November 22, 2007

The Deccan Safari Part 2 (Cochin to Bangalore) : Diary of a solo rider

Some prophet said, "If you are scared of the path ahead, look back at the long path behind you. Its you who have already covered it." Not very encouraging always.
Day 1 : Mettupalayam (11 th November)

Good bye Cochin :
The afternoon meal was heavy. Once in Cochin, my stomach belongs to my aunt and I don't get any say over the selection of food items or food amount. I took a macro sleep of about fifteen minutes. When I woke up, my bag was already packed and aunt was standing, sad and worried. I took some time to console her that I will drive carefully and come back again whenever I get a chance. Finally it was time to say good bye to my aunt, uncle, brothers, my dear sister and to Cochin. I kick started my 180 cc Pulsar classic.

Coming out of Tripunetra, my anunt's place, was little difficult. It was around 2:30 pm. Weather was hot and the road was busy. It took me around thirty minutes to reach the Cochin bypass which is just 6 kilometers away from Tripunetra. The bypass was wide but very busy. After around 15 minutes of drive I got the junction where I had to take a right turn on the road to Trichur. NH 47. I was foretold by Rajesh, my cousin, that till Coimbatore NH 47 is a national highway at its worst. Considering I was not at all impressed by the condition of NH 17 while coming from Bangalore, you can imagine what impression of NH 47 I created after hearing this from him. Thanks to those scary expectations, I actually found the road quite good. It was very busy though. But traffic reduced slightly as I left Cochin more and more behind.

Trichur: It was around 80 km drive from Cochin to Trichur. I was fast but careful. In Kerala, you can not relax while driving, even if the road is not busy. Any living entity can jump on the road from any side at any time. I didn't enter Trichur. Thankfully NH 47 bypassed the city by 7-8 kilometers and went ahead.

The road changed dramatically. In matter of minutes I started realizing what exactly my brother was warning me. He was talking of the condition of the highway from Trichur to Coimbatore. I realized that the best part of the day's journey was over. It was going to be a difficult and painful evening ride. I had to cover nearly 80 more kilometers on this road to reach Coimbatore and it was already 4:30 pm. Oofs!

NH 47: Let me tell you, it was wide. Much wider than NH 17. But where was the road?? It was all broken and demolished. I just prayed for my bike and continued at a steady speed in spite of all the hostility. Occasionally I was crossing places where some tar was left on the surface, but they were all riddled with pot holes like Om Puri's skin. I was getting the feeling of riding a horse rather than a bike on a highway. But time was ticking, sun was falling and distance ahead was constantly warning me. I could not afford to slow down. There were number of places where I had to take diversions from the main road and drive through some local villages to avoid the "highway!". As I approached Palakkad, things worsened. Traffic increased. Its here that I faced one of the worst traffic jams of my life. Huge number of buses and trucks standing like hills, unmoved. Only good thing about such jams is, as a bike rider you always get some gap between those big vehicles through which you can maneuver your vehicle out. But of course not with ease. After around one hour of trekking with the bike, I came out of the jam. It felt like a lifetime.

As I expected, the highway did not enter the city of Palakkad. It bypassed it by few kilometers. I took a small tea break here. My back was paining slightly. When I restarted it was 6:30 pm. Sun was almost down. I had to switch on my head lights. I don't remember how many pot holes I flew over, how many stones my tires hit.. I just remember after around an hour of drive I saw the board, "Coimbatore" pointing to left. I had a sigh of relief and happily headed towards Coimbatore as the diseased NH 47 continued straight, towards Selam.

Mettupalayam: It was already 8 pm when I entered Coimbator. I was still in dilemma whether I should take refuge here or should continue to Ooty. I took a small tea break to sort out the issues. The tea shop owner was a good old man and informed me that it can be very risky now to head for Ooty, since the road is narrow and all the trucks will come down the hill now. He said Coimbator is also not a very good place to stay. Instead, he suggested me to reach Mettupalayam, a town at the foothill of Ooty. It took me another one hour to cover the 53 kilometer distance to reach Mettupalayam, but finally it was worth the extra effort.

Mettupalayam is a small but busy town. It has a descent market which was open even at 9:30 pm when I went for dinner. Somehow, I was not feeling hungry. I took some light dosa-chicken curry and found a good hotel for the night. It was a big and luxurious hotel. I took a double bed room with TV for just 250 bucks (Very cheap, isn't it!). I made sure my bike was parked in a safe place, put the alarm for morning 5 am and.. not sure when.. felt the tiredness overwhelming me and I slept.

Day 2 : Ooty (12 th November)

Kothagiri : Early morning, at around 6 am, I quickly finished the checkout formalities and started my engine. Within few kilometers distance I found a Y junction. The left arm was going to Ooty and the right arm was going to Kothagiri. But, to my surprise, the Ooty path was blocked. Local people told me that I have to take the Kothagiri path and from Kothagiri I have to take the Ooty road. "And", they said, "this road is about 30 km longer than the direct road". "An early morning disaster", I said to myself. But it was not to be so.

Before I could get my engine properly heated, I found myself climbing the hills. The weather was cool and fresh. There were some kind of refreshing fragrance in the air. Soon the reason was clear. I found myself covered with beautiful flower trees and weeds from both sides. Lot of those flowers I have never seen before. Blue, Orange, Yellow, White.. whatever color possible. I have never seen such a colorful road side. It was as if god has carefully painted the path. I was racing through a dreamland. It was a good 20 kilometers of drive through a nature made flower garden. As I drove more and more higher, with the altitude slowly the flowers vanished. Except, some wild flowers still continued their appearance.

Kothagiri is a beautiful small town. From there I took the diversion to Ooty.

Ooty : Kothagiri to Ooty is a usual mountain road. Taking its twists and turns. The road was bright black and spot free. Traffic was less. I cruised to Ooty in about an hour and half. At 9 am I was taking my breakfast in Ooty.

I came to this city twice before. This is a very busy and overcrowded one. In the city itself, there is nothing much to see except a botanical garden, a lake and a rose garden. The rose garden is mostly dry. I am yet to hear from someone who has seen roses in Ooty rose garden. This is not one of my favorite hill stations but still I know almost every gali in the place. So, instead of wasting time here I decided to move on and took the highway to Mysore.

Few kilometers from Ooty, there is a split in the road. While the main road continues to Gudalur, the split, a shortcut, goes directly to Gundlupet. I was aware of this shortcut and continued on it. While the road via Gudalur is very popular and all the major traffic travels via this, it was not clear to me why the other road, in spite of being a good 30/40 km short, is so underrated. The reason became more and more clear to me as I continued on it.

Very soon the road presented me a series of hairpin bands. Each one is very shallow with very steep descent. It needed really careful driving. More dangerous fact was, the surrounding beauty of lofty hills was so breathtaking that it was very difficult to concentrate on the road itself. The experience was more like sliding down a wall. In spite of driving carefully and slow, I was reducing my altitude at a rapid rate. The road had enough warning boards spread around on its sides to inform the drivers about its dangerous curves. The descent was more like fast-forward rewind of my ascent. In very small time gaps, I saw the flora and fauna changing with altitude.

Mudumalai : In matter of an hour I was on the plains again. It was hot and I had to get rid of the jacket. It was time for ride through Mudumalai wild life sanctuary. On the check-post, one guard asked me if I have seen any road block due to a fallen tree. "No", I answered him. But looked like this is a frequent phenomena here and that meant the place is really "wild". The journey through the sanctuary was as beautiful as my journey through Bandipur while going to Cochin. But minus the morning weather which I got while riding through Bandipur. Nevertheless, it was joy of bike riding it its best. But the gift was, I spotted some lazy elephants taking rest beside a pond and some restless deers jumping around on the road side. I carefully drove past them without disturbing their natural habitat.

Bangalore, Oof! : Once out of jungle, I was engulfed by typical Karnataka surroundings. Soon I crossed Gundlupet, the town where I did night stay while going to Cochin. An hour more and I was in the city of Mysore. Here, I messed up with the roads and instead of taking the bypass, ended up traveling right through the city. This delayed me a bit, but glimpses of the beautiful Mysore palace as a compensation. Once out of Mysore, it was a regular drive on the highway to Bangalore. I didn't have much time on hand, so drove fast. Kamath has a good vegetarian restaurant on the way where I took my lunch. It was around 3 pm, I was terribly hungry. Took a good authentic south Indian meal at Rs 80. By then I was very tired of the single very long stretch that I covered since morning. Around 250 km. But once some food went in the stomach, I was refreshed again. My bike roared to Bangalore.

I wish I could tell you a fairy tale ending of this fantastic return trip. But I was welcomed to the city of gardens with traffic jams, crowd, smoke and noise everywhere. I felt suffocating. We IT engineers have chocked the city. With a lot of pain I reached my office at around 4 pm. Yes, it was monday, a working day, and I had to work the remaining day in office. Soon I was dealing with all software rotten eggs... past was past.

Learnings of the day :
  1. From Mettupalayam, never take the direct road to Ooty but take the road through Kothagiri. The extra kilometers will be more than compensated by the beauty of the road.
  2. From Ooty to Gundlupet, try the shortcut. Its a different experience.

November 15, 2007

The Deccan Safari (Bangalore to Cochin) : Diary of a solo rider

Abhilash said, "I don't believe you are going to do it". Even I could not believe I am going to do it. But I knew I am going to do it.

Day 1 : GUNDLUPET (7th Nov)

The Beginning :
It was early morning. I arranged all my stuffs in a big hand bag. The hand bag, because of its wide shape, fits properly on the back seat of the bike. This is the one I used on my Leh trip also, without any trouble. I was selective in choosing things to carry. You can't afford a heavy luggage on such a trip. But important things I took were a bike tool kit and an extra clutch cable. Another very important component of the package was a huge south India map.

The plan was to start around 2 pm, from office. It got delayed slightly as I had some work in office. Also I was revising my tour plan using Google Earth. By 2:30 pm I was on road. I didn't tie the bag to the bike. Instead, just rested it on the back seat and passed the belt through my chest for some support. Not a very good idea for a long trip, but I just wanted to manage the first day.

From my office on Airport Road, it took me one hour to hit Mysore Road. It was 3:30 pm, just the beginning of the journey and I was already tired of maneuvering through the Bangalore traffic. But that went away quickly as I came out of Bangalore.

Mysore Road (SH 17) : Its a beautiful road. Wide and flat. Gifted with beautiful village setups on both sides. Before I could realize, my pulsar reached the speed of 80 kmh. I continued at that speed. As I swiped my bike through the villages, smooth and fast, as I left the snail pace vehicles behind, as I opened myself to the hard blowing wind, I started feeling a kind of freshness in me. But said that, I was concentrating hard on the road. One can not afford out of control driving on such a long trip, specially when he is alone. Around 5 pm I crossed the "Sugar City Mandya". Soon after, I was in Srirangapattanam, a city with lot of historical importance. I was feeling tempted to visit the Ranganathittu bird sanctuary here, but time was less and I had to reach Gundlupet, a town I had no idea about.

Mysore : Around 5:45 pm I reached Mysore. I had no intention of entering Mysore, so took the bypass. I took a small break there. When I started my bike again I found the speedometer is not working. I knew the problem, the cable must have got cut. I drove to a local repair shop where a kid, named Mehaboob, was working. But he didn't have the wire to replace the broken one. So he came with me and we searched a number of shops in Mysore before we finally got the wire. I thanked the boy from my heart. I was very impressed with his help. At around 7 pm I started from Mysore.

Gundlupet : I inquired about the road before starting and received couple of local advices that its better to reach Gundlupte as early as possible. That meant, I had to drive steady and cover the 58 kms distance within an hour. I was not happy to know that. It was already dark and the road was spotted with pot holes. NH 212. This is the road that I would be driving on until next day afternoon. Although I was hitting the pot holes more frequently than not, I tried to maintain a speed of 70 kmh. Head lights of the vehicles coming from other side were mercilessly challenging my visibility. The drive was bit risky, but I had to do it to reach Gundlupet in time. After about an hour of drive from Mysore, I was pleased to see the milestone, "Gundlupet 1 km".

I thought Gundluplet will be some small village. But it came out to be a small town with all basic facilities present. Before actually hitting the town, I saw couple of hotels and motels on both sides of the road. I found a Karnataka Government approved "Ganga Yatri Nivas" and slipped myself into one of its double bedrooms (With TV, wow!) at mere 200 rupees a night. The room was big and clean. I started the TV, increased the volume and dropped myself on the bed. After some time I went to a local restaurant and enjoyed a nice non-veg meal. The chicken tikka was sooo good. After the dinner, the first thing I did was to call home and tell everyone that I am alive and safe. Not sure when I closed my eyes and delved into deep sleep. But before that I made sure that I have put the alarm for 5, morning.

Learnings of the Day :
  1. Sate Highways are better than National Highways.
  2. Gundlupet is a town.
Day 2 : KERALA (8th Nov)

Bandipur : Around 5 am, I woke-up by the mobile alarm. Quickly packed all scattered things and got ready for a very long day. First I tied the bag firmly on the back seat. The watchman of the Yatri Nivas helped me. In return, I had to help him with some money. Around 6:30 am, and it was time to say bye to Gundlupet.

Around a kilometer from the Yatri Nivas, just after the Gundlupet check-post, I found a road branching to the right. This was my path, NH 212. The other branch continues to Ooty. It was a foggy morning. With only a tee and a jacket on, I started feeling cold. Around ten minutes later I entered the Bandipur national park. The road through the park was narrow and pitch black. With no pot-holes anywhere and sparse traffic, it was a perfect condition for a cruise. Both sides of the road were covered with dense forest. In that morning light, with fogs everywhere, the forest looked haunted. I was eager to meet some wild animals on the way, as promised by some of the road side hoardings, but had no luck. The ride through the jungle was a very memorable experience.

Wayanad : Just after Bandipur, the road entered Kerala. The change of landscape from Karnataka to Kerala was very dramatic. In matter of minutes, serene villages gave way for bustling, populated small size towns separated by occasional jungles. Faced some traffic jams at the check-posts because of huge number of trucks entering Kerala. At around 8 am I crossed Sultan Batheri. A small regular Wayanad town which looked to be densely populated. The road started taking twists a and turns. Occasional patches of tea gardens started showing their faces on the road side. No matter where you see them, tea gardens always make a beautiful view.

My stomach started crying for breakfast, so I stopped in front of one pure mallu hotel and had some nice dosa and mutta (Egg) curry. I love the Kerala style mutta curry. It is rich in onions and their traditional spices which give it a very distinct flavor.

I cruised through the beautiful city of Kalpetta. There were lot of waterfalls and temples in this area, with just few kilometers aberrations from the main road. But I had some other plans.

Pookot Lake : Just after crossing Vythiri resort (I think this is the most popular resort in Wayanad, I came here once from college) I saw the sign board telling, "Pookot Lake, 500 mts". It was indicating to a narrow road going to the right. Visiting Pookot lake was part of my plan from the beginning. This is not only a beautiful lake, this has lot of my college time memories associated.

Entrance to the lake is through a park where you need to pay for buying a ticket. They maintain the lake and also provide boating facility for the visitors. I parked my bike outside the park, along with the bag. In Kerala, and only in Kerala, you can leave your luggage like this.

Its a medium sized lake. What I find so distinct in this lake is the wild surrounding. Standing on the bank, I felt as if I am deep inside a dense jungle. I decided to take a walk around the lake following the narrow path surrounding it. It was 9 am and the lake was empty. I used this opportunity to practice some photography. There were lots of wild flowers both in the jungle and on the water. I tried some macro photography on them. The defused light of the foggy morning was of great help. I also shot the water from various angles. After spending around one hour on the lake side, I came out and started the next part of my journey. I had to reach Calicut before 12 noon.

Calicut : The descent from Wayanad hills was steep and fast. This was very much in contrast with the ascent, which I almost could not feel until I saw the tea gardens. In quick successions I crossed innumerable hairpin bands and spectacular view points. Couple of minutes later I was on the plains, leaving the Wayanad hills behind, like one big wall. Soon I crossed the Kunnamangalam junction. My college (NIT Calicut) is just fifteen minutes bus journey from here. I had a cup of tea here in a shop which I visited number of times while in college. I wanted to visit my college once, but time didn't permit me. I also spent few minutes in Calicut Medical College junction. In those college days, we used to come here after playing inter college cricket matches and used to discuss about the day's match, for hours.

When I reached Calicut, it was time for lunch. I decided to go to Paragon, a restaurant I used to frequent. To my disappointment I found the food quality has degraded considerably. The hotel management also appeared to have changed. Nevertheless, I took a heavy lunch since I knew the next stretch is going to be the longest so far.

NH 17 : I had to finish Calicut to Cochin ride in a single stretch. Its a good 200 kms distance. With an average speed of 50 kms, I could reach Cochin by 5 pm. But average speed of 50 kms looked to be a tough task on Kerala roads.

Through the bypass I took NH 17. NH 17 runs right through the heart of Kerala, till Cochin, and represents a typical Kerala road. It was mostly free of pot holes but quite narrow and continuously busy. Yes it was "continuously" busy. For my BTech, I have spent four years of my life in Kerala, but never realized this. NH 17 is accompanied with innumerable number of small towns. One town ends and another starts, making it very difficult to find even a hundred meter distance free of population. The only good aspects were the presence of the greenery, no matter where I was, and the frequently appearing bridges over the small rivers, which were coming as beautiful respites from the crowded towns.

Guruvayur : Soon the weather became hot and the ride became monotonous. This was the first time I felt, "When will the road end?". Road quality degraded dramatically as I approached Ponnani. Near Ponnani the national highway took the shape of a "national gali". To save some kilometers, I avoided Trishur and decided to take the Guruvayur path. This came out to be a very wise decision since I not only saved some distance but was lucky to get glimpses of a ongoing Guruvayur festival. Around six or seven highly ornamented elephants were marching together following a group of priests. Some local band was playing traditional spiritual music. I stopped my bike and took some photos of the elephants. I have never seen so many elephants together before. As I crossed the crowd, I found some more similar possessions moving towards the temple.

Cochin : Around 4:30 pm, when the air started becoming slightly cool, I reached a place called Paravur. From here a road goes to the left, directly to Aluva. Cochin was on the straight route. I stopped there and had puri sabji in one restaurant. Cochin was around half an hour drive from there, but I had to take the bypass and go to Tripunetra. Tripunetra, just 5-6 kms from Cochin, is the place where my aunt stays and that was my destination. The main road was blocked due to some repair work and I had to take some other route which was a very confusing one. After a seemingly non ending loop of "Take left then right and then ask", finally I reached my aunt's home at around 6 pm.

It was home. Finally!

I was received by my aunt, cousin brothers and sister among huge cheers. Knowing how tired I was, uncle did not complain on why I did not inform them earlier that I was coming on bike. Although he mentioned how worried they were about me, whole day, after knowing this from my parents. It was love all around. An eventful day ended with a beautiful dinner from my aunty, followed by a sound sleep.

Learnings of the day :
  1. Entire Kerala is a single BIG town.
[ For all the photos of the trip please visit my flickr place]

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