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RED MUD AND THE THUMP CHRONICLES - KEMMANGUNDI

January 15, 2011

While most things in life are ought to be planned, some things are just not. The trip to kemmanagundi was something like that, and that was the beauty of the whole trip. Most of my trips have been planned or thought of based on certain reason, experience or thought. Kemmanagundi was none of these, and till date I wonder where the idea started at all. Of course, there were the usual murmurings that Satvik, my friend indulges in, which he always does, about riding to Chikamagalur and how beautiful the place is, but nothing in concrete inspired the trip.

 So the genesis of the story being mysterious, we just started with the plan of riding down to some place in Chikamagalur. After a bit of research, arguments and drama, Kemmanagundi it was. Kemmanagundi literally translated as the pit of red soil is more of a hill station than a pit or a valley. Although you go through a series of ghat sections (more about them in the later part of the story), you eventually are at a higher altitude place. So the next few days were spent on gathering information about the place and things to do. Also the customary invite was sent to all my RE rider friends informing about the ride. With things to see around the place and the distance factor, we decided it would be an overnight trip. In the end, the rider list stood Satvik, my dad GV Acharya who we call ‘Pops’ and I.  There were the proud standard 350 bullet and the looker classic 500.

 On the day of the journey, we started off a bit late in the morning. However, we were all excited about the ride and did not let the delay affect us. Getting out of Bangalore was not such a problem in terms of traffic as it was still quite early morning. Being January it was cold and soon even with all the gear and gloves we started feeling cold. I could feel the cold against me and the cold wind hitting me made the ride a tad bit uncomfortable. I could see Satvik also struggling with the cold. I saw him constantly rubbing his hands against his jeans in a bid to gather some warmth. After a 30 minute ride, we stopped for some chai and biscuits just to ward off the cold. Having recouped our energies we started again. Our excitement was too hard to contain. The Magadi side of Bangalore has a beautiful landscape around it with nice roads going through small hills and some manmade jungles. A peaceful ride through this and some villages and we hit the Bangalore-Mangalore high way.

 Our next stop was for breakfast. We were cruising through these roads at a comfortable pace, occasionally pushing our bulls for higher reading on the meter. The weather was perfect, the cold wind having gone and replaced with the fuzzy morning sun light. On the way we stopped at one of Pops’ childhood friend’s place. The house was on the highway. What was a quick stop to exchange greetings turned out to be a breakfast session. Not that we were complaining. What a pleasure it was to watch the two of them, Pops and his friend, reminiscing about their school days with so much joy and happiness.

 After this warm breakfast session and a few encouraging words from Pops’ friend about our bike ride, we set off again. This time, the road was alternating between single lane and double lane and a few bad patches in between, but for our bulls it did not matter. We kept cruising. The landscape mainly consisted of agricultural lands, small village, and in between, jungles. Our next stop was coffee day (yes, its there) for a quick coffee refill. Our plan was to reach chikamagalur for lunch. The sun was up and it was getting hot. We felt the sun more when travelling through small towns with erratic and chaotic traffic. Just when it was getting hotter and the ride a bit monotonous, we reached the town of Hassan. I could see Satvik slightly off the smile quotient thanks to all the traffic. Somehow managing through the traffic on what were the worst roads so far (we had no idea what lay ahead of usJ) we hit the road that took us to Belur and after that Chikamagalur. The distance was roughly around 60 kms. As soon as we crossed Hassan, the highway had huge tress on either side. Soon the imagery of the beautifully landscaped Chikamagalur crossed our minds. Keeping aside all our little frustrations about having negotiated traffic, we throttled harder towards the beautiful hills of Chikamagalur. The roads were winding, the surroundings serene and the ride pleasant. We reached Chikamagalur in no time. Slightly tired after a 250 kms ride we decided to find a nice place for lunch.

 Lunch was at a place called Planters Court. It’s a beautiful bungalow now converted into a hotel. As we parked our bikes and walked towards the restaurant, we were greeted by vintage triumph and BSA bikes. What a treat it was for the eyes to see these bikes. Apparently they belonged to the owner of the place and his family had bought it a long time ago. Satvik went on an over drive, seeing these bikes. It was quite an effort to take him to the restaurant for lunch. Food was delicious, a bit spicy for us, and service very nice and warm. Overall it was a very good experience and the cost was reasonable for the ambience and the service that was provided.

 After a heavy lunch and feeling a little sleepy we set towards kemmanagundi. At 30 odd kms the ride from here did not seem challenging. We were also a bit disappointed as we wondered how much the environs could change in mere 30 kms and were thinking what happened to the cold and the misty hills of Chikamagalur that we had seen and heard before.

 After Chikamagalur, it did get less hot and shady thanks to all the trees. After around 10 kms there was a right which led to Kemmanagundi. That marked the journey onto the Ghats which we kept seeing as we had approached Chikamagalur town. We crossed a small check post and 2 minutes into the ride, we saw a marked difference in the weather. It was suddenly very breezy and cool. The hot weather was a thing of past. We rode on with renewed vigor. We were surrounded by coffee estates with huge lumber trees on both sides and the panoramic views of the city and the landscape below just got better as we went higher. I think I saw Pops and Satvik riding with huge smiles on their face and all the tiredness and the sleepiness after the heavy lunch had vanished to give way to the appreciation of this new found landscape.

 There were a series of hills interspersed with the Bhadra reserve forest. The roads were nice and we were surrounded by greenery. Next to the road were small tracts of golden grass lands that eventually gave way to forest. We could see the peak as we chugged happily through the curvy roads. There is something about Chikamagalur that stays with you. The landscape brought a certain sense of peace, a sense of belonging in us. I was sure of this for the other two also because we did less of talking and more of soaking in. Being on the bullet and chugging through this added to the whole feel.

 We stopped at numerous places to admire the creation around us. We even stopped at a small streamlet and got down to wet our legs. I must admit, the water was very fresh and pure and it was the most refreshing water I have ever drunk in my lifetime. The distance board read 20 kms to kemmanagundi and we rode relaxed as it was around 4 in the evening. We were confident of making it on time and relaxing through the evening.

 As we went up and down a series of hills, we were met with the rocky surface. It looked like an area rich with minerals. Even though the forests never left us, the grasslands had made way for the rocks right next to the roads. The roads too, which were comfortably ride-able till now slowly were getting more difficult. There was lot of loose gravel and one had to be careful not to slip. We assumed this was a temporary bad stretch, but we were wrong. Suddenly after a little distance on the bad road we found pretty much no road ahead.

 

The entire road was dug up and loose stones were put all over the road. One could see the prominent red soil all across the road and its sides through the loose stones. We rode our bulls carefully through this terrain. Our bulls felt to take the entire obstacle in their stride and chugged along majestically, strong. The road got worse and traffic lesser. We were descending and not climbing any more hills. With our average speeds being 5-10 kms/hr we were running late of the earlier thought out schedule. It was getting dark and we finally entered a small gate which read “Welcome to Bhadra Reserve forest”. We were unsure of the road but went ahead anyway, the riders slightly tired by the bad stretch of road. Once in the forest range, the woods got thicker and it suddenly felt darker. The road was no respite with loose stones and continuous rivulets. After another 30 minutes of adventurous riding through this terrain we reached a small chai shop, the first sign of civilization we came across in the last stretch of ride. We were at least sure we were not completely lost. After enquiring we were told that we had reached Kemmanagundi. We headed tired towards the guest house we had booked our rooms in. After having tasty dinner we retired to be ready for our next day’s ride. It being dark, we could not do much exploration around the guest house.

We were up early next day for our ride. The blissful sleep of the night was the perfect antidote for all the tiredness we had felt. Each of us woke up refreshed and got out to explore the place around. The guest house itself was perched on one of the hill tops and offered a wonderful view of the valley. If one goes to the Z point located at the top, they can see the panoramic view of Bhadra forests and various mountains.  It’s quite chilly and early mornings are covered by fog. A very sumptuous breakfast later, we were ready for our ride. A quick check of the bulls revealed – ‘no problems’J.

 Upon enquiring at the guest house we found out that there was another alternative route to reach kemmanagundi from chikamagalur and that the roads were better on that stretch. We decided to take that road. Our destination was ‘Mullayanagiri’, the tallest peak in Karnataka. The roads indeed were good. It went through a series of small villages and what seemed more like plains. It was completely different from the terrain we had rode through when reaching kemmanagundi. A good 40-50 kms of peaceful riding later, we saw a board which said “Mullayanagiri”. The road led back to the hills. A little time on this stretch of road and we were back in the hills. The roads got more steeper and the curves more dangerous. However the bulls were a sheer pleasure to ride, and the thump an absolute delight for the ears. As we rode further the roads got steeper. There were beautiful coffee estates on the either side of the road.

As we reached higher, the roads got narrower and the estates stopped after a point of time. We were surrounded by plains of small grass on one side and a steep fall on another. The road on the last stretch was exhilarating and risky. Almost near the top, we were chugging in 1st and 2nd gear all the time. It was a personal great for me to be riding through this kind of roads. It was one of the most difficult terrains I have rode on so far on my bull (Leh-Ladakh awaits later this yearJ).  ‘Mullayanagiri’ was a little disappointment for us at it was quite hot and dusty that day. Having heard stories about strong gust of winds and fog covered top, we had come with lot of expectations. Nevertheless the place offers a beautiful view of the entire region around. One can even see the entire town of chikamagalur from the top. There is also a series of steps which leads up to a temple. It’s a beautiful temple made of stone and lends to the beauty of the place by adding sanctity to it.

 After spending some time, it was time we got back from Mullayanagiri. The ride down from the top point was as exhilarating as the climb was. Though slightly easy on the engine, the steepness bought a certain kind of scare. The bulls did no mischief and offered perfect balance as we got down. After crossing through the ghats, we started riding back towards the city of Chikamagalur. It was almost afternoon and we being hungry after the entire climb stopped at city for lunch. A heavy lunch later it was Bangalore bound for us.

 

This trip was special for me in many ways. It was the first overnight journey on my bullet trips. As weird as it may sound to mortals, the ones who ride the bullet know that each rider shares a special relationship with his/her bull. This trip strengthened that bond for me. It stood by me during difficult terrains, through great roads and exhilarating speeds, through broken roads with rivulets, through no roads where I was skeptical, through steep roads and dangerous curves where it stood its balance and chugged along. I had a new found respect and closeness with my bull.

 The landscape and the entire experience of riding to and in and around Chikamagalur was an absolute delight. There is something magical about riding in hilly roads, covered by aromatic coffee estates with their tall trees, thick stretches of forests, through pristine grass lands and in landscape so fresh and air so pure, it healed a part of our souls as we rode through these special places. And it felt great to do this ride with other equally mad people, Pops and Satvik. More than anything, this ride reinforced the fact – “I need to be riding lot more.”

 

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