The searing April heat of the Western Ghats was no deterrent for the Western Wanderers. A bunch of adventurous Jeepers got together on the night of April 13th disregarding everything that was thrown their way: meeting up at the end of a work day, the heat, as well as the fact that they were meeting on Friday The 13th!
3 Pune Jeepers met up with 7 from Mumbai at Lonavala from whence they proceeded for a long drive towards Mulshi in pitch darkness on roads that did not have a breathing soul on them.
The destination: wilderness.
The road: non-existent in most places.
The spirit of adventure: undying.
After a 2+ hour drive and some stops in between, the Jeepers arrived at their destination: EcoGrid near Mulshi Lake. This is a quaint homestay run by an enterprising and cheerful couple – Andy and Nandini – who put the ‘Home’ in homestay. It didn’t matter that we reached close to midnight, it didn’t matter that we were just getting started with our evening. The hosts were ever cheerful and energetic in rustling up the most interesting dinner for everyone, accompanied by warm conversation. Andy the Adventurer is a person who has travelled almost the whole of India on his bike (currently owns a Harley!).
4-5 hours of merry-making and folks decided to get a couple of hours of shut eye. Anticipation levels were beginning to rise with the almost poetic description Andy and Nandini provided of a nearby off-road site that led up to the lake bed. With the promise of rising early and heading there, the Jeepers retired to their tents, albeit not before 2-3 adventurous (and sober) souls, headed out for a short drive further into the unknown.
The next morning, the early birds were up as early as 5:30am to watch the sun rise, dog walks, and some exploring on foot.
When everyone was ready to leave, we set off for the lake bed with our host and guide Andy. A short 10 minute ride off track got us to a view that blew our minds, disregarding the challenge of the access point even for the 4×4 Compass. With one of us leading the way, and others following behind, the Jeep’s made short work of the challenge.
The semi-dry lake bed with all its mud and rocks was just the environment for the Compass. The enthusiastic amongst us skimmed the water and tried their hand at some drifting too. Inevitably, the first vehicle got stuck in the mud with wheelspin and then the next. What was endearing about the whole experience was that while the others were having their schadenfreude moment watching the wheels dig deeper into the mud, the drivers themselves were also having fun watching mud fly all over the place and see their beloved Compass sink in into the soft earth.
Out came the towing cables, up went the sleeves, with a tug here and a push there, the vehicles were out – only for the drivers to find another spot where they could stick it in again!
After these adventures, it was time to head back to the campsite to escape the rising heat and for a late breakfast for the hungry souls.
With full bellies and an (almost) satiated hunger for adventure, it was time to bid goodbye to Andy and Nandini with promises of returning during the rains when the landscape transforms and the dime-a-dozen waterfalls make driving through paved roads an adventure in water wading.
On the way back towards Pune/Mumbai, the group passed a point near Kundalika Valley. The fact that most folks were getting late, had other commitments back home, and that was nearing 40 C did not deter anyone from indulging in photo-ops and some more off-roading.
Finally, it was time for the groups to disperse towards the two cities for the longish drive back home, every mile becoming hotter than the last.
On the trip were: Akshay Thakurdesai, Gaurav Pradhan, Krishna KD, Ponz Bopanna, Pravin Shetty, Padamdeep Singh Handa (our special guest from Bangalore), Rajesh Asnani, SJ, Ujval Nanavati, Vinayak Bagwe, and June!