Saturday, May 16, 2015

Tarmac episodes

Many people ask me why I ride.
I ride to seek the answer.




I remember the first time it all happened; it was a jobless Sunday afternoon with a cousin’s bike at my disposal. Filling in fuel worth a few hundreds didn’t take much time. I was out on the road, and to be very honest, every single turn I took was decided just before I switched on the indicators.


I didn't know where I was going. I was out for about 50 kms., and the ride felt intense. The ride made me feel the tiny nuances of the weather, the noise around me, the people, and the vehicles et al - the tiny dip in temperature when I cut across a long tree-lined stretch made me smile. Physically, I was in a state of hyper-awareness, and mentally, I felt fear, pleasure and exhilaration.


My emotions were doubled. I felt alive. I fell in love with riding a bike.

More than a decade has down the pages of history, and I have been on the bike for several rides spanning thousands of miles, and the same mental and physical sensations have repeated every single time I set out to ride. But these are not the reasons as to why I ride.

May be, the answer lies in the next. 
I see myself gliding through somewhere deep into the Western Ghats; bump into new people, tradition and culture, dense rain forests and wildlife, and enjoy authentic local cuisine and hospitality - To feel alive yet again.

Behind the scenes : I, the Admirer. 

Wrangler got into this unique concept of "TRUE WANDERERS" in 2011, where 10 like minded folks were given an opportunity to ride to any places of choice to portray the sense of freedom that a rider enjoys every time he is on the saddle. Knew almost all the ten and their worthiness for the ride. Though being in the passenger seat, admired every blog of these 10 gentleman which earned them a place in the event. Since a good friend Praful Tripathy happened to be one of the contestants from Bangalore, happen to be at the time of flag off. It was an inspiring mood that set in the due course of the event. Wished him the best of wishes. Needless to say, all ten put their heart and soul in the ride, which had me grasped for the next issue of TW. 












Also when another Fellow biker Jai, from Bangalore had this opportunity to get to fame with the True Wanderer Cult, it was like a family affair to experience the excitement first hand. This provided an opportunity to get closer to the event.









PC: Parful and Jai 

I become the ‘Believer’
It was the Diwali week of 2013, when I was all geared up to take my second Wrangler True Wanderer road trip as one of the ten contestants. Fate had other plans. Personal issues pulled me out of it - An opportunity lost.

Cut to this 2015 - The blog and pictures of my Leh - Ladakh ride Travelogue got me another chance to contest for the same Wrangler True Wanderer road trip and this time, I grabbed it with no second thoughts. This ride made me believe that opportunity, sooner or later, comes to all those who work and wish.


Got a call from Ashish and Jigar from XBHP and Wrangler respectively to congratulate on being selected for the 4th edition of True Wanderers along with 9 other equally passionate individuals across the country. Wasting no time to complete the legal formalities head for Wrangler goodie shopping ;)


We were given Silver Shield and Sun shield range of products. For folks wondering what it could be, Silvershield is breakthrough technology in fabric manufacture pioneered by Wrangler. Powered by N9 Pure Silver™ technology which protects it against bacteria and other microbes that cause odor, Wrangler’s Silver Shield range of apparel keeps you odour free and fresh, even after a long ride, which for a matter of fact was actually True to every sense.


Similarly, Dark colored textiles tend to absorb heat in the sun. However, Wranglers renowned Sun Shield technology reduces the absorption of heat particularly in the case of dark colors like black and Navy Blue, thus resulting in reduced surface skin temperature and better heat management. This Technology also provides the skin with protection from the harmful UV rays of the sun, thus keeping the skin hydrated and dry. The Sun Reflector technology makes dark colors literally cooler and comfortable even under the harshest sun. Available in a new range of colors from traditional black to military green the Sun Shield range of denims, shirts, and T-shirts will surely make you look and feel cool while you ride in the sun.




















The most impressive Goodie we got, The Wrangler Bike Pack 










Old Habits Die Hard :p 


Silver Shield, tailor made for lazy fellas, me included.




The old work horse ready for yet another day at office

 










Selection Done,Shopping Done, pre ride Preparations done. Only thing that was running at the back of my Mind was "Where to Ride ?" Reports of heavy rains in Kerala was published on several social media. For the precipitation valentine that I am, had my direction fixed, with no destination in mind. Then started to dig some old files that I had stored for KL. Few things that stuck my mind were the interior routes that the English and the smugglers used to take to ferry goods to the coast from deep inside the forests. 


D-Day: 

All set for yet another important journey in my life, yet another phase of learning, yet another experience to cherish. Thanks to Praful, Ajit, Balaji and sandy who made it to the flag off and lots and lots of those humble souls who wishes through various means. Though it had rained in abundance over the past few days, it was hot and humid like a coastal town in the peak of an average summer. The flag off set up on the busy commercial street made me a star for about an hour, with people taking Photographs of me and the bike. 

Media makes me shy

I always thought it felt good to be in the lime light once in a while, but being able to carry it with grace is not my cup of tea. Needless to say I bombed the interview. 

Finally around 3PM I silently set off on a road that hold the record for being the most accompanied one of my early biking years. Since it was already late and the dark clouds were gather with much pace, I bid good bye to the group and Off i go Closer to the mountains........






The ride has slowly started to sink in as I tried to take the winding roads post Gudalur which is truly a riders delight. The smell of Nilgiris early in the morning has this unique healing power both to the body and the mind. Today, I step into what truly is Gods Own country. Two areas I love on par with my homeland are the truly god gifted Kerala and the immensely beautiful Himachal. And for somebody who is willing to wander, it’s a paradise. I generally seek out for routes less travelled, and today also happens to be just another one. Every mansion you pass by even on the smallest of roads, makes you wonder how peaceful their lives could be, not because of the mansion but because of the closeness towards mother nature. Rivers/Streams passing through each village just adds up to the beauty of the place. 











Got into this Trail which was looking nice, only to be chased by Dogs :p 
                       





   


Around Parali 





Once you reach Pothundy Dam, you begin to realize you are in a backwater country. A Quick stop at the forest check post which operates from 6AM to 6PM to enter your credentials, with a strict policy of a “Plastic Free Zone” marks the entry of a paradise. A quiet picturesque picnic spot, the Pothundy Dam makes a fine place to enjoy some relaxed boating too. Winding its way up to Nelliyampathy, the ghat road has many viewpoints to appreciate the vast stretches of a verdant carpet - the extensive paddy fields of Palakkad district. The Palakkad Gap, a geographical spectacle in the Western Ghats formation, offers a splendid view of the parts of the adjoining Tamilnadu state. Temperature drops with every mile you climb. Drizzles and a distant cloudy sunset just set the tone for the evening.










Nelliyampatty is a place where hundreds of trails criss cross each other.. Historical evidence quote that Massive expanses of the Nelliyampathy hills were leased out to the Government during the 19th century by Vengunad Kovilakam of Kollengode (a principality), the initial owner of the vast virgin forest spread. Later in 1889, some more territories were leased out to two Britons – Arthur Hall and W.R.M. McKenzie, who after using it for commercial cultivation sold the leasehold rights in 1896.









The Nelliyampathy range begins in Tamil Nadu and rises to 5000 feet in area. Also known as Mount Stewart, it is an abode of the awe-inspiring teakwood and rosewood plantations of the Tamil Nadu and Kerala Forest Department. With thick bamboo shoots thriving, it rises further west. Today, it is the money-making plantation district of the ‘Nellies’, but these vast expanses that are slightly higher in range, were once green painted hilltops encompassing thick rain forests.




Bio farming enthusiasts can visit the privately managed farms and vast tea estates on the way up; The Nelliyampathy hills are also well known for its cultivation of oranges. The prominent Estates in the region include Chandramala , Seetharakund and Rajakkad.I “felt”  Seetharakund was the biggest amongst the three. “The Suicide point” as its better known as was about a 20 minute trek from the organic Tea and Coffee outlet inside the farm. But the clouds and fog played a spoil sport to get a breath taking view from the place. Waited for about an hour for the fog to clear, but luck was not in my favor.






















Ice Tea at the Organic outlet 


The trails just don’t seem to end. At one point I happened to bump into an emu farm. While conversing with the smiling faces over there, I came to this new practice; at least to me it was new that employing a big bad rooster to take care of a group of 8-10 ducks, just like the way how hounds are used by cowboys to keep the herd together . The mere presence of the rooster would send shivers down the spine of the ducks. The place was just not about ducks, roosters and Emus. It had quite a few exotic birds, whose open enclosures were getting a face lift. Most importantly the birds were let out in the open and not caged forever.














After reaching the supposedly end points for outsiders vehicles I get back to the room to head towards Kesavanpara. By then my legs had become too sticky for the the denims and Socks. A closer look revealed 14 big fat leeches sucking blood endlessly. My denims and and shoes were blood filled. I opened my first aid kit and started the drill to clean the blood and put some meds to stop the blood flow. An old lady who was watching my circus all this while, came up to me, tore a small piece of news paper and asked me to lick it and paste it on the areas of the bite. Im not exaggerating, 5 mins is all what it took for the blood to clot. That was a quadruple face palm on the remedies I used to take in case of a leech bite all this while. Just like old timers say “When in Rome, do as the romans do“ held apt reference here.













A good companion for a ride 



After a Wholesome lunch, I start off for Kesavanpara and few more trails. Unfortunately a big tree had been felled and the road was temporarily closed for maintenance. With the hope of getting things back on track faster, I lend a helping hand. At 4 o clock the work stopped abruptly as the laborers had to get back to their villagers before dark and they discouraged me to get to Kesavanpara post that time. Had to take a tough call: whether to head back to Nelliyampatty and stay an extra Day or get down to Nenmara to reach somewhere south.

View from Palakkad Gap 











+




Clouds changed from their white and blue trademark to grayscale and seemed to be darkened as I get closer to the coast. The humidity was getting unbearable, so much that I was not getting drenched by rain but from my own sweat from inside. And the horrible traffic on NH47 just made matters worse. From Pattikkad to Ernakulam blinding rains is the least I could describe it as. 

Chapter 2:
I began my day by visiting Ravi sir in Perumbavoor . The wonderful hospitality that his family offered almost had me reschedule my ride! I felt a very healthy connect with his family members, all the while engaging in a delightful conversation about the ride with his brother. Saying a reluctant good bye to the one of the most pleasing families I have met, the next place I stopped over was Kodanad, which houses an elephant camp.



I was hoping to see the big tusked fellas in huge numbers going about their own peaceful routines, but was slightly disappointed after I was told that I could get access to an area that housed just 5 elephants. Then came the big consolation – the sight of glory! A BIG graceful tusker walked majestically, after taking a cool dip in the Periyar River. He carried himself with such great pride, that the clichéd realization hit me again – how small and insignificant man was. I call it the clichéd realization because this feeling has struck me several times before, and I am sure I will never get bored of this feeling! Quietly watching him for 20 minutes till he disappeared from my sight, I left for Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary.
















Laziness Elephantified :p

All they need is a human touch of confidence 


Things started to get very uncomfortable for riding. The humidity began to sap my energy levels drastically. Cramps and headache were additional toppings. Knowing that I was slowing down considerably, I stopped at Thattekkad for lunch. 



Rubber Plantations through the less travelled routes







The fever and drudgery crept in again, and it began to rain heavily. Boating at the sanctuary was closed due to heavy rains. Since it was off-season, the sanctuary wore a deserted look – but needless to say, it was beautiful.

Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary was a brainchild of Dr.Salim Ali, a renowned ornithologist. Through his research on avifauna in the vicinity, he has quoted that the sanctuary has the largest concentration of bird habitat in peninsular India. The sanctuary expands northwards of the river Periyar for a mind blowing 25 kms. The river Periyar is the lifeline for an extensive range of flora and migratory birds.
To be alone in such tranquil atmosphere and roam around aimlessly, clicking pictures, talking to yourself, chalking out plans for the onward journey – Found reason number 1 to ride - It is sometimes wonderful to be all by yourself.











 I visited the mini zoo/ hospital that caters to injured birds and animals. The wounded and ill ones are nursed till the vets find them completely healthy and release them back into the wild. Surprisingly, a large number of Brahmini Kites were being tended to, although I wasn’t sure why. The vast expanses of the sanctuary also support leopards, porcupines, elephants and sloth bears. My body constantly pressed the ‘Rest now’ button and my decision to come during the wrong season added to my disappointment. I headed back to Kothamangalam to down some pills and crash onto the bed.

For someone who doesn't prefer afternoon naps more so on a ride, I could hardly sleep peacefully for 30 minutes. The rain had come down marginally. I sat by the window wiping off water drops from the window grill, and watching the gushing backwaters. It all seemed calm, quiet and peaceful for me, and not so calm for the Kingfisher waiting outside for a catch. He sat still, but I knew the action had begun. I was not interested in the rain anymore. I wanted coffee, but couldn’t afford to leave the precious window seat that was going to offer some great feat – and in exactly 10 minutes he dived! He swiftly dropped into the water, picked up his wriggling lunch box and flew way! Watching it so up close really made for some great entertainment. It was 10 past 5 and I geared up to head towards Bhoothathakettu.

Bhoothathankettu translates to Devil’s Fort or Monster Fort. For such a name, there is an equally dramatic story - Legend has it that during the times when Gods and demons fought, the latter set out to plunge the Trikariyoor Temple, where the Hindu God Shiva was the presiding deity. The demons set out to dam the Periyar and flood the area.  But Lord Shiva, suspecting deceit, deterred them by making a sound like the crowing of the rooster. The demons, fearing the dawn was approaching, fled from their task.

Even today, there is visible proof to complement the demonic efforts. Huge stones that the demons were supposed to have rolled out remain on the riverbed, the old Bhoothathankettu. The Periyar flows through the narrow space which the demons failed to plug. Although that is legend and feeds everybody’s imagination, the actual formation of the old Bhothathankettu remains assumption.
Curiosity about this place brings hoards tourists here, and Bhoothathankettu's mesmerizing beauty – tall mountains, a calm lake, river Periyar and a sweeping forest - keeps them enthralled forever.

With a very moderate climate, Bhoothathankettu is 100 metres above the sea level. It has everything that a true nature enthusiast loves - Enjoy a cruise on the fresh water lake, trek through the deep jungle, and even take an adventure expedition down the turbulent river Periyar.
The dense forest that I mentioned lies on one side of the river to the very edge of the water, so much so that it seems like the forest is growing on the Periyar itself. On the other side, there is the occasional indication of human occupancy between the coconut and rubber trees, but not enough of it to diminish the quietude of the place.













At times, the river dipped inland and created tempting green coves that beckoned me to swim in. As I moved further upstream to the right, the river seemed to break away from its almost straight path to flow between Thattekad bird sanctuary and Chelamalai - the seat of the ancient Chera Empire. The locals had interesting stories to share on this too. The forests lining the sides of the Periyar river were once home to a flourishing civilization. Remnants of wells, pieces of pottery, walls, and the ruins of temples and ancient architecture are ample proof of a lively and exceedingly developed culture that once existed. After a small boat ride, and some refreshments, I was done for the day.

Bhoothathan- kettu in two words – Truly memorable.
Bhoothathan- kettu  in two lines – A spellbinding  mixture of mythology, history and anecdotes, combined with the gushing river lined by the evergreen forests on either sides, the white storks rising lazily into the air, the torpedoing kingfishers, peace and quietness.


Chapter 3 : Into The uncertainity 

Some facts about the old Aluva munnar Road before i start off

Old Aluva – Munnar Road. The rebuilding of the road began in 1891 and was completed a decade later. In fact, the road tells a much older tale. The road that the local people showed the British was an ancient royal path connecting the historic port city of Musiris (Now Kodungallur) with the old Madurai city. The road covered the Western Ghats that contained invaluable natural resources. It is said that this trade route existed even before the Old Testament. Megaliths and several historical monuments stand evidence for a civilisation that thrived 3000 years ago.
·         *The ancient road constructed in the Chera Era (300 BCE to 250 CE)
·         *The road was the backbone for transporting and trading sandalwood and spices  from the misty heights to Musiris
·         *The easy trade route attracted Feneshiya/Arab/Roman/Chinese traders to  India, and specifically to Kerala
The uniqueness of the road is that, it runs parallel to the rivers Periyar and Pooyamkutty. No steep slopes
·         *It passes through The Western Ghats, one of the world's top ten ecological hotspots. This place is famous for the "Neelakurinji" flower
The change in topography of the land over the past centuries has not let anybody trace the ancient route in its entirety. A massive flood in 1354 almost wiped out the city of Musiris, destroyed the port and, but formed the natural contours that enabled the building of the Cochin Harbour. The rivers changed course considerably, making it difficult to apprehend how the road actually was.
The remnants of old Forts, Muniyaras (dolmens) and Nannangadis around the are however, enough proof for the existence of a very old and thriving civilization.

So much for history. Cut to the ride. 

When I expressed my desire to do this route, the first person I discussed it with was none other than my walking talking GPS Mr.H.V.Kumar. Since he wanted a few doubts clarified, he asked me to get in touch with the ‘Jeep Man’ Mr. Shibu Varghese, who would be a better person to guide me. When I wasn’t able to get in touch with Mr.Varghese as he was out of the country around that time, Mr. Kumar went out of his way to help me and got this (http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/4x4-excursions/48863-offroad-adventure-through-old-aluva-munnar-route.html) as he remembered that somebody had actually done this, and not many had documented the entire route. I enquired with Swaroop, a good friend from Kochi about the route. He told me that he had done it before, and that it was quite an adventure. This pumped me up even more, but not without doubts. I was mentally prepared to do this, but was I physically alright? 

The next Sun was up. The fever persisted. But the desire to ride was the alarm clock that pushed me out of bed. I left Kothamangalam and began riding towards Thattekkad and Kuttampuzha. Going off the road, some trails led me to individual homes, and a few ended by the Periyar river. I got out of one of those trails and joined the main road to Kuttampuzha, and further ahead was Pooyamkutty.















About 3 kms before Pooyamkutty, I came across a ferry point with a small hotel to the right. As I was gorging on the parottas and steaming kadala, two men sipping tea on the next table enquired about where I was coming from, for how long I have been on the road, et al. When I told them that I was headed towards Pooyamkutty, one of them straight away said that all vehicles were denied entry beyond the forest gate. I tried not to sound discouraged and said that I wanted to ride till wherever possible on that route and return. As the conversation progressed, he gave his number and asked me to call him if I needed any help. The waiter then told me that the guy I spoke to was the contractor in charge of laying cement roads in tribal settlements. My eyes lit up. Now that was kind of stuff I was eyeing at!




A couple of kms later, I stopped at what I thought was a roadblock, but was actually an unmanned checkpost. I looked around to see if I could sneak through the gaps, but here it wasn’t possible. I cursed the indigenous lock that the forest department had come up with.

Just when I was thinking about what I could do next, a guy riding a Unicorn bike stopped at the check post and smiled at me, wishing me a good morning. When I asked him if he knew any other routes to by-pass this check post, .he said that he was a localite working in a Software firm in Kochi, and that he had come down for the weekend. He also said that his father had seen me pass alone by his house and sent this guy to warn me about the dangerous road ahead with free roaming elephants. I enquired with him for other possibilities of getting into the forest. He denied with a smile. To think that he came following me all the way to just warn me was such an assuring gesture.

I thanked him as he left and took a small walk past the gate. He was right. Just a few meters ahead, I saw a biggie family drinking water at a distance.

I returned to the hotel where I had breakfast.A few more parottas did well to lift up my humidity-drained energy levels. I began chalking out the next plans. The only other way into the forests was to pass through Urilanthanni and Mamalagandam. Before that, I wanted to take the ferry ride and check out the other side of the river. Even the boat guy was in two minds to let me through and the reason was a very obvious one. Maoists attacked tribals and robbed them of their stuff time and again. There was a jeep driver in the boat who said that tourists needed permission from the Forest department to get into these tribal areas. By then, I was almost nearing the settlements. I didn’t think about the permissions anymore. I was thrilled at what I saw. The Muthuvan tribes! 



The other access to Kallelymedu 









Kerala - Mods Own Country  

This is the only Pic of the tribal lady i got, as soon as she saw the camera she turned away, which is evident from other pics  

















 Though the settlement close to Pooyamkutty was not as primitive as I had imagined a tribal settlement to be, the attire of women were more tribalistic than those of men. Apparently, deeper inside the forests were other settlements where people were still afraid to speak openly to outsiders. Ignorance, Illiteracy and superstition form a major setback to their development. As a result of this, the spices and other items they grow are easily exploited by village middlemen before they hit the markets. Also, most men work as slaves in smaller agricultural lands or estates for the sole purpose of sending their children to schools.

The people on the ferry completely discouraged me about photographing or filming the locals around these settlements. They warned me that once they got to know about the presence of cameras, they either fled the scene or damaged the equipment. The Maoist attacks had made them very insecure.

I stepped out of the ferry and began walking slowly towards the settlement. Children began following me and were amused by my presence. I smiled and waved and them, trying to strike a conversation the most broken form of Malayalam that one would hear. Their responses were just multi-pitched giggles! Contrary to the warnings, I found them to be extremely hospitable. I offered the kids some chocolate bars and biscuits that I usually carried on a ride. Though they were reluctant initially, they became comfortable once the elders began talking to me. In return, they offered a few fruits that they had collected from the forests, and a tall glass of milk and honey. It was a conversation made up of signs and broken words. I thanked them and left.

I began thinking about them as I walked back - They were good people. I was happy to have had such an interaction and it was a first of a kind experience for me. I am a Wanderer – I come once, see them, admire them and leave. The Maoists attacked them frequently. The forest was their home, but now they had begun to fear it. But what would happen to all those children in the years to come? Though the government has drafted plans for the development of these areas, only time will tell whether it would come to fruition.





By the time I left Pooyamkutty with some happy memories it was noon. I got back to Kuttampuzha and proceeded towards Urlilanthanni, a small village on the fringes of the forest. The satellite dishes on a few houses prompted me to check my phone for network; I could even access 3G! As I deviated towards Mamalagandam, there was no more 3G technology and it was all about forest technology. The forests began to seem denser. As I crossed the Mamalagandam tribal settlement things seemed to take a turn for worse. I always believe that Homo sapiens were the best form of navigation tool one can find. Whenever I asked people on the way about the route, 10/10 times I repeat 10/10 times the answer was “Do not take that route, do not risk it”. At this point, there were two people fighting in my head –Phanikar and Bear Grylls. And finally, Bear Grylls asked the Phanikar in me to shut up and move ahead. I did just that.

I am not a new comer when it comes to riding in and around forest areas; as a matter of fact most of my rides are along these kinds of places. But this ride was incredibly different. As I moved deeper inside the forests, a strange sense of fear set in. I had imagined the trails to be like Nagarahole during rains; no pathway to actually ride on. This turned out to be intensely scary. The width of the trails was closing in with tall bamboo trees. That eerie forest feeling that I had only read about until now began to seep in. Every 50-100 mtrs, I saw a dome-styled passage deeper into the forests –typical elephant passage areas.

In all the rides I had been on so far, I always tried to remain positive and calm even in tough situations. Like I said, this was different. I began feeling over-cautious on every turn and a tad bit of negativity set in. I began to think about what would happen if something went wrong. Extremely bumpy trails meant that I couldn’t ride fast to get over the stretch quickly.

There was nothing such as ‘safe ground’ in this stretch. Every rustling I heard pushed me to get away from the sound as quickly as possible. In the process, I tried to ride faster though the stone-laden track. This took a toll on my body and the machine. My body was giving up the will to ride because of the fever and dehydration - something that never happened since the time I started riding a decade ago. I was going down emotionally too. Thoughts of my people – friends and family – all the good times and bad, times when I had laughed till my stomach hurt –began playing in my head, in loop.

About a few minutes later, I heard a rustling noise and saw the movement of the bushes in front of me. That was just enough to shake up my already troubled mind and heart. I was trembling! A young man, about my age and height came out of the bushes. Murmuring the choicest expletives I could at that time, I told him that he almost had me killed of a cardiac arrest. I was confused to hear the rustling behind the bushes still continuing. Sensing my anxiety, the man asked me not to worry, and said that his father was working inside. I was relieved.  Fear was replaced with thirst. I got off the bike, pulled out a bottle of water and gulped it down my throat; some Glucovita and paracetamol tabs made me feel better.  By now, the man’s father joined us in the conversation. Sensing that I was tired and tensed, he offered me some jaggery, saying that it gave me energy. When asked if he knew about elephants moving ahead, he said that he had seen a herd by the river, a few hours earlier. He assured me that by now, they would’ve moved further inside. I changed the position of the Go Pro as I had made a blunder of mounting it wrong earlier. I couldn’t get the footage I wanted.

The saviours for the day :) 


I began to feel better after the rest, and the assuring conversation with those two men; how much I had yearned for human company all along the trail behind! Just yesterday, I thought it was so wonderful to be all by myself. I even considered it as one of the reasons for me to ride. Today I was here, in the middle of the jungles, realizing what being with people really did to me. I grinned slyly about how thoughts about my friends and family had come rushing in. I had found the second reason to why I ride. Riding makes me realize what was, and who were really important for me in my life.

The two men watched me go about gearing up in such awe. The younger man said that he heard a noise and suggested that it wasn’t safe to stand there anymore, and that we move into the safety of a temporary hut they had built of bamboo. And then he appeared – a burly young tusker! I complemented the guy for his hearing skills. The elephant lingered around for a few minutes and disappeared into the forests. We patient waited for some more time to make sure he was indeed gone. The younger man asked me to wait as he went out and checked for signs of the elephant. I decided to leave after he confirmed that the animal had gone the other way and that it was safe for me to go ahead.

Thanking the duo for their help, I began to ride ahead. What a thrill ride it had been! I was feeling fresher. I was pumped up. 

I stopped at another considerably smaller tribal settlement a few more kms., ahead, to take off the leeches that had climbed onto me earlier when I met the two men. Things started to seem better in the second half of the stretch, but the ride had put me on constant alert for any kind of surprise jumping out of the bushes.

The Leech Break



Thought of getting him home :p




 There were too many smaller trails that diverted from the main one and it was very difficult to choose the right one. The guy I met at Pooyamkutty had told me about how I could go about this; till the settlement which I would find in the middle, I had to take the left deviation in case of doubt. After that I had to take the right till a point where I reached a bridge on my left. His directions were perfect. Upon reaching the bridge, my jaw did drop! He had told me that it would ;) I was literally on top of a waterfall, and the drop was just not visible. On the banks, I saw those makeshift bamboo huts set up by the locals, similar to the one that had given me refuge just about a couple of hours earlier.



It is from this point that I could see humans at least once in a kilometer or two. On reaching Mankulam, I stopped at a small hotel. I was relieved. I smiled to myself and took a deep breath, for having reached here in one full piece. I called HVK and narrated the entire ordeal. It was nothing but thrilling once I was over it. When I set out to ride after lunch, it began pour; I thanked the rain Gods for not coming down while I was in the scary stretch.









This time, a new confusion arised - Munnar or Idukki. The devil in me with suggested to ride to Munnar and then to Idukki. I thought I had made a good choice. Sometimes, you got to listen to the devil in you. You wouldn’t always regret.

Upon reaching Munnar, HVK put me in touch with a 4X4 enthusiast, Mr. Soju Chacko, in case I needed any help. In spite of his busy schedule, he took some time off to ensure that I found a good place to grab some rest and get set for the rest of the ride. 




Realizing that it was an extended weekend, I set out to Top Station before all the tourists woke up and jammed the streets. After spending some time there, I headed to Vattavada and Koviloor. This is one of my most favorite stretches to ride, and cruising on this road is a fulfilling feeling, although untimely rains, felling of trees and their debris on the roads, made it look a bit messy. The sound of crickets as I went deeper into the lonely roads was a constant bgm. Thinking about all the good times I have had here a few years back, I was looking forward to meet a very loyal friend - Loosu, the super-friendly canine!












On reaching Anand Resorts, the owner had a confused look on his face, unable to recognize me with the riding gear and helmet on. As soon as I asked him “Enna Prabhu nalla irukkingla” he gave that wide warm smile that was so typical of him. The first thing I did after parking the bike was to call out for Loosu. Though I couldn’t see her around, I could hear her barking somewhere acknowledging my call. As I settled down for a small chat with Prabhu, she ran in, wagging her tail. Whether I wore a helmet or not didn’t matter to her. The friendliness she showed said it all – she remembered me. She loved guiding trekkers on the stretch. Along with her came Rani the cat, a new introduction to me who was seemingly more dominant than Loosu. The sort of relationship these two had developed, despite being known as the worst of enemies, was just so wonderful. While Loosu was being pampered with some cuddle and biscuits, Rani thought it was her right to have a share of the hot Poori and sabji that I was served. I gladly obliged.

                                     

                                      

                             

Munnar has been always been so special place to me, and I quetly sat soaking the silence, and reminiscing all the fond memories and the wonderful time spent here. This was the place where we had a grand meet-up back in 2011, with as many as 70 of us and of course, with the 70 machines we rode on. I am a person who lives by the memories, an equal amount of both the good and the bad ones; and surely with no regrets on the bad part. Riding brings me these memories. They make me cherish the moment and bring a wide smile on my face, no matter how hard my day had been. Riding and recollecting all these memories has ultimately helped me realize my weakness, and made me a stronger person from the inside – Another reason for why I ride.





































When I came back to the main road, it was utter chaos with traffic piling around every shack, view point, dam and every other few tourist-magnet locations. I spoke to Mr.Chacko over phone, after he had finished his Sunday prayers. Unfortunately, I was unable to meet him before I left. I geared up and set out to find street turned into a river crossing, from a dry piece of tarmac.

Both the rain and roads started getting worse during the course of the ride. It got to a point where I couldn’t proceed without wiping the visor every 3 seconds. After the rains had subsided quite a bit, I stopped for a peak at the valley below – It was a spectacle! I admired how architecturally brilliant the Idukki dam was; it is an arch dam largest in Asia, and the third largest in the world.

One stunning feature of the Idukki dam is that, the tunnels running kilometers in length connect the feeder dams like the ones found in Anchurli. Not far away from Idukki, a road deviated to the right, leading to the famous Kalavari mount. This is a junction I remember for a scary reason - I was almost taken down by a speeding bus few years back. Though the view is very much similar to any back waters in Sholayar or Nilgiris, what makes Kalavari special is the sheer green view that is just a treat to the eyes. I saw rooms being built adjacent to the view point. I cursed at the thought of plastic establishing dominance in the place soon.








While at Kattapana, waiting for some freshly brewed coffee, I got a text from Mohan asking about my whereabouts and plans for the rest of the ride. The moment I said Kattapana, he shared the contact of his friend staying in Elappara. I decided to meet him and moved on.

On reaching Elappara, I gave this gentleman a call. A few minutes later, I saw a lean guy with a big umbrella walking towards me. He gave me a welcoming smile and introduced himself as Raj. “First things first, make your tummy happy; it will be your slave later on” he said. I was happy at the thought of meeting such hospitable people throughout the ride. We had barely said hello, and he was already taking me for lunch.







The drizzle around Elappara was a perfect setting to watch videos and pictures of the ride, and muse over the drama of the past few days Raj was extremely excited. He pulled out his phone enthusiastically to show me pictures of places that he usually frequented around Elappara. Though it had been raining heavily, the backwaters had not risen massively. After seeing the pictures of Anjurli on his phone, I told him how much I regretted not having visited the place. He then said that there was a similar place in Vagamon that I could visit. Did I miss the place, you ask? I love to give NO as an answer to this.e. He then said that there was a similar place in Vagamon that I could visit. Did I miss the place, you ask? I love to give NO as an answer to this.





The next day, we set out towards the place he had mentioned. Since he wasn’t sure about the directions, we spent more time taking all the turns on the road that we came across. We began to lose hope about finding the place.  Robert frost was so damn right when he quoted this -

  “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”














We then reached a point where two trails diverged, one leading to the Maramala Waterfalls and the other, not more than 5 feet in width, going downwards. The latter seemed a better bet as I had already been to Maramala falls from Erattupetta. As we went down the road, the trailer got shabbier. At the end of that trail, we could hear hear a stream. Raj and I exchanged doubtful glances and decided to take a hike along the stream. The view of the stream finally opened up and at one end. And I could see something that stole the moment - A view that was as stunning as a wallpaper the of Santa Cruz caves! Time froze; there was nothing more important to me at that time than to just soak in the gorgeousness of the place.

The place was jaw dropping beautiful. As I started to get closer and closer to the tunnel, the excitement grew in. I stood at the entrance whistled loudly. And with that loud sound, bats from inside the cave flew like the way I had seen only on television.  Raj laughed at my child-like enthusiasm. I stumbled over a stone on my next step, and my “Shrek” Physique (as coined by Deepak) was on four limbs. Trying to regain balance I dipped my leg into the water to see if I could find some ground. For the cross country swimmer that I am (really!?), Raj cautioned me with a smile that he wouldn’t be able to pull me back if I went any deeper. Moving in water towards the other edge of the cave, I felt like walking into quick sand. My legs were progressively going down and taking my foot up was getting difficult. With some twigs for support I came to safe ground, only to realize that what I thought was quick sand, was actually bat feces in reality! We got back to Elappara after roaming around Vagamon, into whichever trail looked nice.





With Praveen 


After a round of exchanging pleasantries, I dropped Raj near his college and proceeded towards Kattikunnan and Mundakayam. The roads went from better to best in a few kilometers. I then stopped over at Mundakayam to catch up with an old friend, Praveen Mathew, for lunch. The poor guy came to meet me despite being unwell. The throttle happy roads after Mundakayam kept me grinning from ear to ear. As I got past Thenmala, I half-heartedly bid good bye to this tiny piece of paradise, and entered Tamil Nadu. Fortunately because of the rains the other side of the border, Tamil Nadu was relatively cooler this time around.



The stunning Thirteen Arch bridge post Thenmala 

 
I reached the tiny village of Ravanasamudram, a native of my closest pal. I wanted to see the place after having heard a lot about the peace and tranquility that existed here in abundance. The village is at a little distance from the border of the Western Ghats. Most people residing here are those who came back from cities to live their pensioned years in peace. It is that typical village shown in the movies - a temple in the center, houses lining both the sides of the street, a river flowing behind the temple, a small railway station outside and tiny shops beyond the railway track. 

After a tour of the long train-compartment styled house, we settled down for dinner. Veni paati, as the kids fondly call her, had prepared her usual best of sambar and curries accompanied by crispy papads and pickles. Uncle was at his enthusiastic best to explain the different types of plants he was growing in his tiny little garden.











The next morning I first set out to visit the Ramanadhi dam. It is not as big as the other dams I had seen over the past few days, neither is it on the tourists bucket list. But the recent rains had done some magic to the place. The entire place looked like wet green paint on canvas. For the disappointment I had faced in Coutralam, this was a worthy consolation.















 I came back to Ravanasamudram for Lunch and then headed to Agasthiyar falls and Mundanthurai Water falls. The moment I saw Agasthiyar falls from top, I almost went off the road laughing. Thanks to the view, I dropped the idea of going down to the base. The sad part about these places is that, there are religious centers adjacent to the water bodies. The fragments of the offerings made to the dieties result in a mess. Mundanthurai Tiger reserve is a peaceful adobe once you get past the lower Papanasam Chaos. After paying a nominal fee to get past a small forest check post, I was disappointed for not having seen even a crow in such a big reserve area. The CP operates from 6 Am to 6PM. I headed back to grab some sleep and brace myself for a boring ride back home.






The uneventful ride back to Bangalore started at 10 past 8 in the morning after a breakfast worthy enough to get me doze off on the highway. I stopped at a HMC showroom in Rajapaliyam to get few minor things checked. To my amusement, I got more attention here than one the day of the flag off! There was a team of 5 technicians just to check the chain slack. That’s more crew than the support that Rossi has in a Yammy Pit lane before a GP!
                         

Long rallies and an apparent political celebration all the more delayed the return ride. As a last stop, I took a power nap post lunch at a small abandoned make-shift hut. Trolling cagers all the way, I reached Bangalore by evening.





 






After 2025 kms of pure riding pleasure, I thank Wrangler for 2025 kms of pure riding pleasure, and for giving me the opportunity to rediscover myself and present to the open world a new “Me”. When it is about motorcycling, I want to give my 100% every time - no half-baked stories, no back-up vehicles, no deodorants to make me smell good in the jungle (In fact, I bathed only when I felt that sweat tearing up my own nose). I have tried to serve all my experiences hot and fresh, straight off the tarmac. I tried my best to live the life of a True Wanderer, meeting wonderful people on the way and sharing each other’s experiences, good or bad.

The experience that I have been through has been better explained by Mark Frost than I ever could: “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body. But rather, to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming.... WOW what a ride”.


First and foremost, I would like to thank all the people who have inspired me in the past to get on the saddle and also those who are consistently encouraging me in this endeavor.
·         A big thanks to Wrangler, Triumph Motorcycles, Myntra and Xbhp for coming up with this initiative
·         I would like to thank a lot of people who are directly or indirectly connected with the ride
·         Kumar HV Sir and Swaroop in particular for clarifying the doubts I had in mind and bestowing confidence in me
·         Dheeraj, Pavan and Sandy for the hardware support
·         Ajit and Avin for visual tutorials for an already dumb student :p
·         Praful, Sandy, Balaji and Ajit for personally being there for the flag and encouraging me
·         Ashish and Jigar from Xbhp and Wrangler for coordinating the ride throughout


So much for discovering myself, and finding answers to why I ride - I seek more – many, many many, more. See you on the road soon…