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Old 4th January 2008, 13:44   #1
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Post Unexpected offroading at Chikmagalur Coffee Estate (Green Dale)

When I finally got down to writing this travelogue, I ran into a dilemma. Unexpectedly, a good portion of this trip involved off-roading. By that I don't mean driving in bad roads, although that too was involved. Therefore I decided to split the travelogue into 2 parts. This part you are about to read starts as we reach the Kaimara, a small village in the outskirts of Chikmagalur.

We had booked into a Home Stay near Chikmagalur, in an estate named Green Dale. We had managed to get a last minute booking thanks to Team-BHPian Sushrutha. As we neared the turn towards Babubudangiri hills and Datta Peeta, we were confronted with a huge police presence. Apparently this Datta Peeta is a disputed religious seat and police were there to counter any clash during the annual festival. Any outsider was unwelcome and all visitors were getting rigorously questioned. As we got stopped by the police, our home stay host Aravind stepped up and introduced himself. He was waiting there in order to rescue us from the police interrogation. Once the police realized we are his guests, they let us go without further question.

Aravind asked us to follow him and he took off ahead of us in a military green Mahindra Jeep. The surroundings were incredibly pretty along the road dotted with gates to various coffee estates. Soon I had to give up looking around as Aravind was literally zipping through the twisting road, but I was able to easily keep up with him. After few KMs, he turned into a hairpin turn that completely changed the terrain. Suddenly now we were in a hilly terrain with brown wall on one side and sheer cliff on the other side. Soon a tempo traveller got between us and the Jeep and I could no more follow the Jeep at the same pace. And it was a good thing too. After this part, the road got very narrow and treacherous.

Whenever we got oncoming traffic, one of us had to stop and move to the very edge to let the other vehicle go. I don't think I would have followed Aravind at the break-neck pace he maintained even in this stretch. Meanwhile my wife was wooing and aahing at the view on the cliff side, and I refused to follow the view with my eyes, I needed my eyes firmly on the roads. At the next junction, the tempo traveler turned right (towards Mullainagiri) and I found the Jeep waiting for us, and we turned left behind the Jeep.

After a Km or so, Aravind held back to talk to us. He asked me whether I minded some mud roads, I said I am driving an off-roader, so he nodded and took off again. The significance of that comment was yet to sink into me. A little later, we turned (almost hairpin) off from the tar roads into a gravelly mud road. I thought, not bad. A little later one more hairpin curve into a slope. The gravel was still manageable, so there was no issue. After couple of hundreds yards we saw a fork and Jeep quickly took the left after a momentary hesitation. I finally understood the meaning of minding some mud. It was a good 100 yards of loose gravel slope (20-30 degree) with plenty of golf ball sized rocks. I put my faith into 4x4 traction and 200mm GC and took off in 1st gear, didn't bother with diff locks. We were slipping glorious on the loose gravel, but we stayed right on path. It was a short fun-filled slide. Suddenly we were back on tar road. About couple of minutes and couple more hairpin curves later we reached the home stay building. Interesting, these paths were so narrow, at few hairpin turns the Jeep had to take a short K turn to complete the turn, while the wider/longer Grand Vitara could turn very comfortably thanks to small turning radius. As we got down, I wondered how cars manage to negotiate the gravel slope. Aravind said we took the short cut, the cars have to travel 3 extra Kms on tar road to reach the home stay. It was only then he wondered whether GV was a 4WD SUV.

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The home stay was empty other than for us, apparently the other guests had moved into a different guest house that morning. So we practically had the place for ourselves. The lunch was soon served and was delicious. Aravind and I started to chat in the cool afternoon overlooking a great view. It was a funny thing, it was like meeting an old friend, we hit off very well.

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Soon Aravind's dad walks in and introductions are done. As we continued some small talk, I get a call from GTO. I was impressed to see that I can receive Airtel signal in such an interior place. Within 30 seconds I was in shock as GTO told me that Robin in no more. Even he hardly knew any detail, he was wondering whether I was near the computer to find more info. I told him I was at least 3 days away from reaching my PC. Next 30 minutes I couldn't think of anything else, I ended up talking to Aravind and his dad about Robin, his interests, etc. They said they knew some MAI guys and decided to check up. That was the last time I got any signal, I was out of the grid for next two days, only SMSes could get through during some random time.

After the initial shock, since there was nothing else I could, I turned my mind back into chatting with Aravind. He mentioned how he had a broken a knee cap from a bike accident and it pains even now on prolonged standing. Next two days I kept remembering Robin every time I looked at his knee. He told me that both Sushrutha and Lohithrao (Team-BHPians) had told him about my interest in off-roading. Soon he was shocked to find that I have never met both of them. Talk about the power of Team-BHP.

I saw coffee beans up close again 25 years after I left Coorg.
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After two hours of chatting and coffee, he decided to give us a ride through his estate. This estate is no different than a national forest considering it borders the Bhadra tiger reserve. The tiger, leopard, gaur, deer and other wild animals don't differentiate between forest and coffee estate. Aravind sights the big cats at least couple times a week in his estate.

The way into the coffee estate
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As we drove into the estate, my wife sat in front since she was carrying our one year old infant. I sat behind with the camera along with my 7 year old son. But this position didn't help me take any photograph, besides it was quite dark inside the estate for any active photography. So I started taking note of this strangely ordinary looking Jeep.

We have commonly talk about sleeper cars or souped up Jeeps, so this is something new. Gentlemen, please let me present the ultimate Sleeper Jeep.

Mahindra 650 (1986 model)
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Those days Jeeps came only with chassis, no body, just like the trucks. The buyer had to complete the body according to his needs. Check the mods on this baby:
1) Tube type power steering.
2) Remote keyless entry and central locking.
3) Engine immobilizer.
4) Bucket seats.
5) The suspension was too good, don't know what kind. It had great ride comfort.
6) Air conditioning.
7) Ling Long AT tyres.
8) Super crawler mode in 4L
9) ICE in the form of JVC CD player, with well hidden speakers.
10) 4WD with LSD (no diff locks though)
11) Inclinometer to measure the inclines.

This Jeep has done 8,87,000Kms so far, about 7 lakhs under him, about 80% offroad. It can easily do 120kmph on highways, I forget which engine he had on it.

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Tube type power steering.
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Now this is an interesting picture. In 4L mode, his first gear has been changed to a super-crawler gear. The second gear is the original first gear, and so on. To demonstrate the super crawler mode, he set it and jumped out of the Jeep, and in an incline. Notice how the driverless Jeep is moving up the rather steep incline. Aravind was walking next to the Jeep in a leisurely pace.

Look Ma, no driver!
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We also took on an impossible looking 30+ degree incline that was almost half KM long. His inclinometer doesn't measure beyond 30 degree, so we can only guess at the real angle. These trails are so narrow, it only allowed a foot of gap on both sides. One side is high, other side a cliff. If you come across another vehicle, one of them have to backup until some gap is found. Then he tells me that he often zips at 50-60kmph on these trails while chasing the occasionally poachers who hunt/steal in his estate. Those K turns I talked about earlier, he was just being polite, he usually just drifts into hairpins at full zip. Since he knows every nook and corner of this area under every condition, he can probably drive blind-folded here, well almost.

As we drove back around 5:30PM, he asked whether we want to check out some other place considering we still had day light. So we decided to visit Mullainagiri, the highest peak of Karnataka. But I threw in a twist. Since I had just realized the off-roading abilities of the man, I asked him to take the GV for a spin. I wanted to get GV checked out by guy who off-roads everyday as part of his job. And this was a tough enough terrain. He agreed and we switched from Jeep to GV and I showed him how to operate the 4x4 rotary switch. Meanwhile I was wondering how he will take it through that very loose gravel incline. But he avoided that and took another mud road incline 50ft away going almost parallel to the other road. He fortunately remembered GV had plastic skid plates, and didn't want to subject to those flying rocks. It was the other side of that fork. This road was less challenging and GV took it very easily until some loose gravel was encountered. We hadn't noticed it much while coming down, but now it mattered. So he switched to 4L Lock and we hovered over it casually without an event. After that he started pushing the GV through the twisting road with his usual style, but I think he held back considering it was not his Jeep and we had kids in the vehicle. Still it was scary enough. These are barely 10 feet wide roads without any shoulder space, and 100-500ft cliffs on one side, with no barrier. Soon, we reached Seetalaingiri, which is nice scenic spot with a temple.

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While I running around shooting around, Aravind was looking under the GV and muttering It only looks low hung. Meanwhile on villager came to Aravind and reported that a tiger had killed 6 cows right next to the temple. Aravind took the news with boatload of salt, he later commented that people make up all kind of stories to find excuses to kill a tiger. Why would the tiger kill 6 cows when it can eat only half?

As we took off towards Mullainagiri, we had lost the daylight, moon was in full bloom lighting the entire valley, and we stopped to have a look.

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The Mullainagiri was only 3 KMs away over twisting tar roads. Just as we left Seetalaingiri, Aravind tried throwing the GV into a drift in a gravel curve which didn’t work, forcing him to exclaim “Superb Traction”. Anyway, the last KM is gravel and is really scary. The road is narrow, barely 15ft wide and also badly broken. One side is sheer cliff falling 500-1000ft without any barrier. In fact, you will not see anything beyond the road, just horizon beyond the edge of the road. Regular drivers on that road may not notice it anymore, but it is creepy for first timers on that road. If you get an oncoming vehicle and if you have to reverse being on the cliff side of the road, it can be very hectic. But Aravind drove on this road quite casually often creeping very close to the edge.

We reached the foot of Mullainagiri after which one has to climb the steps to reach the top, it was too late for that. So, I stood in heavy winds braving the wind chill to take some night shots.

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Chikmagalur Town from the top
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After the drove back to the estate, as we were parking I asked Aravind about his opinion on GV as an off-roader. He could think of only two issues, wish it had more torque and it feels a little heavy in the corners may be due to the suspension setup.

Next day we drove around a bit (without Aravind) along the Babubudangiri roads, this I will cover in the main report. We didn’t do any offroading this day apart from taking the interesting short-cut, we again did the very loose gravel road slope, that was fun. That night however I was talking to Aravind over dinner and he suddenly wondered whether GV could take that 30+ incline in his estate. I remembered the steep incline I climbed in my first off-road adventure and said it may be possible, but wasn’t ready to test the theory. Next morning however, before we checked out, I had an idea. I asked my wife how about taking the GV through the estate in the same narrow trail and those numerous steep inclines. She was a little worried about getting stuck, but agreed to it. So I told Aravind that we will take the GV with full family into his estate through the same trail, provided he can pull me out of any trouble. He agreed and we took after finishing our packing was done.

It was the scariest drive I have done (with my full family too), often I was inches away from the cliff in grassy/gravel path. It was only then it occurred to me that since GV is wider than the Jeep, I have to venture outside of the well formed Jeep tracks. So I stuck closer to the inside rather than the the cliff side. So I often went over hidden tree roots, rocks and what not. When I finally saw the 30+ degree incline, it looked impossible, in fact it starts with a hairpin curve. I think Team-BHPians lohithrao and shushrutha have seen this incline. Anyway, I switched to 4L lock and started off. It went up in a buttery smooth fashion, no hesitation or slip at all. Aravind was already thinking of a bigger challenge like what if it was raining, etc. Later he asked me to take another 25 degree gravel incline in 4H without diff lock, this time it would be using the rpm advantage of petrol engine. Again it came off very smooth, I took the whole curve in 2nd gear (4H + LSD), while it did slip couple of times, the momentum pushed it through. At one point in an incline I had to stop for a closed gate. He opened the gate and asked me to takeoff without inching back even a little. There I failed by inching back a little since I hadn’t built enough torque. He said that would fail me badly in wet slushy trails. Later I did couple of steep curves in 2nd gear using the higher rpms, nice and easy. I am sure Aravind had to re-evaluate his original opinion of GV, to what extent I can’t be too sure. Hopefully it has raised couple of notches higher than before.

After finishing all the scary parts, we stopped for a photoshoot. The trails seen here are the widest I have seen in this estate.

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Aravind stand proudly in his home territory.
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Once we got out, we bid goodbye to Aravind, our new found friend, and drove away. This was our very first home stay experience, where the host spent nearly 15 hours with us in two days making it a wonderful experience. I really doubt whether all home stay hosts can provide this level of friendly hospitality. It was not like staying in a hotel or a resort, rather it was like staying at the home of a long time friend. When I mentioned this to Aravind, he said Well, that's the real meaning of Home Stay.

Last edited by Samurai : 17th March 2008 at 21:09.
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Old 4th January 2008, 13:51   #2
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ultimate pics Samurai

really loved the sunset pics.
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Old 4th January 2008, 14:14   #3
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Nice report Samurai. The pics are absolutely breath taking. Love the sunset pics with the GV standing there. Absolutely mind blowing

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Old 4th January 2008, 14:15   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Samurai View Post
our new found friend, and drove away. This was our very first home stay experience, where the host spent nearly 15 hours with us in two days making it a wonderful experience. I really doubt whether all home stay hosts can provide this level of friendly hospitality. It was not like staying in a hotel or a resort, rather it was like staying at the home of a long time friend. When I mentioned this to Aravind, he said Well, that's the real meaning of Home Stay.
Samurai,
That's the good part of Aravind. He's one very good Host indeed. Last time around when I had suggested Lohithrao, he too had the same feeling about Arvind.
Nice report n excellent pics samurai
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Old 4th January 2008, 14:18   #5
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Excellent pictures.... Great write up....
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Old 4th January 2008, 14:22   #6
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thats a nice report Samurai. Guess the real test would be the monsoons, when slush and rivulets are abound.
Your coffee pics brought back memories of Chickmanglur. Hope to make it to this place sometime this year.
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Old 4th January 2008, 14:31   #7
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Your not the Samurai for nothing, !!!

Awesome report...and really well captured pics, Sir.

Maybe someday in the near future, I will be glad to explore this route on a 4x4 myself.

Thank you for sharing your lovely experiences.

Just feels very good.

Cheers
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Old 4th January 2008, 14:33   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tsk1979 View Post
Guess the real test would be the monsoons, when slush and rivulets are abound.
Your coffee pics brought back memories of Chickmanglur. Hope to make it to this place sometime this year.
Last october was the nice time to vist CKM n mullaingiri, Coz the hill was fully filled with violet coloured flowers, which come(flower) once in 12 years( i don't remember the exact name of the plant/flower) it was such a beautiful sight to see. Many ppl came from all places just to see the flowers.
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Old 4th January 2008, 14:49   #9
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@Samurai: I see you're getting ready for the next KELAMBAKKAM.

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Old 4th January 2008, 14:54   #10
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Very good pics Samurai! Great Narration! Please do PM me the details of the resort!

Quote:
Coz the hill was fully filled with violet coloured flowers, which come(flower) once in 12 years( i don't remember the exact name of the plant/flower) it was such a beautiful sight to see. Many ppl came from all places just to see the flowers
And yes the flower is called "Neelakurinji"...
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Old 4th January 2008, 15:26   #11
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Excellent writeup Samurai,
With every line it was as if I was experiencing the beauty, adventure, GV capabilities etc.. As I am not able to do my long drives now, reading your travelogue was truely a refreshing change for me...

Abhi
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Old 4th January 2008, 15:56   #12
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Samurai,
Very nice writeup. Below picture is very beautiful. I liked the evening light of setting sun which is highlighting your GV and the surroundings.

Next time position your GV so that the dead tree doesn't hinder the view or may be some photshopping work will help a bit in improving this pic.

Anyway, enjoyed the whole writeup.

-DTP

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Old 4th January 2008, 16:10   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by deepaktpatil View Post
Next time position your GV so that the dead tree doesn't hinder the view or may be some photshopping work will help a bit in improving this pic.
Deepak, that dead tree was brought into the frame intentionally to break the otherwise smooth scene. I was just experimenting with composition. Those branches at top right and above GVs top could be removed I suppose.
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Old 4th January 2008, 16:22   #14
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Great pictures & writeup Samurai san.

Have you thought of sending those amazing pictures to MSIL, they could use it for their promotions.

Cheers

PS: Samurai / Sushrutha, PM the details of the homestay.
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Old 4th January 2008, 16:35   #15
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: : Holiday Mantra : : Homestays In Coorg, Kerala, Goa. Package Tours, Leisure Holidays And Advenutre Holidays In Manali, Rajasthan And All Over India

Here is the link to the home stay, but I don't want to post his phone number publicly. PM either me or Sushrutha for the number.
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