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Old 5th April 2011, 22:26   #1
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Post Just Another Travelogue - A Roller Coaster Ride with the Wind

Confession: I tried my best not to copy any lines from Greek philosophy. But I couldn’t help it after this motorcycle ride which was made along with the wind blowing across Western Ghats in the Southern part of this lovely vast country.

“Life is a journey, not a destination” – The same holds good even for a Motorcycle Ride. I strongly believe that journey is more important than the destination itself in a ride. Here is a travelogue about 5 riders who partially and fully believe this philosophy of motorcycling without any loss of generality.

For the reader, I would prefer to specify the destination even though the word is of no significance to these riders. Sultan Bathery or Sultan’s Battery in the district of Wayanad, Kerela was chosen as the destination which was unanimously agreed by everyone the reason being that no one had clue about the geographical coordinates of this place. So life was easy for me to check the route and places of stay en route. Originally the plan was to ride for 3 days which was later reduced to 2 days which again changed to 2.5 days but finally ended up with 3.5 days as God wanted it that way to enrich the life experience with lot of lessons.

Route: Coimbatore ---> Annur ---> Mettupalayam ---> Kotagiri ---> Ooty ---> Gudalur ---> Devarshola ---> Sultanbathery ---> Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary ---> Bandipur Wildlife Sanctuary ---> Gundlupet ---> Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary ---> Theppakadu ---> Masinagudi ---> Kalahatty ---> Thalaikundha ---> Ooty ---> Kotagiri ---> Mettupalayam ---> Annur ---> Coimbatore

Distance traveled: 700 km

Let me introduce the riders and their steeds:

Me with RE Bullet STD 350
Anand with Bajaj Pulsar 150
Deepak with Bajaj Pulsar 150
Bhupesh as pillion rider (later got to ride Anand’s motorcycle – reason would be unfold in due course)
Sundar with Hero Honda Splender +

This group consists of riders owning different bikes, having different levels of riding experiences, having their own riding styles, first timers to ghat terrain and many more. A sum of 700 km in 3 days with 80% of ghat riding is definitely not going to be an easy ride. But all these were overlooked as the common point of interest in the group was to ride till the butt is left with “saddle marks”.

Day 1: 25th March 2011 - After having lot of discussions and confusions, we decided to leave at 4.00 PM on this day and take the road as it unfolds. After filling the petrol tanks, taking the insurance papers which was left at home absentmindedly (courtesy – Sundar) and some photo session at the petrol station (???), the group left exactly at 4.45 PM from Coimbatore. We started riding on the super smooth Sathyamangalam highway towards Annur. It was only 30 minutes past the start of the ride. The rain gods started showering their blessings along with strong wind and dark clouds. The first unexpected hindrance has now hit as expected.

Taking shelter in a tea shop along the highway brought relief to us and good business for the shop owner. We emptied few tens of rupees for tea and biscuits. Originally the plan was to stay at Ooty. Now it had to be changed as the rain gods never bothered to show mercy for almost 60 minutes. This brought the issue of reducing the time consuming ghat riding as much as possible on the first day. So Kotagiri was chosen to halt for the night. We started our motorcycles in spite of getting drenched in the drizzle and started to ride towards Kotagiri. For the less informed reader (now on would be called as LIRE), Kotagiri is a hill station in Nilgiris.

A steady ride brought us to Mettupalayam around 7.00 PM. We relaxed for few minutes and started our first ghat ride of the trip with Kotagiri as the destination for the day. I have driven many times on this route before. But this was the first time I really enjoyed the ride. Reasons probably could be the group with whom I am riding, the after effect of the rains, chill breeze during the night and my steed being a Motorcycle this time. Approximately 90 minutes of ride in the Nilgiris ghat brought us to Kotagiri at 8.30 PM with few pit stops for photos, leak and tea. Now came the task of finding an accommodation for the night stay. While Bhupesh and I were trying to find some place to rest, the rest of the group were busy enjoying the hot chicken soup from a road side eatery. I think it should be really heaven for these guys to drink a cup of hot soup after a tiring ride on a hilly terrain in the night.

With few phone calls and searches, we finally settled down for “Belair Cottages” which was few meters away from the town centre. This was the same place I had stayed on an earlier occasion too. The place is good with home cooked tasty food options. The charge was Rs.1500 for 5 people and the food bills were separate. After a heavy dinner and some chat, we called it a day.

Day 2: 26th March 2011 – The second day woke us up with heavy rains and cloudy morning. This caused a delay of about 2 hours in our plan which was unexpected as expected again for the second time. We checked out at 10.00 AM from the cottage after a tasty breakfast and tea. The plan was to ride to Sultanbathery via Ooty, Gudalur and Devarshola. With few pit stops for photos, tea and rains we reached Gudalur at 2.00 PM. En route we halted at a view point overlooking Naduvattam valley. Sundar, Anand and Deepak decided to have a glimpse of the valley while Bhupesh and I stayed back guarding the luggage. A late lunch was done at Gudalur and the master ride to Sultanbathery started with the clouds finally giving up seeing our commitment to get a saddle sore.

For the LIREs, the route from Gudalur to Sultanbathery is a driver’s paradise with the roads showing up all of their curves and edges with silky smooth skin. It passes through 6 check posts with the number split of 3 each to Tamilnadu and Kerela along with a 20 km stretch of an unknown forest range in the Western Ghats.

This was the ride which brought some interesting and bitter experiences to the group. Sighting of 3 wild elephants just 20 m away from the road is what I have described here as an interesting experience. The jumbos were happily munching their evening snacks and our riders were clicking photos with terror stricken faces. The bitter part being, one of the riders (Anand) was trying to negotiate a sharp turn when he lost his balance, skidded and fell on the tar road causing lot of bruises in spite of wearing a leather jacket and a broken finger. A previous caution to wear helmet had now paid off preventing some really disastrous moments for the rider. This miraculous escape with minor injuries could be called as luck or God’s grace. My Mantra for all my rides and for fellow riders – “Wear helmet and other safety gears to remain alive for the next ride”.

The stay in Sultanbathery was already booked by a telephone call. Orchid Resorts is a beautiful property amidst forest and by the side of a river. The resort is situated on the same Gudalur – Sultanbathery highway just after crossing the last Kerela check post when entering from Tamilnadu side. The charge for a night’s stay was Rs.2500 for 5 people with food bills amounting separately. We checked into the resort, unloaded the packs and stretched our legs. Anand was busy applying ointment all over his body while Sundar and I were refreshing in the resort pool. Bhupesh and Deepak were wondering what to do next!!!

We gave the order for the dinner and decided to buy few pre-dinner items. The nearest town from the resort was Sultanbathery which was 15 km away with reserve forest in between. So I decided to buy necessary things from Sultanbathery and started my Bullet along with Sundar as the pillion rider. It was a wonderful ride through the forests during the dusk when the third unexpected thing happened as expected. This time it was the clutch cable of the Bullet! The clutch cable broke in the middle of nowhere around 7.00 PM. All darkness, no immediate human habitation, reserve forest around and worst of all no spare clutch cable available!!!

When I take the unknown roads in my solo rides, I blindly believe in two things – My Bullet and The Almighty – first one created by human and the second one which created the human. I know for sure that during tough times, one of them would come to my rescue. I had the same belief this time also without giving any room for exceptions. Also I somehow have a strong feeling that luck, fortune and God favors only the brave. So I started looking out for possible options to bail us out of this tough time. Sundar was already prepared to push the mighty 185 kg machine and me on it as the laden weight in case we find a slope so that I can slot it in the first/second gear with the motorcycle moving. With few failed attempts, I was finally successful in slowly riding the motorcycle to Sultanbathery hoping to fix my Bullet. In the mean time Sundar who was left alone had some scary moments as he heard some strange noise from the super dark forest which could be any of these – Leopard/Tiger/Elephant/Wild Cat/Sloth bear/Jackal and the imagination is boundary less.

Sultanbathery is another sleepy town in God’s own country with most of the localites preparing themselves for a Salvation session accompanied by Barley Water quite early in the evening. I knew that finding a worker after 8.00 PM on a Saturday is going to be stressful. After some enquiring and running around, I could finally get a mechanic who knew a Bullet mechanic. Getting a Bullet mechanic is generally difficult here as you don’t find many of them in such small towns. Once again – luck or God’s grace as you call it, I was successful in getting one. With few phone calls to the mechanic and a quick run to the spare parts dealer ( I could get only old model cable), my Bullet was finally fixed by the expert and was back to good health and this time even better in terms of breathing, idling, accelerating, decelerating and et al. I thought this incident was destined to happen to prepare my Bullet for the hectic ride to come in the next 2 days. Again some phone calls to the resort and now we had Deepak, Sundar and Bhupesh in Sultanbathery. Pre-dinner items were bought and we were riding back to Orchid Resort through the isolated terrain with only 3 bikes emitting smoke in the whole 15 km stretch of forest belt at 9.30 PM

Dinner, chatting and watching TV were all that we did before crashing for the day. I would call the second day ride to be most hectic and stressful in the whole trip.

Day 3: 27th March 2011 – It was already discussed and decided the previous day that Anand would drop out for rest of the trip due to the accident and would take a bus from Sultanbathery to Coimbatore on day 3. Now Bhupesh would be riding Anand’s bike for rest of the trip and this reveals the reason behind a pillion rider turning out to be a main rider. We checked out of the resort at 8.30 AM and rode towards Sultanbathery for breakfast and a bus for Anand’s travel. We spent some time trying to fix the bike ourselves which Bhupesh was riding. Due to the skid, the foot rest got damaged and it was difficult to handle the bike without that. A temporary solution was found for the bike’s foot rest, had breakfast, sent-off Anand and started to ride towards Gundlupet via Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary and Bandipur Wildlife Sanctuary.

During my previous trips, I have ridden through and visited some of the Wildlife Sanctuaries (WLS) and National Parks (NP) in the Western Ghats like Chinnar WLS, Eravikulam WLS, Parambikulam WLS, Silent Valley NP, Annamalai WLS, Chinmony WLS, Thattekadu WLS, Mukurthi NP, Mathikettan Shola NP and now during this trip rode through Muthanga WLS, Bandipur WLS and Mudumalai WLS. I would safely say that the road conditions in the last 3 WLS are much better and well maintained than the others. So once again there was a treat waiting for the riders in the form of fantastic roads, beautiful nature and wild life spotting. I was not so optimistic about wild life spotting as we were riding during summer and that too during the day which is in all cases very unfavorable for animal sighting.

After an excellent and rejuvenating ride through the forests with some deer spotting, we reached Gundlupet around 1.00 PM. Our fellow rider Deepak had shown us some wonderful pictures of a place called Gopalswami Betta before our trip started. Again for LIREs, this place is around 15 km from Gundlupet en route Mudumalai WLS. We decided to check this place out. At the entrance we came to know that there is also a temple on the hill top and very famous among the locals. Being a part of the Bandipur NP belt, there were strict restrictions regarding the items one carries to the hill top. I was asked to deposit Rs.100 for the water bottle and water being more vital for survival than Rs.100, I made a deposit. We bought tickets for our motorcycles (Rs.25 each) and started the climb towards the hill top. On the way I gave lift to a tribal village man whose language sounded similar to Kannada with heavy local accent. He was happy to be the pillion rider of a mighty Bullet!

I would like to say few words about the state of the road conditions here. In spite of collecting a huge entry fee and many pilgrims visiting the temple, the road is really in a pathetic state. I had to change the definition of bad roads after taking this one. Even the remotest Vazhachal <-> Makkapara <-> Valparai stretch is relatively better when compared to this. Reasons like ghat roads in forest, no budget availability etc. does not make any sense at least for such a spot.

The earlier plan to have lunch in some restaurant changed immediately after seeing the temple Prasad on offer. It was a proper meal with rice, sambar, pongal and curd rice which was being served to the pilgrims by devotees themselves. It was a good meal and we enjoyed to the fullest. I felt that Lord Krishna showered his blessings for a safe journey by offering food in such a sacred place! With a full stomach and little sleepy eyes, we left Gopalswami Betta for another interesting ride through Mudumalai WLS.

Just with few kilometers of ride, we entered the Mudumalai WLS welcoming us with pictures of Wildlife spotted in these areas. There were boards everywhere not to disturb wildlife, cautioning about throwing plastics and over speeding. Personally I am not keen on venturing into the virgin forest in the name of Safari. I always prefer privacy in my life and also wish the same for the Kings and Emperors of these forests. Let them live in privacy and peace. Why to disturb them by wearing camouflaged dresses and carrying high zoom cameras in the name of wildlife spotting?

Once again it was an excellent ride on the butter smooth roads. Good to see the speed breakers in the WLS as otherwise our irresponsible speed maniacs and psychos would wipe out the entire Fauna of the Sanctuary as part of their massive ethnic cleansing program which is already happening in full swing with the Flora part.

We reached a place called Theppakadu which is the entry point for Mudumalai WLS tours. From here there are 2 routes to Ooty. One is via Gudalur with a total distance of 65 km. Another is a shorter route via Masinagudi and Kalahatty with a total distance of 30 km. The highlight of this route is that it has 36 really sharp and steep hair pin bends within 12 km. Our choice was to take this route as we wanted to explore the new route as the other one was already taken during the onward journey. We rode through some deep forests stretch of Mudumalai and reached Masinagudi. For LIREs, Masinagudi is a small village 7 km from Theppakadu which is the stopping/halting point for the so called Wildlife enthusiast from Metros who come here in their gas guzzling SUVs. Masinagudi has some resorts and hotels to talk about. There is no ATM here. So carry cash in case you plan activities around this sleepy village like safari, camping, trekking etc. An additional piece of information – a small village called Bokkapuram which is another 4 km from Masinagudi is the place you should look out for if you are really looking for adventure filled activities. There are some resorts and of course expensive ones (starts from Rs.1000 per person per night stay) which arranges for safari, camping, trekking, wildlife spotting and alike. Information can be taken from Mr.Google.

With 3 instances of unexpected hindrances already taking a toll on our trip as expected, I was eagerly expecting for the 4th unexpected hindrance. Nature all around us could easily hear the mind voice and it said – now it comes – heavy downpour – a torrential rain!!! Luckily Bhupesh was in Masinagudi when this happened and others were in some “God only knows place”. As bravery is favored by factors already mentioned, we rode in the torrential rains till we found a shed next to a thatched hut which could be now used as a shelter from Nature’s fury in the remotest of the Western Ghats. Incidentally, the place happened to be a tribal village and after that nothing for next many kilometers and my faith in God was becoming stronger!

Now it was 5.00 PM and Sun was struggling with Clouds and Mountains to show its face but all in vain. Torrential rains coupled with dark clouds is definitely not an ideal combination to start a steep ride of 36 hair pin bends within 12 km. Whoever tries this should be really insane! So it was time to decide what to be done next. We had no options other than finding a place to sleep in Masinagudi. Masinagudi being a small village and only with expensive resorts, it is also not going to be easy to find budget accommodation. We called Bhupesh who was already struck there to inform about the plans for the night and to find out some accommodation. When the place of halt was being explored, 3 of us rode back to Masinagudi again in heavy downpour as no mercy was shown by The God of Rain!!!

Riding on narrow roads with sludge on both sides with oncoming SUVs/Jeeps (from where the hell these fellows come at this point of time??) in heavy rains is the least a rider would prefer in his whole trip. We had that now. With extra careful riding, we finally reached Masinagudi and were happy as there was already a room waiting for us. It was in some MK dot Com home stay. The charge was Rs.800 for 4 with Rs.100 for an extra bed. The room is definitely not in league with what we used the previous nights, but surely a welcome in the situation we were exposed to at that point of time. As said in the book “One Life to Ride” by Mr.Singhani, “one should expose themselves to some discomfort to really appreciate and enjoy the comfort he gets everyday”. I make it a point to follow this at least during my trips.

Parked the motorcycles on a level ground and checked into the room only to hang and dry the wet clothes we were wearing. After a round of tea, we set out to explore the village. Bought few things like banana, hair oil, chips and very importantly MH for me and the best analogy for this being petrol for Bullet. After a dinner session and some chat, we called it a day. What an interesting and wonderful day it was!

Day 4: 28th March 2011 – The day started with Deepak splitting from the group and riding directly to Coimbatore as he had some urgent work to finish. He had later called me to inform that he had taken the Kalhatty route and was worth taking it. This further increased our interest to ride beyond the horizons (yes, we could see mountains, mountains and mountains around!). The group is now with 3 riders. As we already decided to spend the rest of the day riding, we wanted to check out the Theppakadu Elephant camp and Moyar river. We reached Theppakadu and had a heavy and tasty breakfast from a small eatery run by Tamilnadu Tourism. The food was really a charge for rest of the day. Late start from the hotel room and indulging in the worldly pleasures (read breakfast) delayed our entry to Elephant camp and the Elephants were already retired for the day after their morning show. I think such Jumbos also need rest in life.

Next ride was to Moyar which took us again back to Masinagudi and further 12 km northwards. This road is through dense forest and apparently this route seems to be the route for Safari after dusk (7.00 PM to 9.00 PM to be precise). We could spot lot of deer, peacock and Elephant droppings! With nothing much to do near the Moyar dam (photography is prohibited as with similar power stations) we started our ride back to Masinagudi and further to Ooty via the most eagerly awaited Kalhatty route.

The roads were really in good condition and scenic as imagined and expected. The all time famous 36 hair pin bends in 12 km was ofcourse the favourite stretch with our steeds climbing in 1st/2nd gears most of the ride. After a 90 minutes climb, we could finally see some plains near the Thalaikundha and Pykara junction en route to Ooty. Further ride to Ooty and then to Kotagiri gave us a chance to have our noon meals early in the evening. Then we being really crazy riders, decided to visit Kodanad view point and Estate. For the LIREs, Kodanad view point overlooks the vast Mysore Plateau, a village called Thengumarahada, Moyar River and Rangasamy peak. For trekkers, there is a path from here till Thengumarahada through Shola forests. Kodanad Estates came to lime light after Ms.Jayalalitha (Ex-CM, TN) built her rest house (actually a massive Bungalow) here.

After some photo sessions and hot tea from Deccan Valley Resort, Kodanad, we started our return journey via Kotagiri, Mettupalayam and Annur. As thought earlier, the group got split and we met Sundar only the next day as he took the Mettupalayam Road to Karamadai instead of Annur. Bhupesh and I met few kilometers before Annur, bid a formal goodbye and started riding. Night riding on the Sathyamangalam road was quite a pain but with a reflector jacket the lorry drivers dimmed their head lights (may be thought some cop is riding!!).

Reached home at 9.00 PM. After dinner, crashed on the bed and called it a day. Our interesting trip ended successfully making us wanting more of such rides.

While writing these lines, I have already finalized the next destination for my Motorcycle Ride:

Germalam in the Sathyamangalam Forest Ranges, Biligiri Rangan Hills, Eastern Ghats. Once the territory of Forest Brigand Veerappan, now it is a calm and sleepy village on the lap of Mother Nature. Motivation for the fellow riders – You may spot Bears here!!!

Ride Safe, Live Longer, Ride More!!!
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