Lonar

Day1 – 25th December 2003

Pune to Lonar

7:45AM.
Overslept. Was woken by an SMS from the hyd guys, stating that they had left Hyderabad. I had thought of waiting and meeting Rocky coming from Bangalore, but got to know that he would be in Pune only by 9:30 am. That would have been too late for me, so I decided that I should push off.

9:25AM. Pune.
I leave pune. Trip meter is set to 0. They day is hazy. People say its fog, but I feel its smog. Pune recently got the dubious distinction of becoming the 5th most polluted city. Traffic is very sparse on the Pune – AhmedNagar road. Going is good.

10:05AM. Shikrapur.
First break for the day. I have breakfast at Shikrapur, in a dhaba outside the petrol pump there. Unfortunately they don’t have bread butter, so I just have a masala dosa. In fact, they did not have anything else, and I was forced to have the dosa. The shopowner was in a talkative mood, and asked where I was coming from and where I was going. He has no idea of Lonar.

11:30 AM. Ahmednagar.
I reach Ahmednagar. Nice roads so far. Been going mostly 90-100kmph. Fast. Last 1 hr riding was nonstop, overtaking everyone. I guess a few people got a scare seeing a rider crouched over his bike, overtaking them like they are nonexistant. I guess it was a hangover of seeing ‘ghost rider’ a few days back ! Max speed reached was 110kmph. I want a bike which can do much more than this, especially on smooth straight roads through the flat arid countryside of the deccan pleateaue, and still be able to take it off road once in a while.

Suddenly the straightness of the roads ends, and I see a sign saying “Ghat roads start. Go Slow ” . I give a chuckle .. I love the ghats. Take the first turn, and then slow down. The sign is there was for a reason. A truck had turned turtle and was on the side of the road. Oh well, so much for riding fast.

12:00 PM.
Noon. Some 133 from pune, I stop to have a drink of water. First timers usually neglect that they loose water much faster on the road, which I had learnt the hard way on one of my earlier trips , where I had suddenly developed leg cramps. From then on, i usually stop every hour to stretch and have a gulp of water, or, if I am in habitation, have a maaza. The break, with a few pics thrown in lasted all of 20 mins. Dunno how, but evertime I think of stopping for 5 mins, it normally is never less than 15 !

The road is getting more and more crowded with truck traffic. What I have observed is that the truck drivers are on the whole more civilized than the cars. They will give you side, will let you know whether there is something in front of them. Car drivers think that they own the road, and hardly give you the way, with their car stereos blaring the latest pop songs. Especially the ones driving Sumos and Qualis. Frustrating , but at the same time kinda good when you overtake them, and see their ‘fastest on the road’ image shattered by a guy on a black bike – who thinks he is still not going fast enough !

Its quater past 1, and I have a feeling that I am going the wrong way. After Ahmednagar I was supposed to take the road to Paithan and then Jalna , but somehow I had taken another road out. Stopped in front of a milestone with Aurangabad and Waluj written. Took out my map (India & Bangladesh Road Atlas from Lonely Planet). Checked out the route I was to take – nope, the milestone in front of me does not seem to lie on it. Hmm, check out and see another road going from Ahmednagar … and yes, the milestone seems to be on this road now. My initial plan was to bypass Aurangabad entirely and come out at Jalna, but my plan seems to have gone awry. Oh well, nothing much to do now, but press on.

Stopped at the Bajaj factory at Waluj. Its better to ask if I am on the right road, as I had already taken a wrong turn today ! A helpful gent told me that I was just 15kms from Aurangabad. I asked about Lonar, but he did not know the place. Asked about Jalna, and he was again helpful – “just keep going straight, right through aurangabad”. He then got on his bike – a
pulsar, and I was amazed to see that this gent was not only wearing a helmet , but a jacket too ! A rarity in these parts, where even to see a helmet toting person is rare. Some guys I think realize its more fun to be alive than having their brains spattered all over the asphalt.

The town of Aurangabad has pretty good roads, at least the one I was riding on. I was comparing Pune to Aurangabad roads, and Aurangabad scored on all aspects. Roads were flat and straight. The traffic was much better behaved than that in Pune.

2:05 PM.
It did not take me much to cross ahmedabad. Look at my watch : 2:05pm. Time for lunch. Stopped just outside Aurangabad at a roadside dhaaba, and order for dal roti. Get a call from GR. They are far far away, and I make the most of it having a nice lunch for half and hour.

On the road again. Mid-afternoon time. Best time to ride. Most sane people are at home having a siesta on a holiday, leaving the roads empty and pleasureable to ride on. Thankfully its winters, and the weather is pleasant. I am sure I don’t want to do this during the summers with the Indian sun shining with all its furious glory.

3:00 PM . Jalna.
Reach Jalna around 3 PM. Ask for directions to Lonar at a Hero Honda service center. Thankfully people here recognize the name of Lonar ! Pointed me out to a ‘good’ road. When these people say ‘good’ road, I take it with a pinch of salt. The road started off good, but after 10kms or so , the road became the standard old indian roads. Broken, undulating, requiring full concentration. I remember passing through the swaying fields, but I was mostly concentrating on avoiding that crater right in the middle of the road. Umm, Lonar was created due to meteoritic impact 50,000 years ago , how come we have these craters on the post independence roads ?

The road undulates over the deccan landscape. Interesting to note that whenever the road passes through a trough, it is invariably in the worst condition at the nadir. After a few attempts at going fast when the road afforded, i settled down to a sedate and manageable 50kmph speed.

4:30 Pm . Pimpri
Reached the small town of Pimpri around 4:30. Time to give my aching butts a rest and ordered some tea. The kid there gave me tea, which was more sugar than tea. Curious onlookers, asked where I was headed and from where. My bike had just come into reserve, and I asked for directions for the nearest petrol bunk. There is one near Lonar they say, and I hope it is open, or else tomorrow I will be needing to hike to the nearest gas station. 5 mins of gulping sugar, and I am back on the road.

Take a turn from sultanpur to Lonar, and the road improves . I guess the MTDC is making efforts to popularize Lonar. Soon I reach a petrol bunk, its just after 5, and I am glad that I reached it during daylight. I am known for avoiding night riding 🙂

5:10PM. Lonar Gas Station.
The gas station was having the petrol put into the underground tanks. The owner of the place was an old lady. It was the first time that I had reached a petrol pump when it was being filled. Watched interestedly for about 5 mins, before becoming bored. How long can you watch a black pipe coming out of a tanker going to an underground tank with interest. 20mins is what it took to empty the tank, while I was marvelling at the cloud formations !

Asked for directions to lonar .

The lady said “Oh. Going to the jheel (lake). Its a good picnic stop”.

I guess people living next to wonders, forget that its a wonder. For me it was a geological miracle, formed way back in time. For them, it was just a body of water.

Took off, and in another 2 mins I was in Lonar town. Quite populous . Found the way to MTDC, and asked for the forest resthouse. Overshot the place, and again asked a helpful teenager, who explained the place in great detail. Reached the guest house.

From the road, you can only see the back door of the place, so i went to the front … and braked .. with my jaw gaping open. There, in front of me, the ground gave way to a magnificient site. A 1 and a half diameter long lake was shimmering in front of me with the orange, and red of the setting sun being reflected in it. A flock of egrets was flying across the lake .. their white colour in stark contrast to the reflected orange.

Perfect.

Went in search for the forest guards. The place seemed deserted. A wait of about 5 mins, and they come. I meed Mr Kulkarni, the Range Forest Officer. The FRH is opened and I put my stuff inside, and have a cuppa of much needed tea, with the lake spread out in front of us.

6:50PM
Around 7 (about an hour after I reached the place) and now I was growing worried about GR and A. They was no cell coverage, and there was no way we could get in touch. Suddenly I hear the thump of a bullet and the unmistakeble horn of the pulsar. I go out and shout to them, as they were just about to go off somewhere else !

388kms done today. Not bad, considering I started at 9:30 in the morning and reached before 6 pm.

Over chai GR, Anand and I chalked out the plans for tomorrow. GRs plans are to check out a huge number of places, but I dunno if we can cover all of them. Oh well. Tomorrow is another day, and we will have to see what we can do. The major plan is to go around the crater, explore it a bit and then go to Ajanta.

Day2

6:30 AM.
Get woken up by GR. Getting ready for the 3 of us takes another hour. Its finally 8:00 AM by the time we leave for crater darshan. Where we are staying we can see a few temples on the inner ring of the crater, and we decide that we should at least check out one of them.

There is a dirt road going along the periphery of the crater, where we can bike. We take the bikes to a point just above one of the temples. Park the bikes there and hike down to the lake’s edge. Its a nice place. The lake’s edge has its own ecosystem. The only negative about the place was the amount of plastic and other waste strewn about the place. The guide told us that it is due to people who come to the temple to worship. What kind of whorship is this where you make your surrondings so dirty ? Why is it that we humans love to make our surroundings dirty.

A few pics later we were on the way, stopping a couple of times more around the rim of the crater for the fantastic view it provided.

10:00AM.
We are back after our jaunt around the crater, but it is another hour before we move – breakfast , consisting of omlet, chapatis and tea – takes that long !

11:00 AM . 398kms by my odo .
Bellies full, we move. First stop is at the petrol bunk so we can tank up, and then onto Buldana to meet the DFO there. The route we will be following today will hopefully bring us to Ajanta before nightfall.

12:00 AM . 452kms
We have a small break to relax. The roads are good… and traffic free, which makes them enjoyable to ride on. On the bike I had got to thinking about MTV Roadies, and how pathetic that was to show indian biking. If it was up to me, i would have made much better of it. A plan is forming in my mind, but I doubt if i can make it happen. Probably will think about it
later .

1:00 PM. Buldahana.
We reach Buldhana. There is a speedbreaker just at the entry of the town, which is pretty much invisible until you happen to ride on it. I was going probably at around 80 or so, when I suddenly saw the hump, and applied brakes. Even so, i think it must have been around 60 when I bounced over it. Got to know later that GR was almost at 100 when he hit the hump. We had to meet the DFO, and after asking for directions around, finally found the place, which was actually just a stone-throws away from the invisble hump. The DFO was a very enthusiastic person, and was very happy to know that we were interested in Lonar. He had found out information about meteors and impact craters which he shared with us.

1:30 PM.
We start from Buldhana to Ajanta. The people at Buldhana had said the road was good, but if these roads are good, then what is bad ??

3:00 PM.
We pass a ghat section near to ajanta. GR and A stop – they want to take pics. I hand my camera to them, and go back to the top of the ghats… and race down it. Do it 3 times… exhileration !!!

3:30 PM. 557kms. Ajanta.
We check into a MTDC hotel. Drop our bags and rush off to explore the caves of ajanta. The ajanta caves are 4kms away from the main road, and to get there we have to go by bus. The place is full of tourists – mostly bengalis. We visit caves 1,2,4,9,10,16,17,20. However, we don’t like it much as its very crowded. At the end of the caves is a small waterfall , towards which we head. Nice scenic place, thankfully not crowded by the tourists.

5:30 PM.
The guards start to blow the wisltes. Time to go. We decide that we will hike back to the town, instead of taking the buses. 4kms of hiking back through the countriside. The dusk crept on us as we discussed the caves, and how it would have felt like to be alive during the times the caves were being built. How did the people at that time even conceptualize hacking away at the rocks to create such magnificient architectures.

6:40 PM.
We reach fardapur. Have bhajji and cold drinks. Away in the distance we can see lightning. Wrong time to see lightning here insnt it ? Dark clouds seem to be gathering.

8:00 PM.
We decide to leave for dinner, but its raining. finally we leave for dinner at 9:30 when the rain has abated a bit. Tomorrow we go to Pitalkhora and Ellora.

Day 3

6:00 AM
Get up. Rise and shine.. the day is bright. Well no. actually its quite dark. The clouds of yesterday night are still here. All around is thick fog.

7:30 AM
We have breakfast. Get our bags loaded on the bikes, and tank up.

8:00 AM
We leave. GR says to A “On the ghats, let vibhu go ahead”, then you take point. I let both of them go ahead of me, while i put on my gloves and helmet. Time to go. Race through the foggy ghats at 90kmph. Overtake anand in a short time. See GR taking the curves on the ghats… his riding has improved considerably from the kundapur ride. I overtake him before the next curve. And I am off, enjoying leaning the bike this way and that through the twisties. Reach the top, get of the bike, get my camera and wait for the 2 to come out.. and snap a few pics before going off agian.

Its gloomy weather .. but I am feeling elated. The cold makes me feel alive. The trees receding in the distance seem to hold mysteries, as we 3 make our way on the snaking roads.. GR in the far distance, becoming a grey shadow, followd by A, whose head can’t stop rotating from side to side.. drinking in the scenery, and me, trying to remember every detail of the scene in front of me.

8:30 AM.
We turn of from Shilod, and take a lesser road – planning to come out at kannad. The road starts off well, but soon becomes bad. However, this place is kinda deserted. Long stretches of fields on either side, and very few villages in between. The constant pace is once in a while altered – here a child runs across the road – there a group of cattle suddenly jump on the
road with A trying to halt his bull from ramming into them.

9:30 AM
Stop in the middle of nowhere A curious group of people come and ask where we are going and why we are going on bikes. One of them looks at A’s bike and says “Bullet. Not much milage”. I point out that all 3 bikes have similar milage, when he says “We can never buy such bikes. We want milage. Maybe this year we can buy something like this. The harvest has been good this year.”

10:20 AM
Reached a forst checkpost. 5/- for each bike.

10:30 AM.
Stop. Right there. In the middle of the forst. The view is breath taking. Wow ! What a place. Spend almost 1/2 an hour there.

11:20 AM Kannad
Stop for tea and buiscuits. Onwards towards Pitalkhora.

12:05 PM 692kms
Stop in the ghats after kannad. We had missed the turn to Pitalkhora, but the ghat roads being so good, we did not feel like stopping. Turn back. Seems like my trip of missing roads !

01:00 PM. Pitalkhora.
We debate whether to leave the luggage tethered on the bike or shall we take it down in the gorge. Decide on the second alternative, and am really glad that I don’t carry more than 1 bag on trips :-). Its a short climb down, mostly on well cut steps in the hill. The first view of Pitalkhora is breathtaking. Its got an ambience that the crowded hills of ajanta do not.
Meet a couple of caretakers from ASI.

02:00 PM.
Time to start back . We decide that if we can hurry up, we can still make it to Ellora and check it out. Tying our luggage to the bikes, we meet a group of tourists cackling loudly and making wisecracks
“Its a great place, even though I am coming here for the first time ” !
Uggh! I just could not resist it and told one of the ‘mahilas’ in the group “Auntiji, Neeche saaf jagah
hai. Saaf rehne dena” 😉

Another of my discussions with GR takes place. This time about Digital Cameras. We agree that we should have a digicam with atleast 1GB of memory (we ran out of film rolls at this point of time), and I add the other requirement – at least 10x optical zoom. That done, we set out for Ellora.

3:55 PM . Ellora. 760kms.
The last stretch was done at one go, and before we know it – we are at Ellora. The caves can be seen from the road – and they are chokeful of public. We dumped our bags at a tea shop in Ellora, and buy a guidebook. Onwards to explore the caves of Ellora. The most striking difference between Ajanta & Ellora (though they are spoken in the same breath), is that Ellora is mostly sculptures while Ajanta is more of frescoes. We explored the caves till 6PM. The camera was given to A, who just went crazy with the sculptural beauty of the place.

A wanted to go to Grisheshwara temple, while GR and I relaxed having some tea and snacks. GR called up Gliff to ask him to fix some hotel acco for us.

8:30 PM Somewhere outside Aurangabad.
We are some 20kms or so from Aurangabad. Finally after 3 days of no GSM coverage, we get a signal. Call up Gliff, and get directions to the hotel.

10:30 PM. Aurangabad. 796kms
We reached Hotel Sayahadri ( opposite Hotel Ambassador Ajanta). Check into hotel and fall asleep. Tomorrow I have relative little distance to cover, but GR and A have around 550kms to cover, and they want to start early.

Day 4
9:00 AM . 796kms. We leave.
Gliff had come over to meet us. After a group photo, we part ways. GR and A going with Gliff to fill up petrol, while i leave for pune. Solo riding is pretty cool with me now, and I don’t worry much.

9:55 AM . 863kms.
Stopped to thaw out and have a cup of tea. Dunno why, but this part of the county we get tea which is more sugar than tea. I have done 67kms in about 55mins. Pretty fast even by my solo standards. I normally have an average speed of 60kms when going solo. Again a 5 min break took almost half an hour (10:20 start).

11:00 AM . 913 kms. Ahmednagar.
Tank up about 200/- fuel and move on again. Had a near brush with 2 canines just on the entrance of the city. Hard braking saved the day.

12:00 AM
Feeling hungry. I see a ‘family restaurant’, and decide to stop there – but it has no cold drinks. Move on again .

12:40 PM 000kms (rollover of trip meter).
Stop for lunch about 35kms from pune. The area is very dry. Whatever little bit of tree cover was in this area has been cleared to make way for the highways. I hope that trees will be planted again or else this is going to become another drought hit area.

1:00 PM
Start again after lunch. I am at my house at 1:30 PM and with 1031 kms done on the bike.

Thoughts…

I will probably go again to ajanta and ellora, but probably not on such a hurried expidition. Pitalkhora caves are not to be missed. Even though they are not as majestic or as grand as the other 2, they have more atmosphere than the other 2 crowded locales.


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