The Mumbai-Pune highway and I go back a long time. As a kid in Khopoli, the highway whisked me away to misty Lonavala. Further on, it brought us to Pune, Kayani cake and my cousin’s massive collection of Hot Wheels! If I went the other way, it was the excitement of the big city of Mumbai and pizza! Pizza was a rare meal then.
There were many memorable trips. Floods in Mumbai (No, not the one in 2005) turned the drive from Mumbai to Khopoli into a Waterworld kind of adventure! It rained so hard that it was like standing under a waterfall. The 118 NE’s wipers fought for a lost cause. In many places, we could hardly see the road as water filled up. I wondered why people weren’t just flat footing their cars through the knee-deep water. I found out soon enough. Those who had had the same idea as me were the ones pushing their cars through the water. When it was our turn, my brother explained how keeping the revs up and using lower gears would work better. It did. At the end of the day, it took us over 13 hours to cover the 80km journey!
Drives up to Lonavala were just as testing, especially on a regular basis. There were several Sundays, entire days, spent just reaching Lonavala! All it took to cause a traffic jam – one which would snake up and down the entire 20km route – was one truck crawling uphill overheating and packing up. The trucks going downhill also added to the chaos. These overloaded beasts would roll downhill, their brakes straining against gravity. Some would eventually lose the battle, fail and crash into the hill side. It was so common that the highway authorities made ramps at places where brakes failed most often, hoping the runaway trucks would somehow manage to steer up the ramp and grind to a safe halt.
Cars weren't immune to the challenges of the ghats either. Halfway up, car-wallahs would stop and chat as their vehicles cooled off. The hissing sound, the water bubbling angrily as the radiator cap was opened for a top up was a part of the setting. I guess it was the spectacular view that made it such a popular stopping point.
The Mumbai-Pune highway later became the Old Mumbai-Pune Highway. In just a couple of years, this bustling highway lost its sheen. Petrol pumps, restaurants and picnic spots that roared with people and energy donned an air of decay and dismay. I continued to use the old highway just for the fun of it. I like how it winds around, the expressway too straightforward in comparison. I ride to Mumbai frequently and prefer to do it at night when the air is cool and traffic sparse. I did this ride often with my wife, then girlfriend. She spent the whole way just staring at the stars.
Luckily, the highway authorities haven’t neglected this grand roadway. Instead, they have continuously maintained and even improved it. I feel that is why with every passing year, I see some of that old sparkle return to the highway that only robust commerce can bring.
As for me, the Mumbai-Pune highway is a stash of memories, each flashing through my head like GPS waypoints. This is where I hammered the ‘Busa and shivered as I rode its humongous torque. This is where my best friend and I popped an inadvertent wheelie and nearly fell off, while climbing uphill! This is where the 5-series felt so spectacular. This is where we were once stuck for 6 hours. This is the most scenic chai stop. I keep ticking them off, and before I know it, I am home. And, every time, as I switch off the engine, I think, “Must do that again.”