Its raining cats and dogs here. The monsoons officially began on the 7th, a day after my birthday. The temperatures dipped on the 1st of June which was one of the highlights of my special day. We had some rains on an off but not enough to declare the monsoons had begun. It was like the virus- the cases dipped but not enough to lift the lockdown completely. On the 7th, the lockdown too was lifted partially- saloons and restaurants opened at 50% capacity, in-room dining was allowed on weekdays until 4.00 p.m. After two and a half months of being cooped indoors we decided to go on a drive on the first weekend after the lockdown was lifted. With the virus making waves, at the risk of sounding pessimistic, its hard to say when things will close again. The last two years have taught me to make hay when the sun shines. It’s also taught me that of all the things I enjoy- time with friends, family, travelling, a walk outdoors in nature, reading, writing, and art, I can trust nature to make me feel better at any time. I feel a sense of liberation with this realization because fortunately, nature is available at all times.
Yesterday was the first weekend after the lockdown was lifted and with the school year coming to an end, it was the day of our proposed drive. The meteorological department however had issued an orange warning. In fact, on the very first day of the rains, there was a red alert and Mumbai received 40% of its average June rainfall. From the looks of it our proposed drive was on the verge of being cancelled. I woke up at 5.45 a.m. to the sound of roaring thunder and unstopping rain. The rains continued unabated until at 8.45 a.m. and then they took a breather allowing us to dream again of the drive. We decided not to go far just in case the rains came lashing down again. So, at 9.41 a.m. with rain jackets and umbrellas, we stepped out. There was a slight drizzle. My husband suggested we drive down to Lonavala instead of driving around the city. Instead of stopping for breakfast in the city we decided to hit the highway before the rain changed its mind and came back with renewed vigor. The roads weren’t empty as I’d expected it to be. There were vehicles plying. But there was nobody walking around.
Somewhere along the way before we left the city it began raining again. Water poured down from the side of the overhead metro bridge as we drove by it, amplifying the sound of the rain- like a pipe had burst. Vehicles passed ahead slicing the water collected on the road and creating a spray. We peered out through the wet glass windows, hoping the rains wouldn’t get heavier. Surprisingly, no sooner had we touched the highway and left the city behind, it was as if we’d entered into a different zone. The road was dry, the sky was blue and the overhead clouds were a cheerful white. In front of us and around us were mist-kissed mountains. Lonavala is a hill station two hours and a few minutes away from Mumbai. Despite the proximity to Mumbai, we hadn’t travelled to the place since we landed in the country, three years ago. One thing and the other and we hadn’t gone. Somehow it always felt like it was round the corner and we could go there anytime. Anyway, I’m glad we did not travel to the places around Mumbai because that gives us an opportunity to explore these places now, when we cannot travel elsewhere.
Apparently, the monsoon season is the best time to visit the town. Nestled in the hills, the place comes alive as the rains awaken the green foliage, fill up the lakes and energize the mountain streams. The road to Lonavala is wide and the drive is picturesque – green mountains, fields, waterfalls dotting the hills, moving clouds and descending mist. I don’t know if it’s the effect of the lockdown but even the yellow lights in the mountain tunnel looked magical. It felt like Christmas.
Halfway to Lonavala, we stopped at a food court for breakfast. Since dine-in is not allowed during weekends, we had our breakfast standing, like all the rest who were there. There were many like us who had decided not to give up the opportunity to step out. The lightness and joy in the food court was palpable- smiling eyes, sound of laughter and a common feeling of being free. The food court housed a book shop amongst the restaurants, and on the top floor there were hawkers selling bohemian clothes. It was the perfect place to stop by and pick up a book and clothes if one decided to convert the day trip to a weekend stay at the hill station on the spur of the moment. The clothes were dirt cheap- the kind you can use and throw without guilt. I noticed quite a few people buying a book or two at the book store which was interesting – obviously the love for reading has returned thanks to the lockdown.
The rains started by the time we finished with breakfast, but fortunately they weren’t a dampener. With no set plan, we googled for places (three cheers to Google maps) that we could visit at Lonavala. Our first stop was Duke’s nose – a mountain trail that takes you up the mountain from where you can get a view of the entire valley. As it was raining, we decided to forego climbing. It was enough to be outdoors. The trail looked muddy and far too slippery to entice us to climb. From there, we drove to the lake. The lake was still- grey waters, grey skies and not a soul other than a young couple who were using the jetty for posing. Each time the woman went to her bag and picked up an accessory- first sunglasses (on a cloudy day), then a hat that she placed over her head at different angles and bent one leg at the knee, a scarf which she held at one end and the other swayed over the lake. Each time she went back and forth to put back the previous accessory and take a new one while the man happily obliged. We spent a little while at the lake entertained by the couple (its been a long time since we’ve seen anyone other than the four of us), and then walked to the waterfalls. It was breathtaking- the water like white lace over the brown rocks. There were many such waterfalls flowing down the hills and at the base of the hill were moss covered rocks that weren’t slippery and could be climbed easily allowing one to reach the waters. It was still raining but this time we climbed up. The rain jackets that we had on covered our heads and went up to our waist which meant that waist down we were drenched but happy. On the way back, we stopped for roasted corn-on-the-cob. A few others munched on noodles and sipped on tea at street-side joints.
Lonavala is known for Buddhist caves which have been closed for tourists because of the lockdown, walking trails and the Burshi dam. It is also famous for chikkis – a brittle Indian sweet that’s made out of nuts and sugar syrup. Going to Lonavala and not picking up some would be a shame so for a while we ignored the fat we were working so hard to get rid of and picked up a few boxes. Its called ‘Helping the economy.’ We then started our journey back home and only stopped at another food court on the way. The food courts on the way to Lonavala and back boast a wide variety of restaurants – there are healthy options for the health conscious and unhealthy options for those who don’t care.
Our short, unplanned trip to Lonavala did wonders to our spirit and since travelling beyond the borders is not an option any more, we’ve decided to take more such trips. So, be sure to check this space because I’m going to share each of those trips with you. As far as Corona is concerned, the numbers are far lesser now in Maharashtra. However, that does not mean that the virus does not exist, so we’re going to continue to be careful, wear our masks, sanitize and practice social distancing and hopefully we can keep the third wave at bay.
Before I end I can’t help but share this signage I saw at Lonavala which says, ‘ Why visit London? Sunil’s Wax Museum now open.’
All the more reason to stay back and explore the country 🙂 .
Below is a watercolor painting I did on A3 size paper, the day before we travelled. It kind of created the momentum to go on a drive.
That’s all for now. I hope you have an amazing weekend too. Stay safe!
This post is written for Linda G.Hill’s Stream of Consciousness prompt – ‘Drive’
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