If you time it well, it will take you less time to drive from Mumbai to Pune than it would take you to drive from CST in the south of the city to Borivali in the north during peak rush hour. So exponential has the rate of infrastructure growth been that the once adventurous drive to Pune from Mumbai, across the petrifying and precipitous Bhor Ghat in cars with faded brakes, wheezing radiators and toasted clutches, is today a straight-line dash between two metros with the urban feel never actually completely disappearing in between.
Scary possibilities, like a truck rolling back into your car because neither its engine nor its brakes could handle the incline, have now been replaced by the frustration of waiting at toll gates for truck drivers to cough up the toll and move on.
But for the intrepid and curious traveller, there is always a way to bring back the excitement and sense of vacation in a drive from Mumbai to Pune.
First, forsake the expressway. It is quick and convenient, no doubt, but it lacks the sense of leisure that this drive is all about. So get onto the NH4 and head to Chowk, on the old Pune Road, about 25 km from the McDonald's just before the expressway.
From Chowk, turn into State Highway 79 that goes to Karjat. Once you cross the bridge over the Ulhas River, turn right and follow the river to the base of Rajmachi Hill. This is about 22 km from Chowk. The locals know the place as the trek head to Rajmachi. From here it is a one-hour trek up to the Kondana Caves with brilliant views of the Western Ghats. These little-known caves were hewn almost 2000 years ago into solid rock. Sadly they are now neglected, though by virtue of their hidden location still breathtaking to behold.
From there, it is best to drive back to Chowk in the interests of saving time, and get back on the old Mumbai-Pune Highway and head towards Khopoli and Lonavala. Kamat's Green House in Khandala makes a great brunch or lunch spot - sample their hot vadas served with a secret coriander sauce. Also, if you're early enough, you could rush to Cooper's in Lonavala market and hope that they haven't run out of their legendary chocolate or coconut fudge.
Then head to Kamshet to get your dose of adrenaline in a tandem paragliding experience, with Nirvana Adventures, about 20 km away from Lonavala market. The season runs from October to the end of May, and tandem flights can last from ten to 30 minutes. Nirvana are almost fanatical about safety, so you don't really need to worry about any mishaps. Flights are only undertaken in ideal flying conditions and all the equipment that is used is kept up to date, in accordance with international standards.
Spend the night at Native Place, their on-site guesthouse by a beautiful, serene lake. The rooms and washrooms are basic but sparkling clean. A full-fledged kitchen means that meals served are finger-licking delicious, and they also have barbeques over the weekend.
The next morning you can drive to the Karla Buddhist Caves that are open from 9am to 5pm. These are 13 km from Kamshet and should take about 20 minutes to drive. Unlike Kondana, these caves are quite popular and the earlier you get there the better. These rock-cut shrines date back to 160 BC and include a magnificent prayer hall and viharas, or dwellings for monks, hewn into unforgiving basalt.
The centre of Pune is about 60 km away from here, and should take about two hours to get to, depending on traffic conditions. Take a detour and visit the Aga Khan Palace near Kalyani Nagar. This is where Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned in the 1940s when he rallied for the end of Indian involvement in the Second World War, and launched the Quit India Movement. His room, along with a few of his belongings, have been preserved. The most poignant of the displayed items are his spectacles and his spinning wheel. The garden is a lovely place to spend a quiet afternoon in and appreciate the architecture of this 19th-century palace that seems far removed from the hustle and bustle of Pune.
Another place of historical importance is Shaniwar Wada, the seat of the erstwhile Peshwa Empire, but you really shouldn't try to drive there - best to take an auto-rickshaw. The traffic is a mess and the whole area is congested, but if you can use your imagination and block out the chaos all around, you will see how beautifully the Peshwas envisioned this place and what a marvel Shaniwar Wada was in its heyday in the late-18th- and early-19th centuries.
A 600-metre walk from Shaniwar Wada is the Dagadusheth Temple, known for its marble interiors and its 7.5-foot-high Ganesh idol. You might want to stop here and ask for blessings for the team you are supporting.
After the noise and the excitement of the match, on your way back to Mumbai, head to Osho Teerth Park on DH Dhunjibhoy Road in Koregaon Park for some peace and serenity. Soak in the silence before the chaos of the city envelopes you once again.