One Living Life: Dajipur: The only Wildlife Sanctuary on 2 Wheels

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Dajipur: The only Wildlife Sanctuary on 2 Wheels

Exploring and visiting new places has always been fun for most of us. But, when its on 2 wheels, it feels amazing because you are mingled in your surrounding. You feel the wind of the journey and the 360 x 3D uninterrupted view is much more awesome than on 4 wheels. You feel the power between your legs and the passion to conquer the whole world. Well, thoughts aside. Let's go to the Travelogue.

It was a rented Pulsar 150 (2004 version) with round headlights. We had rented it for a month in Pune and a long ride was definite in those 30 days.

It was just a normal Saturday evening when most working bachelors drown themselves in drinks, boozing off the whole night. Well, we hadn't planned for that as we were planning something better. But, you know even planning needs a few beers and a couple of fags. As always, we googled for places around Pune for a weekend trip. We were not sure if that would be the common beach-side Alibaug or something else. But, forests were definitely new in the list. Since, we had covered most accessible places around Pune, most of the new places were distant ones. So, I was searching for green patches on the Map, working on the last resort of visiting a new place. Halfway onto my beer, I came across Dajipur and shared the idea with my roommate who was a fanatic traveler willing to travel anyhow and he was going to be my pillion rider.

Google Maps had always been the guide for me. And, with the map in my hands, it was time to memorize the way as much as I could. I knew very well that my phone could not help me after a few hours. Frequent discharges and no 3G areas was definitely a problem I dealt with. Not waiting for another minute, I pulled up my jeans, grabbed my jacket and a few important stuffs into my backpack. The way to Dajipur covered the Pune Satara highway and then a right turn at Kolhapur, crossing the city at some point, the road to Dajipur would start. The estimated distance as per maps was around 300 kms. So, a round trip and back to home by Monday morning would be around 700 kms.

I guess it was February or March and though Pune is not that or at all cold in Winters, the wind is definitely chilly for a single T-Shirt. I knew riders would face most of that wrath and so I had taken good enough protection. While my pillion rider was pretty much under the beer influence he did not care for even a jacket.

The highway is just around 5 kms from our flat and we were pretty quick to get on it. Up till the point when we were continuing with Pune beside us, temperatures seemed to be pretty normal. But, all of a sudden there was a drastic change in temp. A few degrees dropped almost instantaneously and I was speeding through the highway. It was past midnight and I was shivering too hard. Stopping by the highway, I grabbed the jacket collar in my mouth, firmly gripped the chain between my teeth and I started for a tough unprepared journey ahead, with only one thought running in my mind: I will finish this journey. Later on at some points, I did suffer due to my hard decisions.

I rode non-stop for a few hours amidst the chilly breeze. My friend quietly cuddled and tried to hide his humongous body behind me as much as he could. Well, he was just wearing just a T-shirt and I knew well how much cold he was enduring. Well, it was our decisions and we had to take full repercussions it came with. After prolonged hours on the highway my legs felt stiff and numb. I knew my body needed a much wanted break, although my mind always wanted to reach the destination as fast as possible.

Spotting a tea shop open during midnight, I hit the brakes hard and it literally took me a minute to get off the bike. For a moment, it felt as if my legs were so stiff that they were positioned only to fit on that pulsar seat and not stand properly. Some hot tea and a few biscuits were pretty comforting. I thought I should ensure if we are on the proper road to Dajipur and so pulled my phone to check on Google maps. Damn, there was no 3G and without 3G loading maps was pretty difficult back then. We tried to call up Bhaskar (yes, the asshole on the Halfway to Nimrana in future) but it was 3 a.m. then and he was dead asleep. He did not pick up the phone. We had no other option but to try the old school way: ask strangers and locals for directions. Sadly, 3 a.m. meant the old school method failed. There was no one around. I just had a memory imprint of the map in my mind which said that probably I had to take a right from Kolhapur and then somewhere ahead we would be in Dajipur. We kept moving ahead on the Mumbai-Pune-Goa Highway as there was no other option.

We rode and took small breaks. After a few hours on the road, I realized that the tyre pressure was too low and with a 120 kg meatball shoved up on the pillion seat, the tyres had to be pitied, else we risked getting stranded and perhaps getting looted on the stranger lands. We reached Kolhapur around 6 a.m. and the priority was to get some air into the tubes. Secondly, some breakfast. Without that I would be doomed. We rode through many petrol pumps within the town. We asked a lot of people but all they said was that none of the bike shops/air pumps open before 9 am. These people indeed lived a slow life. We had no choice since it had been almost 1-2 hours and we did not find any place to refill.
On the Way.. me... :)
I had to drive slowly as that right turn from the highway towards Kolhapur meant roads with potholes and no-roads at some places. We asked a lot of locals, but none of them knew what or where Dajipur was. That was an even greater problem with the direction. I was pretty sure that Dajipur was hardly 50-60 kms from Kolhapur and it was pure gut that I was following. If I was wrong, I would have to bear the grunt of Mota behind me, not to mention the frustration of an unsuccessful trip towards an unknown destination.
Early morning from Kolhapur to Dajipur
On my slow ride from Kolhapur to the probable-Dajipur, we kept asking locals about any nearby place to fill air. Someone pointed us towards a village off-road towards another direction. We had no choice but to follow his way. There was another small problem that had started by now. Most locals around could not understand Hindi/English anymore. They were pure Marathis. So, we could communicate with some rare locals who could understand us. We returned from the small marathi village completely disappointed. The guy who owned the manual air pump there would not be coming back soon.
Stop for Breakfast somewhere from Kolhapur to Dajipur amidst only Marathi speaking people
The Western ghats had started and the straight roads gradually started its turns and slopes. Its always fun riding on such roads. When we came to a place called Radhanagari, I got my 3G back and it was the light that showed the path ahead. I followed the directions to an auto shop and got my tires refilled. People at Radhanagari knew Dajipur well and they confirmed everything I was not sure about that place. We had already lost a lot of time on the way and needed to make it up. I rode hard amidst steep turns and stopped directly at the Dajipur forest officer's bungalow.

Now, was the time for the safari but we were perhaps pretty late for the same. We talked to the Forest Officer and to my amazement that guy said that we had still time. Not only that, the best part was that motorcycles were allowed in the safari but only with a car or in a group. I mean, in which place in the world are people allowed to ride on motorcycles for a Jungle Safari? Incredible India!!!

Dajipur was a reserved Bison Sanctuary and a permission like that was indeed the best thing that could happen.

We also had to halt somewhere for the night after the Safari. There was only one small hotel beside the Forest Officer's bungalow but it was occupied. The forest officer informed us that there were villagers around who rented their rooms to visitors here. He also gave us a time at 3 p.m. as a Safari group would start then and we would tag along on our motorcycle. We got a village hut to stay and the old woman and the small child who were the hosts did not know anything except Marathi. So, sign language had to do its best here. The food with the easiest sign language was egg. So, we had egg at lunch, Egg for dinner and egg for breakfast the next day.
Egg for Dinner (but food was served aesthetically)
I was damn tired after the whole night ride. I was riding for almost 12 hours until I came to a halt. I needed some rest but there was no time. It was just lunch and a power nap.

The Village hut where we stayed

I had to get ready and visit the bike mechanic at the forest office. The mechanics lower the tyre pressure there as the hill towards the Dajipur core area was full of big boulders, sand and rocks. Lower tyre pressure meant good grip. We got our papers signed and had to sign an agreement which stated that we were taking the Safari on a Motorcycle at our own risk. Neither, the government nor the forest authorities would be responsible for any loss of life or property, whatsoever.

The distance from the Forest Office to the guard house was around 4 kms. It was uphill and was a direct entry into the deep forests. Fear creeping in was obvious, as I learnt that apart from the normal variety of deer, fauna & the obvious Bison, the other harmful species like Leopards, Bear, Boar and wild dogs also co-existed. We were now amidst serious wildlife. Riding a Pulsar 150 on the boulders, narrow jungle roads, wet slippery mud and roots meant we were completely unprotected, had we faced one of the bad animals. Well, people indeed go to safaris to see those wild animals face to face. But, most of them stay inside the car or have a forest officer with them carrying a tranquilizer gun in case it was needed. We reached the forest guard house and that man was instructed not to let us go until the other Safari group came along. We had to wait for almost another hour before they came in. I was a bit relieved because I was not sure if I would be going alone into the forest on a motorcycle even if the authorities permitted us to.

We were following the Bolero in front of us. A 4 wheel drive was the most suited vehicle for such a terrain, not a city ride like Pular 150. Nevertheless, I love biking and the harder it is, the more thrilling it becomes. The Bolero sped ahead leaving us behind and we were literally alone then. I was already tired, without sleep and the big boulders and rocks made it even harder for me. It was almost like my hands could not take the jerk anymore. They were in pain but I had no option then. I was already amidst the deep jungle. Before this trip I was always hoping for the sight of a wild bison, leopard, bear or even a boar. But, now deep within I felt perhaps a face-off with such animals would not be a memorable experience after all. The thrill should suffice. :D

The forest at some places grew so dense that they had completely blocked the sunlight.
A snap amidst the dense Dajipur Forest

The road being difficult I was riding very slowly but one mishap could turn things haywire!!! On such a ride, escaping without a small mishap would be a miracle. The mishap turn came soon. It was an uphill sharp turn and seemed like laid with rocks. It was mostly the first/second gear I was riding on. The rock at this turn that seemed to be stable betrayed us. It was slippery mud and water beneath along with sand that pulled my tires in. I was already weak after 15 hours of ride and my wrists could not bear the weight of the motorcycle along with Neelabja sitting behind. Had it been another time, I could have easily pulled myself out of this situation, but I had little strength to control it back then.
The best roads amidst the Jungle

Get ready for a surprise and height of unpreparedness. This guy, Neelabja came along wearing kitos on a Jungle road and a biking trip. I will always be out of words when I think about that situation and the casualness of my friend. The bike fell to the right, I panicked and the rear wheel was still in  motion. Neelab's kito got stuck amidst the spokes and his bare skin touched the hot exhaust pipe. Obviously, he was screaming in pain at the top of his voice. Not aware that even wild animals could be curious about this, for 2-3 seconds, I was wondering what to do. I did not have the strength to pull up the bike and his leg was stuck between the spokes and the exhaust pipe. I hit the kill switch and the engine stopped. Slowly, he pulled out his leg from between, while my right hand was giving its last strength to hold the bike up and Mota, who's weight was still on the bike. Somehow!!! I don't know exactly how we stood up and took a few minutes of rest. I was in shock. My instant decision was to go back while Mota insisted to travel up hill. I was angry because what ass in the world dares to sit behind a bike on a Jungle Safari ride wearing slippers!!!
The best roads where we could stand for rest and take some snaps.

You can't imagine the places where the 1 ft wide boulders layover one another making way to the top
I was adamant and started riding downhill as the Bolero with which we came sped up and left us alone. A few minutes downhill we saw another Safari coming towards us. My logic insisted on going down because of the unpreparedness and deep dangerous shit that we were putting ourselves into. But, my heart was craving and yearning to reach the top of the Dajipur forest and complete the trip. A few words exchanged between me and my pillion rider changed decisions. Neelabja was always willing to complete the trip, no matter what. That too, after the accident. Well, in the end, we did go up again to the top and this time the Safari group stayed with us.
The 2nd Safari Bolero that came with us
We saw a bison far away and maybe some deers. Lucky there were no Leopards as I am pretty sure, that would not be so cool. I mean, which carnivore sees fresh human meat and does not have the temptation to consume it? I am not so aware about Wildlife psychology but that's what common sense says. We reached the top soon, got onto a watch tower and spent a few minutes there watching wildlife around. A few bison were also seen far away.
The view from the Watch Tower
Somewhere around the Watch tower
It was getting dark soon and getting down amidst population was more important for us rather than the other 2 Safari teams. Before the trip started, I actually wanted to see a Bison up close. My mind had portrayed a bison to be a bigger form of a buffalo. I was so wrong!!!
Spotting a Bison

On our way downhill, a Bison stood just a few meters away from us, and that thing was so big. On top of that it was staring directly at me. While we were there in front of the bison, Neelabja asked me to slow down. Damn!! I just had a look towards the bison and before I froze, I knew I needed to speed up. Without looking back, I just wanted to cross the jungles and get back amidst normal human life.
View of the Dajipur lake from the top
When I reached back to the Guest room in the village, I was 100% exhausted. I just wanted to drop dead. I had started on a Saturday midnight and it was Sunday evening now. I rode for almost 18 hours at a stretch with just a power-nap and a few breaks in between. I never imagined that my body could endure this much. But, my riding and the evening did not end yet. We were short of cash and there was no ATM nearby. The nearest ATM was Kankavali and that was another 30-40 kms ahead. There was no way to drop dead now. We had to pay the villagers for the food and room and also needed cash and petrol for the journey next morning as it was a Monday and our plan was to swipe in at office under any condition. When we reached Kankavali, we came to know that we were already in the last district of Maharashtra i.e. Sindhudurg and another 30 kms ahead we would reach meet Goa-Maharashtra border. OMG!!! We never knew Goa was so close. But, no leaves from Office make an IT guy's life hell.
As the Sun set over the western ghats
We decided that next time, we would surely make it to Goa on road. After picking up the necessary items at Kankavali, we came back to Dajipur and dropped dead over a few bottles of beer.

We woke up early morning to reach office in time so that we could at least swipe in after lunch. But, the gods had something else in store. Somewhere downhill from Dajipur to Radhanagari, the phone rang in my pocket. I was not going to pick it up but put off the vibration. It was a turn and the bike went out of my hands. I skid on the pitch stones and the bike rested on the edge of the hill. The pain and stress on my hands were not relieved completely. Lucky, that there was a bit of off road on the edge apart from the tar. Had it been some other narrow road, me, Neelabja and the motorcycle would be totally down that cliff into the valley. I bruised myself and the agony of not reaching office that day still bit me inside. Yes, that's how an IT guy's life is. Even while I was on the brink of death, but lucky to be alive, I was still wondering if I could reach back Pune for office that morning. I did not see the bike till then, After a few minutes of rest when I tried to pick up the bike, I was not yet ready for another shock. The clutch was broken and the gear could not be shifted. So, the bike could not be moved. What next!!!

We waited.... for help. Either me/Neelabja would have to take lift to Radhanagari and come back with a truck to carry the bike to some mechanic. We were lucky again. Within a few minutes, an empty Bolero truck came behind us. We stopped it and the driver was very helpful. I was injured and he completely helped in loading and unloading the bike to the nearest mechanic. He did not even charge a single penny even when we offered him some. I was now wondering that the cost might roll upto a couple of thousand bucks but yet again the Mechanic at Radhanagari turned out to be helpful. Generally, in our country people try to take advantage of non-locals, charge them higher prices and so on. The mechanic just charged us 125 Rupees and replaced the clutch and indicators as well. It was already 11 a.m. by then and reaching Office in Pune which was still 350+ kms away riding a bike to attend Office was impossible. I was injured, in pain and rode calmly. We took a break due to the afternoon heat and took rest on one of the roadside lodge. Some alcohol and food calmed me and I took another nap. By evening we started and reached Pune by 9 pm. Well, the night didn't end there. On our way, we met Brett Lee. I mean we didn't actually meet him as he was sleeping inside his car while his guards had stopped on one of the roadside hotels.

This road trip was done in the month of March in 2012. It was a dangerous, thrilling and unplanned one but we were back home safe. Till date, this has been the most adventurous trips I have undertaken. Although, Maps showed the distance as 350 kms one way, we could not use Maps on the way and took many detours and wrong turns. The odometer showed around 950 kms + when we ended the trip. But, I know that I had crossed a few lines and was lucky to be back home unscathed. This was another time when I had the opportunity to learn how to ride safe. But, maybe I needed a few more lessons.

P.S. This Travelogue was written 3 years after the actual trip. Some details are obviously missing

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