This post was supposed to have been for the trek to Kumara Parvatha mountain in Chikmaglur district, but as it turned out, a person could not make it due to a badly scraped knee from a fall. The search then began for a new destination for out packed bags and determined minds. The destination was chosen, Udhagamandalam better know to the outside world as Ooty, a nice little hill station nestling in one of the peaks of the Nilgiri hills. Well known for it's weather, scenic beauty not to mention of course the tea and most famous of all, Nilgiri Trees and Eucalyptus oil from which the hill range gets its name.
Late on the previous night, we all sat together to discuss what we would be covering in Ooty. But as we all would find out later we would've been better off if we had just gone home and slept earlier cause the planning was of little help although others may disagree on this. The main reason was the ride, it was the only reason why I agreed. I wasn't really interested in seeing Ooty, sure we've all seen Ooty before and as it is in all the cases regarding major tourist spots in India, it surely will not be any better than how it was when I saw it in 1995, right? Right! But, had I seen it on a bike? With the wind in my face, sand in my eyes and dirt in my nostrils? Had I seen in while I was sweating like hell, dehydrated, hungry and exhausted? Had I seen it rushing past me at 80kmph and at 35 degrees off vertical? Had I seen it with aching shoulders, a numb crotch and a back breaking backpack? The prospect was mouth watering enough for me to count myself in.
There were four bikes and six people in all this time, myself on my Pulsar 150, two others on two latest spec Pulsar 150 bikes and one more person, still a little visibly shaky from his previous illness, on a Suzuki Fiero. The two remaining people rode pillion on our bikes, sometime changing bikes now and then.
Off we went, late as usual, since some of us never had the concept of time firm in our heads. The first stop was, like always, breakfast, that was done in about half an hour. Then it was a short hop to Gundelpet, 30km away, where we stopped for the customary tea. It was the first time I had taken my bike out for a long ride in a long time and it felt fun, although my bike was noting compared to the silent killers which frequently overtook me on the highway. The most impressive was the Fiero, the ease with which it could pull away from you, something to marvel about. After tea, we set out with Bandipur forest on our minds. Immediately the roads turned nasty for about 10km potholes, sometimes no roads, plain dirt, it was the stuff of my dreams, on the foot-pegs, third gear, narrow strip off the road's shoulder, no brakes, leaving everybody behind I pulled away enjoying each pothole avoided and swallowing each pothole I hit since the bike swallowed half of it and I felt very little of a bang. Then we reached the forests of Bandipur, famous for it's elephants and tiger reserves. Hoping not to find any on the way, we made our journey through roads winding through the forest, the greenery, the lush sight and near empty sound, disturbed only by our bikes beating in harmony. Then came a section of twisty road, three of four hairpins. We all zipped past, then I notice someone taking snaps
me: dude you missed me in the snap.
Mr. Newest pulsar & pillion: can't help
Mr. Newer Pulsar: don't worry, there are 36 more to come!
Did Somebody say 36?? hmmm... so frankly that was the point when I really stopped caring what Ooty would hold in store for us. I'm gonna go through 36 hairpins.. in one day.. twice over.. did I care about anything else? Nay!
So by this time we found ourselves talking in front of the big board saying territory of Tamil Naadu.
Police:stop stop, license
Police: Pollution certificate
Police: you don't have pollution certificate?
Mr. Newer Pulsar: what is that??
Police: park it in the side and come to the office.
Miss Mammoth: you see you have to pay a fine of 300 per bike for not having a certificate which would've cost you only 30 to obtain.
Mr. Newer Pulsar: but all these bikes are new.
Miss Mammoth: oh, then you don't need, you can carry on.
Us: (exit, stage left)
It was handy having a Tamil speaker around, if it doesn't get you killed in Gundelpet, it'll surely help you 50km later! He'd saved us at least a thousand bucks, a thousand bucks, better part of which we would voluntarily lose in a stupid concept anyway.
A short hop from the check post and we found the place, Masinagudi was it's name, a small village like place bang in the middle of the forest and at the foot of the mountain we'd come to go up through to reach our destination. Throwing all our luggage in a room barely enough to fit a couple, we started our bikes again, next stop, Ooty.
We all made our way cautiously through the flats leading up to the mountain, then we saw the actual road, an incline I'd not seen that often in my life. Passing it brought us face to face with the dream, my obsession “Hairpin 36/36” it said.
Changing into second, I opened her up, sat her at the edge of her limit, 5500 rpm in second for minutes on end. I was a nice feeling to feel her purr under my seat. I hadn't even passed a few hairpins and someone waved me down
Mr. RX (hadn't brought it here though): Fiero is not pulling, I'll hop on to your bike.
And he waved the Fiero forward. The two Pulsars followed. I again started on with my journey, my bike was pulling.. just pulling, of course wasn't pulling well. I passed the Fiero
“It's the altitude” I shouted at him.
“it'll make the engines suffocate” I shouted again
he faintly acknowledged, his mind more on the condition of his bike. The other two bikes complained of the same problem, lack of power. I just dismissed it as a problem every engine faces on this terrain, 2000m above MSL. I continued, trailing the Fiero. By the time we reached the 3/4th mark, I could smell something peculiar and familiar. It was oil, not just oil, burnt oil, the Fiero's engine had given up going up. Having had enough of the demand and starved out of oxygen and petrol, the engine had let go in the mildest of fashions. We reached Ooty a short while later. Just in time for the engines to catch their breath back and also just in time since we all were hungry. Thankfully we were lucky enough to be gifted a packed lunch. Now the search for the place began. We decided Dodabetta was the place. It was a nice view it seems. Back on the saddle again, we rode through the twisting roads, past the estates of tea, past the cars that made up most of the traffic, the people, the tiled roof that made up all the houses. 2200M above MSL was the last board I noticed.
Doddabetta was a very average spot, the beauty of it spoiled by the increasing number of tourists in the summer I'm sure. There was nothing to see there which we hadn't seen in Tadiyandamol a hundred times better. But the weather there was something which could never go unnoticed, the air felt, thin as satin as a crisp as a wafer, you actually made no effort to draw a lung full of it and you were aware of that. It cooled and soothed its way into you and just as easily came out making way for another lung full of air. We searched a spot on the lawn to park ourselves for lunch. We ate, and ate well knowing that the bikes were cooling down and resting as we recharged ourselves too. Then we decided that we would visit Lamb's Rock view point, again, supposedly a short ride from there. But on our way to Lamb's Rock we were stuck at a dead end, there was no road
One of us: which way to lambs rock?
Somebody there: straight ahead
me: you gotta be kidding me, we aren't even going up hill and we'll reach a view point? Through this mess?
Yes, apparently. We did find a route, it was a tiled road! Probably made intentionally to lose the bikes and cars which would dare to venture out on those roads, may be we were meant to walk, I thought, just then I found a bus full of people heading back, no comments.
The view from Lamb's Rock wasn't all that great, they say you can see a woman lying down in those rock formations in the mountains yonder. Coming down, we had a place which sold tea, how convenient.
Did somebody order for hot water? Guys?
Well, when you have to pay for it, you might as well stomach it!
Coming back from lamb's rock, we were exhausted, and our only thought was the room! A small stop for essentials and we were off to descend the hill!
“Steep descent, Descend only in second gear” read a big yellow board. Few corners later, I heard something in the back of my head, frrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr fut fut fut..... came the Fiero throttle down and picking up speed, all the while popping and banging from the exhaust... did I say a blown engine at the start?? very well!
“descend in third” I shouted.
A nod, and then nothing!
I might've done better not having said that, we're weren't going to descend in third and we knew it!
“is he for real: I thought, “lets find out”.
First.. second.. third.. fourth and fifth.. the gears went by as quickly as I could say it and I was behind him. Before I could blink, I was hard on the anchors, fourth.. third.. second.. both of our rear tires locking up as we shifted up for the hairpin, the next thirty or so hairpins were a blur of staccato gearshifts and throttle. Sometimes I was ahead, many times he. As we descended the hill the cool caress of the hill had changed into a intensely warm hug but we had hardly noticed. Immersed in the descent, we came to a stop at a hairpin, may be the penultimate one, I don't remember cause I never notices, visibly sweating and immensely happy from the ride. What made us so happy was the fact that it wasn't planned, we were just caught up in the moment and the bikes understood our moods and cooperated, they behaved like a charm. We both silently smiled in our helmets for the amount of fun that descent had given us and waited for the others to catch up.
We then went slowly to our rooms and waited for something called the “night safari” nay it's nothing like the one they show on animal planet, it was just a plain old ride along the same old road, in the dark in a jeep. A total waste of time and money and most of all of sleep. Arguing with the people who'd slyly escaped sitting at the back of the jeep proved no fun either, neither did the diesel fumes which were suffocating me to the point of throwing up on Mr. Fiero's pants! Remember the Pollution Certificate Money we'd escaped earlier?? we'll not anymore, I Paid to get myself polluted by diesel.
We came back, seeing only an elephant, parked our bikes in a house next to the lodge and slept happily.
“Buzz Buzz” 5:30 AM
Mr. Fiero: Set it to 6:30AM
Me: (did it in my sleep)
“Buzz Buzz” 6:30 AM
we all woke up and I along with Mr. Newest Pulsar went to check out the bikes as others were busy waking up Mr. Newer Pulsar and already there were pessimistic thoughts about heading back to Mysore if it got late waking up here. Chuck that. Coming back to the bikes, I noticed there was cold piston slap in the newest Pulsar which disappeared once the engine heated, the newer Pulsar had lost all of it's oil and the Fiero had blown some oil off too. I topped up all and started and warmed up my bike and also the Fiero. Then I noticed, no petrol!
As I pulled up inside the petrol bunk, I saw a sight to behold, nearly 30 Royal Enfield Bullets all for Goa ridden by foreigners had pulled up and were filling up for their ride out of the forest. I pulled up along side an oldie.
Silence, more silence, suddenly
Me: Hello, where're you from?
Foreigner: I'm from England... Pulsar eh? What make is it? Chinese?
Me: It's Bajaj.... err... Indian
Foreigner: Indian? What is it? A 1..2..5..??
Me: No, it's a one-fifty. How long are you here for?
Foreigner: Fifteen days!
That was the eye opener for me! They were covering Karnataka for fifteen days on a bullet, that old timer had brought along his wife who rode pillion on the bullet. He said he was retired and had a house and a caravan in the UK which he's given to his daughter and he lived in england cause he liked French lunch and didn't like the UK! Foreigners!!
Continuing on the route from the previous day, we went up the hill, first to a presently waterless waterfall called Kalatty, and then for a useless breakfast which we could've done without. Next was the Ooty lake, an artificial lake built ages ago, now filled with green water, newly weds and a hell of a lot of boats in the water. After getting exhausted pedaling the boats, we went for a leisurely stroll and a short nap in Ooty's famous botanical garden. Our second day was mainly empty and had nothing interesting to see, the ride was the most anticipated part of the day to be honest. We then had a splendid lunch at a hotel which we found out from a few of the locals. Being starved of breakfast, and even worse, being fed up of bad breakfast, we relished the nice lunch, eating till the brim of our stomachs without giving a thought that we'd have to carry our stomachs on our bikes down thirty six hairpin bends a few minutes later. Never mind, I was done through sambar and going to rasam by the time I thought that. We all packed out bags, strapped them on tight to our backs, zipped up our jackets and then
Mr. RX: if you are thinking of racing again, I'll hop on to the newest Pulsar.
Me: well, I don't know, I'll have to ask him (looking at Mr. Fiero)
Mr. Fiero: (smiles)
Mr. RX went and sat behind Mr. Newer Pulsar. And then it was again a blur of staccato gearshifts and throttle, all the way down, well, almost, cause we got stuck in traffic and the Fiero passed me and I came to a halt with my feet on the ground cause the train of cars which he'd just passed and which I was just trailing had come to a standstill. It took me another four hairpins and a lot more speed to catch him, and he was waiting for me to catch up. In a flash we were down, and racing towards our room, on the way we stopped for tender coconut to top up our fluid levels.
“how much time” he asked
taking a glance at my stopwatch “22” I said.
“hmmm... we could've been faster if we weren't stuck in traffic”
we'd broken the previous day's record, but we weren't any more happier than yesterday, the first time always means something very special. Almost immediately the other two Pulsars arrived, apparently they were on a roll as well! I wonder how they managed with people sitting behind! Waving them off we went slowly to the lodge and settled on the floor of our room for a nap as the people “freshened up” and did half an hour of the task! It was again packing bags and strapping them even more tightly for the ride back to Mysore. This time Mr. RX rode the Fiero and Mr. Fiero rode behind on my bike. The flats were the territory of the new Pulsars. Both of them looked in their element as they zipped past silently past me, I was the last of the train, waking up the wildlife from their afternoon nap as I went along. There was a strange sight, a bunch of monkeys had lined the side of the road along with a bunch of elephants and deer as though they we're bidding farewell to us! Once into Karnataka and past our regular tea at Gundelpet, Mr. RX, riding solo proved “only a Fiero can catch a Fiero” as he disappeared into the darkness in front of me, as I tried to catch up, all I could see for a while was his tail lamp, after a few kilometers, he was gone, the new Pulsars disappeared behind me in the darkness as they'd slowed their pace. We all met up in Nanajangud again, and had coffee, from then on, it was my turn to lead, riding solo all the way to Mysore. On the way, I had recalled the events of the two days, and remembered that few days before the trip, I had asked “what's there to see in Ooty, I've seen all of it”
I wasn't very interested in seeing Ooty, dismissing it as being too boring, I still hold that view even today, but getting there is all the fun! Should try it again, I'd surely recommend it to anybody willing to try it out! Two days, excellently spent! Two spirited thumbs up!