Lonavala: Through Good Times Again
The match had just ended and so had our two hours of furious drinking. Portugal had lost. A little sad at the defeat and anxious about the ensuing adventure we set out. Three out of five. The other two were already in seventh heaven. We were pretty sobered up by the time we reached the car in the parking lot. We were in Lonavala – a hill station located about 3 hours from Mumbai. Darkness enveloped the dead of the night as the parking lights jumped off the car in myriads of directions as the silver body gleamed. Wearily I lit up a cigarette as the realization of having cut 120 kms just a few hours back dawned upon me. My body almost ached, but the desire for an adventure is always overpowering.
A quick glance at the watch revealed that it was already 2:30 am. The Johnny Walker simmered in my head as the engine of my Zen sputtered to life. I made sure everyone who was supposed to be seated was seated. Doors were secured. The speakers lazily spurred when i inserted the Pink Floyd CD. Put down the hand brake. Slide the gear into the first. The alcohol wasn’t too much, but when the weather inebriates and best friends are there for company, there is just no defending.
Hill stations are like owls. They would never seem their original selves in the light of the day. Given a choice, I would always visit a hill station at night. Its like making love when the lights are out. The same roads that were teeming with life and traffic, which they couldn’t handle, seemed happier accommodating us at night. I swerved to the right off the highway to the road that leads to Bushy dam and then onto Ambi Valley. There was not a soul in sight for miles and miles. The moon had retired for the night. Soon we drove past the first settlement at the foot of the hill arousing no one but the dogs who indignantly barked at us. As we sped past they went back to sleep satisfied with their work.
The ghats of lonavala are not too steep to climb except in a few places where the road suddenly curves upwards in a ‘U’, almost absentmindedly. As we started ascending up the slopes we passed the INS and AirForce offices, where a few weary guards sat around a small fire which threatened to die down at any point. After that it was nothing but us, the road, Pink Floyd and the wind howling at us prohibitively, mocking our late night escapade. But determined as we were, we drove up the slopes at furious speeds wherever the road allowed us to, careful at other bends. Soon it became a game of one-upmanship with the winds bringing in an ally. The fog tried to change our mind, but we were not to be deterred. We continued with the headlights shining bright as ever cutting through the fog. But we had taken a hit in the game. We had to drop our speeds until we were cruising lazily at 30 kmph. We would fight till the end. We braved our way up a few kilometres when Pink Floyd started off with the chimes and one of my all time favourite, High Hopes. It seemed like the wind was conspiring with Pink Floyd.
The fog soon became way too dense to see. The visibility dropped to about 1.5 feet from the bonnet of my Zen. Consequently we dropped our speed to 10 kmph and drove on for a few more kilometres where the slopes heaved a sigh and came to a level ridge with the valley on both the sides, felt only by the sound of the wind-it was not to be seen. We turned on the parking lights and stepped out to be greeted by an ecstatic wind as if hugging us to celebrate its victory. And we stood there as Ashish echoed my thoughts when he said, “Just what are we doing back there in our offices everyday?” I suddenly felt claustrophobic while standing in the middle of nowhere. A feeling of helplessness engulfed me when the flash of Manish’s camera brought me back to reality. I realised that we were really standing in the middle of nowhere. We couldnt see anything but our car and that too because of the headlights.
We stood there and enjoyed the true beauty of Lonavala, as the hills braced themselves to be swarmed by people oblivious of what they were missing. Half and hour must have elapsed when we smoked the day’s last cigarette and slithered slowly down the slopes as the fog gave us company till the AirForce office as if afraid of the civilization and bid us adieu. I sighed under my breath, “So long my friend….”