For two weeks planning was going on for a road trip to Junnar (I had never heard of the place) and I realised it was close to where we had gone the last trip meeting Adivasi kids. I thought I shall skip it and also had a client meeting scheduled for Saturday. Life is throwing stones again so was feeling on the edge. By chance, the client said – can we meet on Monday and I jumped. Haan naan, kyon nahin. I knew I would get a chance to again meet some new people and make some new friends. Immediately I called Rikhia and she told me – Dormitory mean sona padega and I said – chalega. Just take me along. I was giggling like I had won some lottery. Road trips make me so happy.
I didn’t know then that this will become one of the most memorable adventures of my life. 35 road trippers, 16 cars with Muffin leading the way and rains – wah sone pe suhaga!
Got a lift from Zoeb and Nili upto our meeting point, who would later on in the evening narrate such an interesting story about their love marriage when they were 17. You have to hear it from them, so cute and so much love. Nili mam is quiet and didn’t speak much all day. Zoeb ji is friendly and frank. So grounded and I’m so glad they are spending this time now traveling together. They have lived a beautiful life and now have a grandkid and daughter-in-laws from different communities but they all live in harmony.
We were among the early birds at the meeting point and slowly joined by others. Dont exactly remember who came when but it was good to see a few familiar faces – Ronit, Vishal, Rikin, Savitha and meeting the new members joining us – Anjalie & Nimmy – two friends, Tapan and Umaji – avid travellers, Shampa & Anilava, Kuhu & Shashwat, Binu with his family, solo traveler Krishna (Shampa thought he was a girl) and Shailesh. Remembering names of 30 people that you’ve just met is not easy.
Boss Lady – Rikhia and her driver Subhayu (he’s her husband) lined up all the 15 cars and the drive began. I joined Savitha in her car as she was driving solo and it’s always good to have a co-pilot tracking the map. One thing I’ve realised traveling in these groups is that you should keep track of the car ahead of you and behind you, that way you will always stay together and help will be close in case of a breakdown. Difficult to keep 15 cars in line, but most people followed the rule and stuck to the order decided by Boss Lady. Some were overwhelmed by the racing drivers and others irritated by the slow drivers – Shampa was behind us and said she’s never seen her husband Anilava drive so much in discipline and follow the rule. Savitha was trying to keep up with the XUV Shailesh was driving and would mostly lose it. One thing we know that she loves potholes and would drive into each and every one that came along. And Krishna almost screamed out loud when she was reversing her car. Lol!
Stopped for breakfast at Asangaon where Vijay with his wife Vandana joined us and the next stop was the foggy Malshej Ghat. All throughout the road is greenery which you can keep gazing at and with the rain gods keeping us company, the ghat was crowded with Mumbaikars at every small and big waterfall enjoying the cold water. What a sight! A white blanket all around through which you can see only a few metres ahead and as darkness comes, only a few inches ahead. We stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the spot and then proceeded towards the Resort.
After driving for another hour or so, we drove through some fields which brought us to My Bhumi Agro Resort in Junnar. With a huge parking space for all our 16 cars, its spread over a few acres with a unique mix of eco-tourism, rural and agro tourism. They have AC and non AC rooms and 4 dormitories to adjust a larger group, and reachable from Nashik, Pune, Ahmednagar and Mumbai. After a quick check-in, everyone had lunch and settled in for a quick rest. I didn’t feel like napping, so went up to the terrace where the boys were having some fun. The breeze was soothing and so we called for chairs and settled there. While the boys started their beer session, some innovative ideas were being discussed. The boys will be able to describe that more in detail – Sailesh, Ronit, Vishal, Subhayu, Krishna, Ankush, Zoeb and Rikin. The gaming discussion led to ideation of a unique concept which was named “LOTA” and it was hilarious. The details cannot be shared on a blog. The boys can give the gyan to whoever is interested – with the ideation, marketing and finance team in place with Vijay Tiwari funding it. #shithappens and someone said – “lota ke liye lungi pehan ke aayega to chalega.” It was really hilarious and the boys tried to shoo me away so they could have a more descriptive discussion but when I refused to budge, they behaved themselves. Budweiser brings out the best creative ideas I must say!
We went for a quick tour around the farm and the resort to see the different vegetables and fruits growing. The feel of the mud and the walk along the farm felt good and informative. Surely recommend it for kids from cities who should visit the farm and spend some time planting seeds. Tapan and Umaji planted a mango tree and can visit after a few years to eat mangoes from the same. Beauty of nature!!!
After a quick chai pakoda session, Kavita and Rikhia got the whole group together on the terrace for the mandatory art session. Kavita explained the main elements of a Warli painting and each person was given a paper and pencil to sketch their version. I am really bad at this and soon gave up and started capturing shots of the artists at work. It was interesting to see how every person happily became a part of this exercise. Colors were shared, unique designs were drawn, some funny, some creative, some experts. The light started fading but the spirit of the roadtrippers drawing for a cause did not fade for a second. We had decided to auction all the art created for contributing towards a good cause for the Adivasi kids. With mobile torches and the little light from the lamps, some serious art work was being done. The boys deserve a special mention as they were so involved and trying to do their best to create something new. This was by far a first and a beautiful team exercise in which everyone participated wholeheartedly.
And then it was time for some wine and barbecue. Our grapecityman Vijay, a sommelier and wine connoisseur explained about the various bottles of wine that he had brought for us. Some of the wine drinkers tried different varieties while the boys stuck to their Rum and Whiskey. As the drinks went in, we started our introduction session since most of the group was new and didn’t know each other. The boss lady took charge and kept calling out names and insisted that every person has to explain what their names meant. The wine was talking and Rikhia is so cute that everyone obliged. Aur kya kartey!
One of the things that I love about the roadtrippers club is this intro session that we always do in the evening over drinks and snacks. Where you get to know each other, sharing the love of cars, roads, journeys taken, their travel goals, interesting stories come up. The best part is that people who come with inhibitions during the start of the journey, go back with fond memories, their pre-conceived notions in the dustbin and with new possibilities. Then they start joining us for more and more trips and the bond is totally cemented with one common love – the love of roads and driving. Every trip there are so many stories that we hear which inspire us, move us, make us laugh, motivate us, rejuvenate us, teach us, basically make us a better person.
Coming back to the introductions – a few that stuck with me – Uma Patel’s story of her travels and that she took a solo trip recently to Russia and how it changed her life; Binu overwhelmed by Kavita’s driving – she’s a racer and doesn’t stay behind anyone breaking all convoy rules, Rucha introducing herself as the better half of Suraj and then saying – haan bolo!!! The most interesting story was of the boss lady herself narrating how the proposal from Subhayu came to her when she had another boy friend and she had known him all her life. Strange how destiny brings two people together if they are meant to be together. You have to listen to this story from Rikhia cause I probably cant do justice to it with my writing. The one thing that was highlighted was that people came together for the love of driving and learning and that The Roadtrippers Club was doing an amazing job connecting people from different backgrounds and communities. What amazing diversity of people and what a beautiful collection this was!
Early morning was up at 5.30am and went out for a quiet walk as everyone was sleeping. Only birds chirping and my me time. Slowly people woke up and came to life after a hot cup of tea. The weather and surroundings were alluring and the day came alive with talks of last night. Apparently I had missed the singing session which went on till about 2am when the resort management had to shut off the lights so the roadtrippers would go to sleep. After breakfast, Kavita led the auction of the Warli paintings, kulhads and fridge magnets where everyone contributed wholeheartedly and we collected some 25000 which we will donate to buy things for underprivileged kids. With a huge parking space, we got a group shot of all the cars and started towards the sightseeing spots.
First stop was the Lenyadri Caves which was a steep climb of 300 steps to reach the caves. Lenyadri Caves date back to 1st and 3rd century AD and is one of the eight revered Ganesha temples collectively called Ashtavinayaka. It would easily take the group atleast 3 hours to reach the top and then come back down, so we dropped the idea and proceeded towards Shivneri Fort – the birthplace of Shivaji. Again the same issue and with the group of 30 people it would take very long, so we got some group shots and then returned back to our cars. But 4-5 people decided to go ahead and climb the Shivneri Fort, while the rest of us headed towards our lunch place – Saj by the Lake. All along the drive was just beautiful. Really missed driving here. We waited for Anjali, Nimmy, Kuhu, Shashwat and Vandanaji and went walking to the lake behind the resort. Serene and drizzling, it was exhilarating. I could sit there for hours and be lost in the surroundings. Have always wanted to do that and never been able to do it.
The ladies got back from Shivneri fort and went gaga over the views and the experience. Climbing the 300 steps was an achievement on its own for some. If I had known would have surely gone with them. The authorities have maintained the area well and its surely worth a visit – remember to carry some water and wear comfortable footwear since there’s a long walk even after you finish climbing the 300 steps. An important part of our history – Shivaji the great warrior! Once everyone assembled, we set out for the journey back home. I got a lift from Tapan and Umaji in their Land Rover Freelander and it was a great experience with the roads empty and the car flying. Chatting with them I got to know them some more and was so amazed at the travel they do. I’ve been on the roads all my life but now there are so many more options and places that I want to explore. Maybe alone or with friends. Life will guide me and take its own due course.
Finally got this article written after two weeks with lots going on, with getting back to work with full fervour, looking for a new home and two years gone by since my dearest Chao passed away, its been a challenge getting my thoughts together. Wish these road trips never come to and end and I can live my life traveling and discovering new people and new places and discover myself somewhere along!
Until next time from The Rearview Mirror!