It was 11.30 p.m. as I made my way to Churchgate station. The city was getting ready for bed. Commuters yawned wearily as they walked towards departing trains. Shopkeepers near the station’s ticket booths were pulling down their shutters, ending their day. I excitedly counted the minutes until I began mine.
The “Mumbai by moonlight” bicycle trip by Travel Master Gogo intrigued me the moment I saw it advertised. I was curious to see what the city looked like without traffic, people, lights, and the accompanying cacophony. I had apprehensions too. I’m not much of a cyclist and the idea of pedalling through the night worried my lungs and thighs. But I signed up reassured by the fact that a truck would accompany us and provide a ride if I desperately needed a break. Our truck of rented bicycles arrived at midnight, just as groups of fisherwomen started to spread their bedsheets outside the station. They would get four hours of sleep before the next day’s catch was delivered to them. With their supply of fish, the ladies would take early morning trains to fish markets across the city.
They say you never forget how to ride a bicycle, but it had been over two years since I had sat on one, so for the first few minutes I was a little jittery. Soon, I felt the rhythm of the pedals beneath my feet return. The wheels were in motion and I was on my way to the Asiatic Library with a group of 65 cyclists. This moonlight ride around the city was less about sightseeing and more about experiencing the city at night. It was about falling in love with the empty streets, windy sea-facing roads, and the silence—all the things that one does not usually associate with Mumbai.
We marvelled at the deserted moonlit Flora Fountain, stopped for a long tea break on a bustling and crowded Marine Drive, and raced towards Worli, greedily taking over the smooth, empty roads with our two wheel rides. A large part of the group gave up their cycles on the slopes of Malabar Hill, but I laboured and pedalled on. A stop at the calm Banganga tank provided a fitting antidote to the adrenaline rush from the exhausting ride.
From the Worli Fort, we watched dawn break through the inky clouds above the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link. Passing through the narrow lanes of Worli village, we watched sleepy-eyed people stretching themselves in the first hours of morning light. At 6 a.m. I was finally on my way home to sleep, just as the shopkeepers began raising their shutters to begin another day.
Night bicycle trips around Mumbai are organised by adventure and cycling groups such as Travel Master Gogo (86555 69555; ₹400 for the trip and ₹200-₹300 to rent a bicycle), Nature Knights (96191 82010; natureknights.net; ₹750 for 3hr and ₹1,00 for 4hr, includes bicycle rental), and Odati Adventures (98200 79802; odati.com; ₹2,150 includes bicycle rental, breakfast, and lunch).
Appeared in the July 2013 issue as “Night Riders”.