Kokan Photologue – Forts, Beaches and Coastal Roads!

Welcome to the photologue of my solo Kokan trip. It was an extremely pleasurable spontaneous escapade with pristine empty beaches, imposing and rustic old forts as well as mindblogglingly picturesque coastal roads. The best part is, most places I rode through were completely untouched and off the typical Konkan visiting tourist’s radar. Virgin and beautiful. At times you could almost fool someone that you are on some European Coast rather than India.

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The Route

The day started off as usual. Getting up half-hearted, grinding through the morning tasks with half opened eyes and then getting ready for work letting out soft grunts every few minutes. Then something cracks in your head, almost loud enough to be heard by people even living outside it. In this moment you suddenly know this is not going to be a normal day. And my word, it wasn’t. It’s a rare occasion when you suddenly know that you just have to succumb to your wanderlust. Even your wife sees it in your eyes and says, “Just go! Have fun”. You know you’ve married the right woman.

In considerably less time than I took to get ready that morning, I had already packed my overnight bag, put on my riding gear and even researched and booked a wonderful, small farm house for one night’s stay. Bag strapped on the bike and a manically huge smile plastered on my face, I was off.

Rode non-stop from Pune to Khandala on the old Mumbai-Pune highway finally stopping in the Old Khandala Ghat for a few photos of the valley and the Expressway. The ride on the open highway was relaxing and smooth. Continued on through the town of Khopoli towards what I used to call, ‘Pen-in-the-ass’.  The Lonavala-Khopoli-Pen stretch is quite a nice B-road and fun to ride with a few twists and turns. But Pen itself is usually very crowded, slow to ride through and then the road for the next few kilometers is potholed with many traffic jams. But I was surprised that the road has improved a lot and the traffic too was managable, which may be because it was a weekday.

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Moving on, the road gets quite nice as you approach Alibaug, with more greenery and twisty roads with occasional peeks at the sea. Just before Alibaug I took the bypass towards Revdanda, which can be a bit confusing as there are multiple right and left turns before you finally get on the right road. Now this is proper Konkan territory. Small winding roads making way through tiny villages, lined with coconut and betel nut trees, picture-perfect homes and temples. I made my customary stop at Nagaon beach for lunch.

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Beautiful Konkani Homes
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Bangda Thali – Nagaon beach (Rs. 200)

I had left with literally no plan, except to explore as many coastal roads, use the ferries as much as possible and stop and explore anything I found interesting. As I was passing through Revdanda, I found exactly that – Revdanda Fort! I’ve never seen it before though I had passed by many times, so I went for it. Just a little ways from the main road, it is right on the Revdanda beach. The fort itself is mostly in ruins, but it still is imposing, though small, and really a sight to behold. You can see the Korlai fort from here too which was next on my agenda.

I met a few guys there who were travelling through Konkan and kayaking on various beaches. They were carrying their own kayaks and all. Badass!

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Revdanda Fort

I crossed over the brigde and rode along looking for my farm house near Borli village just after Korlai. I found it and I was so chuffed! The Devrai Farm House is a small property just off the main road. It’s clean, well maintained and extremely beautiful. A local couple are the caretakers who are very sweet and gracious hosts. The cottage is facing west towards the sea, which you can just about see beyond some farmland. (Tariff – Rs. 1000. I got a discount as it was a weekday and I was travelling alone)

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 Devrai Farmhouse

The room is quite decent too, nothing fancy but with all amenities and very clean and comfortable. I dumped my bag and left for Korlai fort. Korlai is a small fishing village and you drive to the fort through fish drying areas (close your nostrils if you’re not used to it! I like it though). The road is a trail really, not a tarred one but still manageable for all manner of vehicles, both big and small. You reach the lighthouse, where you can park and then trek to the top of the hill.

 

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Korlai Fort

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Korlai Fort

This fort too is in ruins, but this one is bigger spread over the top of the whole hill. It’s very beautiful, especially basked in the orange glow of the evening sun. I trekked and checked out all corners of fort and then made my way back to the farm house for some freshening up and tea. I lounged on the hammocks for a while, taking in the fresh air, the trees and the blue sky while the pet dog and her adorable little puppies gave me some company!

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I changed into comfortable clothes and went to Korlai beach for the sunset. I wanted to go for a swim, but Korlai beach is a bit rocky and not suitable for swimming. So I hung out on the rocks, with my feet in the water, watched the sun go down and then decided to turn back. As I was about to leave, the sky burst into a brilliant pink and orange glow. Then suddenly I was viciously attacked by two more little puppies on the beach! They jumped and played until sadly, I had to ride away.

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Korlai Beach

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I went back to the farmhouse, had another cup of tea and sat on the terrace of the cottage as it went dark and the stars came out. It’s nice to see stars actually appear in the sky as opposed to the city where we don’t seem to see anything apart from the moon and the glow of the city lights against the smog!

Soon I heard a growl from my gut and I asked the caretaker about some good seafood. He gave me the address of his friend’s restaurant just down the road – Shree Samarth Krupa. I called before hand for some crab and then rode down there. I gorged on some prawns fry (Rs. 180) and crab thali (Rs. 160!!!). Man, it was so good! The prawns were spicy, chunky and juicy. The crab curry had two medium size crabs in a spicy coconut based curry with 2 chapatis, rice and sol kadhi. Nothing like a nice leisurely dinner under coconut trees with the cool winter breeze.

The next morning after a solid peaceful sleep, I left just after 7.30 towards Murud, where I planned to catch the ferry to Dighi. On the way I stopped at Kashid beach for breakfast. Small shacks are usually open early. Further down the road, there are couple more beaches that are devoid of crowds. I stopped first at Chikni beach, which basically is the southern end of Kashid beach. The beach is extremely clean, great for a dip with a small river opening up into the sea with a hill on the left. It’s very pretty and peaceful. The beach is lined with many luxury villas which are empty most of the time and the locals have much gossip to tell about the properties as well as the owners!

Kashid Beach

A few kilometers down the road is a fishing beach called Danda. No one stays there but fishermen have their storage huts and boats on the beach. This beach is less clean but beautiful nevertheless as it arcs into a ridge and continues on the other side.

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Chikni Beach

There is a huge bungalow on top of a hill on Danda beach which currently has been closed off. Locals had told me an interesting story about this house on my last trip. They said that some Don-type guy from Mumbai used to live here and carry out smuggling from the sea to Mumbai from this house. It was complete with a secret entry for boats and internal passages! But soon he was caught and the house is under police custody as part of evidence. The villas on Chikni beach too apparently were owned by him and his lawyer, some of which they sold, but with their activities caught, everything is just lying unused. Interesting!

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Danda Beach

 

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The Don’s Bungalow!

I rode along the very picturesque coastal road towards Murud to catch a ferry from Rajpuri port to Dighi. I had asked multiple times to multiple people for exact ferry timings and frequency. I learnt the hard way that the Kokani people, though extremely sweet, hardworking and friendly, aren’t exactly reliable! They never say that they don’t know something. They will just give you completely wrong information in a very matter-of-fact way, making you believe it instantly. So basically, the Rajpuri-Dighi ferry was at 9 am and the next one was at 10.30 am, but I was told it was at 8.30 with ferries every 10 minutes. So I was relaxed and reached late just missing the 9 am ferry. But then I found out that another ferry from Agardanda to Dighi was at 9.30 which I was told by two local boys, who too were in the same boat as me – literally. They too had missed the Rajpuri one and wanted to catch the Agardanda one. So we rushed to there!

Murud

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Murud-Janjira Fort

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I parked my bike on the boat and sighed in relief. After about 10 minutes the ferry departed. It is a decent sized vessel with space for about 6 cars and few more bikes. The ferry is quite clean and well maintained with good staff. The trip along with my bike cost me Rs.50. The view of the sea is amazing and really saves a lot of time. It is the ideal way to travel through Kokan.

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View from the Ferry (sorry for the bad panaroma)

Within 15 minutes it was time to disembark at Dighi. I got off and had tea at a small shop and confirmed the coastal route via Nanavli on Google maps as well as the owner of the shop. I set off expecting an average road all the way to Diveagar but was shocked to see that it actually was a fantastic black strip of tarmac winding over the hills and along the pristine coastline. There was no traffic with really mindblowing views. The sea was sparkling in the sun, brilliant blue in colour, with white sandy or rugged rocky beaches along the way.

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Dighi and the view of the sea. Agardanda Port in the background.

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There were tiny villages every few kilometres which were completely untouched by commercialization. Then I reached Adgaon beach – I was blown away. The beach is so beautiful and there are houses right along the beach. Not a single restaurant or hotel in sight but extremely picturesque. Just beyond the village is the Adgaon koliwada or the fishing village.

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Adgaon Village and Koliavada

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Velas Agar

Next is Velas Agar, another untouched village with a huge white sandy beach. From here on to Divagar the road becomes a bit rough, but Diveagar itself is beautiful. Tiny lanes winding through typical Konkani homes with sloping roofs, dung front yards with huge coconut and betel nut plantations. Every lane apart from main roads is a tiny trail, red from the soil. I rode on the massive beach which extends for kilometres on either side. It is a lot of fun. The bike slides around a bit in the sand and leaves big rooster tails behind. At a beach stall, I had some tea and took in the view of the vast sea. Diveagar is a very popular beach and is a bit crowded even on weekdays, so I moved on towards Shrivardhan.

Diveagar

The road from Diveagar to Shrivardhan via Bharadkhol and Aravi is another gem. It winds it’s way right on the coast over hills providing excellent views of the sea and the rocky coastline. Aravi beach is another beautiful beach. I reached Shrivardhan, had some refreshing lemonade on the beach and hung out for sometime. The beach is very clean and has been developed quite well. A nice walking plaza has been constructed with benches and lighting. There are good toilets and bathrooms too. Kudos to the local government.

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Shrivardhan Beach

After a little while I left for Harihareshwar, my last destination, before I started my return journey. I wanted to take another ferry and visit Kelshi, Anjarle etc but I realized it would be too late. I would have done that if I could stay one more night or if I would have left early in the morning the day prior. The ride to Harihareshwar is not exactly the best one as there is no coastal route. The road goes through Shrivardhan town and then a B road. The village of Harihareshwar too isn’t that pretty. But the beach is quite big and beautiful with many hotels near the beach. But it isn’t suitable for swimming as the sea floor is very steep and the currents are very strong. I again hung out for a while, had a refreshing kokam drink and decided to eat lunch and leave.

There was a nice home-style mess near the beach which was suggested to me by the juice vendor. But being Kokan, they refused to serve lunch before 1 pm, which was almost an hour from now. So on the way back I stopped at another restaurant and ordered pomphret thali. Unfortunately the place wasn’t a Kokani style place so they served me North Indian style curry, rawa fry and tandoori rotis; but it was tasty and some welcome change in flavour.

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Pomphret Thali

I wanted to return to Pune via Mahad and Varandha ghat but due to some road works and resultant confusion, I ended up back on the Shrivardhan road. So, I decided to take the Mangaon-Tamhini ghat route which turned out to be a brilliant decision. Being afternoon, it had started getting quite hot and tiring. But once I crossed Mangaon and began the ascent of the Tamhini ghat, the air became very cool and fresh. The road surface was smooth, with amazing twists and turns and the lower temperatures put a huge smile on my face again. I had a lot of fun putting my knee down on tight corners after all the bad roads and mostly straight line riding for 2 days.

I stopped for tea one last time and rode back home before sunset, completely refreshed by my 2 day impulsive trip!

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Tamhini Ghat

I hope you enjoyed this photologue. Don’t forget to let me know in the comments if you’ve done a similar trip, your experiences and any similar routes. Thanks for reading and don’t forget – “Keep Wandering, Keep Driving and Keep Eating!” Cheers.

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RE Himalayan New Problems Emerge

We have discussed few teething problems for the Royal Enfield Himalayan in a previous article here – Royal Enfield Himalayan – Reports of Early Problems

In this article we will be talking about more serious problems that have emerged in the last few months. Some cases of the entire engine head assembly being replaced, complete electrical failure, front suspension problems and one case of the chassis cracking have emerged.

1) Engine Replacement – Some owners had complained about very noisy and inefficiently running engines. Initially, problems with the rocker arm and few other components in the engine head were diagnosed leading to the recall to replace the faulty parts. (Read – Royal Enfield Recalls the Himalayan for Engine Problem) But despite this, some owners continued to have engine problems. So as a last resort Royal Enfield replaced the complete head assembly for these Himalayans. We got reports of at least 4 such cases.

2) Cracked Chassis – One case has been reported where the chassis of the Himalayan had cracked. It happened on the left side of the bike, between the engine and the battery next to the engine mount. We don’t know the conditions due to which this has happened, whether the bike met with an accident or it was dropped on the road or off road. So it won’t be fair to blatantly blame Royal Enfield’s build quality. The whole frame was replaced at the service centre.

3) Front Suspension Issues – A few owners had complained about the handling of the Himalayan getting very heavy and also of the bike swaying to one side. The effort required for turning the bike was very high and the handle felt very stiff. On disassembling the front fork assembly it was found that the front forks, cone set, bearings or other components were either rusted or damaged. Royal Enfield replaced all these problematic components under warranty.

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4) Complete Electrical Failure – A few owners complained of the bike suddenly shutting off completely while riding. The bike just died and refused to start again. The neutral light, horn or indicators also did not function even after turning the key off and on. After waiting for a few minutes, some bikes started again while others did not and had to be towed to the service station. The whole electric system and wiring loom had to be replaced for some owners while some required just changing the faulty dashboard and lock assembly.

5) Stalling – Many owners complained of the bike stalling a lot, especially at signals and low speeds. But most owners reported that after proper tuning and servicing of the bike this issue was resolved.

6) Rear Tyre Locking up – Almost all owners have complained and experienced this. The rear tyre does tend to lock up very easily on the Himalayan. It happens even at low speeds or sometimes while downshifting. We can blame the hard compound of the dual purpose tyres for this. It is not extremely dangerous but one surely has to ride carefully keeping this in mind. The only solution is replacing the tyre with a premium tyre with more grip. (This? – Michelin To Introduce Off-Road Tyres in India)

7) General Rust Issues – A few components have been found to rust quite easily. A few cases of the headlight assembly and petrol tank cap rusting have been reported. All rusted components were replaced by Royal Enfield under warranty.

8) Fogging of Speedometer console / Headlight – A few cases of the meters (speedometer, tachometer etc) and headlight fogging up have emerged. Again Royal Enfield has replaced the whole console / headlight for the owners who faced these issues.

These issues are rare and not very common. We know for sure that Royal Enfield has replaced all faulty parts under warranty for each owner facing these issues. So I would not blame Royal Enfield about sub-par quality and I definitely appreciate their efforts to correct any faults discovered. We would have loved a completely trouble free bike, but we have to accept the issues are rare, even though some are quite serious.

I too own an Himalayan and love it to bits. I have not faced any major issue with my bike ever. I did have small issues like the bike stalling once in a while, but that problem vanished after the second service. Go through this article for more – Is Himalayan A Problematic/Unreliable Bike? – FALSE!

Disclaimer – These are not my original photos. I got them from the internet and the Facebook group – Royal Enfield Himalayan Owners Group

Mindblowing Off-beat Route to Shivthar Ghal (Photologue)

Let me clarify, I did not actually reach Shivthar ghal. My main purpose was to explore the small roads surrounding the Bhatghar and Nira-Deoghar Dams and visit Shivthar ghal as a bonus. But the road was a lot longer than expected, which made me extremely happy but lack of phone service and some commitments later that evening made me turn back prematurely. But it was an awesome ride, extremely picturesque and really peaceful (read completely lonely and devoid of traffic; the anti-social part of my brain was buzzing!) Shivthar ghal proper shall be dealt with some other time.

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Route Map

A fairly early start from Pune lead me to Pabe ghat, a wonderful little ghat joining Panshet road (Khanapur) and Velhe road (Sh-65) (this is a great road to visit Rajgad, Torna and Madhe Ghat). The crisp morning air was cool and foggy.

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Foggy Pabe Ghat!
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At the Summit of Pabe Ghat

From there I turned towards Rajgad fort and had breakfast at the base which is a good idea as you will not find anything to eat till Bhor. Ask for Bhutonde village near Rajgad and just keep following the road. The road is called Sangamner-Bramhanghar-Bhandravali road. (According to Google maps at least)

The road surface here on is a combination of good tarmac and rough roads. But never appalling or jarring. But it is superbly picturesque with lots of twists and turns and mini ghats. Suddenly you come up on incredible views of the bright blue Bhatghar dam backwater with lush green fields and tiny villages perched on the shores. The fields are bursting with beautiful yellow, purple and pink flowers.

Especially in the monsoon, there are parts where you forget you are in India. Then you hit a pothole and are shaken back to reality, but it’s all in a days’s work for the Himalayan which handles the rough stuff with aplomb. This road is so remote that the locals literally chill out on the roads. There were shepherds and kids actually sleeping in the middle of the road! (Not kidding; don’t have photographic proof for the sceptics though)

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Rajgad Balekilla
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Awesome Hairpin!
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First View of the blue Bhatghar Backwater
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Bhatghar Backwater Panorama

After treating you to the beautiful backwaters, the road goes through hills and then comes right along the backwater again with the water almost spilling over the road. It’s beautiful. After one more round of the same, you are alongside the main dam wall.

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The road runs really close to the water at places

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Main Bhatghar Dam

Continue on and take right onto the Bhor-Kapurhol road. At the T-junction just before Bhor, you take another right to join the Bhor-Pasure-Varandha-Mahad road (again, according to Google maps). There is an HP petrol pump on the right at the corner of the junction. This road runs parallel to Varandha ghat and rejoins the Varandha ghat a bit before the main descent starts. It runs along Bhatghar dam on the other side of where we rode earlier. I had discovered it an year ago on a random aimless ride but had turned back halfway at the time.

The initial part is a typical country road going through couple of villages and along the backwater for a bit. Then the traffic dwindles leaving you with lush fields, rivers and amazing views for company. The phone service vanishes for good and does not return till you reach Bhor again! The road starts to climb into the mountains and slowly you ride through thick forests as it gets dark, foggy and cloudy.

The pretty yellow, purple and pink flowers make a comeback and line the roads and fields as far as your eyes can see. The villages here are tiny and remote. The road becomes more and more like a trail – gravelly, rough and then slightly muddy. Tarmac does poke it’s head once in a while. There are many waterfalls high on the mountainsides and in the forests. I couldn’t get a picture though.

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Bit of Off-roading at Pasure Village
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View of the Valley we just traveled through
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Lot of Off-shoots to get your feet dirty!
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Polishing my macro skills! Knowledgeable folk may name the flowers!

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The Road Gets Rougher

At one place the road becomes really confusing though. You come up on a slight rise and one road goes extreme left upwards and other carries straight on towards Sangvi. Take the extreme left road. There are no signboards here and no people to help. Keeping the area downloaded on google maps helps as GPS works and it helped me take the correct road. Of course you can take the detour if you’re in a mood for exploring. All the off-shoots just go to some village and the road just ends. You can always turn back and join the main road again!

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Merging with Varandha Ghat
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Fresh Vada Pav and Chai!

After almost 2 hours you join the main Varandha ghat road again. I had some – fried right in front of my eyes – fresh vada pav and kadak chai! Then I started my return journey finally deciding to ditch Shivthar ghal. Varandha ghat is another gem. Narrow but mostly well paved asphalt with incredible views of the Nira-Deoghar dam as you ride along it’s backwaters. Being the tail-end of the monsoons, the dam was full with turquoise blue water sparkling in the sun, surrounded by bright green hills sprinkled with dark green forests. The road twists and turns through the mountains finally ending in Bhor. Bhor to Pune is straight forward via Bhor-Kapurhol road and then the NH-4.

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Waterfall in Varandha Ghat

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Nira-Deoghar Panaroma

This was a mind blowing ride with lots of different road surfaces, ghats, beautiful dam backwaters and stunning hills. The road is quite long though so it’s better to leave early in the morning as I would not advise travelling on this road in the dark. I travel alone because I like it but it is really lonely with no help, no food, no puncture repair shops or anything for kilometres on end. So best to travel in a group or carry all essentials. The road is easily doable in any car as well.

So what did you think of my trip and this amazing route? Have you explored such off-beat routes? Let me know in the comments below and remember – Keep Wandering, Keep Driving and Keep Eating!! Cheers.

Four Forts and a Lake – Photologue!

I recently did an amazing 200 km ride visiting 4 forts around Pawna Lake from Pune. The plan was simple, explore as many new roads and off road trails circumferencing the Pawna lake and visit as many forts as possible. No trekking of course, only riding. Trekking four forts in a day is definitely not my idea of fun!

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Route Map

 

Pune – Lonavala – Awesome early morning ride from Pune to Lonavala. It was the first time for my Himalayan on the highway. The bike performed flawlessly. I rode in the 80-90 kmph range and it just purred along. I gave it a bootful once in a while to overtake at about 100 kmph. I could feel the Himalayan raring to go even at that speed. I had just completed 1000 km so I shall wait a few more kilometres to ride upwards of 100 kmph. I had taken the wind screen off my bike and forgot to put it on before this ride, so the wind blast was quite bad, but fun nevertherless.

Lonavala serves only one purpose in my rides – delectable breakfast at Ramakrishna! Idli-wada sambar and a superb strong filter coffee later, i was off to Tungi Fort.

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The Wall of Lonavala Lake

Lonavala – Tungi Fort – This is where the real fun begins – The Aamby Valley road. This road is a Meccah for us bike nuts. Twists and turns with really good tarmac. The Himalayan took on these on-road duties extremely well. Great handling and fun to ride. It was sunny when I left Lonavala and as soon as I started climbing, the scenery changed. Fog and drizzle made the ride picture perfect. I took on a few random off road trails and had a bit of fun in the dirt.

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Some Off-Road Action!

The left turn for Tungi fort is just ahead of Cloud9 Hills Resort. Just follow the signs for Club Mahindra Tungi Resort. The surface becomes rough and the road is narrow, but on the Himalayan its fun to rip around these roads. Soon the fort was in my sights.

After taking a few snaps I turned back and tried out as many off shoots as possible to find some good off-road trails as well as to get a good view of the Pawna lake. And I did!

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My kind of Traffic Jam!
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Amazing view of the Pawna lake.

The off-roading required to reach the view!

Tungi Fort – Tikona Fort – Take the road going along the lake to a village called Javan. Basically follow the road to Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat and Spa and keep going till you reach Javan, then turn left. This road is incredible. Mostly smooth tarmac, narrow, full of twists and turns with quite steep climbs. Its any rider’s idea of heaven. The views are fantastic too!

Beautiful roads. Very steep ghats!

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Pawna Lake yet again. With Tikona Fort in the background! (rightmost hill)

Tikona Fort – Bhaja Caves – Ride along with the majestic view of Tungi fort encircled by the blue waters of Pawna lake. Turn left at the T-junction at Kale towards Dudhiware Khind which is an amazing pass cut into a hill. You ride in between huge walls on both sides. Its quite exciting. Immediately after the pass take a sharp right towards Lohagad fort.

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Feeble attempt at panaroma – Tungi on the left, Tikona on the right.

 

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Tungi fort from Pawna dam.
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My favourite place to take a snap – Pawna Dam.

Dudhiware Khind road.

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The Dudhiware Khind itself.

 

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Lohagad fort

This is a popular trekking route and the tarmac sort of ends. Both me and the Himalayan were smiling. I rode from Lohagad fort to Visapur fort standing up comfortably on the foot pegs. I am slowly getting accustomed to it and I must say it does give much better control on loose surfaces. Road surface past Visapur fort is quite decent. Extremely narrow, twisty and steep downhill to the base of Bhaja caves. I was tempted to climb up and visit the caves, but the crowds put me off slightly. Some other day perhaps!

Zoom shot of Bhaja Caves and a Waterfall.

Bhaja Caves – Pune – Time for the home stretch. Ride to Malavli, cross over the Expressway and the train tracks to the old NH4 and cruise back home! Hot lunch awaits!

Hope you enjoyed this mini-photologue. Have you ridden this or a similar route? Have you got any information about great unexplored roads? Definitely let me know in the comments below. And remember – Keep Wandering, Keep Driving and Keep Eating!

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One of the most important aspects of a ride – Tapri Chai!

A Monsoon Goan Sojourn

Everybody has seen the sunny, beachy and crowded Goa drenched in cheap alcohol with sand lodged in various nooks and crannies. I have too at a time when staying up all night, bar hopping, loading up on a noxious cocktail of King’s, Vinacola and Feni, then driving back home the very next day to face parents with a puppy dog face – all seemed like a good idea. Then the haze clears and you realize there is so much more to Goa than that.

You could spends days – scratch that – months exploring this magical land. Breathtaking empty beaches, lush greenery, glorious mountains, quaint little villages and an unending array of amazing mouthwatering food! My God, the food! Exotic stuff you don’t find anywhere else in India. This time I wanted to go one step further. I wanted to see this little paradise at its best – in monsoon.

Pune to Varca – the Drive.

Pune-Chorla

It was pouring down as if the rain Gods had suffered incontinence and the God doctors were on strike for ‘reservation quota’ or something. Bridges were washing away, mountain-sides were crumbling and most of the lavish “River-View” properties had become part of ‘the view’ itself. Time to give your family a heart-attack by planning a 500 km roadtrip through mountains to an area which receives huge amount of rainfall. Inquiries to friends and on the  H V Kumar Forum on Facbook confirmed that all was well on our planned route of Chorla Ghat via Belgaum. I was looking forward to it.

We left mildly early at 6.45 am and joined the glorious NH-4 towards Karnataka. As always this particular stretch from Pune to Satara had received step-motherly treatment and it was like a mine-field with cars running helter skelter avoiding massive ponds and towering mud-hills. Things improved post Satara until Kolhapur, where most of the river-side suburb was flooded and half the town was commuting on the highway.But then came the unlikely word which puts a smile on every Maharashtrian motorist’s lips – Karanataka!

Despite intermittent lashings of rain, the ride to Belgaum was as soft and comforting as tatte idly and as smooth as frothy filter coffee. Speaking of which, I think I heard my stomach grumbling! Our typical stop at Tumkur Tatte Idly opposite Belgaum District Court was in order, downing some bishi bile bhat, uber-crispy medu vada and strong filter coffee. Post lunch we hit the amazing Chorla Ghat.

This ghat is a beautiful narrow road winding through the dense forest of the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary at the summit of which you cross over into Goa. The view of the valley is fantastic with multiple waterfalls and as you wind your way down the mountain you suddenly come upon the magnificent sight that is, Anjunem Lake.

 

 

The drive from here to Club Mahindra Varca was a long but picturesque one snaking through hills, small villages and then finally typical Goan coastal roads lined by coconut trees, farms and marshes. After checking-in and freshning up we hit the beach armed with umbrellas and raincoats but the rain eluded us and we were treated to a smashing cloudy sunset. Next on the cards was a romantic dinner at the Fisherman’s Wharf near Mobor beach.

 

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Club Mahindra Varca is really beautiful.

Fisherman’s Wharf – This is slightly high end, really quaint restaurant on the banks of the river Sal. You sit at the edge of the river with the view of the Cutbona Jetty, watching fishing boats dock and local fishermen doing some late night fishing. The food was fantastic though. We had pomfret steak and the delicious Pork Sorpotel, which is pork innards (liver/heart/intestines/blood) in a tangy vindaloo sauce. It really did not taste funky contrary to what I had expected and loved it to bits. As I am a teetotaler since 3 years I washed it down with sweet lime soda. Nothing is as refreshing as that!

For a detailed review of all the food I had in Goa click here – Monsoon Goan Food-logue!.

The road from Varca is quite lonely at night and we saw 3 foxes and a wild cat on the way, which was quite exciting. Unfortunately could not get any pictures.

An early morning walk on the beach and a swim (in the pool, the sea is dangerous in the monsoon) later, the tiredness of yesterday’s long drive washed away and we went for an aimless drive on the coastal road towards Panjim. After a quick stop at Colva beach, which turned out to be the Calangute of South Goa, we kept driving further North. The lovely little villages like Benaulim and Cansaulim were amazing as we watched locals buzzing around markets buying vegetables, meat, fish and generally going through their typical week.

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Nearing Vasco we turned around realizing that as there was no sign of rain, we rather spend some quality time on the beach and relax than just driving around to places we had already seen or ones that were too far off to explore. And when I say ‘we’ it’s implied the order came from the higher offices. So, the remaining two days were spent leisurely drinking tea and eating bhuttas (charcoal roasted corn on the cobs) on the beach. Long walks, splashing around in the sea and just lying on the sand staring at nature’s splendours. The cloudy sky was a treat to watch, the air was cool, the occasionally sunkissed sand was soft and felt nice on the skin.

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As the beach shacks were closed and our resort was hosting a Goan food fest we decided to eat the rest of our meals at the resort buffet and man it turned out to be a good decision! We gorged on an assortment of perfectly grilled fish (basa, mackerel, pomfret & river fish), prawns and squid in recheado or peri peri sauces as well as chicken cafreal, crab xec xec curry and pork vindaloo. It was a treat!

One detour I took on the way to do the typical cashew nut shopping was to have Goan pork sausage bread (chauris pao) in a small village (Betalbatim I think) near Colva. The owner basically serves this at his home through a window and it’s the most rustic and homely experience to have. Be prepared to not feel very welcome at their afternoon siesta hours, but you are served the most succulent, spicy, tangy, porky and fatty sausage stuffed in hot Goan pao which is crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Definitely a must have if you are in Goa!

For a detailed review of all the food I had in Goa click here – Monsoon Goan Food-logue!.

Batteries recharged, skin tanned and faces smiling, unfortunately it was time to head back to reality. I did not do a lot of the exploring I had hoped to do but the weather was perfect to exploit the beautiful and uncharacteristically empty Varca beach. I had amazing authentic Goan food which is rarely found in our cities. Goa is truely beautiful, especially in the rains and as always, I vowed to be back. I promised myself, next time I would explore a bit more, wander more adventurously, drive more adventurously as well as eat more adventurously! A solo Goan adventure beckons!

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Don’t forget to like, comment and subscribe to my blog. Also share your experiences and favourite places to visit in Goa during monsoons! And keep WANDERING, DRIVING AND EATING!

Panshet-Lavasa-Tamhini – Waterfall Trail Photologue

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The Himalayan, Sitting Proud.

There are some roads you discover that just stay in your heart forever. The Panshet-Lavasa route was one such road. It was a piece of broken rough road which no one used. I loved it. I always try to discover new roads every time I ride and I always ride alone. I have just fallen in love with the solidarity and peace it gives me. I had found out about another unmade-unused road which I wanted to ride on for a very long time – Lavasa to Tamhini ghat. The trip basically set itself up. The following was the planned route – Pune – Panshet – Lavasa – Tamhini Ghat – Chandani Chowk – Pune.

This is a photologue of my trip. Enjoy.

Pune to Panshet – A quiet early morning. Very less traffic. Lush green mountains, cool breeze and light rain. Perfect!

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En Route Panshet. Beautiful roads and Breathtaking scenery.

Panshet to Lavasa – After a quick bite, I continued on my favourite road. As expected, completely free of traffic, dense forests, beautiful rice paddy fields and innumerable waterfalls and streams.  The only sounds are my Himalayan smoothly burbling along and farmers’ calls egging on their bulls who toiled away in the fields.

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Rice Fields and Rain. Humongous Puddles. Himalayan likes!

The road is quite broken but much better than before. I did have couple of scary moments as the front tyre slipped slightly under me. The only times that happened was when I rode at speed through water that had slush underneath, which was impossible to see under the muddy water. But of course it was quite easy to control the bike both times and I carried on.

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The Beautiful Warasgaon Lake.
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Muddy Rivers.
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A Breather, with the Gorgeous Backdrop of Lavasa.

Lavasa to Tamhini – After a short tea break at Lavasa, I rode towards the route I was so excited about. After about 2 km from Lavasa, you cross a bridge after which you must make a right turn to join the road. Here starts the amazing  trail. It starts off as just a half-decent tar road, then there is a section with cement surface and then it turns into serious off roading. To top it off it started raining quite heavily adding to the fun and games!

The surrounding mountains are so picturesque with waterfalls everywhere you see. At the summit of the ghat, there was sort of a minor landslide with lot of stones and mud on the road. After that the road just ends. Here the Himalayan comes into it’s own. There are steep downhill sections with mud at first and then quite sharp rocks and stones. You have to ride for the most part in first gear with engine braking while feeding the rear brake once in a while. It’s amazing fun. This goes on for some time and then things go back to being civilized.

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This Right Turn is Important – Towards Tamhini
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You’re Met with This View Immediately
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Always Take Detours – They Are Always Fun!

Multiple Waterfalls! I Wish I Had More Zoom!

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Hairpins! No Knee Down Action Here.
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Mini Landslide – Bring it on!
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Off-Road Action Begins!
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Sharp Rocks and Incline. No Sweat!
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Always Stop To Take in The View!
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Yet Another Waterfall!
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Almost Back to Civilization!
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Beautiful Farmhouse. Why Me So Poor?
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Its Pouring Down, And I Love It! Not many Views Better Than This.

Mulshi to Pune – The Lavasa-Tamhini road ends at Tamhini ghat and the ride home is on good tarmac. But this road is notorious for drunken driving, people stopping and partying in the middle of the road and general reckless behaviour. So fairly controlled and careful driving is advisable.

 

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Tamhini Ghat – Magical as Ever!
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Time For Some Tea. And Some Black and White.

This ride, though just a short 6-hour one, has been one of my best rides so far and definitely the best on my Himalayan. The bike performed flawlessly and it’s so comfortable and confidence inspiring off-road and equally so, on-road. You never feel insecure on the bike, whatever the situation.

Don’t forget to comment and let me know if you’ve done this route or ridden off the beaten path and discovered amazing places. Also coming up is a detailed review of the off-roading capabilities of the Himalayan as I tested it a few days ago. Cheers! Keep riding and keep discovering!

 

First Ride Report Of My New Himalayan!

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Buying your own new bike is an amazing feeling. You go through all the research, analyzing, fantasizing, compromising and then finally after all that, you zero in on the bike you probably had in mind in the first place. Even after a lot of opposition and listening to really bizarre reasons against the Himalayan, my heart was set. I just felt a connection with the bike and I won’t bore you with it again as I have already gone on about it here – Why The Himalayan Floats My Boat.

Buying the Himalayan was a surprisingly straight forward and pleasant experience as opposed to what I was led to believe. I bought it at Platiinum Showroom in Fatima Nagar and was taken care of very well by the staff as I went through my innumerable test drives and questionnaires before finally parting with my cash. With that done, the painful wait for the arrival on my own Himalayan began. I spent many a night fantasizing about all the rides I would do, how I would gently run-in the bike, which roads I would take it to and how I would find magical new roads leading to magical new places where I would – beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep – ‘who’s bloody honking?’ Oh damn, it’s the alarm; sigh. Back to reality!

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Side Note – That’s not my constipated face!

 

Then the day came! I reached the showroom and saw my own Himalayan for the first time. It was surreal, I almost couldn’t see straight, maybe I got hypoglycemic and started seeing weird shapes! Oh wait! The shapes I was seeing were actually peeled off paint on the frame of the bike! I showed it to the showroom guys and thoroughly checked the bike for any scratches or signs that the bike had fallen or had been repaired. No sign of that and all else was completely perfect so I got those imperfectly painted spots retouched and took delivery of the bike.

First Date Night!

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The ride back from the showroom is nothing much to talk about, you basically just ride like a newbie with a constipated face just trying not to crash! After wrapping up work at the clinic, it was time to head out and get to know my – errrm, my, errrm – “Growling  Leopard? Sprinting Cheetah? White Panther?” Meh! I’am horrible at naming things as you can probably tell by my blog’s highly innovative name. So I’ll call it ‘the Himalayan’ for now, or may be forever!

I set off at about 9 pm hoping for some quiet roads and peaceful traffic to really bond with my machine. I thumbed the starter and it fired into life instantly. I let it warm up for about a minute and slowly headed out. I rode into the cool air of the night as the Himalayan just purred along responding very well to all my commands. The bike felt really light and maneuverable as I zipped along the city streets.

Slightly empty and open roads allowed me to rev the bike to 4000 RPM and go upto the advised 60 kmph. The Himalayan just zooms quite smoothly to that speed and feels quite fast. The engine is so much smoother and eager than any other Royal Enfield motor. Vibrations are very controlled and though you feel them on the handle and foot pegs as revs climb, they are not intruding and don’t shake your teeth out like other Royal Enfields. One thing you have to note though is that under 2000 rpm, the bike knocks like crazy and it is always advisable to keep the revs above 2500 rpm. That means shifting to first gear in traffic and speed breakers. You cannot just pull away in second at low speeds like you can on traditional push-rod RE engines.

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I rode upto the Pune-Mumbai highway and on the way back had an amazing Shwarma and a lovely cheese cake to celebrate my new bike and returned home. I had a blast on the Himalayan for an hour and a half riding at fairly controlled speeds in city conditions and getting used to the bike. I was very impressed with the Himalayan’s performance, but the next morning was what I was waiting for. An early morning 120 km round trip to Panshet and the surrounding wilderness to actually test the Himalayan on open roads as well as off-road.

The Panshet Ride

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I had set my mind to a 6 am start and I left perfectly on time at 7 am. The weather was perfect, cloudy and cool but no rain, which is good for your first long ride on a new bike. Very light traffic meant I cruised out of the city on Sinhagad road to Khadakwasla. A quick photo there and I continued on towards Panshet.

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Panshet road is amazing with very good tarmac, brilliant views along the way, light traffic, good combination of straight sections, twists and turns as well as few mild elevations. The Himalayan is so much at home on these smaller country roads. You can cruise at 60 – 70 kmph extremely comfortably keeping the engine between the Himalayan’s sweet spot of 3000 – 4000 rpm and just lean smoothly into corners. The bike feels quite light on its feet and surprisingly agile. It has the perfect amount of power and linear torque curve so that you are never left craving for more power or ever overwhelmed by sudden burst of acceleration.

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The Himalayan is a sweet handling machine. Unlike its awkward cousins it eagerly leans into corners, is quite stable mid-corner as well as extremely confidence inspiring as you power out. There is no hesitation and you don’t have to keep correcting the turn angle and feel unsure of whether the bike will make it to the other side or not. The bike feels very confident even if you have to brake mid-corner, though it is not advisable. Royal Enfield had done a miracle with the new Thunderbird as far as handling goes and the Himalayan takes it a step forward. The Continental GT was obviously a revelation, but it was a bike built to handle. The Himalayan is a tall adventure bike but still corners like dream.

Panshet arrived a lot sooner than I remember, in spite of riding at moderate speeds. That’s how much fun I was having on the Himalayan! I stopped for a tea break and I was swarmed by a group of people asking about the bike and all its features. Everyone seemed to love the bike and were very impressed with it. Kids seemed most excited by it’s ‘motocross’ look as they called it!

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The Panshet-Lavasa road lay ahead. It is a pretty badly surfaced road with many places to go off-road and it’s one of my favourite roads to go exploring. I rode a couple of kilometers to test the suspension. I didn’t want to go too hard core yet as I didn’t want to stress the new bike. The Himalayan handled the rough stuff with aplomb. It is definitely sprung stiffer than other Royal Enfields and the ride did seem minutely harsher, but that meant more stability and control while going over bumps, ridges, stones and big pot holes. The ride actually improves as you speed up so you can always use the Himalayan’s stability to go faster on rough roads and stand up on the footpegs and zip along. It’s a lot of fun.

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I turned off the main road to have a small ride up my favourite off-road section which leads to a waterfall, which was dry right now. This place has the works, sandy inclines, steep rocky downhill sections as well as a dry rocky river-bed which were all dealt with by the Himalayan with tremendous ease. It seemed too easy compared to my old Thunderbird. The Himalayan just rolls over obstacles and just keeps trucking over inclines or rocks without care. Though this was just a basic off-road section, I had a lot of fun; I never felt lack of grip or stability.

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I turned back and again went off route again towards the river to do some runs on the sandy river bank. Here too the bike just rode along smoothly and I had a blast riding around in the dirt. The climb back to the road was quite steep, but the Himalayan simply walked over it without getting bogged down or losing momentum. The linear meaty power delivery comes very handy here.

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With that I cruised back on the well paved road back to the city. The ride was short and simple but it had put a huge smile on my face. I also had got to grips with this incredible machine. The pleasure of riding your new bike on roads you love for the first time is quite special. This ride has given me a glimpse into the capabilities of the Himalayan and has left me excited for the rides to come. My brain is already working overtime planning routes, new destinations and places to explore. After a few more run-in friendly rides, I and my Himalayan will be ready to take on the wilderness of Maharashtra from sea to mountain peaks.

There is a lot of awesome stuff coming, so stay tuned to my blog and get ready to hear more stories as I discover the Western Ghats and a few days from now even the region this bike was built to take on – The Himalayas!

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