Hit the highway

Vinaya Patil
Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The NH 4 has been an ignored road ever since the birth of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. But many travel enthusiasts still choose it over the new one, for its sheer beauty and charm

We love the rain, the pakodas, the outings, getting drenched... But there’s something else that many among us love too — taking the old Mumbai-Pune Highway every monsoon and giving a miss to the faster and easier expressway between the two cities.

The reasons are numerous, says Vineet Rajan, an entrepreneur and a regular on the old highway. “There are just too many destinations on and around that way, and beautiful ones. The Rajmachi fort, the waterfalls across Lonavla-Khandala ghats, Lohagad fort, Bhaja caves are just a few,” he says, while adding that we don’t give the route enough credit, because “ghar ki murgi daal baraabar” (taking for granted, thanks to over familiarity).

“Bikers and road-trippers around the country list the NH4 (old Mumbai-Pune Highway) among the top 10-20 roads, in terms of beauty and convenience. But we tend to ignore its beauty, thanks to its easy access and proximity for us,” says Rajan.

The breathtaking ghats
The best part about the route, predictably, is the ghats for most travellers. “Usually, I try taking this route late in the day, so I reach the ghats around 10 pm, and it is a beautiful place with a sky full of stars and empty roads,” says another regular on the route, Samarth Sankhala, an IT professional based in Pune. This is also owing to the majority of traffic taking the expressway, leaving the old road empty for the more adventurous ones and travel buffs.

Sankhala, who used to reside in Mumbai until two years ago, did the Mumbai-Pune lap every weekend then. “I would almost always end up taking the old route, especially during the monsoon. As you ascend the ghats, the weather instantly feels better and the pollution level drops,” he says, while seconding Rajan’s idea of taking small detours for some of the most beautiful spots on this route.

He tells us of a particularly offbeat one near Talegaon. “Take a right from Talegaon on your way to Pune and you will reach this village called Kulegaon. It’s a beautiful place,” narrates Sankhala.

Munch on hot Vada Pav
Another thing synonymous with road trips and travel buffs are the simple yet amazing food joints that they swear by. While a restaurant called Ramkrishna in Lonavla is a favourite breakfast place for both Rajan and Sankhla, the former also talks about another place near Talegaon. “It was earlier called the Big Wheels Motoring Cafe but is now renamed as the GD Executive. It’s a nice place that used to have bike-themed decor, also having a small vehicle spare parts shop next to it. It thus was an ideal stop for bikers,” he says.

Sankhla, meanwhile, reminisces about a Vada Pav joint near Khandala. “While going towards Mumbai, exit Khandala and you come across a small cave inside which this Vada Pav vendor has his stall. It is easily one of the best Vada Pavs I have had and he serves it with a very tasty thecha,” says Sankhla.

Deepak Ananth, co-founder of ScoutMyTrip — an online road trip planning start-up, says that there is a Vada Pav joint near Talegaon too. “This is just before you enter the Camp area in Pune. He even has a nice bike parking space, making it convenient to take a break here and munching on those hot Vada Pavs,” says Ananth, who takes the old highway during the monsoon and winters. He also says that he never misses the bhutta (corn) in Lonavla during the rains.

While the Mumbai-Pune Expressway is a boon in more ways than one, the old highway certainly has a charm of its own, and is a favourite among many. This monsoon, do make a trip at least once!

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