After a few very pleasant days in Anand, I needed a few hours to get comfortable in interlocal traffic again. Sanderien and I had been riding around, city style, mainly from coffee to lunch and back. The highway was difficult: three lanes, with the slow and large traffic in the middle. I’m supposed to be in the far left lane with the other two-wheelers and tractors and rickshaw. But, my speed being much higher than theirs, it’s safer and easier (same thing?) to overtake in the fast lane – but that’s where the fast cars are as well, zooming around the slow traffic. They own the road, brake, change lane, stop without warning. The traffic was dense, and I was not enjoying myself.
A bus that I was overtaking started overtaking a truck, filling the lane I was on. We were nearing a bridge with a high sidewall, and by the time we got there I had so little space my foot brushed the concrete. The whole time I was calm and convinced I could avoid real danger by acting the right way, and I did. Shockingly uncomfortable, though. Tried to get past the bus for a few kilometres but it was too unpredictable, swerving across the road rushing from gap to gap between other traffic. I pulled over for a soothing cup of tea.
A little while after getting back on the road, a grey SUV almost drove into me doing a U-turn, its speed no reason for concern but just so careless… I was not happy on the road, so I stopped early. Found a hotel with vacancy a little after Bharuch, around five o’clock. They kindly told me to wait till namaaz was over and they’d show me the room, which turned out to be perfectly acceptable. Nice restaurant, early night and I’m planning to have an early start tomorrow – if all goes well, I’ll be in Nariman Point cinema tomorrow night, or else I’ll find a place to sleep just after getting onto the road to Pune, avoiding Bombay’s nightmare traffic.
I left early in the morning, after confirming my suspicion that the orthodox-Muslim looking, white-clad and bearded proprietor of the hotel and his colleagues were Momin. My question got me a big smile and an extra handshake. These Momin are all from the same village: one village runs the entire catering industry on the highway from Gujarat to Bharuch, I’d been told. And apparently further south, too: till Surat, and all the way down to Bombay they still ran a lot of roadside places, though they were no longer the only ones. I had a lot of Momin tea that day.
The road was still too full but it felt better, or maybe I felt better. Enjoyed my first cup of Bombay tea after spending some time riding through the suburbs, and was told it’d be another two hours to Colaba in the deep south of the city, because the traffic wasn’t too heavy this time of day. I expected I’d recognise more the further south I got, but I just kept getting lost until I suddenly found myself at Flora Fountain. Spent the evening walking around Colaba and reading the book about Gujarati prime minister Modi I just bought.
Morning traffic in Bombay on top of a half-decent masala dosa proved a good way to start the day – you’re not going very fast, it’s never dangerous but it does wake you up. Still before VT the bike was knocked from under me while I was asking directions – some old lady’s driver had not been paying attention. She was so sorry, so sorry, oh so sorry, and drove off. At least both petrol carrier racks are now crushed. A good day for symmetry.
Just before the bridge I had a nice chat with a fellow Bullet-rider, and a little while later I was overtaken by someone in full black leather racing gear who gave me a big thumbs-up in passing. Yes, I like my jacket too. The only two people on this overcrowded road not just in a shirt and slippers.
As soon as I left the suburbs, the road to Pune started with a pass over brown-and-green hills. This was clearly not the road the bus takes – that must be the express way, off limits for two-wheelers. I think I did join it at some point, maybe there’s only one road for part of the way. Got off that shiny and busy road when it seemed right, and continued down the smaller road.
Not many places to stop for tea, unfortunately. When I eventually found somewhere, a guy with a hip haircut and an urban curiosity walked in a little after me. Vivek was from Bangalore and got bored a month ago, bought himself a fire engine red bicycle, and rode from somewhere up in east Rajasthan via Gujarat to Pune. Only when I saw his bicycle parked outside, I realised I’d overtaken him earlier – I’d noticed the used and sturdy leather luggage rolls on either side, but hadn’t realised what a sophisticated cycle it was and thought he was one of the toiling old (or old-looking men) on bicycles you see everywhere.
I arrived in Pune well on time, found Koregaon Park and the Shisha Café easily enough (turn left, continue till you get there), and enjoyed a nice reunion with musician friends for a few days.