Monday, November 3, 2008


This one has been in the plan for a long time, the very much awaited trip to the southern tip of India and back. The original plan seemed simple and awesome, but, it was far from it,still awesome nonetheless! the route was revised and revised some more, optimized, and finally finalized a few weeks before the actual trip.

There had been problems right from the beginning with a few people dropping out for various reason and people who were the integral part of the trip begin held up till mid afternoon on the day of departure! but somehow we all managed to leave Mysore on the evening of the 2nd of October, with the destination of Calicut in mind. Although 215km away and the clock already showing 4:30pm (approx) we were not worried, cause there was no other alternative, we had to do it that day, or the trip wouldn't happen. Maintaining an high average speed, we managed to cross Gundelpet quite early and were heading under the forest cover for a while before we emerged out on the other side and inside Kerala's territory. The exit from the forest was something i can't forget, we could see the tree cover ending and the twilight visible the the other side like the light at the end of the tunnel, once we shot thru the forest, we were almost there, another hundred km perhaps we thought. By then we reached a mountain with a snaking road down it, clearly lit up and visible from the top. This would be one major step down in our journey towards sea-level. looking at the lights, i was pretty excited to make that particular descent, my first mountain after Kemmangundi. So we were all at good speed when i found out that the lights i saw from the top were actually lights from the cars and trucks which were stuck in the traffic jam all along that snaking stretch of tarmac! It was, i assumed later, caused due to some trucks which were not able to negotiate one of the many hairpins on that road. Getting thru the jam was kinda difficult, more so with the people who were furious at the bikers, probably because they're not as free as the bikes. But apart form that, the incident hardly got a mention for the rest of the trip and we made is safely to Calicut where an acquaintance of a friend had arranged the rooms, some decent food and fruits. The journey felt good, day one was complete

Day 2: The plan was to clock another 200+ km all the way from Calicut to Alleppy along the west coast (but not within sight of the sea). We left calicut in the morning, our departure times aren't really the best in the world, cause you see, more the number of people in the group, more the constraints. So by the time everybody takes a bath and gets ready, it'll be 8 and 9 by the time we leave a place.

So, that said, we left calicut to get the first taste of what authentic kerala roads (and traffic) was like and it didn't take long for us grow sick of it! cause the roads were narrower that what's in front of my home and the traffic on those roads was relentless, heavy, fast and many times reckless! soon we were in Gurvayur and the road situation was at its worst here, with the so called NH-7 going between two house compounds!
There's a tradition at the Gurvayur temple, that you'll not be allowed inside if you're not wearing a dhoti and shalya, unless of course you're a girl. Thankfully people in the group were aware of the rule and had instructed all of us to pack a dothi and shalya. Changing into that and throwing all our luggage in a cloak room, we went and were blessed with the darshana of Gurvayur Shri Krishna. by the time we came out were all exhausted and were searching for something cool to drink, when i remembered the iced-tea joint to which I'd sneaked and bought myself a cup when everyone was ahead of me going to the cloak room. i pointed this out to the guys and as luck would have it, he had already served the last cup. Here, the guys decided to buy some sweets for all folks back home and office, sweets smelling of coconut oil that is! so, i stepped out of the buying spree. All shopping done for now, we went and parked ourselves in one of the many hotels labelled "Brahmin's" (may be this one didn't have that prefix, don't remember) and had a nice lunch (or as nice as it can get away from your home town/city/state)
On the bike again, next stop was Alleppy, since the schedule was pretty tight, we hadn't planned on visiting the small places around the towns and on the way. The vote to stop on a few beautiful bridges with stunning sceneries itself was a hard one to come by! but we managed that much, at least, after a hot exchange of words at an intermediate rest stop. This whole stopping-on-nice-bridges agreement was half hearted for a few people. One person was more worried about the difficulties of riding at night that he just shot through all the bridges, along with his mute and involuntary pillion, without looking left or right. Among the people who remained as a pack, we had a little dilemma, we had stopped at a bridge ( you can see this in the photos) and we noticed that we would witness our first sunset on that bridge so yanked out our cameras and were waiting. But a couple of others, spearheaded by one person, wanted to see the sunset from a nearby beach. But, this is still a little debated, but, but we thought that there was no way we could've made it to the beach in time for the sunset, so we got a good glimpse of the sun nestling behind the trees and rushed to make it to the beach anyway to see whether we got lucky or not. But, as suspected, we were late, there was only twilight, and in the commotion, we lost one more guy who'd gone astray from the pack (the first guy and his pillion were lost to us by miles already, no sunset too for those two). With just three bikes and five people now, we carried on to a place where we could find a phone or a signal. that we did, first up was the guy who got lost a few minutes ago, he was still around, apparently he'd gone a little further down the beach. There was no problem finding him. By this time it was already late and we decided to stop in Ernakulam, everybody agreeing that the ride to Alleppy wasn't safe at night, and the risk wasn't worth it. So we called the first two guys to tell them to stop riding and find a place in Ernakulam. But it had so happened that those two motor heads had made it to Alleppy and were searching a place to camp at night, 45km away from the rest of us! So, this was a hiccup! but we never gave even a thought to the idea of riding to Alleppy at that time, Ernakulam it had to be. Rode the rest of the distance slowly, found a place, ate and crashed to take care of other things later.

Day3: Was an early start, 5 'o clock my wristwatch showed when i turned on the lights, plan was to leave by six, but the usual long-bather took his time and it was well past 6:15Am when we left. This time i was the first one to disappear on the cold heavily humid foggy morning on the highway, i connected with my bike quite well and pulled clean from the pack and caught those two sleepers in Alleppy by surprise! Finally, after the reunion and exchanging a few jokes about everyone's riding, we went to the place where those two had pitched camp the previous night. It was a nice place, very European, with small rooms, fine wooden doors which open, first the top half, and then the bottom, a large bed on a big wooden cot, sofas on the outside. real classy. but we had no time to admire that, or the old Grundig Radio i found gathering dust under the aquarium. That was because we had all of Kerala's backwater to see and savor. But honestly, i wasn't really that impressed with the boat ride, i mean, it's good, yes, no doubt, but it's relaxing, kind of the stuff which puts you at peace with nature, so, what I'm saying is, it's not something that you watch just for two hours and get back into riding gear and blast off. So, was kinda disappointed. The day was promising though, our first sight of the beach was coming up, in Varkala. It was evening by the time we made it there, the sea was rough, it was nearing sunset and i saw girls begin slam-dunked on the beach by the strong waves all over the place! That made me decide not to get into the water, so i volunteered for the photo-clicking and luggage watching part! The photos came out well (as you Will see). After varkala, there was nothing but the flat out stretch to Trivandrum and the night halt. Things were low on the feel-good factor by now, people were exhausted, bikes were being stretched, so were our backs and, most important of all, the time schedule! After a good sleep in Trivandrum, the journey began again, to Kovalam and the most pleasant beach I've ever seen, the water, a pale blue sheet covering the brown fine sad which stretched for miles on both ends. The water, comfortably warm and only waist deep for a long way into the Arabian sea from the shore, the waves, powerful, sometimes mischievous but never that dangerous to warrant extreme caution. you could afford to let your self be carried away, both literally and otherwise and be assured that the sea is gonna bring you back home, if not in this wave then most certainly in the next. It's a refreshing sight, the salty water in your mouth will take away all sleep, all tiredness and all worries. it was mesmerising, to the extent of forgetting our already lagging schedule. With a heavy heart we were forced to come back on shore and dry ourselves but not before we got a good share of fun.

Back on the bikes again Kanyakumari was the stop, the tip of mail-land India, the culminating point of three huge water bodies, The Arabian sea, The Indian ocean and the Bay of Bengal, two huge mountain ranges, the Eastern Ghtas and the Western. The seas, water nonetheless but each with its own unique color, a shade of it, seeing which people recognize these great masses of water spreading tranquil and quiet as far as your eyes can see or your heads can turn. Barring a puncture right in front of a puncture-mending shop, the ride was lovely. The sense of anticipation was all too much in the group, we could sense the sea approaching, but hiding from sight, playing with our minds, making us wait more. Although the mountains had signaled that we were almost there, it would be a while before the sea finally showed herself to us, and show herself she did, in all her glory. The highway ended at a wall, beyond which was water, water everywhere. There were smiles, hugs and handshakes everywhere. Fists punching the air, sense of accomplishment, awe, contentment, respect for the sea, the bikes and each other. We'd waited a long time to see this, even though we arrived nearly 6 hours behind plan, there were no complaints. Yet, there was a sense of hurry, fueled by the news that the Vivekananda rock and the Kanyakumari temple would close by evening. We had to hurry, skipping our lunch for later, to catch the ferry to get to The Rock. It was a great sight, with thousands of windmills lining the ocean on your left, to the larger than life statue of St. Thiruvallavar on your right, to the small houses behind you shadowed by the huge mountains behind them to the big rock stuck out of place in the middle of the sea with a temple on it in front of you. Vivid is the word i would use. Photos, talk, rest, and a ferry later it was time for lunch/evening snack, whichever is the term but the quantity which went in wasn't about to change at all! if anything it would get bigger. stuffing ourselves with food, we hurried to the sunset spot to witness the sun signing out for the day, as though snuggling into a bathtub that is the Arabian, quenching himself off from his exhaustion of shining relentlessly, it seemed only on the eight of us, throughout the day, after all, he's the one who's truly "too hot to handle". The sight which followed was something to behold! barring a few retards who never stop talking (not in our group mind you), almost everybody was forced into a silence watching the sun as he went down. A day well ended, a night that was very, very Young for us though.
There was a crisis meeting in the parking lot, how far do we ride that night? was the question on eveybody's mind. There were talks of Madurai in one night. An interim decision was taken and Madurai was the name on everybody's lips. I too agreed, i remember saying "come on, tonight, we'll sleep only after bowing down to Madurai Meenakshi" to one of my friends. I had two cups of coffee to peel my eyes wide open, other had one, started our bikes and blasted off kanyakumari, streaking past the windmills, which we realized then that they were mounted on land, towards Madurai. But, as fate would have it, we hit problems, a bike making noises it shouldn't was the last thing we needed at that time of the night. There were anxious moments and phone calls to the mechanic, a green was given to ride on, cautiously. We hit a town not very far, i suggested that we get the bike fixed so we can carry on at full speed. But, that's when we realised the full extent of the problem at hand. The bike was all out of engine-oil, the leaky old cylinder had burnt all but around 100 ml of the 1.1L of it! In the words of the mechanic "a few more km and it would've locked itself solid"!! He put new engine oil and assured it would run, it did actually. After a while from that place, we hit our second problem. Hands were frantically waved for us to stop by the bikes in front, a crisis meet again, the problem: sleep! We were all finding it difficult to concentrate with our exhaustion and sleep. In the end, disappointment, Madurai would have to be the next day. We pitched camp in Tirunelveli out of force. By this time it was certain that we would not come back to mysore on the day we'd planned. That made people with a problem of leaves even more worried. Next morning, as it was on all morning, it was a average start, we had only one more place to stop our bikes and see. All other places from then would only be enjoyed in one eye at 70kmph!

The temple at Madurai was stunning, larger than life, magnificent. It was a shame that we weren't able to explore all corners of it before it closed down for the evening rituals. but we did manage to see the two most important People after whom the temple is named "Meenakshi Sundareshwarar" Sundareshwarar meaning "the beautiful Lord Shiva" and Meenakshi "Godess Parvathi". We had arrived at Madurai at 4 in the evening. It was 6 by the time we came out of the temple, with still a fair distance to make up, we wasted no time roaming around the city. Back on the saddle after reviewing the map which told us Dindigul was the next major town, we headed towards it, numb, cold and mechanical. Partly because of our schedule and partly because the scenery was really bald around that area, there was nothing to see and it would be so for most of the next day too. We stayed at a place 1km out of Dindigul. Next day, it was the big day, having to cover 350km no matter what. I was a little nervous that i would fall asleep somewhere in the middle since i wasn't much of a fan of highway riding! We left early, with a flat-out blast to Dharapuram with myself and the fiero (the bike which nearly broke down the previous day) leading the way. Had good breakfast, as it has been the case on all the days, we were blessed with excellent food, and left for Gopichettipalyam, form there to Satyamangala. A good lunch and we were off to Dimbam forest, at the other side of which, sitting high and pretty, overlooking Satyamangala from a great height, was Karnataka, the place we call our home! The ride thru Dimbam forests was one to enjoy, it was all to obvious that after enjoying the road so much (even falling asleep on the silky smooth black tarmac in that hot sun) we were bound to have a turn, it did come however, but not before we enjoyed the infamous hairpins winding it's way up the hill, the air getting lighter and cooler with every passing hairpin, me having to hold my nose and blow to equalize the pressure in my ears in every other bend. Before we could get used to the brake-downshift-honk-bend routine we topped out the summit and started the descent, a couple of reckless people took lead here descending the hill at breakneck speed much to the horror of their poor pillions! And then there came the stretch of road with the biggest potholes we'd ever seen all week! Quite understandably, since we were used to high speed all the way we never saw the first big hole coming! By the time I arrived, the rest of the gang had stopped on a bad stretch of road, one by one, each one stopping to see how badly the next one would plummet into the ditch! Sadists! That particular stretch was the worst all trip and we all ended up with back pains. We stopped every few kilometers, even with our homes just 60km away, nobody could stand those roads anymore! It was an excruciatingly lengthy and uncomfortable journey back to the city now filled up with lights and tourists from all over the world who'd come to witness the Dasara festivities in Mysore. Another cup of tea later, we were all ready to take the final few photos of what was a remarkable trip, sometimes rough and challenging, mentally and otherwise, but always exciting and refreshing. The talk that evening was all about the beautiful sights we'd witnessed, the people, the roads, the near misses etc, etc... Those memories are etched permanent in all of us! Can't wait for the next big one!

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