Sunday, July 27, 2008

Destination Kemmangundi!

When I originally started to write this blog, I wanted to name it as “Honey I fried the valves” :) but looking back over the past weekend, I thought it was too negative a title to choose and that I wouldn't be doing any justice to how I felt if I named it that way.

The Western Ghats is beautiful, refreshing but also dangerous, merciless and not for the faint hearted. To tackle it, you need, commitment, stamina, speed and a healthy doze of bravery. It drives home a sense of challenge into you. This, with all its beauty in full bloom in the rains, was our destination. Over three days of biking in this region would be enough to change your priorities in life from coding/development/testing to biking :) OK bad joke. Moving on.

The plan was simple, visit the highest peak in Karnataka (we've already taken care of the second highest, remember) and get back in three days. The catch, mother nature, again. The concern, rains, and that word is an understatement to what actually happens there. A downpour can turn small puddles into lakes, and roads into a skating rink! After my earlier heartbreak, I wouldn't be intimidated by anything mother nature was planning to throw at me. So, I decided that caution was the better part of valor, and waterproofed and double waterproofed all my stuff that would be needed, bought a very expensive raincoat and packed lots and lots of warm clothes. Then came the important stuff, which we wouldn't realise till the final day, the tools. It took me nearly an hour to load the heavy tool-kit onto my bag without taking too much space or tearing any stitches. But it had be on the outside though, so extra caution was needed to make sure somebody else doesn't pick it up on the road! All set then, a photo of my packed bag and take off.

The day finally arrived, the time of departure (estimated) – 0800hrs, the time of departure (actual) – 1000hrs. Our first hiccup, one person arrived late cause of constraints at workplace. Which left the other three of us waiting, clicking away at our bikes. Once he arrived, we wasted no time in greetings. We were off, four bikes from Mysore. A nice variety, old and new. This time, an addition, a car with five ppl was accompanying us. More things meant more things which could go wrong, but thankfully we would have none of it that weekend, it all went with ease after some teething problems. A fuel leak in the car put them and a bike nearly two hours behind us, but at the end of the day we were all together.

So, after the first 20km it was only three bikes from Mysore, two from b'lore. They had more than an hours riding advantage on us although being farther away from the meeting point agreed upon before. We were on a mission not to keep the guys from b'lore waiting at Hassan, so it was nearly constant all the way, keeping those average speeds nice and high, stopping only for compulsory breaks. In a flash we were in Chennarayapattana, just a hop away from our meeting point, we just took a left and again it was flat-chat to Hassan. We made it! And right about time. Those guys were here too, they had taken things easily on the road though. We all met up for lunch, greetings! After lunch, our serious trip began, Halebidu, 30km of undulating, twisting and turning country tarmac awaited, a feast for all the riders. Blast-off. As we tore though the roads, our first chance to stretch our legs on some long (non-boring) stretches arrived and we relished. Then, silently something was creeping up my tail, a Unicorn! You'd think it's easier to notice that big machine coming, but think again! He just sailed past us, 'nice' I thought, ppl are enjoying then, 'let's give him a run for it' :) fair enough, yeah? So it was downshift and advance, and in three heartbeats I was behind it, and then another thing crawling on my back, this time it's not silent, it's a humming bird! RX-135! With pillion, he took the cue and slotted behind me, on a straight I was planning on passing the unicorn, but he would have second thoughts on every bend, as soon as I was almost next to him, he would open throttles and close the door in braking. But there were a few time when I did manage to pass him only to have him get back at me on the very next straight. Before we could play more, Halebidu arrived, and we all parked up, me smiling inside my helmet. Then the Mr unicorn look at me and says 'let's not ride like this again' a few words and laughs were exchanged and we went on.

There was nothing in halebidu with was 'out of this world' but still it looked good, the sculptures, architecture, the layout, the styles and many other aspects were very eye catching. But sadly we were already lagging behind schedule. So we were off, on our next destination, Hornadu. We were already a little too late to reach Horanadu on time, so we had to ride at night. We stopped at a major turn to unite with the other bike and the car which had closed the gap to us while we were gaping at Halebidu. While we were talking, we heard the sound, it was the fiero, grand entry I should say! (the guys will know why). A little while later, we were finally a group.

The first major mountain road awaited us and to our luck it started raining too. One guy left first and then me, and behind me the rest started, we were all in mirror distance for a while, then suddenly, nobody was in sight, myself and the guy in front stopped and waited for a while. Then a canter came and told me that a bike had had a minor fall, everybody was alright, and they were on their way. We quickly double back to check what's happening, I passed the unicorn, he just waved and went, then the fiero stopped. He told me that the unicorn had a fall, skidded off the road and rolled in the mud and grass, there wasn't a scratch on him and the bike was fine too, (may be he was serious when he said 'let's not ride like this again'??). Despite the moral blow, the incident hardly got a mention in the group. A quick inspection of the man and machine revealed no damage, and we went on, considering how kind our luck had been. Then we stopped around 62km from Hornadu for our customary tea. Enjoying the tea, weather and scenery, we just summarised the day as “good” and were on our way, one more tea and a few more kilometers of riding in darkness got us to horanadu at 2130 hrs, nine hour day at the office wouldn't be bad in most cases, but a nine hour day on the road left us craving for dinner and sleep. We found the nearest lodge and put up camp there. Getting the bikes into comfortable resting places, we went and had dinner at the Temple and went back to our room, then it was time for damage assessment, our clothes were soaked, so were our shoes and socks, luckily, my backpack was still dry. Our shoulders ached, so did our backs, and we just longed for sleep.

The next morning, the early risers took charge and got us on a roll, we had tea, cleaned ourselves up, and went to the Temple. After praying for our immediate journey along with the prayers for our journey in life, we went to inspect the bikes. I, personally, handled my bike with the utmost care, checking the spark-plug, and making sure every bolt and nut was in place and looked normal, I gently took it off the stands and pushed it to a clear place, started up and left it to warm at idle. The other guys did pretty much the same. Once everything was nice and hot, it was departure time and a much tougher day awaited us, but we were aware of it yet, the first stretch gave us a taste of things to come. The ride from Hornadu to kuduremukha was stunning, we all rode our hearts our, well, almost all of us, cause I saw the unicorn was visibly nervous, probably shaken from the previous day's fall, and making very horrible lines at very low speeds through the forest. Frankly, I felt bad to let him go and to carry on at my own speed through the stretch. I've been in his situation before and I knew how it'll be faced with conflicting thoughts and opinions, is the grip enough? will it lock up if I shift and brake? Is the curve too sharp? should I keep the lines tight? Should I put second, or should I put first? It's hell I tell you. I don't know whether all these thoughts went thru his head, but I still kept him in my mirrors anyway. While we were enjoying our won ride, we forgot about the other two bikes!! Not necessarily disastrous but still a waste of time, finally we met up in kuduremukha. And told them what all they missed... the roads, curves, scenery and the like.

From kuduremukha, we went to lakhya dam and then the next stop was sringeri... a beautiful scenic place, an old temple, one of the four mutts of Sri Sri Adi Shankaracharya, a place which abounds in historical value. We reached, but sadly not before the Temples closed in the afternoon. They would only open next in the evening, and sadly we didn't have time to wait till then, we were already delayed. Well, we never came into this trip hoping to prove we could keep planned times, everything was flexible, but, we had come to enjoy nature and temples, although not bad in any sense of the word, were not nature. We could always come back to the temple any time of the year and see God, but we came here to enjoy the mountain ranges, the wind in our face, the rain on our hands, the sound of the wind rushing past our ears, the sight of so much green you'd forget the names of all other colours if you'd stared long enough and the smell of the earth wetted by the constant drizzle. Frankly, temples had to wait. Next stop, chikmaglur for dinner.

There was nothing special (if you can call it that) along the way back to chikmaglur. Well, I say nothing special, but it's just an expression. The whole route is so unique and magnificent you'd not know which moment, which turn, which stretch of road to choose and label it “special” compared to others. So, the word special doesn't really do justice to the sights and sounds of that special region of karnataka.

We arrived at chikmaglur, I envy that place from the day I stepped into it! It's a town nestling at the foot of the highest hill range in karnataka. And we boast about Chamundi, no offence meant. Well, we we having dinner at a hotel at about 2000hrs when one person gave an idea as to why wouldn't we consider staying in the lodge where we were having dinner instead of riding out the 60 odd km to kemmangundi. I too felt that idea was good, so did a lot of people, but, a few were having none of our suggestions and were all set to go, so we too had to get going. So we all agreed that we all would follow the car in the darkness. In retrospect, that particular veto was one of the best things that happened to us in the trip. More about that later. We got going and it was then that I noticed a strange thing about myself that I hadn't noticed ever before, in fact, I never though that could happen to me or to anybody else. I was falling asleep on the bike!! My speed, controlled by the riders behind me and the car in front of me was too slow, I didn't have anything to do! I was drowsing with a stomach full of dinner and two days' riding under my belt. I was trying everything to stay awake, including singing to myself, blinking rapidly, rushing towards the car and slowing down till I made the end of the pack. Nothing seemed to work, I thought 'this is it, I'm gonna crash into a bush and sleep there without knowing I've broken many of my bones'. Then a few rough stretches started and I began to wake up, and on the last stretch, I was fully awake and was fed up of going behind the car, myself and a few more riders broke up and went at our own comfortable speed, engines revving freely finally and now fully alert, I was greeted by the cool air of the mountains and the jolts from the road were now in full swing. It was sort of like reaching a climax, one big water-splash later we were there, summit of the hill. Kemmangundi. Covered in pitch darkness and biting cold. We had a little commotion as to where we would ultimately sleep, cause as it turned out, there was more than one guest house. But we finally found our room and one by one the guys started to fall. Myself and few others were awake till 2:30 in the morning keeping each others company. Then we too couldn't hold back our sleep. We all slept.

The next morning, the early rises had already taken charge and also had gone for a morning walk out in the cold. Phew, so much for that! We all woke up leisurely. While we were having tea, we hear that there's a flat tyre in our group! That's bad news! Something had to be done. On inspection, it was obvious that it wasn't a slow puncture, cause we pull a one-inch nail clean out of the tyre! Then we decided to patch up the tyre ourselves, so we removed the wheel, the tyre and the tube, took out the patch and saw, no gum! The patch simply doesn't stick! Talk about waste of money! We tried everything, including heating and hammering! But no, it refused to stay on the tyre. So, we took the wheel and the tube and went down 13km to the nearest puncture shop and got it mended. It was there that we found out that we should have had a tube of solution to make the patch stick! Bloopers! We got the wheel back and fitted it back on the bike, smooth as a baby's bottom! No glitches. On the way down we stopped at a junction and had a small chat, whether we would descend down the same road we came up or would we take the other, shorter but rougher road down, just for the heck of it. We don't know till today as to why we took that road, but that proved to be the best stretch of road, in terms of scenery, we had had all the trip! Almost always, the western ghats was in sight constantly on your right, we felt one with nature, there were all sorts of plans in the group, including extending our stay by one more day to making this a honeymoon spot in the future! Many, many photo session passes, and nobody seemed to bother that we were getting late. The sight was that good. From there it was just 7km to the highest place in karnataka, Mullayangiri in the Bababudangiri hill range. There was no way we would miss that, and every inch of those road was word the effort compared to what we were treated to at the top of the hill! A sight to behold, something I experienced for the first time in my life, on one side you have the entire hill range in front of you and on the other side of the hill, you have flat lands which has patches of cities, truly amazing sight!

After this, It was all downhill, literally, we descended to reach chikmaglur, where we had something like lunch-cum-evening snack-cum-dinner at a hotel. From there, the guys from b'lore were kinda in a hurry to leave quoting the extra 40km they'd to travel (in heavy traffic too). They left, and so did we, it was almost six by the time we left. The threat of rain was looming large over us, but we were prepared anyway! So never stopped, it was literally flat-chat and full blast all the way to mysore, with very high average speeds (around 50kmph), high, I mean, considering it was dark, raining and we had stopped four times on the way, once in hassan for tea, again in K.R. Nagar for tea, and twice in between for compulsory stops. So probably, for an hour, we were just “sitting ducks”, which, if correct, pushes up the average speed to sixty kmph! We were in Mysore precisely at 2200hrs! That was a relief to us! Home sweet home at last, although a part of all of us was pulling us back to the western ghats!

This was a triumph of man over nature. Three days of biking in one of the most dramatic and testing landscapes in India, the Western Ghats. According to my opinion, one of the most scenic places in the entire country, forget Kerala! If you want greenery, well..... yes go to Kerala, cause I don't want that place to become popular, it's nice when it's isolated. I like is to be un-hyped and less frequently visited by people. Cause tourists always ruin the place, to what extent? Depends on how many tourists you're talking about, ten ppl won't hurt at all :) anyway, pics will be up and running soon. I really wanna to there again, plans anyone? Anyone?


  1. Wonderfully written Gecko.. Made me revisit the whole scene again!

    Mr. Unicorn

  2. he he...awesome wanna visit sometime :-)
    awesome had goosebumps :-P
    keep going