The Nilgiri Sojourn covering Wayanad, Munnar, Ooty and Masinagudi had been edited and revised many a times from the very first time it was talked about in January 2011. After having done two long rides within a span of two weeks in January, I decided I would take a break from riding till I finish my final exams in April. Soon after that was to be the longest bike trip I had done so far- the ride involving hill-hopping, hill-hopping and more hill-hopping.
With the dates of the ride decided, most of my other RE biker friends opted out since they needed to save holidays for the upcoming Leh ride. So, the final riders were Pops, Satvik and I on the Electra, Standard and Classic, respectively.
The excitement had began to build soon after I finished my exams but we had to post-pone the trip over and over, till we finally left on the 17th morning. I hadn’t waited for any date as desperately as I did for this particular 17th. Pops and I left Bangalore early in the morning so as to meet Satvik in time for breakfast at Mysore (where he already was) and then ride forward to Kalpetta, Wayanad. Breakfast was at GTR, Mysore. The authentic south Indian dosas and idlis we belted one after another seemed to make people think we came running all the way from Bangalore.
We did not waste too much time anywhere, but stopped for the customary chai every now and then. This was the week when the whole of south India experienced heavy afternoon showers. Our goal was to reach our destination for the day before it started pouring. The weather was beautiful along the way. It was breezy, and the roads were in perfect condition. We passed by Nanjangud and Bandipur National Park in no time and reached Wayanad by 3 in the afternoon. 285 kms were clocked on the first day of our ride. We reached our hotel room, and it started pouring! What luck! There was nothing to do and nowhere to go. Our plan of going to the Muthanga Forest on a safari just remained an unfulfilled plan. (Seems like another plan already)
Our plan was to ride long distances every alternate day, while the days in between were spent seeing places around where we stayed. So on day 2, we explored the region around Kalpetta. It turned out that the place was beautiful in the morning, with the whole landscape behind the town filled with the greenery of the lush forests. We went half way through the famous Chembra Peak trek, rode up to the breathtaking viewpoint a little before Vythri, went boating at the Pookode Lake, found a CCD even there and chilled out and had lunch at a beautiful little restaurant that offered the yummiest Kerala food I have ever eaten. There were rains again in the evening and we retreated to the shelter of our room; playing cards and trading stories while we had rain drops as our constant companion.
Our second destination was Munnar. We began our ride early on Tuesday, so as not to get stuck in the rains. This day’s ride was crazy and by far the most testing time for me as a rider. We took the interior roads all the way till Thrissur, and to our horror they were all extremely narrow country roads filled with pot holes. They passed through village after village and our average speed fell down greatly. The scorching sun and heat did not better the situation. The only saving grace was the picturesque coconut plantations that stretched all along our journey with the prefect background of the Nilgiri mountains. We knew already that we would not reach Munnar anytime close to the time we had earlier hoped to reach. We had sumptuous lunch at Thrissur. Finally after Thrissur we hit the National Highway. We had never been happier to ride on beautiful, straight, tar roads. Our average speed went up, but we weren’t going to be on that stretch for very long. After an hour of chugging along this road, we took a deviation towards Munnar, after Angamalay. We stopped at the Indian Coffee House at Kalady, and by the time we proceeded onto the ghats towards Munnar, it was already around 4 in the evening. The weather had become pleasant, but there were signs of the coming rains. We began to ride along the beautiful ghats, we and our bulls. It had begun to get cold and suddenly, there was rain. We were in the middle of the ghats and stopped at the next temporary setting made to store cement and wood for some road construction. We waited there for about half an hour and began riding again. The roads were steep and curvy, and now, wet.
It got dark within a few minutes after we started riding, and our speed was about 20kmph because of the thick fog which made it difficult to see beyond a few metres. We were shivering with cold and that made the ride even more difficult. The milestone read 30 kms, but it never seemed to reduce with hours of riding! Each kilometre felt like 10 kms. At around 8 PM we finally read “Welcome to Munnar”. All three of us began shouting and hooting at the sight. We went straight to our hotel room, changed, ate and called it a day and what a day it had been!
We woke up relaxed the next morning, had coffee and breakfast, went on a nice walk in the beautiful weather and soaked in the fresh, cool breeze. We visited the Ervikulam National Park, and spotted the Nilgiri Tahr. In the afternoon, we visited my cousin Sandhya’s home nestled in the lap of the breathtaking Kannan Devan Plantations. It was amidst the beautiful tea estates and the ride till there was on non-existent, slushy paths. These paths are also elephant corridors with the danger of elephant menace after dusk. Thankfully we went there for lunch and had hoped to get back to our hotel before evening. As we reached their house, it started pouring. We had to wait till about 5 in the evening to leave. It was still raining, but not as badly as it was earlier. We left anyway, so as not to have any elephant encounters, atleast not when we were on bikes! We went to the Mettupady dam, enroute to the hotel. The sight was beautiful and the water gushing out through the dam was a marvel to the eye. For the rest of the day, we chilled out in our room, watched TV and went for a nice dinner at a cosy nice place.
Day 5 of our Nilgiri Sojourn was the ride from Munnar to Masinagudi. We left early morning from Munnar and chugged along through the beautiful landscape. As we left Munnar, we could see the tea estates spread out beautifully behind us, hill after hill, making the whole landscape look like a poster painting. As the sun went up, temperatures soared making it slightly uncomfortable to ride on. We rode via Udhumalpet, Chinnar Wildlife sanctuary, Annamalai Tiger reserve and Pollachi. The sighting of a huge lone tusker we had just a few metres from us in Annamalai Tiger Reserve was my first sighting of wildlife when on two wheels! I was so scared, but thrilled and excited at the same time. Our average speed went very low as we, in our hope to sight some other wildlife, never went beyond 40 kmph through the Annamalai Tiger Reserve.
Although the total number of kilometres to cover this day wasn’t too much, we lost an hour and a half riding through Coimbatore city. To our disbelief, there was no bypass for such a big, chaotic city! The road from Coimbatore towards Ooty was being done up, and there was a lot of chaos and dust on the highway as well. Once we began the climb towards Ooty, there was literally bumper to bumper traffic. It starting raining and the cars on the road seemed to be some sort of a crazy hurry. There was no empathy shown towards bikers on the road riding through the unrelenting rain. Our mood was being tested considering the constant honking and rash driving on the roads. There was thick fog as we got closer to Coonoor and it looked like the hills were draped in clouds. There was water gushing onto the road, and we were, like on all other days, soaked.
Pops had a slight problem with his bike’s front brakes making the ride more difficult for him than for either Satvik or I. We somehow reached Ooty when there was still day light and left dad’s bullet at a hotel, whose owner we knew. Masinagudi was another 40 kms, consisting of 36 hair pin bends and a ride through thick forest. We decided to ride on to our resort in Masinagudi on two bikes from Ooty nonetheless. It was dark and the hair pin bends turned out to be scarier than we expected. To add to it, the roads were wet. Given the situation, brakes were rendered useless. Riding on second gear wasn’t possible and the tyres were skidding in first gear. We were all prepared for a solid fall, which thankfully didn’t happen! At about 8 30 in the night, we finally reached our resort, which was in a very interior, isolated place. Little did I know then about the animals that are often spotted on the roads we had just travelled!
Upon reaching the resort, the owner- Tahir (who Satvik knows well) asked us to join a group of guests he was taking on a night safari. Our tiredness vanished instantly and we sprung into the open jeep. What was to happen during our stay and safari here will remain my most treasured memories of the jungle. We were told by Tahir that had we arrived there earlier, we could have seen a sloth bear roaming around his resort! He promised to find it for us, since it would still be somewhere around. Within five minutes after we left on the safari, we spotted Gaur, Sambar and Spotted deer. After a while we spotted a baby elephant and looking closely we saw the mother elephant lying down next to the baby. We, being the nature lovers that we are, went straight to the forest guards and informed them about the strange occurrence. While rushing back to the same spot with the guard now with us, we saw that there was not one, but two baby elephants. While we were contemplating the possibility of the mother elephant being injured, she woke up evidently irritated, gave a trumpet and began to walk back into the jungle with her babies. Heard a wild elephant trumpet. Check!
We drove on to a more interior road with Tahir hell bent on showing me the place where Satvik and he had spotted a leopard during Satvik’s previous visit. After passing the place where they had spotted the leopard, we took a blind left curve, and bam, there was the largest lone tusker any of us had ever seen, hardly 10 metres ahead of us, in the middle of the road. The elephant was as startled as we were, and we knew that if he decided to charge, there was no escape. We slowly began to reverse, all of us holding our breath! There was no place to take a U-turn for about half a kilometre and so we continued in reverse gear, constantly looking ahead, half expecting the elephant to come charging at us. Oh what a day it had been! We went looking for that sloth bear lurking around the resort with our blood pressure still high up, but in vein. We retired to our room and spoke over and over about the events of the day, till the tiredness of the ride came back to us, forcing us to get some rest.
When I woke up the next morning, the landscape right outside our cottage was breathtaking! I could just sit outside the room all day and not get bored. The Ooty hills, half covered with clouds were an unbelievably beautiful image. We had nothing planned for the day, but our priority was to get the bike fixed and bring it back to Masinagudi. So, we did nothing all morning but chilled outside our cottage, had breakfast and coffees after coffees.
We hired a jeep to take us to Ooty since it had started raining again. The plan was to get the bike fixed even if it was raining, so that we can pick it up later the next day if the rain didn’t subside. So we went to Ooty in time for lunch at Nahar’s. Pops finished his lunch early and went hunting for a mechanic. He soon found one and we got the bike fixed. It was around evening, and to our luck the rain had stopped. Satvik and I went back in the jeep to Masinagudi, while Pops rode the bullet. As we passed the same ghats that we had rode through last night, I saw how thick the jungle on either side was. To add, the driver told us he had spotted a tiger on the main road just about a month ago. We thanked our stars for having sighted animals only while in the jeep!
We reached our resort and sat outside chatting about how the whole trip had gone, now that we would be heading back to the city. There were surprises in store for us throughout this trip, and this night was the biggest. After having sat outside the room for hours talking with another guest at the resort, with who we instantly bonded, we retired to our rooms very late, leaving the leftovers of the snacks on the table outside. Once inside, Satvik and I were talking about the forests, encounters and animal attacks, when we heard noises right outside our door. We listened carefully and knew there was an animal. We heard the bottles and plates being thrown off the table, and by the sounds made, we knew it was the bear. We listened for a while longer and then there was silence again. The next morning, we ran outside to check for pugmarks, and there it was. Sloth bear sounds. Check! :P
Day 7 was here, and it was time to head back. We knew we didn’t want to leave, but we also knew that we had to. Unlike all the other days of the trip where we always started our rides by 6 AM, this day we left by about 10 30. It was a nice ride, and in no time we were in Mysore. We had lunch at Kamat and bid farewell to Satvik who was to visit his folks in Mysore and return to Bangalore a day or two later. Now it was dad and I again, just like the ride from Bangalore to Mysore. Nothing eventful happened, except the stunned looks I got from everyone on the road. We both reached home by 6 PM and got ready for the life we otherwise live.