Tuesday, August 22, 2006

God's Own Country - Wayanad, Calicut, Kochi

Day 1
Route – Bangalore > Mysore > Nanjangud > Gundalpet > Sultan Bathery > Edakal Caves
Distance – 285 kms
Moolah – 600 (Petrol) + 5 (Nuts) + 35 (lunch) + 5 (entrance ticket) + 25 (phone calls) = 670

Day 2
Route – Sultan Bathery > Soochipara > Pookote Lake > Kozhikode > Malappuram > Guruvayur > Kochi
Distance – 380 kms
Moolah – 450 (Petrol) + 100 (Lodge) + 5 (Biscuit) + 50 (ol’ couple) + 15 (Pookte entry) + 18 (Omlette) + 15 (temple) = 653

Day 3
Route – Kochi > Komarakom > Ambalapuzha > Kollam > Attingal > Trivandrum > Kovalam
Distance – 200 kms
Moolah – c/o Salil = priceless

Day 4
Route – Trivandrum > Varkala > Kaapil > Kochi
Distance – 200kms
Moolah – 60 (fruits) + 200 (dinner) = 260

Day 5
Route – Kochi > Trissur > Palakad > Salem > Mettur > Hosur > Bangalore
Distance – 550 kms
Moolah – 450 (Petrol) + 30 (Breakfast) + 500 (Petrol) = 980

Total Distance traveled – 1230
Total Expense – 2600
Average speed on return journey – 60kmph
Average money spent – 2.11 Rs/km

It was the first anniversary for the bullet and with the long weekend, it was perfect recipe for a long ride. It had been sometime since I rode solo and in more ways than one, this was a resurrection of my faith in my bullet.
Initially I thought Goa would make a good ride. But it had been raining cows and buffaloes there. Heading towards Kerala sounded like a far better option. A plan took shape with inputs from a pro Syd and a close pal Salil.

I stocked up some basic spares - Spare Spark plug, Spare Clutch & Acc cables, spare inner-tube, pieces of wire, a new visor and Cramster saddle bag borrowed from Doc Subbu. I did some googling on the places to visit, distances and printed out maps on Friday.

Day One:
Route – Bangalore > Mysore > Nanjangud > Gundalpet > Sultan Bathery > Edakal Caves
Distance – 285 kms
Moolah – 600 (Petrol) + 5 (Nuts) + 35 (lunch) + 5 (entrance ticket) + 25 (phone calls) = 670

I like to remember my silent prayer when I heard rattling noise from the engine over my Sony Network Walkman, about 90mins into the ride, before Maddur. Fearing the worst, I stopped to check. Perched on my toes, squatting alongside the bullet, throttle on one hand, I blissfully ignored the stares from the cars I had passed not a long time ago. I open throttle to locate the source of the noise. Bingo!! The KBC style “Aap ka jawab… bilkul sahi hai” applause-applause effect. What follows next is easy, you just need to open your set of tools, find the 12inch spanner and pair of pliers and tighten the nut. You are now the hero, the greased fingers adding to the effect. I guess, I even returned some of the stares of the cagers (aka cars) then. The heroic moment couldn’t have been more evanescent though. Barely seconds later, the rattle returned. In the first bend-over look, I saw one and in the next, another - there were two loose bolts, nuts missing. If things had stayed this way, it would have been one nutty ride. At Maddur, I stopped at the only mechanic shop that was open that early. For one bolt the match was easy, the other one needed treatment on a table vise with some oil to help the screwing job.
I bypassed Mysore straight to Nanjangud. Stopped over at a cousin, Veena’s place for breakfast of red dosas with honey. Just outside Nanjangud, the rains caught up. As I pulled over into an abandoned hotel to change to rain gear, an all smiling family in a car were vehemently waving out at me.
The route to Gundlupet brought back vivid memories of the ride to Masanagudi. To reach Wayanad, you need to take a left just after Gundalpet. The road is sooper, with perfect picture postcard scenery all along. The cool breeze, the mild drizzle, the endless fields of Marigold and Maize and the Nilgiri hills in the background, with the clouds crowing the peak, just soak in I say. No amount of photography skills can frame such serene beauty (not a bad excuse for some sloppy fotos, eh). Met a bullet couple – Deepang and wifey on their way to Wayanad.
I saw some elephants in the Bandipur forest range and some buffaloes as I entered Wayanad. And then there was this bullet headed in the opposite direction, wasn’t going nowhere really. Two mallus were trying to get it started, kicking frantically. I put on the mechanic manja hat, parked my bullet and said “battery” (that, it was the name of the place where I was going had nothing to do with it, btw) and they checked for loose connection, found a solder had come off, kept it in place and it started.
I reached Sultan Bathery (pronounced bàthérry) at 2 in the afternoon. Pradeep’s bro, Pramod and Eldo run an internet café- CopyCat, in the center of the town. I dropped in there, shed off the extra layers of clothing (it takes a while really) and off load the saddle bag. I must have looked extra-terrestrial in the first sighting, reinforced by the fact that I didn’t speak no Malayalam (you never know if I typed that backwards, ha ha).
Jitesh helped me with making plans for the rest of the day. First, lunch and a nearby Hotel Prince - biryani, salad and water flavored with Pathimukam bark, which gives a red tinge to the water. Legend is that five buckets (big ones) of this can get you drunk.
Edakkal Caves:
This is about 15kms from Sultan Bathery, the ride takes you through narrow, winding roads. A forest department jeep takes you to the foot of the Ambukuthi hill. The Kannada phillum, “Edakkal Gudada mele”, was shot here. It is a long trek uphill, a rope climb sometimes, stone steps or an iron ladder otherwise. The view from the top is what you have do this climb for. I raced down from the place with hopes of also riding to Soochipara falls that evening. But with all the clouds and rain, I was advised against it.
I got back to CopyCat and settled down in a room in Prince Lodge. I joined Eldo, Jitesh and Rajin in their Saturday night pardy – Napoleon Whiskey (bottoms-up with soda) followed by Poori and ‘kattan chai’ (black tea) at a TattuKada (some tattukada stories here). The quote for the day would have to be “ade poitilla, ade eeni varugeyam illa”, “it has not gone, it will not come”, Rajin’s description of his love story. I got some tips on how-to-grow-hair by one Dhoni style server at the tattukada. Ask Appututtan Ungle, they say, so simble no. Sleep happened only at 1:30am.

Day Two:
Route – Sultan Bathery > Soochipara > Pookote Lake > Kozhikode > Malappuram > Guruvayur > Kochi
Distance – 380 kms
Moolah – 450 (Petrol) + 100 (Lodge) + 5 (Biscuit) + 50 (ol’ couple) + 15 (Pookte entry) + 18 (Omlette) + 15 (temple) = 653
Pack up and checked out by 6 in the morning. I had to visit Soochipara falls and Pookote lake before I leave Wayanad. Asking for directions in Kerala is something of an art. You have use all your organs (hands, fingers, eyebrows, small intestine to make those noises that is supposed to pass off as Malayalam) for the exercise. And when I found this one local who replied in Kannada, I got him to make my entire travel plan – ride to Soochipara, then Kalpetta and Pookote lake.

Soochipara Falls: (Soochi = needle, para = rock)
The ride to the falls was divine. The road curves through endless hills draped with a velvet carpet of multi shades of green estates, a belligerent sliver rivulet and clouds which lowered themselves to add to the beauty. A 20km ride in the tea estates took me to the end of the road. I parked at the only house on top and trusted the old couple with my saddle bag. I had to once again put my acting skills to test to figure out the directions. You have to walk a kilometer or so down stone steps into thick forest. The light drizzle, thick undergrowth and the ever-increasing roar of the falls can give anyone goose bumps. You don’t know what to expect, how far you have to go, and have no one to ask - the feeling can be quite enervating. In Soochipara, the suspense is well preserved, an emotional roller-coaster - from a feeling of anxiety to one of pure joy. One could sit there looking at the water mass and forget the world. And why I enjoyed it most, was because I was, with myself.
Pookote Lake:
Any place, even if only dotted with a few people would fail to impress after Soochipara falls. Pookote lake is a picnic spot, with boating, children’s park, horse ride, the works. I liked it for the Bread omelette and the morning jog around the lake. I also liked the two girls who were alone, tried to strike a conversation. But just after the ‘hi’ I realized, I doing bad on time and couldn’t afford such luxuries (we can take the true version offline; can’t we?).
The ride down from Kalpetta to Kozhikode is also very scenic, offering a great view of the ghats. Foot-lever scrapping stunts were impossible, the bad roads more than made up for the great view.
IIM Kozhikode:
I reached Kozhikode at noon, over shot the IIMK campus by 7kms, before spotting the not so prominent entrance to the campus. The trick to enter the campus is to not stop and ask for permission. I was so confident of this; I even gave an unsuspecting security guard a lift to the top. IIMK is on top of two hills – one houses the faculty quarters and the other the hostels and the acad blocks. With little help from Gaurav Banerjee, I located a group of Bangaloreans chilling out at the cafeteria – Suma, Sheeba, Simon and Bala. The energy and vibrancy of the campus life with discussions of projects, placements, B-schools contests, I vicariously re-lived it all in those two hours on campus. Simon was kind enough to show me around campus and more importantly, to offer me lunch at the mess. Picturesque campus with a panoramic view of the hills and coconut grooves and tiled roof Kerala style architecture, makes it one of the best campuses I have seen.
Guruvayur temple:
When I left IIMK, I neither expected the bad roads nor the weather to turn so hostile. To add to it, there were local buses with some unruly driving on those potholed roads. Soon after I left Kozhikode, the skies opened. Boredom / mental fatigue peaked during this stretch and I simply wanted to get done with all of this. I reached Guruvayur amidst incessant rain at 4:30, parked at the temple grounds, dropped off the bags at the cloak room and changed into panche (mundu) and towel. I took a dip at the temple pond, Rudratheertha, before I joined the single long queue to enter the temple. The temple was not spectacular, and one minute in the sanctum was hardly enough to evoke any religious fervor. The temple and the deity are very powerful. You can read all about Guruvayur here.
Back on the highway at 6:30, I covered good ground in the twilight. Tail light strategy was deployed yet again to counter those fackers with high beams. For some distance I followed a taxi, and then a KL07 7773 Qualis. I am getting to enjoy this kind of night riding, using taxis to my advantage. The rain and the darkness were not too much of a deterrent and I reached Cochin by 8:30. Salil, my close friend from MCE days, came to direct me to his house, off the Cochin-Trivandrum highway. I received a warm welcome with sweets, halwa and tea at his mansion.
After story-telling, photographs and dinner I hit the bed at 11:30pm.

Day three:
Route – Kochi > Komarakom > Ambalapuzha > Kollam > Attingal > Trivandrum > Kovalam
Distance – 200 kms
Moolah – c/o Salil = priceless
Salil, Arsheen, his MIL, a cousin and I left in Salil’s car for Trivandrum at 8:30, although we had made ambitious plans of leaving at 6. It is so different traveling in a car; I read this bit in ‘Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance’ and can’t agree more. You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it's right there, so blurred you can't focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.
The rain continued to torment us and I welcomed being caged for the drive. Arsheen was Salil’s speed monitor. We stopped to check out a beach close to Ambalapuzha where a river meets the sea, filled ourselves up with masala dosas at one government run Aaram restaurant. We did a lot of visiting relatives in Trivandrum. First at Kollam, Arsheen’s sister’s place, then Attingal - checked out Salil’s dad’s furniture store and the new house being constructed. Arsheen, Salil and I then visited my Atte’s house in Karamana. I missed the street and almost ended up visiting the wrong folks.
At 5ish, we left to Kovalam beach. Most of the beach had been eaten up, and there was work underway to prepare the beach for the oncoming tourist season. There were no nude, sunbathing firangs, it was independence eve, after all. Salil went berserk with the camera and unleashed all his photography skills. We left Kovalam just after sunset. It was night when we reached Aatingal, and we decided to stay over for the night and return to Cochin the next morning.

Day Four:
Route – Trivandrum > Varkala > Kaapil > Kochi
Distance – 200kms
Moolah – 60 (fruits) + 200 (dinner) = 260
Arsheen, Salil and I started to Cochin at 6:30 in the morning. We stopped over at Kaapil beach near Varkala. The backwaters on one side of the road and the sea on the other side makes a spectacular view. There isn’t too much of a beach here really. We were quite famished when we reached home at Cochin at 12:30 or so. We hit the bed immediately for a pre-lunch nap.
There were two things that hit me when I entered Kerala. One was the rain and the other was the beautiful model in one of the billboards of Seemati Silks. These billboards were all along the highway to Cochin. I wanted to see more of Seemati. Salil and I left in the evening, first visited one of my aunt’s place in Ernakulam, then went to see Fort Kochi. We visited the Santa Cruz Church, the Dutch Cemetery, and Fort Kochi.

We picked up Vinod Sankar, my colleague in sales (IBM’s got a 4 member strong office in Kochi, Vinod has to actually pull down the office shutter when he leaves). A drive down MG Road was a feast for the eyes, with all those billboards from the Seemati, Alukas and Jayalakshmis. Read more about them in this Hindu article here. I liked the Seemati model particularly, there was so much left to imagination in that one! “Shhradda ver thirikuga”, “Concentrate on the side that matters” read the caption. After dinner at a nearby mall, we headed home. Sleep came easily at around 11pm.

Day Five:
Route – Kochi > Trissur > Palakad > Salem > Mettur > Hosur > Bangalore
Distance – 550 kms
Moolah – 450 (Petrol) + 30 (Breakfast) + 500 (Petrol) = 980
I woke up at 530, packed up and took leave of Salil and Arsheen by 6:15. The plan was simple, finish the 550km ride to Bangalore asap. The first destination was 190 kms to Coimbatore. There is a stark contrast between Kerala and Tamil Nadu - Kerala is densely populated, in my whole ride/drive in Kerala there was not a patch of highway that was barren. The moment you enter TN, the landscape changes dramatically, as if someone told people that TN was not to be densely populated or something. And the moment I entered TN, it stopped raining completely. I stopped 20kms before coimbatore, at a Reliance A1 plaza for breakfast - Poori and Vada.
I left there at 0950, hoping to reach Salem, 200kms away by lunch time. The roads were good, mostly toll roads and reached Salem in 3hours time. I was not very hungry, decided to stop for fuel and cool off the engine for sometime. I made a lot of friends at one BP petrol bunk – Murugan traders. While the proprietor shared his pulsar stories, one of the worker boys described me as a ‘veera’. I spent the next 30mins with these people.
When I left Salem, the plan was to stop at the A1 plaza before Hosur for lunch. But I lost my way, and instead of going on the NH47 to Krishnagiri and Hosur, ended up taking a SH via Mettur. Even after so many highway rides, I still manage to lose my way. Anyways it wasn’t bad at all, road was good, and interesting with curves and dotted with villages. It however, bypassed the A1 plaza and I had to bypass my lunch. It was about 4 in the evening at Hosur and I was eager to get home before the e-city traffic hits Hosur road.
I reached home at 4:45, after making the 550kms stretch after 10.5hours, averaging nearly 60kmph on road. The rest of the evening was spent in resting my over worked butt.
The earth continued to move slowly in its diurnal course…

Fotos are available here - http://pics-by-manoj.fotopic.net


Shreyas said...

Awesome travel writing maga!! But more envious is the trips you religiously make!! Terrific.... Keep up the good stuff :)

Btw, catching up this weekend? Will msg you my new number.

Anonymous said...

sooooper ..... missed this one.. may be we will do this again .. on the so called planned kanya kumari .. :-) ...


Rishi said...

Lovely...man,its really cool to see you make these trips so religiously!..:)..get a better half, am sure these trips would give you added incentives!!..:)..bike on!..

shweta said...

hi manoj!!

wow!!reading about ur trip to kochi was gr8!!u and thunder bird make a really nice pair!!

i hope u get to go on more trips like that!!

keep riding and writin'....

as_abhilash@rediffmail.com said...

Thank u 4 visiting our land- wayanad come again and visit Thirunelly temple,Pakshi pathalam, meenmutty water falls..

Anonymous said...

... i can feel that you are trying say here !! becoz even me experienced this place.. but not on bike ofcourse ..
great way to say things ..
"Happy riding "

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