all roads go somewhere; nowhere is just another place

Prologue

As usual not being one to pass on opportunities that present themselves, I planned a solo bike trip to meander around during the last week of Dec. The idea sowed itself when the company announced a Christmas shutdown giving me 10 days to enjoy. Vaishali and kids were scheduled to go to Baroda. What better way to use this time than an aimless bike trip.

Route ideas started with a bike trip to Kanyakumari and then settled down on heading west of Bangalore till I hit the coast. Then head south till I run out of time and then back home to Bangalore. Eventually I ended up doing up something different.

Preparation

Scoured the net for planning a longish bike trip. Read up everything I could and then some more; especially on the road conditions. Got the bike serviced a few weeks before the trip.

Decided against taking anything for bike repair (other than the regular tools that come with the bike), primarily because I do not how to use them. As a backup, I packed a blanket and a plastic sheet for roadside camping. Given that time was on my side, I didn’t mind waiting for a mechanic or waiting to hitch a ride to a mechanic.

To carry my stuff, I picked up a pair of cramster saddlebags, and a cramster waist bag. The latter was picked up on a whim when I went to pick up the saddlebags and it proved to be very useful.

Other miscellaneous stuff I packed – bike paperwork, pocket knife, torch, matchsticks, rope, camera, phone/camera battery chargers, chain and locks (one for bike and one for room), clothes/personal hygiene items.

For route, I picked up South India road map, Kerala road map, Karnataka road map and on way I picked up Tamil Nadu road map. I also took some printouts from Google maps.

Suggestion: Buy a map which is in form of a book rather than one large sheet. They are easier to open and handle on the roadside.

I also packed a book. Plan was to take the Zen and the art of …. However could not find that book at the time of packing. So picked up The road less traveled. Not that I read much. At the end of the ride I had read a grand total of 63 pages.

Considering that I did not know any of the local languages (Kannada, Malayalam or Tamil), I create a cheat sheet of the most common words I would need during the trip. It worked well to an extent that I could communicate what I wanted. However, most of the times the response was something I did not understand. Eventually I resorted to asking question which required a yes/no answer.

Like my other trips, I decided to avoid looking at the time and go by distance. Plan was to stick to 200Km-250Km a day. It helps avoid any time pressure.

Statistics

ODO Start – 22541
ODO End
– 23814
Distance covered
: 1273Km
Start Time
: 0555 – Dec 25th, 2009
End Time
: 2015 – Dec 29th, 2009
Total Cost:(including accommodation and petrol)
: Rs2994/-
Petrol Cost
: Rs1200/-
Eventual Route Map

BikeRideKeralaRoute
Final Route

Pictures

Day 0 – Dec 25th, 2009

The alarm rings at 0500. Morning rituals, cup of instant coffee and I am off at 0555. ODO reads 22541.

Km 0 (0) – Outside the apartment complex, world wakes up early. Morning walkers, workers off to work and vendors getting ready, make up the street population. There is enough light to see, but not to drive properly. It feels cold on the bike and I feel good that I choose a jacket rather then the thin wind-cheater. Cramster saddlebags are well balanced behind me. I hardly feel their presence, so much so, that a couple of times I sweep my hand back to ensure their presence.

First task is to get out of Bangalore. I don’t like this part as it involves going through the city with drivers driving at high beam.

Marathalli junction is crowded. Judging by several people standing over their bags, many are going home for a Christmas/new year vacation.

I cross the city market area, reminding myself that I need to come again for a photo shoot. It’s been a while since I came for one of those.

Km 33 (33) – First break next to a large Ganesh idol. I am pretty much outside the city. Traffic’s not too bad. I was concerned that the holiday rush to get out of Bangalore will make Mysore road painful. I guess I beat others to it.

The sun is still not visible above the clouds and horizon. Stretched a little. Before starting popped in a gum with imli toffee. I was going to do that several times a day for the next few days.

Km 103 (103) – Another break. It is cold, even though the sun is now out. Traffic has become worse and riding on this highway is becoming boring. I am now looking forward to getting off the highway after Srirangapatna.

Km 144 (144)- I am off the main road onto a smaller road which connects to Mysore-Hunsur road. Helps me bypass the Mysore city traffic. It is a narrow road leading through unnamed hamlets and villages. The air is full of village smell – cow dung and wood smoke. It is a kind of route I like. Time to slow down and enjoy the ride. The road is not so good. It is rough though most holes are filled in. However certain sections are full of pot holes. Not too bad for me as I am slow enough to navigate around the potholes.

Km 157 (157) Spot a nice tree adjoining the road with a grass carpet. Perfect picnic spot. Others thought so too. The place is littered with picnic debris – paper plates, plastic glasses, napkins, news papers and empty chip packets.

I clean it a up a little and plan for a longish break. Decided against opening the book. Lying down under the tree, I gaze at the sky and follow the clouds. Felt nice lying there enjoying the sun’s warmth. That pleasure was short lived. Clouds covered the sun and it became windy. Time to head on ahead.

Km 161 (161) I hit the Mysore-Hunsur road. Nice smooth and divided road. Very inviting to rip but deciding against it I enjoy the ride. Traffic is still not so bad.

Km 204 (204) – Another break after crossing Hunsur bypass. Butt starting to get uncomfortable. Not sure how long I’ll enjoy this today. I take another longish break sitting on a road side parapet.

Km 238 (238) – Bylakuppe.

After I took the left towards Golden Temple at the Bylakuppe junction, I spy a board for a guest house. Soon decision was made to stay in Bylakuppe for the night. Next task was to find a place to stay. All the proper guest houses were full. Couple of friendly lamas lead me to the rooms adjoining the Sera Jey health care center. There rooms are there for the relatives of patients coming to the hospital.

The caretaker, Ngawang Samphel, was a friendly chap who chatted with me over lunch. He spoke a little of Hindi and English and we managed to converse well. He had come over from Tibet 12ryrs ago and was studying at the Sera Jey monastery. Currently he was going to work at the guest house for a year and then go back to his studies at the monastery. 10 more years of studying and then, according to him, he would be ready to go back to Tibet.

Km 248 (248) – After a lunch of egg thompa (noodle soup), I head to Golden Temple. Nice place, but too crowded for my liking.

Returning back to the guest house, I go to sleep. When I woke up, it was getting dark.

After a glass of tea, I walk to the Sera Jey monastery. Inside a large group of student lamas were chanting prayers. Sitting down in the corner I wait for them finish. That they never did. For a while I focus on the young lamas and enjoy watching them as they fall asleep while sitting and then getting woken up by a rap on the skull. Soon I get lost in the prayer. The rhythm of prayer voice going up and down in unison was hypnotic enough to lose any sense of time. The trance broke when my ankles start getting uncomfortable sitting on the cold polished stone. Not knowing when the prayer would end, I leave and roam around the place.

There is no power. I walk around the streets lit by solar powered street lights. Some of the building has power supplied by generators. I assume these are either temples or important places. Everything else is dark and groups of lamas assemble outside chatting among themselves. Reminded me of my early days in Chandigarh when power cut in summer meant the entire neighborhood would come out and assemble in small groups chatting till power was restored.

After walking around a little, I return to the guest house. More conversation follow with Ngawang over a bowl of veg thompa and then it was time to sleep.

Day 1 – Dec 26th, 2009

I wake up in darkness. There is no power. The torch is handy to get ready and pack.

Km 248 (0) – It is still dark when I start. Plan is grab some tea before I head on.

Km 256 (8) – I join the main Kushalnagar road and stop by a road side tea shop. Over a glass of tea, I mull over the plan for the day. Tentatively It is planned to go via Madikeri to Sulya and then to Kasargaud. It felt like I was in a hurry to hit the coast.

There are stars in the sky. Hoping for a clear day, I head on.

Km 291 (43) – After crossing a pretty bad stretch of road from Kushalnagar, I reach Madikeri. There is road construction going on at several places from after Kushalnagar. Fortunately there is no traffic to I could drive at ease. The road passes through some beautiful jungle, but the foliage adjoining the road is covered by dust which makes it look ugly.

Madikeri is like any other hill station in India. Nice hillside spoilt by construction and dirtied by garbage thrown by uncaring tourist. In fact everywhere I rode, I can tell whether the route is used by tourists or not by judging by the amount of garbage strewn on the roadside.

Stopping by the Raja’s seat at Madikeri, I take few pictures. Not sure what the Raja liked about the place. Its just another point overlooking the hillside below.

Km 297 (49) – Leaving Madikeri behind I head towards Sulya. At the junction where the road splits; one going to Sulya and one to Talcauveri, I decide against Talcauveri. The place is likely to be dirty and uninteresting. The road condition hasn’t improved. The potholes have become bigger. The hillside is more beautiful. I give a ride to two kids going to school. Couldn’t make much conversation due to my lack of local language.

Km 326 (78) – I reach Sampanje. The road is now freshly tarred and is a pleasure to drive. Time for some petrol and air. Looks like I am arriving at the foothills. The roadside is banked by coconut trees.

Km 348 (100) – At Sulya, I call up my colleagues – Ameet/Shailaja. Shailaja’s parents live in the area and they were planning to be here during this period. I move on after getting a no response.

Km 354 (106) – At Jalsoor, I take a left towards Kasargaud and then stop for a break. There are a few missed calls. I call back and fixed up a rendezvous point with Ameet. Later I follow him to the plantation through a narrow and beautiful road. Breakfast, conversation, plantation tour and lunch followed. The best food I’d have in several days. It is tempting to stretch out under a coconut tree and sleep, but I’d be over stretching my invitation.

Km 383 (135) – Back at Jalsoor, it feels late in the day. I’d have to find a place in Kasargaud to sleep. The road down was a perfect drive. Lush green surrounding and smooth black tar. I stop several times to take in the smells and sight. These are the kind of routes that make these rides worth it.

Km 423 (175) – I hit another junction and after asking for directions to Baikal beach take the left. The road would bypass Kasargaud and head straight to Baikal beach.

Km 439 (191) – Ocean ahead. First glimpse of the coast.

Km 445 (197) – I reach Baikal beach after skipping the fort. I wasn’t sure they’d allow me to take my bags into the fort. At the beach I untie the saddle bags and carry them over. The sun was pretty high in the sky and I have a lot of time to find accommodation. With the bags as my back rest I relish the sun, the sand and the scent. Coupled with the kids splashing on the waves it is a blissful moment. Forgetting the need to find an accommodation, I plan to stay till the sun rides over the horizon. So I sit there enjoying the moments and occasionally reading a few pages. Time was of little essence.

With the sun gone, everyone starts leaving. I head to the parking lot and open up my maps. Choice is to go to Kasargaud or Kahnangaud. I decide for the latter. Either I’ll find a lodge or a spot to camp for the night. By the time I get out, it is dark. The road is not so good, but no big pot holes. The oncoming traffic with high beam is a pain.

Km 454 (206) – I manage to reach Kahanagaud and get a room at the 1st lodge I find. Seedy place, but will do to crash for the night. After dumping my things I step out for dinner. After dinner, some clothes are washed and hanged to dry. The rope comes in handy.

Day 2 – Dec 27th, 2009

Heavy rain wake me up. Feeling glad that I did not camp out, I sleep again. When I wake up it is starting to get bright.

Km 454 (0) – I head out leaving my luggage in the room. Idea is to roam around town and maybe get to Kahnangaud fort.

Km 459 (5) – Asking around, I do not find the fort, but hit a road which runs parallel to the coast for a few Km. I wander along this road going no where. When the tank is full, all roads go somewhere; nowhere is just another place.

Imagine this narrow road running parallel to the coast somewhat 40-50meters from the waves. Driving slowly down that road with the sound of the waves reaching my ears despite the helmet was something I never hoped I would get on this trip. First I head south and then seeing the road diverge away from the coast, I turn around and head north till the road diverged again.

Km 464 (10) – Decide to head to Baikal fort via the main highway.

Km 476 (22) – Baikal fort. Reaching places early has an advantage. There is no parking attendant to collect parking charges. Fortunately the fort is open. I wake up the ticket attendant to give me tickets and then I head in. I have the place to myself almost till I am ready to leave. It is a nice small fort and looks well maintained judging by the nice lawns. Unfortunately the places not covered by grass are strewn around by picnic leftovers.

Km 486 (32) – Getting back to the lodge, I pick up my luggage. Time to head south till I run out of time.

Km 490 (36) – The old highway joins NH17. It is a fine road but with heavy traffic. Given that a lot of four wheeler driver believe that the oncoming two wheeler should get off the road so that they can overtake, driving is quite painful.

Km 508 (54) – I get off NH17 and head towards Valiyaparamba. I have hopes of hitching a backwater boat ride there. Just after getting off the highway, I stop for breakfast of tea, bananas and biscuits.

Km 516 (62) – One thing better on Karnataka roads compared to Kerala is signs directing you to places. After hunting around a bit I reach the backwater place. Disappointment. There is one boat and that is not ready to go anywhere. Couple of locals are around. Nothing I can hitch a ride on.

Still the drive is nice and roads are good. I do not mind. Asking around again, I find an internal route to Payyanur where I can join NH17. Wise choice as I would later find out.

Km 529 (75) – The internal road is ok with some bad patched. Nothing I could not navigate around. The route is excellent going through coconut trees and green fields. I reach Payyanur main road and from their again join NH17.

Km 549 (95) – Ride on NH17 is painful. Construction on both side, horrible traffic. I stop for petrol. Looking at the map I start thinking of getting off NH17.

Km 570 (116) – I am fanatically searching the maps in my mind to find a way to get off NH17. At Kannur, I head off towards Mattanur.

Km 580 (126) – Time for a longer break. Stretching out, I open my maps and plan an alternate route. I decide to head towards Irrity via Mattanur. From there perhaps towards Virajpet or towards Wayanad. Road signs also talk about Kottiyoor. Maybe there. The roads are good and the route goes through nice green foliage. The petrol needle points to full.

Km 613 (159) – I reach Irrity. I have already ruled out Virajpet. So I turn south. All roads lead somewhere.

Km 620 (166) – Road side break for lunch. Language is a problem. I spy some Kerala parontha on the window sill. Pointing to that I order three. For curry they offer me a chicken curry. Planning to eat veg I say no. The guy offers matsaya. Assuming it’ll be veg I nod in approval. It turned out to be fish. Unfortunately both the parontha and curry are cold. The guy across the table is eating something which has steam coming out of it. I manage to order the same which turns out to be an omelet promptly served hot and steaming.

Few Km down I hit a junction. Left turn would lead to Kottiyoor and straight to somewhere else. Don’t know why I turned left. Again a good choice which I would find out later.

Km 645 (191) – Kottiyoor. Small village with a temple and a lodge. The sun is still high in the sky. Fortunately I decide to stay. Within an hour of my checking in, it starts raining and it pours and pours. I sleep, then woke up and it is still raining cats and dogs.

As the rain slows down, I step out for dinner. The wind cheater is handy. Dinner is chapati (huge ones), masala curry and tea. When I return to my room, there is no power and I realize that I am the only one staying in this four story place. Even the caretaker has left. Ideal settings for a horror movie.

It is still raining when I fell asleep.

Day 3 – Dec 28th, 2009

Km 645 (0) – As I am getting ready to go, I realize the caretaker is not around. I need to collect my deposit from him, so I give him a call. By the time he comes, I collect my money and leave, it is bright outside.

Talking to him, I find that the road through town leads to Mananthavady. The choice of direction is – either retrace yesterday’s route or to head on. Not much of a choice.

Km 652 (7) – Another roadside stop for breakfast- tea, bananas, biscuits and chips.

The road is good and route beautiful flanked by banana and coconut trees. With hardly any traffic on the road, it is another blissful drive.

Occasionally there is a road side Christian shrine indicating the prevalent religion in the area. When I was near the coast, there was a several mosques, now Christianity seem to have taken over.

Km 656 (11) – The climb becomes steep with the bends overlooking dense forest cover. It is time to stop, sit down and take in the views.

Soon I reach the top and pass through the tea gardens. The climb is gentle and hills rolling. Again it was a pleasure to drive through.

Km 670 (25) – I get engulfed with fog. It is slightly cold and mist drops touch the cheek through the open visor. Rain worries me. I drop a kid at Mananthavady and head on towards Kalpetta. The road is nice with wild flowers bunched up at places.

As I ride inwards from the coast, at several places I see huge bungalows freshly painted amidst huts and fields. Kerala sure is prosperous; possibly with money from abroad.

Km 696 (51) – After another beautiful drive, I reach Kalpetta. Invariably all mornings are blessed with rides through the beautiful country. At Kalpetta I join NH212. Traffic increases, yet the ride is enjoyable.

Km 716 (71) – I cross Vyathri and stop at the ghats overlook. Sun is peeking through the clouds. Unfortunately visibility is low and pictures are bad.

Km 720 (75) – Halfway down the hairpin bends, I stop by a roadside stall for tea. Monkeys wait for the curious passerby to feed some morsels.

The road is pretty good, first flanked by dense forest and as I reach the foothills with coconut trees.

Km 742 (97) – At Thamarrassary, being in no mood to continue to Kozikhode, I leave the NH212 and head towards Manjeri via Areacode. It is a little hot, so I take off my t-shirt wearing a vest under the windcheater.

Km 770 (125) – At Areacode, there is a traffic jam on the road. Suddenly a group of young guys go past me, raising their lungis and folding their shirt arms. I worry there is some violence up ahead. I edge ahead to see a bus turned over and huge crowd trying to push it out of the way. It doesn’t take long to clear the jam. I am on my way again.

Km 772 (127) – The road splits towards Manjeri. It is a nice well tarred road. Kerala road department is to be commended on the way they have kept even the smaller interior roads in good shape.

Km 786 (141) – Reaching Manjeri, I hunt for a bookshop to pick up a Tamil Nadu road map. I find one near the bus stand. Leaving Manjeri I get confused between Mallappuram and Mannarkad. Intending to go towards Mannarkad, I ask for directions to Mallappuram and head that way.

Km 790 (145) – A sign on the road say Mallappuram is only 8Km away. It (Mannarkad) looked much further on the map. So I stop and lay open my road map. I realize I am heading in the wrong direction and make a U turn.

Km 807 (162) – I take a lunch break at Pandikkad. The meal comprising of red rice was nice for a change. And I overate. Bad idea, as I was to realize after a few Km

Km 824 (179) – A mild stomachache forces me to stop. A heavy lunch coupled with some rough roads make me uncomfortable. I take a longish break to rest and stretch a little.

Km 842 (199) – The road was bad and everything about me was rattling. I rode past sleepy towns which would have remained names on the map had I not taken this route. Don’t know why; I decide to head towards Silent Valley. However, few Km down that road I decide to turn back and stay at Mannarkad.

Km 849 (206) – I find a nice hotel (The Silent Valley) and crash in the bed. “No Country for Old Men” is on TV and I doze through it. Later at night I walk around and have dinner.

All along the way, over the last two days, I have been seeing this banner “cool bar” outside shops. Even though I had the hunch it was a ice cream bar, I wanted to try it out. So post dinner, I entered one and had a faluda ice cream assuming it would be a kulfi faluda. It turned out to be a fruit salad on a strawberry ice cream bed and topped with vanilla. Though it was nice, the only thing different from usual was carrots pieces among the fruits.

Day 4 – Dec 29th, 2009

Km 849 (0) – Last night looking at the map, I thought I’d go over the hills of Silent Valley and try to join the NH209 at Satyamangalam. I could then stretch and try to reach Bangalore by night. Though I was tempted to give it a try, I could not figure out, either by looking at the maps or by talking to people, whether a route lead from Silent Valley towards Tamil Nadu or not. Till the morning I am not sure which way to go.

As I load my bags on the bike, I decided to give it a try. Worse case, I’d have to back track and head down to Palakkad. I guess the lure of Silent Valley road was too strong. And it turned out to be a good bet.

It is barely light as I turn left towards Silent Valley.

Km 870 (21) – Again the route is beautiful, though the road is not so great. The ride up to Mukkali is through dense forest. I stop often to enjoy nature, to listen to the birds and once to photograph a waterfall. It is another morning of pure bliss.

Km 891 (42) – Once again I am on the other side of the hills. The banana and coconut which gave way to wild growth are back again.

I cross a place called Agali. The place is full of small donkeys. Never seen them before and they are concentrated only in this town.

I am surrounded by mist. There are water droplets in the air which feel like a drizzle when riding. It is excellent weather for driving, but bad for photography.

Km 905 (56) – I cross Anakatti and miss a turn towards Mettupalayam. Instead I end up on the road to Coimbatore which I only realize after the road conditions improved and the road widened significantly.

Km 926 (77) – I wander around Coimbatore and after several rounds of asking for directions, I get on NH209 towards Satyamangalam.

Km 947 (98) – NH209 is nice and the traffic is light. Unfortunately this is not a straight road and has many twists and turns.

Km 1016 (167) – I cross Satyamangalam and stop for tea at Bannari. The tea shop is next to the forest check post. Little did I know that another excellent stretch is about to start.

Km 1022 (173) – The forest is beautiful and the road is good. I stop often and take a long break at hairpin bend 6. There are a total of 27 bends. There is little traffic on the road and I can hear birds chirping all over. It is a place where you could sit for hours just listening to sounds of nature.

 

Km 1031 (182) – After crossing the 27th hairpin bend, I stop for another tea and hot bondas. There is fog all over. I believe on a clear day one can see far below over the forests. I head down from Dhimbam planning to take the alternate route to Kollegal.

Km 1035 (186) – I take the right towards Kollegal. A road marker says 72Km. I look forward to an excellent drive through the jungle. For once in the entire trip I was wrong.

The route started well enough. Road was narrow but excellent. Wild flowers flanked the sides. There was no traffic. I drove slow peeping into the jungle hoping to see some wild life. The closest I saw was some elephant poop.

Km 1063 (214) – Tamil Nadu ends and Karnataka starts. So did the misery. It starts with potholes filled with mud. Then pot holes left as it is. Then the road disappears and only potholes remain.

Km 1089 (240) – The bike slips over a patch of slush. No bodily damage, but the front left indicator snapped off. I use some scotch tape to bind it in place and headed on.

Km 1094 (245) – The road improves in patches.

Km 1110 (261) – I merge onto a wider and better road. Looks like I am reaching Kollegal.

Km 1116 (267) – Finally I reached Kollegal. I am hoping that the NH209 would be in better condition ahead. Unfortunately that was wishful thinking. The road stays bad.

Km 1126 (277) – Finally the road conditions improve. Now I am in a hurry to reach home and push the speed.

Km 1132 (283) – I stop on a small picnic spot between the road and Cauvery. Groups of school kids were enjoying a late picnic lunch.

Km 1151 (302) – Malavalli. I have a choice to continue on NH209 to Bangalore via Kanakpura or head towards Maddur and take the Mysore road to Bangalore. Having suffered on the Kanakpura road twice before, I decide against it.

Km 1175 (326) – Maddur and I am on the home stretch. The only thing of interest is which Kamath to stop for food.

Km 1204 (355) – I stop at Kamath near Ramnagaram for food. By the time I step out it is dark.

Km 1273 (424) – Home sweet home. Crossing the evening Bangalore traffic was a pain. It was a long day which ended at 2015hrs.

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