Day 1(Nov3): Bangalore-Tumkur-Gubbi-Tiptur-Arasikere-Sakharyapatna-Chikmagalur
Day 2(Nov4): Chikmagalur-Baalehonnur-Sringeri-Agumbe
Day 3(Nov5): Aagumbe-Someshwara-Hebri-Perdoor-Manipal
Day 4(Nov6): Manipal-Udupi-Marvante
This Diwali was a blessing in disguise. Four Days of holidays, that too in winter was something hard to let go. So was very well prepared for the blasting I would be offered for staying outdoor during the festival. After lots of convincing efforts , I was able to win over. When asked my friends as to who would like to accompany me ,most of them asked if I was mad to venture into the western ghats during rains ,and that too to Agumbe(The second most wettest place in India, aka “Cheerapunji of South India”). The reality was I was feeling more happy with each rejection because I like riding solo.
For a long time I wanted to ride to Agumbe, reasons being to visit THE AGUMBE RAIN FOREST RESEARCH STATION which you might be familiar watching on National geographic for their research on King Cobras. Second reason being to visit the town where the famous MALGUDI DAYS was shot and stay at Doddamane(I had heard a lot about the hospitality of people here).Then an idea struck to my find ,why not make it Western Ghats rediscovery Ride covering Chikmagalur to Marvante on the western coast of India. Repeated words of caution came from all directions about the heavy rains. So the bag was packed, bike checked, fuel filled, phones charged I was ready to face what mother nature had in store for me this time.
The display on the tacho lit up for the first time that day at 4.30. Waiting for no one started for chikmagalur which was my destination for the day. Just about 2kms from my house the the rains started. Not in a mood to stop I rode further and decided to take out my riding gear only if it started raining heavily. Just when I was supposed to pass the Nelamangala toll gate the rains stopped. Thanking the rain gods a million times for not spoiling my first day of the ride, I rode further and reached tumkur in quick time. It was only after Tumkur did I start to get glimpses of the effects of the heavy rains this year.The roads are patchy but are very much motorable. The sun slowly started to rise behind me. The road conditions eased a bit as I passed through Tiptur and Arasikere and later deteriorated. Didn’t stop at too many places as I didn’t want to lose out on the pleasure of early morning riding. Reached Chikmagalur around 9.15 and stopped by a roadside hotel for breakfast . The good news of the day was it hadn’t rained the previous day and it didn’t seem like it would rain today as well. Didn’t waste too much time in munching over the breakfast provided by the sweet coorgi couple. The first place on the list was Mullayangiri(30 kms from Chikmagalur). At the top you would be pushed aside by the clouds if you don’t stand your ground. When you reach the top ,its brings out a smile on your face which will not fade away till you reach home. Its nature at its very best. Its straight out of a story book or a movie song sequence. I love such places where there is less homo-sapien interaction because once that happens man has this wonderful art of destroying things without knowing the value of it.The other two places which were on and off the list was Bababudangiri and Kemmangundi, because I had done this early this monsoon but in a cage, and riding to these two places means destroying the whole day trying to avoid the craters on the road which were larger than the ones caused by asteroids. So spent ample amount of time enjoying the pristine surroundings. One thing I would like to comment is the condition of the roads: they are narrow with good quality tarmac which has borne the brutal rains in this region. If you are not concentrating enough on the road, you might have fatal fall one one of the edges. After a long time started the decent reluctantly. My stay for the day was arranged at one of my friend’s relative’s farm house. It was a nice place with coffee plantations all over. With local delicacies served for dinner, my day was done and off did I go to bed.
The team at ARRS(Agumbe Rainforest Research Station)
The ladies at" DODDAMANE"
Woke up to the smell of hot filter coffee which kick started my day. Day 2 was a bit relaxing since the next destination was not so distant. So left this place late in the morning and wandered like a crazy guy around Chikmagalur. The intended route for the day was Chikmagalur-Baalehonnur-Sringeri-Agumbe. The weather was cloudy with no rains and it almost perfect for a ride. Stopped at a few places for photo shoots. Reached Agumbe by afternoon. The first visit was to Agumbe rain forest research station(ARRS).For those of you who don’t know what it is, this research station was set up by Romolous Whitaker around 35 years ago. The main objectives being to conserve the rain forests in South India. The flagship project here is the King Cobra Tracking Program(KCTP). It is a place in the middle of the forest where people from all over the world come to do their research about various species of flora and fauna. The first person I got to meet was Mark(I couldn’t get the second name as he was German).This guy told me that he was there to do research on Dracos(flying lizards).The species he was looking out for was found only in the forests surrounding Agumbe and nowhere else in the world. I was wondering why on earth will a person come all the way from Germany , just to study a lizard. One thing has to be truly applauded is the effort these guys at ARRS are putting to save the forests. I was also informed that a lot of awareness campaigns and workshops are carried out in the surrounding areas about the importance of green cover. I was all excited to know if I could get a chance to see a king Cobra, if at all they had captured one for research. But was told that they had been released just two days back. With a lot of information I left this place. Anybody who wants to visit this place can reach Aagumbe and ask for Mr.Gowrishankar, The Chief Conservation Officer, ARRS. Any five year old would lead you to this place. You can even get a chance to stay at the research station with prior notice to the authorities.For more details on this, visit www.agumbe.com
By now my stomach started to give indications of low fuel, so the first thought of heading to Doddamane(the same house where malgudi days was shot), checked for availability of a room and then have lunch. Was lucky enough to find one and even luckier to have a wonderful lunch filled with local delicacies. Had a wholesome meal in the late afternoon, roamed around the town to get a feel of Malgudi Days. The scene has almost not changed except for a building or two that have come off late. Since it was time for the sunset I head towards the view point which was just 3 kms from the town but was disappointed with the clouds forming and spoiling the view. On the way back I was stopped by the police who enquired about my vehicle details and my ID card. On presenting the required documents, he advised me not to venture out in the darkness alone. Reason being , you are very likely to be attacked by Naxals who are very active in the region. One more piece of advice he gave was that no visitor(mostly on two wheels) should be wearing a khaki or olive green(military green) colored clothes. You are very like to be shot by either the cops or naxals, because both of them use the same colored uniform. But he also admitted that the Naxals activities have reduced by a large extent nowadays but it was not definitely worth taking the risk. Bidding them good bye I head back to the room for an early dinner and hit the bed asap because I had planned for Kundadri Betta( about 20km from agumbe) to see the sunrise over the mountains first hand.
Sunrise at "Kundadri betta"
The day kick started with a herbal drink(Kashaya in kannada).After 15 min or so I was on the road to Kundadri Betta. The roads to Kundari betta are good and narrow(except for the 3-4 km starting from Agumbe).The sunrise was breath taking. Spent an hour and a half or so on the top, with only some cattle, peacocks, jungle foul and few other birds(whos name I wasn’t aware of) for company. I was the only talking, walking mammal on the mountain. My next two places of visit was the Jogigundi falls and Barkan falls. Since the roads leading to barkan falls were obstructed by a fallen tree, I had to settle for only Jogi gundi. A short trek inside the forests leads you to jogigundi falls. Even though the place was nice I preferred going back as I had my first leech attack of the ride and also not compromising the safety of the bike, which was the only one in the road when I had parked. So headed back to doddamane for a wholesome breakfast. Meet three guys from Bangalore who had planned to Narasimha parvatha and camp for a day and night. Headed towards Manipal to meet an old friend of mine. The ghat road connecting Agumbe and Someshwara are in pathetic state. Took a break at Hebri to check out Koodlu theertha Water Falls. The only thing that worried me was the trek to the falls was dominated by blood sucking leeches. Anyone I see coming back from the falls had leech bites. And also it requires at least a 4 ½ -5 hour trek to the falls. So had to make sure I wasn’t dead tired at the end of the day and also free from leeches. Got a decent place to park the bike and started the trek. Had to face a few river crossings and I was in for a spectacle. The sound of the falling water imitates a train at full speed. I was in for a second leech attack and by now my socks had turned red. Stopped by a street side shop for a local remedy and off I go on the neatly laid roads. Reached Manipal by early evening, and by now my stomach was craving for some coastal cuisine. So freshned up and had our almost dinner( based on the time we had lunch). Our plans for the evening was to visit Malpe and Kaup beaches for sunset. Any one who had been to Malpe, say about three or four years ago, will be surprised by the developments that has taken place here. It looks a lot neater, more beach resorts and restraints and had more visitors now. But what I really missed was the beach side shacks which served wonderful yummy food. Even though you can see the shops pushed aside to make way for cottages, the taste was not up to the mark. Witnessed almost a sunset, took few photographs and left for Kaup. By now the traffic on the highway had increased by two folds and the reckless bus drivers who drive like untamed bull on the run make the highway risky at night. Reached Kaup just after sunset spend some time there and left for his house. Had dinner on the way and called it a day.
Gandhi on the beach.
Left for Kundapur to visit a relative. The road conditions are a bit better now but have to be careful with the road widening work and senseless bus drivers. Within no time reached Kundapur ,had breakfast, burst few crackers with a kid in the house and left for Marvanthe Beach (Which is just 15 kms from Kundapura). The NH17(Kochi-Panavel) is a sure bliss to ride(only few stretches) but have to be careful enough as you may find beach sand on the road, even if it is at a distance from the beach. And at times you would have the open sea on your left and the river flowing into the river on your right. The weather was perfect with clouds getting darker hour by hour and light drizzle at times. Didn’t bother to do any thing but relax, since I would be having a very hard day out the next day riding from Marvanthe to Bangalore through one of the worst roads in Karnataka.
Lunch time at "OOSOOR"
The last day of the ride. Once I switched on the television while having coffee, Something was flashing at the bottom of the screen. On closer inspection it read “Heavy rains in Subramanya and Mangalore”. My plan for the day was: Marvante-Manipal-Karkala-Belthangady-Dharmasthala-Sakleshpura-Hassan-Bangalore. As soon as I saw this, I gave a wake up call for my friend in Manipal to enquire if it was raining there. As soon as he said “NO” my baggage was packed in a jiffy as I didn’t want to get stuck in the rains somewhere on the ghats. Post Sakleshpura it was not a problem if it had rained, the road conditions are much better. But at the bottom of my heart I was praying every god in the universe not to bring rain which would spoil a wonderful ride. Didn’t bother to stop anywhere, but somewhere past Karkala the sun started to peep out of the clouds. My happiness had no bounds. So stopped for a break. Saw an apache(yellow) and R15(Manju and his friend from XBHP) go past right in front of me towards Manipal. The roads b/w Karkala and Dharmasthala are good with rare potholes. Reached Dharmasthala, thanked god for no rains. The worst part of the ride started after this. The roads from Dharmasthala to Gundya check post had as many potholes as pimples that were on my face during teenage. With easy maneuverability of a two wheeler, I was feeling proud of overtaking 4X4 beasts. The road up the Shiradi Ghats are screwed up big time, in fact there are no roads. It’s a definite back breaker ride from Dharmasthala to Sakleshpura. It almost took me about two and a half to three hours just to reach Sakleshpura with petrol and Diesel tankers blocking the way very often, which was an added irritation considering the state of roads. Finally reached Sakleshpura after much difficulty. It was then that I breathed a sign of relief , because stuck in that route in rain is no less than getting lost in Amazon. Stopped at OOSOOR for lunch, spent some time relaxing after the bumpy ride. While I was about to leave this place a guy in an Innova,who stopped for lunch as well started asking where was I coming from? Where was I going to? and all such stuff. He also told me that I had overtaken him somewhere in the ghats. When I started the bike he wished me happy journey and on a lighter note commented “After a long time an Indian beat a Japanese”. I just smiled and left the place. My next stop for the day was Bellur Cross. It was good news now the sun was out. Reached Bangalore by 6.30, with not even a drop of rain on the bike.
This has been one the most enjoyed ride of recent times that I had done. Climbed the mighty Mullayangiri, Drank gallons of Chikmagalur filter coffee, Tasted cuisines of almost 5 different places, Revisited Malgudi Days, Got some gyan about the rain forests, Met an old friend whom I wasn’t able to meet for a long time, Didn’t do anything profitable for a day, didn’t even get wet when most part of the coast was raining cats and dogs.
What more can I ask from life????????????????