Day 1 – Oct 18th
“Meander” was the word in my mind as I packed the bags. The Claw was as spacious as I wanted and as usual I packed for safety and security rather than comfort.
I did not have a destination in mind as I headed out of the basement. It was a few minutes shy of four and the stars shone overhead.
Making sure to keep all options open, I headed to the NICE road and stopped a little before the Kanakpura exit. The moon still trumped the sun in the night sky. It was time to make a decision. I could head towards Mallavalli and onwards to Satyamangalam-Coimbatur & Munnar. Or stay on the NICE road to take the Mysore road to keep the options open for Ooty or Coorg or may head North to Chikmangalur.
Deciding on the latter, I took the fog enveloped Mysore Road.
The ride on Mysore Road was boring as usual. At timed I wondered whether it would have been wiser to take the Kanakpura Road and choose to turn left or right at Malavalli. After a short break at Maddur for team/bun I turned off the Mysore highway at Srirangapatna towards Hunsur.
Nothing better than an empty road to clear the cobwebs of mind & figure out where I am headed. Madikeri, Ooty & unknown roads in between became the destination of choice.
Another stop for tea and couple of plantain pakoras. The plantain pakoras tastes funny with the sweetness of plantain mixed with the spices in the barter. Soon after Kushalnagar, the hills started and so did the fun of the ride. It did not take long to get to Madikeri and I was greeted with the two statues at the entrance
Too early for a break, I descended towards Virajpet. Madikeri to Virajpet is a nice hilly road, punctuated by small cultivated green valleys.
Post Virajpet the road is all messed up till Gonikoppal and then significantly improves. The best part of the day came after Kutta where the road skirts the boundary of Nagarhole National Park. The Jungle is lush green and the road is excellent. Since leaving Madikeri, the traffic was minimal & I could drive at leisure.
I was making good time and was hoping to reach Sultan Bathery by late afternoon and stay the night there. Kerala politics would spring up a surprize soon enough. At Kattikkulam, as I turned towards Mananthavady I stopped at a roadblock. On enquiring, there was a Wayanad district bandh. By the looks of the block, I wasn’t expecting it to be opening any time soon. So I turned round and headed back towards the jungle looking to find a nice shady tree for some sleep.
Such a spot wasn’t difficult to find and soon I was asleep to the sound of a gentle breeze rustling the leaves. Fortunately there was close to zero traffic on the road. Apparently, the bandh was very effective.
I don’t remember how long I slept, but it was enough to rest the tired bones which had been driving almost non-stop for the last 9hrs. I lay on the grass a while longer listening to the sounds of the jungle, when a stampede like sound roused me to alertness. I quickly mounted and accelerated towards where the bike was facing.
Slowing down after a few Km I took my bearings. I was in the Begur reserve forest and my current direction would take me down to Mysore, a direction I wasn’t interested in. Going back did not seem wise as the band was still in full effect.
I needed a way to get to Sultan Bathery, which meant a river crossing. Surfing on the map a little more, I saw a small road skirting around Mananthavady and joining the Sultan Bathery – Kalpetta road. Possibly the politics would leave these small inner roads unattended. So I decided to try my luck. And luck it was that shined on me.
After an initial bad stretch, the roads improved significantly. And then suddenly I entered into an abode of butterflies. Out of nowhere a thousand butterflies appeared, some hitting against the visor and falling off. For a moment I lost my bearing and quickly braked to a halt. I then realized that there were butterflies all over. It was a spectacle worth seeing.
After a few false turns followed by mandatory U turns, the road eventually took me to the Sultan Bathery – Kalpetta road.
Did I say meandering was the word on mind. So instead of turning left to Sultan Bathery, I turned right to Kalpetta.
The road was familiar (3rd time on this road) and I made good time. The stomach was grumbling by this time. At Kalpetta also there was no shop open for food. I checked out some lodges for staying, but nothing appealed either my budget or my taste. Searching around Vythiri, I found a hoarding for home stay. Tempted by the idea of home food followed by home brewed coffee, I decided to give it a try. Following a narrow path, I landed on the driveway of large newly built house in the middle of a small valley, surrounded by cultivated fields.
As I pushed open the heavy metal gate, I had an uneasy feeling. There was nothing unusual about the middle-aged man that stepped out, yet the uneasy feeling did not go. He led me into the house and it suddenly hit me with a musty damp smell. This wasn’t the place to be. Being as polite as I could, I looked around, bargained on a price and then quickly left in the name of finding an ATM.
As I throttled out of the place, my eyes were fixed on the RVMs with anticipation.
Back on the main highway, I breathed a sigh of relief. Suddenly I realized that another foolhardy idea was brewing. Somewhere between the mad rush to leave the musty smell behind and stopping on the highway, the notion of seeing the sun set on the ocean took seed in my mind.
And now as I sipped the hot water from a plastic bottle I could feel the idea taking hold. The sun was still high enough in the sky to give ample time to ride down the ghats and hit the coast. And then I had made up my mind. This was turning up to be an interesting ride for the day. Calicut or Kozhikode, I was on my way!
It didn’t take me long to cross Vythiri and take the winding road which descended to the bottom of the ghats. The traffic was light and I made good time. But soon I hit the wall. The traffic came to a crawl and I became one of the thousands of commuters on the roads of Calicut. The blue sky turned orange and then darkened to black.
I cursed my paranoia. Vythiri was any day better than this city traffic. The sun was long gone by the time I parked the bike and walked over the much trodden sands to touch the water.
The task ahead was to find a place to stay, which didn’t take long. Shower and a good dinner later, I was on the streets looking for a cool bar – something I look forward to on every trip to Kerala. I soon found one at a distance from the hotel and gorged on some good ice cream.
Grand closing to a great day.
Day 2 – Oct 19th
Come morning the hills were promptly forgotten. As I worked on the morning activities, the mind feverishly explored for beach options. After consultations with Sygic, Muzhappilangad Drive-in Beach was zeroed upon. The fact that it would take me in a direction opposite to where I should be going was ignored. As I left Calicut, the moon was on its way out.
Hitting the bypass road, I headed north.The outskirts were just coming alive and the road was empty. I hurried out of the city and onto the beach. The sun soon rose over the horizon making everything glow. I looked forward to a gorgeous day. A river bank stop for tea was refreshing both physically and visually.
Mahe welcomed me with liquor shop lined streets. I made a mental note of filling petrol on the way back. The drive in beach was all I expected and more. Once the initially worry of corrosion to the rims subsided, I was driving on the waves. Didn’t knew it would be so much fun. A few pics on the water and I receded back to the shade, contemplating my next move.
I could continue North and then cross the ghats at Sullia or further North at Mangalore. Or I could retrace my route to Calicut and continue South, turning East somewhere down. Then I realized that I planned to go to Ooty. So South it was.
Back on NH17, the traffic has significantly increases. With the highway being undivided, there were frequent mini jams. Eventually my patience ran out. I stopped for breakfast and search for a interior route. Fortunately, unlike Karnataka, the Kerala government believes in keeping the interior roads also in good shape. Around 30Km before Calicut, I turned East at Koyilandy. Riding on the interiors was much more fun. Dense trees skirted the road providing ample shade for the occasional stop.
Riding through Thamarassery and Areacode, I decided to cross the hills East through the Silent Valley National Park. This would comfortably take me to Mettupalayam for the night. I had done this route a few years back and it was worth visiting again. Crossing Manjari and Mannarkkad, I stopped to take my bearing. Studying the map, I spied another route which would take me to Coimbatore, albeit through some dense jungle and skirting the Siruvani reservoir. It looked interesting enough to take the risk. The route was on.
Soon after leaving Mannarkkad a light drizzle started which soon turned into a downpour. I took shelter at a shop near the turn off to Siruvani Main Road. While I waited for the rain to subside I had a piping hot lunch of tea and egg pakoras. Perfect food to boost the spirit waned by the rain which was increasing by the minute.
And then my patience ran out and I prepared to ride in the rain, an eventuality every rider must be prepared for. Out came the rain liners and bag covers. Securing everything properly I headed out in the blinding rain. Fortunately there was zero traffic on the road. I should have wondered why. Perhaps it was good that I did not.
Luck favors the brave. Within minutes the rain had subsided to a drizzle.The route was beautiful and I congratulated myself on the choice.
If I had to rank, I would rank this as the best stretch of the three day ride. The beauty of the rain drenched hills coupled with the solitude of the stretch made it endearing. I stopped often taking in the sights with feet dangling off the parapet. The rain stopped soon enough leaving behind the sun to play hide and seek with the clouds. I was hoping this was just the beginning. The map showed a long stretch of descent to Coimbatore.
Well no bliss lasts for ever. A blind turn ended in a forest check post. The road was closed due to elephant activity. No amount of cajoling would work with the guard. And I am glad he was sincere. Few days later I read of a biker being chased down and killed by an elephant in the Bandipur forest area. He was nice enough to offer tea. I must say the forest guards in this area are nice. I had enjoyed similar hospitality of a forest guard when I crossed Silent Valley few years back. A hot cup of tea and few jungle stories later I headed back.
By the time I joined the Palakkad Highway, the evening was on its way out. I wasn’t going to get to Mettupalayam for the night. Soon I would need to choose between stopping at Palakkad or riding on to Coimbatore.
The Sat evening traffic was bad and the route uninteresting. I had almost decided to call it a day in Palakkad when a last minute change of mind pushed me to Coimbatore. Staying at Coimbatore would allow me to get to the hills early in the morning and ample time to get to Bangalore by evening.
Another bad choice.
Night had taken over when I left Palakkad for Coimbatore. Major construction was going on and the high beam of oncoming traffic wasn’t helpful. Eventually I settled behind a large truck going at a comfortable pace. This took me to Coimbatore.
Finding a lodge wasn’t difficult as was good food. That ended an excellent day with excellent start and end.
Day 3 – Oct 20th
My tired bones slept longer than planned. By the time I was on my way, the morning crowd of the city was well about their chores.
Leaving Coimbatore in a haste, I was quickly on my way to Mettupalayam. It was good I spent the night at Coimbatore, since judging by the looks of the town. it would have been difficult to find lodging at Mettupalayam. From Mettupalayam, there are two ways up to Ooty, via Connor and via Kotagiri. The Kotagiri route was highly recommended for the tea gardens and it lived up to the recommendation.
As I climbed up the hills, the entire plains stretched below. From the elevation, I could see the fields, jungles, rivers and lakes stretched out below. The rising sun made everything glitter like gold.
Soon the tea gardens surrounded the road and the experience was mesmerizing. A green carpet pierced by the black tar road made darker by the wetness of the fog. It was a sight to behold. Enchanting is the word that came to my mind.
A short break at Kotagiri for hot idli and dosa, has me set for the day. Post Kotagiri, the fog got dense. It was like riding through the clouds. Fog rose out of the hills engulfing everything leaving tiny droplets of water on the visor and everything else.
Much entertaining as it was, riding was a pain. I had to stop occasionally to wipe the visor clean and warm the hands. The low visibility also made for slow riding. It was a while before I made it to Ooty.
Another round of hot tea and I was out of Ooty. Being brought up in the hills I don’t really have a fascination for overcrowded and dirty hill stations. The route down was the one through Masinagudi. The multiple hairpin bends hold their own fascination. The route was lush green with little traffic.I drove down leisurely stopping occasionally to enjoy the greenery and take pictures.
Further down, Bandipur was as crowded as ever. Sunday usually brings in the crowds. At one point I got stuck for 10min waiting for cars to move on after watching a peacock.
I was on the home stretch, yet a new road was left to be discovered. At Gundlupet, I turned towards Charamrajanagar. This road was a discovery. Large trees shading the road on either side. Perfect for a short nap. And that’s what I did. Stopping by a shaded grassy patch, I fell asleep.
The roar of bikes woke me up. Another group was out on a Sunday ride. I sat there till the last of them was gone more than 5 min and then moved on.
Charamrajanagar came and went. So did Kollegal. Just before crossing Cauvery, U stopped for lunch. For a moment I was tempted to turn towards Barachukki falls. The temptation passed on and I was on my way to Malavalli. At Malavalli I turned towards Kanakpura. Rain clouds loomed over. I was hoping to get home before needing to don the rain gear again. But that was not to be. Immediately after Kanakpura, the rain started. For a while I kept a brave front, before bowing to the downpour.
Another tree with thick foliage came to the rescue. This time I waited the rain out. After that it was just a matter of chugging it out to home.
Back in the basement the trip meter read 1299Km.