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Going To Poona

Last week I went to Poona; one of my favourite weekend gateways. I have been going to Poona since about 1996 and the journey is as much fun as the destination itself. I'd rather take the train; the expressway may be quicker, depending on where you start in Mumbai and where you go to Poona, and a quantum leap in the state's infrastructure but for me it has completely ruined the adventure.

We normally prefer leaving for Poona early in the morning. Over the years, our schedule has pretty much been the same. No, it has become a little easier. Instead of the very early Indrayani Express that leaves Mumbai CST station at 5.45 am, we now take the Intercity at 6.45 am. I get an hour of extra sleep. I am not much of a morning person. Even getting up at 5 am makes me feel as if I have done something great and deserve an award; it is that much of an achievement. Mother India wakes up at 4 am.

Earlier, i used to go down, fetch the cab, bring it up the hill to my home, load the bags and then leave for the station. Now I call Meru or Mega cabs. These radiocabs are one of the best things to have happened to Mumbai's infrastructure, that seems to have otherwise crumbled already in most other areas. Though if you actually go to other cities, like Poona, you'll slowly appreciate what we have here.

Our Meru cab arrives right on time. We get an SMS 15 minutes earlier informing us of our driver's name, number and the car number. Then, the driver calls asking for precise directions. Over time, these drivers have now become accustomed to Mumbai's bylanes, alleys and gullies. Earlier I had to break my head explaining to them precise directions. Go straight-look for a petrol pump-shop on the right-lane next to it-leave that and take the next-get in-come in straight. Now, some prompts here and there and they get the way. The cab arrives, bags are settled in and we are on our way, speeding past Marine Drive, taking in the cool and misty morning breeze, admiring the early morning walkers and joggers and wondering how the hell these spirited people can be up and about that early.

One specialty of Mumbai Poona trains is that more often than not, they leave on time and reach their destination on time. Especially the trains that leave in the morning, from both Mumbai as well as Poona. By the time the sun gets busy finding its place up above, we are on the outskirts of Mumbai, passing by concrete jungles, actual jungles that you hope would remain that way and not turn into concrete jungles and a sea of people answering nature's calls right next to the tracks, all along the way. The train enters Karjat station; the last station of the Mumbai suburban section on the Mumbai - Poona route.

There are few things I must do on the way to Poona. One of them is to definitely get down at Karjat station and take in the aromas of the vada-pav. If you have traveled to Poona by train and have yet not heard of the Karjat vada-pav, you're not a traveler. Freshly made vada-pavs are bought and savoured. You get around five minutes to stretch here as the two engines get attached to your train behind, to help push the train up the Khandala Ghat that begins soon after Karjat station. I could spend hours and hours on the balcony of my Fariyas hotel room that overlooks the Mumbai - Poona railway whenever I go to Lonavala. I specifically ask for a room that faces the railway lines. The train slowly emerges from the tunnels, huffing and puffing, pushed by the two engines at the rear, the sound of which echoes in the entire area. You're lying in the bed in complete pin drop silence that envelops Lonavala in the night but you can clearly hear the sounds of these two engines, every half hour. They leave the trains and then return back to Karjat to bring another one. You may call this sound or noise, I call it bliss.

Anyways, back to Karjat. The train honks, ready to leave, by which time we'd have finished our vada-pavs and we are back in our seats. If you want to travel the Khandala ghats, I suggest you take the train. Especially if you're going up there in monsoon. Cascades of waterfalls can be seen all throughout the ghat section as you pass through a number of tunnels, the largest one just before you enter Khandala, then pass the beautiful Khandala station that looks more like a garden than a typical Indian railway station, past the Marzban Parsi sanataurium, then through the last tunnel and you enter Lonavala. Poona is only an hour's ride from here and before you know it, you're there. To the city that first greets you with its line of automobile factories just as you are entering it, then Shivajinagar station where almost 90% of the train gets off (Intercity doesn't halt here though, but I remember my Indrayani and Deccan Queen days) then the horrible stench emanating from Mula river- or is it Mutha river- then the familiar sight of Poona station. I can't wait till I meet Ritz hotel, Vaswani Chambers, Dorabjee's, SG Mall, East Street, MG Road, Marz-o-rin, Camp, Pundole watches, Golibar Maidan, Serene Estate, Kubera Park, Kondhwa and NIBM Road.

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