Thursday, April 10, 2008

Kra...zzy Five on Kalhatti

Slow down and enjoy life. It's not only the scenery you miss by going too fast - you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.
Eddie Cantor

I almost knew none of them when I started off on this epic tour. But by the end of four days and some 300+ kms, we had competed, laughed, laughed our guts out, disagreed, experimented, hypothesized, quarreled, sweated, Beered and ‘paddled’ up more than just the Kalhatti peak… together.
Personally, it was my maiden long ride on a bicycle, made unforgettable by these specimens (Ravi, Pocha, Gaurav, Sriram) I found enroute!
Inspiring stuff… read on…

Beware: Long slow ride produces long slow rite-up only!

The chief had it all planned, or so we thought. The check list had on it items ranging from ‘bike’ (don’t forget that when you go for a bike ride, eh) to ‘cotton sling’ (were we expecting Mr. Goliath!!) Check the full list here.

Rekha and Donald pulled out of the trip owing to work-pressures and Madhu preferred to do the ride when things were quieter across the border.

So it left us 5 that Friday morning, the 4th April, to board the Volvo Airavata bus at 5:15 to Mysore. Ashish and I were on Firefox – Viper and Target (both borrowed) and the others were on Trek 4300. All, but mine, were 24 speed – which I noticed only when we started climbing…

Day 1:
With the bikes stowed away in the boot of the Volvo, I caught up with some more sleep. After a quick Mysore Mallige Idly breakfast break, we were off from Mysore at 8:30.

First stop was just after the Kabini river at Nanjangud. We had averaged a cool 28kmph for the distance of 21kms. We continued the good work and were at Gundlupet by 10:05 – 50kms in 90mins of riding. We passed some 20 odd Brits riding from through the western ghats on variety of Bullets (a pink bullet n all!) shepherded by Thunder Trails. And when they stopped for a break, kids flocked around these firangs begging for pencils and pens!
It was now about 3hours into our ride, and I started showing signs of inexperience. While on a long run, I would never miss my electral / salt / water intake, I totally missed it on the ride. It was a hot and humid day and I must have lost a lot of salt. My quads started to act up a bit. Sriram rode alongside me for this short stretch and exchanged my backpack with his own lighter one. It helped! But I was still looking forward for a longish break.
Our next stop was at Pugmark, a couple of kms before entering the Bandipur forest. We reached Pugmark at 1230 and rested our bums on cushioned seats (how would ye cagers know the pleasure!) We treated ourselves to fluids (salted!) and lunch till 2:00.

We entered the Bandipur reserve forest with dark clouds threatening to open. Sriram and I did some water-proofing with plastic bags, my own windcheater and Sriram’s rain coat! We caught up with Ashish and Gaurav and we continued in pouring rains and gale. I was more worried for Ravi who had taken off on his own - lone tuskers may not fancy lone bikers!
By the time we reached Teppakadu at 2:35, Ravi had the feeling that a few seasons had passed. Apparently he had reached there during the rains and it seemed peak summer when we got there!
With only 7-10kms left to cover before we would reach Masanagudi, I began to relax. Sriram was getting into the groove with the “British-style bridge” and “listen-to-that-elephant-da-we-are-all-going-to-get-killed”.

Just as we approached Masanagudi, the forest cleared up offering an overwhelming view of the Blue Mountains. Our overnight stay was at this place called Quiet Corner at Mavanahalla, 3kms from Masanagudi.
Ravi and I left soon after to get some 2T Oil for the bike chain lubrication and some Amber fluid to lube our own joints.

Profiling Ravi the Ranjan Kumar
And sitting there in that dimly lit bar at Masanagudi, I heard Ravi’s inspiring story. A couch potato and a huge TV addict not more than 6months ago, saw his 2yr old son following him into the couch. I truly admire parents who teach their kids by example. He sold his TV, jumped out of home and in 6 months is a transformed man, leading a new life.
Since then, he bikes everyday to work, about 20kms one-way and he went on to wind the Enduro3, the triathlon race in Pune this year.
While he contrasted the two lifestyles, we argued on either side and it was not merely the Beer that made me heady that evening.
Such an inspiration, “Be the change you want the world to be.” No prizes for guessing who said that one!

We returned to Quiet Corner by ‘public’ transport – a M&M jeep, it was ‘public’ coz half of Masanagudi public seemed to be packed into the front seat alone.
That night, after dinner, Joy, a faculty at the missionary took us on a night safari. We spotted some sambar, bison (600kg of muscle, Sriram had found his match) and a lone elephant.

Day 2
Ravi, who had a room for himself, shared with us results of an overnight experiment. Good news, guys!
We lubed the chains and eased the idlys and boiled eggs in, ensuring that we gave time to even the last of the ‘early elephants’ to finish off. It’s their mating season apparently, and we didn’t want to be in a bad elephant joke, that goes “What’s got a trunk and does a doggy-doggy?”

Hatti Kalhatti
(Hatti: Kannada verb pl. meaning climb)
We were able to start the marathon climb only by 9. There was no time for warm-up and the ascent began within 15-20mins of the start. 36 hairpin bends over a distance of 20kms, climbing 1500mts in altitude. Kalhatti is one of the steepest climbs in the western ghats – 1.5kms ascent across 36hairpins.

Granny Gears to Granny Gait:
I was quickly onto granny gears 1-1, my 21 shimano gears seemed inadequate. The backpack and the heat weighed all of us down. I was able to last only 2-3 hairpin bends before I moved from granny gears to granny gait – bent almost perpendicular and struggling at the bends.

Gaurav fell behind from the start, he was troubled by a loose pedal. I didn’t see him till the very end of the climb.

It was truly fantastic, the attention we were getting. Many passing cars gave us a thumbs up, as did some workers patching up the road. We didn’t miss any of the vagina falls, bison crossing or the naked chick(en)s! And when we stopped for a break at the 19th hairpin Nagarathina Tea Stall at 11 for ‘pure salt’ biscuits, we were the cynosure of the tourists.

I left the others waiting for Gaurav, to continue my walk-jog-crawl-bike up the remaining distance. As I approached the top, I was accompanied some distance by Vincent, a sweet little girl studying 7th in a local school and then Siva who was pushing up his Hero Atlas cycle and was surprised to find me do the same to my phoren cycle.

I reached the check-post in Ooty at 12:35 and waited till the others caught up by 1:15 or so. It had taken us about 4.5 hours to navigate the distance and even Sriram admitted, “it is easily the toughest ride he had ever done, da!”

The proverbial last mile to the Lakeview restaurant was the toughest. But the inflated prices on the menu matched our inflated egos as we argued over the choice of restaurants.

We left to complete the 20 odd kms left for the day to Coonoor. We passed my personal landmark at Ooty, a wine shop on the Coonoor route, bringing back some memories. We breezed past the Lovedale valley downhill for about 15km. There was so much traffic on that route, when I was not looking ahead, I was looking behind my back.

Srinath Rajam was kind enough to offer us his house, “Anito” while we were at Coonoor. It was taking incongruity to new heights, when 5 sweaty, scantily clad guys walked into the aromatic palatial bunglow complete with trophies, exhibits, chandelier, piano and wall paintings. The bed rooms looked so inviting that Pocha immediately dozed off.

Day 2 ended with all 5 of us clinking Beer mugs at Blue Diamond Bar.

Profiling Pocha and Gaurav:
Pocha aka Ashish is this short guy with long hair, who had finished graduation from Chennai (humble even to admit it was IITM!) Pocha and I shared rooms, and we started to talk about work, entrepreneurship, and love! (ah love!) We both shared a deep sense of understanding (or the lack of it) of the fairer sex. Despite the general fatigue from the ride, we continued to chat on till well past midnight. The depth of his character surfaced when we refused to bribe the KSRTC driver on day5. The halo around his balls (read padded cycling shorts) should spread around the head too one of these days!

Gaurav was the other placid one, not being drawn into anything frivolous. He remained true to biking and I saw him relax only after we had reached Coonoor. He had vast biking experience, had biked up the highest peak of Mullanyangiri amongst others. He had miled more on his bicycle than most people would on motorbikes.

Day 3 and Birthday!

I would have sulked the whole day about a phone call that didn’t come, had it not been for Sriram. I haven’t laughed that much in a long time - best gift I could have got.
We spent a lazy Sunday morning, breakfast of idlys and egg-dosa by 11, deciding on the POA for the return journey all along. We considered and dropped options of riding to Coimbatore, catching a bus from Gudulpet, Ooty or even Coonoor.
Sriram, Pocha and I decided to visit lamb’s rock and Dolphin’s nose more so because of Sriram’s insistence.

We took a bus to Dolphin’s nose and ended up walking back nearly 5kms to Lamb’s rock, with Sriram providing non-stop entertainment. From pissing off the tea stall owner cum guide at Dolphin’s nose to missing the bus because Pocha and I were busy posing for a photo, to spotting a snake (viper!!) it was memorable.

We hitched our way back, a kind Army Major Subramanian gave us a lift.

Profiling Sriram
Aayyoo, it’s the Nilgiris Squirrel da… this is the perfect habitat for it da.
Guys, you missed it.
This is heaven for snakes.
Chee Kheek Kheek Kheek Kheek …
and then wait for the ‘almost extinct’ Nilgiri squirrel to give us that ‘rare sighting’. Only while he did that, there was this loud horn blaring Maruti van that zooms by, bringing us back from National Geographic. Btw, there is no Nilgiri squirrel, it is the Malabar Squirrel!!
I told you then only da…
Hey, you guys are very slow.
Salt biscuit iddya?? I love salt biscuit… have some… Its ‘direct salt’ dude.

This non-stop banterer had biked non-stop from Mysore to Kanyakumari in 6 days early this year. I also know him to run long distances really strong, he was the youngest in the group!

Day 4
At 7, we bid farewell to Francis and ‘Anito’, piled up the bikes into a mini-carrier and reached Talakundi on the outskirts of Ooty to begin the descent at 9.
I simply loved the downhill ride – the pace is heady, the focus is sharp and a right hairpin bend appears at a distance, first the right knee would open, then the weight of the body would shift, the bike would magically tilt as it navigated the curve, the knee would close and straighten, and then the left hairpin bend comes around!

This alternate knee-dance brought us down in no time. We sped past Masanagudi, Teppakadu and Bandipur; Ravi and I clocking 67kmph on his speedometer at one point. A puncture on Ravi’s bike and Guarav’s nagging pedal problem notwithstanding, we reached PugMark outside Bandipur by 1130.

Bandipur was a lovely stretch to ride, we stuck together as a group and returned many greetings from passing cagers.

At PugMark, we met this young wildlife enthusiast who has taken a sabbatical to play guide to tourists at Jungle lodges. The world is full of insane people.

We stopped at Pathans at Gundlupet for full meals. Ravi and Gaurav had to be in Bangalore early and decided to break away from the group. Pocha and I were determined to do the full distance to Mysore. We split up and took off, leaving Sriram, Ravi and Gaurav trying to thumb down a truck or something.

But within the 10mins, we saw Ravi ride past us in flourish. Just when Pocha began to feel like Hrithik of Lakshya, where he manages to motivate his team mates into going after the goal… enters the mallu truck driver who offered to drop them wonlee till Maisore, wokay.

Sriram, Pocha and I continued on good scenic roads to reach Nanjangud by 4 and Mysore by 5.

About 10kms before Nanjangud, a motorbike draws up alongside and the rider apprises me about my speed and my team mates. Dairy Chandru from Nanjangud, stuck with me alongside, discussing the un-seasonal rains, the changing lifestyles of Bangalore, Yugadi festival, his own ‘Hero Atlas’ long rides, his sons education. He ended up inviting me over to his place at Nanjangud. See, I am likable!

The ride finished off with our own Rang-De fight with the Volvo Airavata Bus driver as we refused to pay a bribe for unloading our bikes!
Many thanks to Navdeep who was so very willing to lend me his bike, this wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for you. Thanks!!
Photos Galore here.