A bicycle had been my trusted childhood companion but as time went on I let go of that habit. Cycling became a sport I only observed from the outside. It came back into my life when we took short cycling trips in our travels. The spark to cycle long distance was reignited.
When my trusted friend Sachin mentioned a cycling trip down the Konkan coast from Mumbai to Velas, it got me excited. But a bit apprehensive as well. Would I be able to do it? “Don’t worry, I’ll tell you everything”, Sachin reassured. This coming from a traveller I have huge respect for, boosted my confidence. That was half the preparation done.
Preparing for the cycle ride
I still needed to put my foot on the pedal to get a first-hand experience of using a geared bicycle. The day before the trip, I rented the same bicycle I would be using for the trip and went cycling for a few hours. Since Sachin used a hybrid bicycle for such rides, I also went for a hybrid one. I rode around the Worli sea face for around four hours.
It gave me a sense of adjusting the gears for uphill and downhill roads. I rode in the sun, with the wind and against the wind. Exposure to all these conditions further boosted my confidence. I was ready to take on the Konkan roads.
This trial ride also made me realise that being comfortable on the saddle for long hours was paramount to enjoying the cycle ride. I decided to not compromise with comfort and bought cycling shorts.
The only problem was the bicycle didn’t have a carrier. Which meant I would be carrying all my stuff on the back. Weight management, in this scenario, became extremely important. This meant I wouldn’t have the luxury of carrying laptops and hard drives for backing up the photos and videos. I would have to do without backups.
The start of the ride
I left early home while it was still dark and went straight to the cycle rental shop. I met my cycling companions here, Neeraj, Ashish and of course Sachin. Neeraj had a mountain bike of his own on which he had previously cycled from Mumbai to Goa. Sachin had done the same route on a hybrid one. Both hadn’t faced any problems with their respective bicycles. I stuck to the bicycle I had used the previous day. We had a breakfast of chai and bun omelette at the Irani cafe next door. Stomachs full, cycles in hand, we were raring to go.
The ride to the bhau cha dhakka (our first ferry) was the only city travel. The ferry ride would take an hour to start and we got engrossed in the activity at bhau cha dhakka. Early morning meant a buzz of activity. The fishermen and women, wearing their big black gumboots were busy trading their catch. Cats and crows tried to snatch a fish here and there. It was a cacophony of sounds. A plethora of colours.
The ferry took us to Rewas. The city was far behind us. The cycling trip had now truly begun. The initial stretch of the road was a highway, smooth and paved. We halted for lunch at the newly opened Prabhakar lunch home at Chondi Naka. It’s almost ritualistic to have seafood in your first meal on the Konkan coast. We had scrumptious fish thalis – each one of us ordering a different fish, so we could taste it all. Our sojourn with fresh fish had also begun.
At this lunch halt, was the first time I checked my phone. There were a few missed calls and messages from home, asking how the ride was going and if everything was alright. I realised the ring of the phone while riding the bicycle. My not answering the phone had made them very anxious. This was, after all, my first long-distance cycling trip, and understandably, they were worried.
Gladly enough, I use Airtel 4G network, which came very handy. I just opened the map and shared my ride. Everyone at home could now track my ride because Airtel network connectivity throughout the journey, even in remote areas was great. I didn’t have to answer phone calls and yet, they always knew exactly where I was. This was a huge relief for them. It also meant I could ride hassle-free.
Post lunch we started towards Nagaon. Even though we were on a highway, traffic now drastically reduced. It was safe to be in the middle of the road, just cruising with the wind. It was an easy flat stretch of the Konkan roads.
We reached Nagaon in time to relax for the sunset. We took our bicycles directly to the beach. There was no one around. It was like having a private viewing of our first Konkan sunset. Photo poses that were “fit to go on social media” followed.
The chain of one of our bicycles had come off. We fixed it on the beach itself. This had to be done a few more times during the three days of our ride, but we managed without any problems. We had carried extra tubes with us but never had to put them to use.
Our stay for the night was in the home of a local elderly guy who himself owned a well maintained, fully functional rally bicycle from the World War 2 days. He had a soft corner for cycling and was super excited to have cyclists staying over. He gave us a warm welcome into his typical Konkan home – huge open spaces, red tiled roofs and coconut trees.
Challenge increases on day 2 of the cycle ride
The next day, we left early from Nagaon. We would typically try to leave by 7 AM to maximise the time when the sun isn’t harsh. The first halt was on the white sand beach at Kashid – the perfect location for the first outdoor meal of our cycling trip. We were hungry from the morning ride and stuffed ourselves with pohe and tea.
From Kashid, we moved on to Murud. This was where I faced the first tough stretch of this cycling trip. The flat roads were gone. Now began the game of adjusting the gears to suit the slope of the road. It felt good to be challenged like that. Being able to navigate these stretches gave me a lot of confidence. Despite the heat, I was smiling, thinking “I can indeed do cycling trips like these!”. This cycling trip to Konkan is a good starter trip to practice for longer, tougher cycling trips.
We now took more frequent breaks. Tender coconut and the quintessential Konkan drink of kokum sherbet kept us refreshed. The sea would give us company on and off. We drove past the sea forts, including the famous Janjira fort near Murud. We took the second ferry of this trip. This time, it was a posh boat with a big deck on which you could also take your cars. We crossed from Dighi to Agardanda on this ferry.
Post the ferry ride, we were soon in Diveagar. This time we kept our cycles at the homestay. It was a peaceful walk from the homestay to the beach. We crossed many ancient temples, made with the local red sandstone. I was surprised to see a stepwell here.
While I had seen the more famous ones in Gujarat and Rajasthan, I wasn’t aware of the step wells in Maharashtra, especially in the Konkan region! A young couple, dressed in traditional fare was there was a pre-wedding photoshoot. Clearly, these ancient temples were the “Instagrammable” spots for the youngsters of Diveagar!
Dinner for the night was at the hugely popular Bapat khanaval (eatery) and it was clearly the highlight of this cycling trip, food wise. They are were particular about the freshness of the food they serve. They do not cook in bulk. Food is made exactly for the number of guests they are expecting. Which means – they have to be informed in advance if you plan to have a meal there. We were aware of this strict rule of the Bapat khanaval. We had called them from our ferry ride to inform them about our arrival, again thanks to Airtel 4G network which had ensured that we could call them from the middle of nowhere and enjoy a legendary dinner that night.
Typical home-style food, every item on the thali was delectable. The hero was, of course, the modak. To make them extra soft, they use white butter in the cover. Highly skilled local women were busy churning out these little pieces of sweet heaven. The serving staff was also mostly women. Everyone was strictly disciplined but the smile on their faces was warm and welcoming. We slept that night with our stomachs happy and satisfied.
The best ride on day 3
Another early start at sharp 7 AM. A quick first stretch of 7-8 km was followed by a typical Konkan breakfast. When you have amboli for breakfast you know you are in Konkan. And if it’s accompanied by kokum sherbet instead of tea, you know summer is approaching! It was now becoming a practice to have a hearty breakfast and some fresh fruit or drink breaks and skip lunch. We did the same this morning as well.
Post breakfast began the real fun part. We were now on the hilly side of the Konkan stretch. Outright uphill and downhill stretches. Road repair work just added to the challenge. Put in all your energy as you climb up the slope. Reach the top. And be greeted with views of the vast Arabian sea all the way till your eyes can see. Ride down to the sea. Repeat.
No traffic. No people, really. Just the road and the sea. And you on your bicycle. A beautiful sense of isolation. When I had thought “bicycle ride in Konkan”, this is the picture that had formed in my mind! Was it being high on nature? Was it the adrenaline rush? Endorphins? One could call it by any name they pleased. But the reality was simple. This is what I had wanted to experience when I left on this cycling trip. Being with myself, and being one with nature.
We were headed towards Velas. Towards the end of the day, we took a ferry from Bagmandla to Bankot, which got us almost into Velas. We stopped at the local market and bought some fresh local fish to be had for dinner before we checked into our homestay. We then cycled to the Velas beach for our last Konkan sunset of this cycling trip. The sight of the flaming yellow ball becoming one with the sea felt like a worthy reward for the last three days. The 165 km I cycled had made a world of difference!
The Olive Ridley turtles are hatched here. The hatching was a few days away, so we missed seeing the sight of hundreds of turtles coming out of the shells.
Back at the homestay, the whole family was waiting for us. Every member of the family, including the kids, was involved in running the place. We had a homely fish thali for dinner, with the family.
The next morning we went for a small trek up the local hill. We were accompanied by the local birding expert. The forest was full of the endemic fruit trees – mangoes, jackfruit, jam, bananas, wild bananas. By the time we got back, the entire household had got busy with their morning activities. Spreading the grain from the fields to dry, packing the sun-dried supari (betel nut), feeding the cows and buffaloes, getting the banana leaves from the front yard, to be cleaned and used as plates – it was a busy time for everyone. Women from the neighbouring houses had all gathered together to roll the papads, to get them ready for drying in time for the summer.
Our breakfast that morning was made on a woodfired stove. The family was preparing a little known dish called the pangi. Made from a multi-grain paste, spread on a banana leaf and steamed on a pan over a wood fire. I had never tasted anything like this before.
It was now time to wrap up for our return journey. The pick-up car would arrive by noon. Until then, we dismantled the bicycles so they could be loaded into the van. Freshened up and took one last stroll in Konkan.
All these days, it had been a huge relief to not have to bother with transferring the photos to the hard disks. Having all the documentation intact and safe is a huge part of being a travel blogger. Thanks to being connected to the Airtel network all the time, the photos and videos would automatically get backed up online. It was like having a cloud on the go.