Friday, September 25, 2015

The City in Lavasa

Most people don’t watch movies in theatres alone. I do. Most people don’t take car drives alone. I do.

I love my City and I keep it singing like a bird. And I love to take it out of the hustle and bustle frequently. Me, the car and my thoughts.

I had an opportunity to visit Lavasa recently. It was an office outing and I was in charge of the stay and entertainment arrangements. We had booked all 60 of us into the Mercure and it was a 2 night stay. I would be going there for the first time.

I jumped at the opportunity to drive there first so that I could “check” that everything was as required, room allotments, water sport arrangements etc.

I started from office at Hinjewadi at about 4 pm, estimating 2 hours to reach Lavasa. I am a leisurely driver, not fascinated with speed at all. And my City also has its sweet spot in this leisurely pace. We just understand each other so well. ;-)

I passed Phase 3 offices and then over the hills to Ghotawade.  The sun was low over the horizon and it was slightly windy. I like to drive with the windows open and this was a good time to do that.

The City responded to every command I gave, speeding up as I passed lorries and six seaters, slowing down as I passed pretty farms and waving school children. By the time I crossed over from Ghotawade over to the other side of Mulshi road, the traffic thinned. The road also became better, courtesy Lavasa Corporation. Mutha ghat came up and I have fond memories of cycling to Mutha top and even to the other side with friends. There is a lot of evergreen foliage in that area and it is beautiful to see year round. Needless to say, because of the sights and road conditions, it is a great area to drive or cycle on. There is a lot of “karvanda” fruit shrubs in the hills and I remember having a feast of freshly plucked fruit earlier. Not sure what it is known as in English, but it is a sweet sour black berry like fruit. It is green when unripe. Used to make pickles and sherbet.

After descending Mutha, very few vehicles passed me. It was a Thursday, so apart from State Transport buses, occasional taxis and private vehicles, no one passed by. There after I had the road to myself almost entirely. I made my first stop at Temghar Dam. Admired the water gushing through its sluices before moving on. Almost immediately the Lavasa Ghat starts and the City was doing its happy dance on the ascents.

At one point, I happened to look back at the setting Sun through the RVM. What a sight! I knew I had to get down and capture the moment. Temghar in the background, my City in the fore and time was still. (See picts).

The rest of the ascent was a series of sharp turn and twist which both of us navigated with aplomb. 
We stopped for toll at the Lavasa gate and were waved through. The ghat descended after that and I got my first glimpses of Lavasa. It looked like a ghost town kept alive by tourists. The lake in the city centre was well maintained and clean. The whole town’s landscaping is very well done. Wonder what keeps house/villa buyers away.

I saw the Mercure and knew my journey would soon come to an end. The drive was a fantastic way to spend time with myself and with my gem of a car. It is a true friend in every sense.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Initial Ownership Report - REC 500

Ever since I have heard stories about my Dad's Java and how it was famous around town for its thump, I have been wanting to ride a Thumper myself. When he or his friends describe the experience of driving or riding on it, they are lost in so many fond memories. I wanted to make some of my own too. I remember seeing an early print advt, of the RE bikes. A man crossing a railway line on a Bull and the train waiting in the background. The tag line says - "Everyone/thing makes way for the Bullet". How could I resist the pull of this beast? To begin my journey, I bought myself a Bajaj Byk in 2004, from savings from my first ever job, biding my time to move to the Bull. That was the cheapest bike available and fit my budget well. It has the tried and tested M80 engine, only juiced to give 100CC now. I still have it, rides like a charm with good fuel efficiency and quick pick-up. And I dreamed about the day I would own a Bull.

Then in 2010, along came a contest on IndiBlogger about what defines a perfect biker and being one at heart already I participated. My article won the second prize - a Castrol Tee and a Biker Jacket. Read it here. It was a futuristic view of what I would do with my Thumper and my desire to own one grew manifold.

Then I made a friend who has Bullets, not or two, but three of them. And most importantly, he let me ride one of them. It was my first ride, driving wise or pillion. I was hooked right away, as I had expected to. The bike is way different than what I had been riding so far. Larger wheel based, thicker tyres, more power, great torque.....and the sexy Thump! I think I was ready to graduate from the Byk. There has to be a hitch though, and in my case it was the seating height. I was virtually on tip toes while at a halt and it did not feel comfortable in touch n go traffic.
I decided to go for the Thumper anyway and sort this issue out later with a custom seat, such is the pull of this grand daddy of the Indian roads. 

I approached the Dhone dealership in Pune for my bike. The reaction I got upon by request to book one was expected and as I had predicted in my prize winning article. They are more used to the linen and gold chain clad junta than, the diminutive likes of me turning up to book a bike, that too a Bullet. I took a test ride of the TB and the Classic. I did not care so much for the other builds, including the café racer.

The fuel in both test ride bikes was minimal, it would have fit in a thimble. As a result after just 500 mts of riding the bikes stalled. I did not make much of the issue and proceeded to the booking process. The staff was polite, asked me if I wanted a special number etc. I settled on the REC in green-blue colour. And then the wait began…

2.5 months later the sweet sound of the SMS from RE rang in my ears and I called up Dhone to confirm. IT WAS HERE! IT WAS HERE! I rushed to the showroom to choose my stead. I looked up all three pieces they had in my colour, poke around hidden parts, turned on ignition and listened to the sweet thumps of all. I marked the sweetest sounding one out as mine. Balance payment made, they asked me come back three days later to pick it up. One good suggestion I got from my biker friend was to note the chassis and engine number of the piece I chose. I made a note of those and made the sales guy also take note.

Three days did not pass fast enough and I flew to Dhone’s only to find that they had made a totally different machine ready. The advice came in handy as I stuck to my guns about being delivered only the piece I had chosen and no other. They tried to dilly dally – it will take another day, they are all the same, etc. but they could not get past my resolve. So I was in the showroom for the next 4 hours while they got the beast ready for delivery. Lesson one learnt.

While I was waiting there, by no means a pleasant place, much entertainment was provided by other customers. There was one in particular who had come to take delivery of his bike accompanied by a videographer to shoot the event. And this dude himself was dressed as if it was his own wedding! Huh!!? Maybe, I thought, one day I will understand it all.

Finally, around 3:30 PM the Thumper was ready for me. I had taken some pedhas along and distributed them to everyone in sight. As usual, the beast had a thimble full fuel in it, so the first thing to do was make my way to a station. My friend took some photos of the occasion and I made my wobbly way home. Everyone was waiting to receive the beast in a grand manner and there was much fanfare. I finally said goodnight to it reluctantly at 10 pm.

Over the next few days, I discovered the sheer joy of thumping my way around town -- catching the eye of passers by, getting ahead of others easily albeit safely…oh such joy!! I was itching for a longer ride. My friend being a RE traditionalist, did not let me go over 60 kmph and I was determined to do things the right way. We decided to ride down to Khed Shivapur toll booth and back..some 70 Km in all. It was a thrill. I am not a speed devil by any means, so I was happy puttering along. The turns, though generous road breadth wise, were a little challenging for me at first. The high seating and long reach for the handlebar was something I would need to get used to. Plus remember, I was finding it hard to reach the ground. Well, I can only remember the riding part of the entire time…. Indescribable feeling of flying with the wind. Loved it and grew to love my REC too.

It was almost a month by the time the registration number was shared. I took the bike to Pune’s Nana peth area which is the hub for all spares, add-ons, mechanics etc. I got my number plate done, added the leg guards and also added the side bars. Pawar Seats had a rider seat that I liked and improved the ground reach for me, so that went on as well. The whole shebang put be back by about INR 3500, but all worth it.

Then began the REC discovery. My friend had warned about the service quality and the bike build quality enough for me to expect the worst every time something happened. 

It was time for the first servicing and the bike was running fine. One of the smaller headlights had conked off and that was replaced. I am not sure they really did any “servicing” of the bike that day except oil the chain it in front of me just before delivery. What I did not realize then was that this oil did not have time to circulate or drip off. I ended up spoiling my jeans as I rode back. Lesson two learnt.

One day after the third servicing, I noticed oil dripping from the right side of the engine block and seeping onto the silencer. This was causing much smoke to fly when the oil burned. Back to Dhone’s to fix it. It seems they had broken the oil seal while servicing and instead of replacing it, simple twisted it around so that the broken end faced skywards. Really!!!?? I maintained my cool while I badgered them into changing the seal and refusing to pay for it. Grrrrrrr! . I was just waiting to be done with the free servicing before going to a more reliable mechanic. Lesson three learnt.

After this episode a few niggles did surface but nothing that would dampen the ride experience. My friend assured me that a Bullet is constantly leaking from somewhere or the other, so I just had to get used to it. After 13 years of owning a super low maintenance Bajaj Byk, I was going to work on my tolerance levels.

Around 9 months into the ownership, I geared up for my first long ride – Pune to Goa. A bunch of us were running the Goa River Marathon and we planned to ride down there. I visited Nana Peth again for the elastic fasteners to hold my luggage and gloves. All three of us were RE owners – 2 RECs and a TB. We got my friend's regular mechanic to go over the bikes once to sort out any major issues. Fortunately there were none, so we were all set.

We fuelled up the previous night and on the 5th of December 2014, started towards Goa at 6 AM sharp. I had done over 2000 kms on my bike by then so I was able to push it past the 60 Kmph mark to 80-90 kmph or so. I was still hesitant to take it to 100 kmph. It was my impression from the sound of the engine that the bike was straining at that speed but my friend assured me that that was not the case. Nevertheless, I hovered around the 80-90 kmph mark throughout the trip.

We were lucky to get cloud cover as we went into Katraj and beyond. It was raining in Pune, but not on us. Apart from a puncture in my rear wheel in Khambatki Ghat, we had smooth sailing. The roads definitely got better as we crossed over into Kolhapur and further into Belgao. We fueled up at Belgao and then asked for directions to Chorla. That was a very memorable downhill ride for me, the Chorla Ghat. There were scary moment with sharo turns, I was not yet so comfortable, but then the whole atmosphere made up for it. We were going to a hotel near the Airport so we went via old roads in Goa, via the Zuari River Bridge. The roads being super smooth and Police presence for help with direction was a huge plus to make the latter part our ride great.

In the three day stay in Goa, we visited Raj for the Goan thali, the beach (of course), ran the marathon, visited the RE showroom in the old city to replace my friends’ REC’s brake pads and bought ourselves some Guava cheese and Bekinka. Go figure out what these delectable things are if you do not know already. Shame on you if you’ve been to Goa and not had these. My friend has fitted a custom handlebar on his RE and I tried it for a bit while on a ride through Lotli towards Phonda. It is wider and higher, perhaps a little far my reach, but it did wonders to my riding confidence on turns. I think I am going to get one for myself, perhaps a little less lengthy and nearer the saddle.

We left for Pune on Monday, with the Sun at our back. There was much fog in humid Goa that day, so we delayed our departure by 30 minutes for better visibility. We used google maps for voice direction on my friends’ helmet audio. It directed us well towards Chorla. After we passed the ghat, the first halt was Belgao for fueling up both the bikes and ourselves. We made good time to Kolhapur, reaching there at about 3 pm. A short rest and refreshments later, we were on the road again. A must-have halt at Kailas near Khed Shivapur for Bhel and vada pav was also made at my insistence. We were much on track to reach the city by 7 pm. After the Kailas halt we were going to part ways – one friend would continue on to Mumbai, the other would take the Singhagad road exit and I would take the Warje exit. We had had a great time with each other, with the bikes and during the time. We decided that this would be our annual affair, no matter what.

It was my longest and most exhilarating ride to date. The change of seats had worked wonders for my posture and there was very little back pain, if any. At time I leaned on to my sack held in place on the pillion seat by the elastic clamps. We rode about 1012 KM in all – the ride and commutes within Goa included and I must’ve spent about 1700 on petrol. Overall, a good average I guess. Except for my puncture, my friends’ brake pads and occasionally checking tyre pressures our bikes did not seek our attention, leaving us to enjoy the city, the experience, the ride and each others’ company. We three and bikes in fact, drew other people’s attention wherever we halted.

Damn you RE, if you did not make the bikes so hard to resist, the poor make would have done you in long ago! Here is to many more years of riding the Thumper and to hopes of improvement in standards at RE.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Every day Cancer day

World Cancer Day, every year on 4th Feb . Two ways to look at it. The disease has reach such mammoth proportions that we need to dedicate an entire day to create awareness about it. One entire day for Cancer from the meagre 365. Other way, it has a day dedicated to it because of the awareness created around it’s prevention and treatment. Both ways arriving at the same conclusion – we need to do something about it, and fast.

I have lived this day a lot of days since I was 7. My grandmother got diagnosed late, got treated with whatever medicines are available in those days and then lost the battle to cancer. 10 years later, my mother got diagnosed early and began her own battle, which we have not yet lost. But still it has meant dealing with this monster every single day. And they are not the only ones. I have had friends, relatives, teachers, friend’s parents, a nephew - people I have known, and liked, afflicted with this emperor of diseases.

While I cannot change what it means to live with cancer every day, what does change though is how I will react to it as a part of my life.

No doctor on this planet will dare say that cancer is curable. It is not. The only and only thing they will say is that it is preventable.

And that I think is key message that needs to go everywhere possible. It is an eminently preventable disease. I want the awareness of this fact to spread before we come to the how part of it.

I invite you, my readers to tell me – what will help create this awareness: 
  1. An awareness walk/run – a good example is Pinkathon
  2. A lone warrior campaign – talking about it at every single public speaking opportunity
  3. Sharing a personal story – talking about how it has affected you, how you dealt with it, and what you did changed things for the better.
  4. Organize a mammoth physical feat for a mammoth disease – walking 1000 miles to raise awareness, cycling 10,000 to raise awareness, etc
  5. Tie up with social bodies like the IMA, Rotary Club to organize an awareness drives.
  6. Sometimes I think, noble that these causes are, they are around for just a day or a limited duration in case of the activity. Just like World Cancer Day. Since it affects me every day, why not do something every single day – talk about it to friends and strangers, post quotes, post statistics, count those who you have lost to it, follow optimistic research. 
While I am not jingoistic about the whole thing saying things like,  “Cancer stops here”, or “It will soon be just a sun sign”, what I can definitely say is that the treatment of the disease has undergone a radical change in the last 25 years that I have been up close and personal with it. This is another message that needs to go out—the treatment is no longer worse than or as bad as the disease.

The chemotherapy is more targeted towards the bad cells, there are things they put in the chemo makes the side effects last less longer and are less harsher, there are genetic treatments and radiation is far more accurate. And all this is just my layman information from my experience of living with it, seeing it work and seeing some small wins. Enough to give even slight succor to anyone who has visited an Oncologist.

What message must pass is that Cancer is preventable through lifestyle change, it is very diagnose-able with regular checkup, and if afflicted, it is treatable enough to give you  fighting chance. 

From times when we counted the days, to making every day count, it is some progress I think.