seat vibrated. The rear view mirror vibrated, amusing all of us a little. With music and travel put together, I had no reason to frown. It felt like the ideal crazy road trip. In about three hours, we halted at Coffee Day, Pune where Ajay and his friend, Satish would join us.
They arrived. We had a long way to go and light was getting scarcer by the minute. The road to Panchgani wasn’t one to be driven on at the later hours of the day. Most of the stretches were devoid of any form of lighting. Some of them were roads with a good amount of incline, sharp turns and U bends. We went on, relying fully on the head lights. It felt dangerous; even more so to see Pranav and Ajay on the bike. I had my head half out of my elbows rested on the edge of the window; I held my hair band tight as it threatened to fly away. My hair hit my neck unceasingly and made it prickle; it was annoying. Far way, down below lights glistened in the blackness. The horizon was undecipherable. The black with golden dots of fire united smoothly with the beyond sprinkled with stars. It reminded me of Diamonds by Rihanna. How spectacular the world becomes at night, I thought, as I put my head back in to avoid a bad hair next-day.
We settled down comfortably at a local eatery as we waited for out parathas to arrive. They were delicious and heavy. The hotel we had in mind was already full that night. We called a couple of other hotels; all went in vain. There was one place though. They had a cottage for 3.5k. After some negotiating, we paid the man 3k and followed him a couple of kilometres to get to some deserted area. After going down a fleet of stairs, we were there; in front of us was the “cottage”. “Is this the rest room?” Nair asked aloud and everyone burst into a cackle. The cottage had one room and a balcony. The room had two beds, one fan at the corner of the room, no water and plenty of insects and flies. The next hour, we spent laughing at our circumstances and at Nair’s cottage-jokes.
I shut the door behind me and sat in the balcony. The quiet was peaceful. I thought about how far away I was from all that I wanted to do in life; something about the silence was powerful and promising. Ajay joined me after a while, we gazed at the valley in silence not realizing an hour go by.
It was time to sleep, I had had a long day.
I woke up in the morning to see that sun was back, glowing in all its radiance. The mist caused the far away hills to evanesce into the sky. The lake in between the valley looked elegant, yet sober; it was blue-grey. The smell of smokes filled the air as one of the others lit up a cig. I sipped in steaming hot tea; it was perfect.
We checked out and headed to Mapro Foods. Contrary to the remaining of Panchgani, this place was thronged with people of all ages. The verdant place with its ponds, huge tents, benches and other accoutrements looked like a mini carnival. The sandwiches were kinda tasty. So were the fresh strawberry and mango ice cream scoops. We bought a box of strawberries and blackberries and left. We decided to halt at a table land like area that shot off the road on the side. Nair went ahead in full speed and as I sat up animated, he swerved the car into a full 360 degree spin, letting a gust of sand fly all around. We parked the car at the edge of the open, unprotected area. Two middle-aged women were relentlessly trying to synchronize high-jumps with the camera click to get a pic of them high up. We stood there a while, watched and giggled.
It was a long drive to Pune and it was hot, again. Ajay’s house was certainly welcoming. Painted in soft colours and furnished with low set bamboo couches convertible to beds, bamboo stools and a hammock, the apartment was lovely and it felt like home instantly. We spent the day lazing on his couch and listening to good music. There was so much of Radioactive by Imagine Dragons; it became the song of the trip, pretty much.
That next day was Chandna’s birthday. We went to a nice place with a lot of furniture almost huddled together in the small expanse, quite symbolic of the crowds that thronged the place. Funny paintings occupied most of the walls. I got hyper when I recognized the tune as one of Avial’s songs. It felt like college again; we sang aloud merrily. I met some more of their friends; we had a fun time. Hotel California was played, dedicated to the girl turning 23 that night. It was past twelve, it was time to leave. I came back with Ajay on his bike, giving in to my fondness for bike rides at night. It was a spirited night with pictures, cake and loads of happiness.
I walked out of my house, feeling tense. Pre-travel anxiety was an emotion not new to me; I dreaded the prospect of missing the train. I dragged a huge trolley bag behind me clumsily as I still tried to hold my beige and teal straw bag in one hand with some grace. This time I had chosen to move out of my haven of cabs; I was going to take the local bus to Secundrabad where I would board my train to Bombay. I had been on a bus in Hyderabad just once before. What a shame, I thought to myself. Shruti was coming to the bus stand to put me on the right bus. Prima facie, it might cause one to assume that I must be a spoilt brat; au contraire, I was the kid dad used to rebuke for traveling while sitting at the door step in the general coach of the trains in Tamil Nadu. Strangely, I still feel new in Hyderabad; being naturally quite uncool and weird before traveling, the unfamiliarity certainly did not help. I must’ve ticked Shruti off quite a bit with my many calls to her that day in spite of her assurances that there was sufficient time left. After a lot of pointless worrying I got on the bus and reached Secundrabad with 45 minutes to go. I yanked my bag up the stairs as I made my way through throngs of people to platform 9 where Duronto Express was to arrive.
Just as I saw a train approaching far away, I realized I had no clue which seat or coach I was to board. But it wasn’t going to be a big deal finding my seat out of three 3AC coaches; I waited. The train arrived sporting a radiant shade of yellow-green and other garish colors painted in erratic designs. I watched the train trot past, as I looked for the 3AC coaches. Oddly, they were all AC coaches. I freaked; a couple of calls I made to friends got me nowhere as IRCTC had decided to show its nasty self that evening. I scampered from coach to coach with my big bag, looking for my name on the lists. Half an hour later, I found my name on the last coach, just five minutes before the train was to depart. I heaved a huge sigh of relief as I got on. I made a mental note to find out the SMS way to obtain one’s PNR status.
I clambered on to my side upper berth – where I’d get my privacy and space. I laid back and drowned myself into a book I had been reading. The train attendants arrived repeatedly to hand me a blanket, a pillow, a TetraPak of Frooti and a bottle of mineral water. The service was impressive and welcoming especially a persom traveling by train after ages. I dozed off after a couple of hours that I spent sipping Frooti while engrossed in my book.
I chose to sleep a little longer ignoring the typical sounds of “chai” and “breadomlette”. As I curled under the blanket and dug my head into the pillow, my breakfast arrived. I sat up, drew out the curtains and sat cross-legged facing a little boy and his sister quarreling over a gameboy. It was fun to watch them, it reminded me of my brother and the days when we fought to play some tetris type game. I hoped the kids didn’t think of me as a creepy staring lady. In an hour, I got off the train, on to the most packed platform I’ve ever seen. I was at the Lokmanya Tilak Station of Mumbai.
Auto drivers surrounded me as I exited the station, each quoting a different fare – most of them at least twice the fare Chandhana (the friend I was visiting; I call her Chandna) had estimated. I must have looked lost and ignorant. After a bit of bargaining, I gave up and got on one of the autos. My phone died; how typical I thought. I had to call Chandna from the auto driver’s phone for directions. I reached; there was Pranav waiting, fuming after Chandna told him about the auto fare. An aggressive argument followed; I watched meekly and paid the meter fare. It was done; I apologized profusely and Chandna gestured telling me it was alright, as we went up the elevator. I walked into a neatly furnished, lovely little apartment.