At the end of it Abhi’s Mom asked –“Are you guys contended?”“We look like outlaws inspiring admiration everywhere we go. We’ve left civilization behind and we are much closer to the land.” -Ernesto “Che” Guevara: The Motor Cycle Diaries
At the beginning of it my Dad shouted –“We don’t like you doing this idiot showmanship. Who do you think you are? Why can’t you just concentrate on your job or don’t you have anything else to do? ”
At the end of it there was nothing achieved, but a mere sense of satisfaction of driving through the tea estates, of hearing the beat of two birds, of experiencing adrenaline rush while climbing uphill with the back wheel skidding and moving from one place to another, and last but not the least a rendezvous with fresh air atop Calvary Mount.
At the beginning of it there was lots of planning, exchange
of emails, Herculean tasks of getting leaves approved, maintaining the
birds fighting fit, and finally all the way just getting mentally prepared for
‘The destination – Munnar’.
I and Abhi didn’t look like outlaws. We may or may not have been admired everywhere we went, but we surely left civilization behind and were close to the land. Close to the fresh cool air of the lower Sahyadris. We traveled a mere 806 kilometers from Bangalore to Ernakulam through Munnar and Thekkadi, but thought we had experiences to share…
The experience of Zero Visibility on the fast and furious Hosur-Krishnagiri road was right on top The day, Nov 25-2006, started early for us, as we had to cut through the busy city traffic. Hosur road was still busy at 5.30 am. As we filled our tanks and proceeded further, thick fog descended and even with headlight it was almost zero visibility ahead. With our visors getting fogged we realized that we are crawling at 20-30kmph and decided to take a tea break. We stood at the Reliance A1 Plaza for around 15 minutes, but no respite with the fog, it was still going strong. So we decided to move ahead even if it was at 30kmph we are moving. What made us sad was the fact that we were on the road where we should be cruising at 80+, but it’s no good challenging nature, so just went along. Things got better and we were moving faster and at Dharmapuri we had our breakfast. The geography was plain, dry and hot and we stopped only at 70-80 kilometer intervals. At Avanashi (40kms from Coimbatore), Abhi’s cousin Manu was waiting to join us on this venture with his Kinetic Blaze. We were then off to have some food. We were to hit Palladam and then proceed to Udumalpet, and Udumalpet was our camping place for Day 1.
From Avanashi, it’s a state road that goes to Palladam and a few kilometers from there we were greeted by an overflowing river. The road was so low and the river decided to flow over the road. But thankfully it was shallow and water currents were not too strong. The water almost touched the foot rest of my bike when I crossed it. It was the first time I & RED was facing so much water, but since the road below was good, there weren’t any problems except for the fact that I had to balance her very well.
Palladam to Udumalpet was a good state highway and we just ripped through. Curvy at times flat and straight sometimes and there I touched my first 100kmph on RED. Udumalpet has a lot of wind mills and we rightly stopped everywhere to take pictures. We rode leisurely as our camping point was nearing and finally checked into the Anamalai Hotels, which they say is a 3 Star hotel where we got a decent double room for a shocking tariff of Rs 450/-.
Next day we started at 7.00 am. Munnar was a mere 90 kms from the starting point. The road promised to be good at the start but soon it was getting bad and finally a few kilometers into the forests it just gave up to become worse. In fact, the road simply ceased to exist. All we saw was mud, stones and gravel. And to worsen the situation a guard at a check post told us that there is no road to Munnar and you can go ahead only at your own risk. There wasn’t any alternate route; he added. We stopped there for a while and a million dollar thought about further course of action. As a ray of hope, we saw some motorcycles going ahead, but we were not sure how far they will go. Our only option was to ride ahead or to return to the base. We decided to give it a shot and started our bikes and were going at steady 10-15kmph. But it was tough to ride on a road less terrain where you find hard stones, loose gravel and sand which will spoil your tyre and helps only in skidding of the bike rather than riding smoothly. A few kilometers into this rollercoaster, a lorry came across us. We stopped and asked the driver about the road condition ahead. He said it was like that for 2 more kilometers and after that it should be fine. We were relieved to hear this and soon we did hit a smooth road. By this time we had entered the Chinnar forest range and were nearing Kerala Check post. It was lush green all around. We did enter our names and travel details at the Chinnar check post as required, and I could see some kind of admiration in the officer’s eyes. At the vehicle type column in his log book when I proudly wrote Bullet, a smile spread across his lips. Am sure he must have seen many passing across that check post, many a wanderers like us.
En-route we virtually stopped everywhere we could and took pictures. In that God’s Own Country wherever you point your camera, there was nothing but amazing views. At Maraiyur we had fabulous breakfast- chappathi and meat fry and meat roast. Munnar was now 40 kms away and tea gardens / estates welcomed us.
We rode through windy roads of Kannan Devan Hills capturing the moments in frame and mind. And as I rode my lips synched with that beautiful ballad –Country Roads Take Me Home- that was playing in my mind. We decided not to have lunch as we had a very late breakfast and rode to Thekkadi. The idea was to take the NH49 till Pooppara and then take on the state highway 17 to Thekkadi. Everything went smooth; we had intermittent stops taking pictures and then riding ahead, some where in between all this we even feasted on a cup of great tea and pazhampori’s (Ripe Banana’s Deep Fried in Coconut Oil). I was at times getting irritated with the kind of stops we were having every now and then as it spoiled the momentum or rather the beauty of this ride, but then one just couldn’t help admiring beauty of mother earth, a natural feast for the eyes. But soon we hit the tough and rough ride as we reached Puliyanmala. From there on the road was nothing less than disastrous with potholes and more potholes. They were really deep at some places and whoever was the point among us kept signaling each other about the potholes. It was a horrible experience and after those horrible 20kms finally we reached Kumili which is the base of Thekkadi. Thekkadi Lake was just 4 kms from there. We settled at Abhi’s cousin’s house. The night ended a bit later than normal for us since Abhi’s cousin took us out for a great dinner.
The final day of the trip dawned and we had to reach Abhi’s house at Ernakulam. We tried checking in at the Lake, but the entry cost we favoured a decision otherwise!. We had to come back to Puliyanmala as we decided to return via Kattappana-Thodupuzha. Even though we were aware of the road conditions, overnight rains made it worse than the day before. The road was wet and the on-going road widening jobs made even the actual road muddy. It was just a muddy watery road for a few kilometers. Application of brakes was impossible and I could feel the tyres skidding. Somehow, we were able to ride on and hit Puliyanmala. From there the road to Kattappana was good. But heights of tough experiences were yet to come.
We stopped at Anchuruli for a break and while Manu was taking pictures some locals suggested that we should visit the top of the hillock so that we could get more picturesque views and some good photographs too. There was a narrow road that went uphill and soon that turned to a normal village road. The soil was strong, but the climb was steep with water streams flowing downhill making deep tracks. Manu took a try on his Blaze, and he returned after sometime climbing half the distance. He thought it seemed to be fine and we too thought our Birds should just be able to handle it. We set off; little did we realize that it was raining uphill. It’s always that light drizzle that plays the spoilsport. Manu was the point and I followed him at a distance as I wanted to give him some space of his own and as we entered the rainy zone, I could see Manu’s bike skidding. It was getting tough for him, since the back wheel wasn’t getting a grip on the wet, hard soil –typical soil in Kerala- and as the back wheel rotated freely smoke came up from the burned rubber. I asked him to stop there and thought I would give it a try. I climbed up slowly and steadily, but I could feel the skidding and my back wheel was going places. I realized it was getting tough, but decided to move ahead as I had only few meters to cover. Then my front wheel stuck in a ditch and owasn’t moving ahead and at the same time I lost my balance. I could feel RED coming down to its left. I tried holding her with all my power, but it was tough for me and finally she came to rest on her footrest. With the heavy load on the Cramsters it was difficult for me to hold especially on that slippery surface. And as she lay there on her foot rest, I had spread my legs so wide that my left leg would not get hurt. I laid her to rest like that and waited for Manu and Abhi to help me. Abhi came running from long behind after parking his bike and Manu was just behind me. Three of us then pulled the bike to get it straight and tried to pull it somewhere, but the slippery surface only made it very difficult for us to balance the royal beast. So then I decided to start the bike and take it up. The electric starter came for help here. I put on it to the first gear and slowly increased the throttle. Abhi and Manu held the back side of the bike and pushed it slowly. RED moved up slowly and steadily, and the view that awaited us on top was breathtaking. The catchment area for Idukki Dam stood right front of us; green, serene and of course tempting.
After taking a few pictures we took the descend down. It was tougher than climbing as the slant was steep. With both breaks and the gear on first, and almighty in our hearts we came down without much hassles. There was a Holy Cross that stood at the point where we ended the descend, and there was another one at the top of the hill too. Even though it was put up by a different sect of Christianity I believed somewhere we had a helping hand right from there. It truly was; as “Sahaya Hastham” was inscribed on it which meant helping hand in Malayalam. And as me and Abhi analyzed later; this was the most unnecessary thing we had to do and it really required a divine intervention to solve!
Later, we rode ahead to Thodupuzha through the windy roads of SH33 which was smooth and spectacular. We stopped at the Calvary Mount to get another good view of the catchment area. This place is an Eco Tourism spot promoted by Govt. of Kerala. The view from there was nothing but breathtaking. This place was much better than Anchuruli as there was a proper road till some place and then we had to walk up a few meters.
We had lunch at Cheruthoni and proceeded faster to Thodupuzha. We stopped at times to capture our cherishing moments on the video and camera. We had the camera tied on to the Cramster bag and it shot each one of us riding sequences. Soon we had the rain run down putting us in a spot of bother since it was getting dark too. The roads were wider now and straight with minimal curves and vehicles were getting faster. We safely pulled ourselves into the rain coats and rode at a steady 40-50Kmph. By the time we reached Abhi’s house it was around 7.00 pm.
After 806 kms of journey span across three states and three days, riding across almost all kinds of terrain except snow, we stood there in front of Abhi’s house shaking hands and admiring our machines. They all performed well, responding to our requirements whenever we asked them to do it and made sure they never troubled us too. As Abhi and I were dismantling our luggage, we looked at those Royal Beasts and exchanged smiles. That smile explained everything, just a communication on its own when it is the two of us; the planning from the day we decided to go on a trip to the struggles we faced on the last day. This smile was what we achieved at the end of the day!
Still if I am asked ‘why do you ride’, I really have nothing to explain.
As Vibhu says may be life is like a map and it’s all about going through the roads on this map.
Or as Sachin Rao says it may be the feeling that a biker is never alone on the road.
Or as Gaurav Jani says it is that I am on my own terms while I ride solo.
Or as Robert M Pirsig says in Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintanence it may be the feeling that I am completely in contact with it all.
Or it may be that smile; that smiles of satisfaction we experienced across our lips at the end of journey.