After out first expedition into the Bio-Diversity Park we decided to do a more serious attempt at traversing it. This Sunday we had nothing else going on so we hopped on our bikes, got some water and some snacks, and headed South towards the park.
The stretch along the highway wasn’t as scorching as last time, but something was keeping us slow. Like we were facing a silent wind or going gently uphill, it took a while to get those legs pumping. A while later the road turned to gravel, gentle slopes to steep climbs and even surface to monsoon eroded bumpiness. We had to hop off the and push the bikes up the hill. The vertical climb was roughly 100 meters. The sun overhead hiding behind a light layer of clouds so we were spared from it’s harshest rays. Walking along the ridge of the hill, we came to a part where the path split. The one we continued with, along the side of the hill, soon narrowed drastically. Some spots could be problematic even for a regular hiker – we still had our bikes with us. No problem, though – several hundred meters of leaping, climbing and stumbling later we got to the next part; the Pashan water tank compound.
The wall surrounding the area had seen better days, and at some points even the reinforced concrete the wall was made of had man-sized holes. While Sajjad chose to go around, along a path he had found, I found it best to take a shortcut across the compound, hoping no-one would take offense. So I told Sajjad we’d meet on the other side and pressed through the opening. Hopped on my bike, rolled fast and silent through the area. By the gate a guard was doing some laundry, hands down in the bucket of water, he didn’t seem to take special notice as I passed. Maybe he didn’t have time to react. Later I saw a guard on the roof of the building closest to the gate but either he didn’t see me or didn’t have any reason to start making a ruckus.
The gate opened up to a road which zigzagged down the south side of the park. Not the direction we wanted to go, so I stayed close to the compound but out of sight. A while later Sajjad came rolling by and we thought about how to proceed. Clock was five, so the sun was setting and we had only my flashlight. The trail further up the hill was almost non-existent and hence not in any way practical to traverse with a bike. But it was too early to just call it a day, so we locked up the bikes by the road and continued on foot.
We climbed over huge water pipes, through vegetation and up the steep hill towards the grassy plains. Not long after we reached the plateau of the park, and could take in the panoramic scenery that was Baner and its brother in the South, Pashan. Closer to the horizon the skyline of downtown Pune was visible, through the haze. Our walk ended by a shrine, not too far from the temple at the East tip of the park. We left that to another trip, as the sun was getting low and we still had a way to go.
Guided by one flashlight and one improvised phone camera light we made our way back to the bikes, down by the road. We were a tad exhausted at this point, navigating the terrain wasn’t exactly a walk in the park (ha!). Relieved to be once again on more bike-friendly ground, we rolled down, thinking the road would lead us to the main street in Pashan.
Turns out that road, which had no signs of not being a public one, indeed wasn’t. Promptly after clearing the last trees of the hill we found ourselves on the inner yard of a school and answering questions placed by the supervising guard. Or, actually, Sajjad took care of the answering – I concentrated mostly on looking confused. After some civil talking the guard signaled the route we should take to the gate, and we swiftly obliged.
At the gate a group of three guards were busying themselves with sitting on chairs and staring through the bars at the outside world, and boy were they eager to greet us in the way only bored, powertripping guards can. They were all in such a hurry to tell us that we weren’t supposed to be there that they had to start shouting in order to drown out each other. They also didn’t see it as an option to just let us pass, so at first they thought it would be just nice if we could go back the way we came.
Since the area surrounding the water tank compound, at the end of the road back up the hill, is already in daylight hard to get through, there was no way we could do it after sundown. And Sajjad let the guards know this. I don’t know how they were planning to solve the situation, but before we found out the senior guard came and shouted to let us pass – this time. One guard reluctantly opened the gate and bid us farewell with a long list of words that, judging by the subtle intonation, had courtesy and understanding written on the flip side of them.
I don’t know how many times Sajjad has saved my ass from trouble, but add one more to that list.