Elephants, Bison and People with a heart of Gold

*LONG POST ALERT*

Some years back my friend Sachin Satheesh hitchhiked across the west of India with just 930 INR. It was something different and exciting and from that day onward, I wanted to do a similar backpacking trip. I got my co-worker Varun V.V interested and we planned out everything. It almost became a reality too but Murphy’s law  played spoilsport. I had to cancel my leaves due to some urgent work related issues and the dream stayed a dream. One fine day I thought of doing the same trip on a motorcycle and started to plan the ride.

The initial plan was to go to Wayanad, stay at my friend Varun V.V’s house. Then proceed to Medikeri, Chikmagalur and finally Shravanbelagola before turning back through Muthanga into Wayanad and then home. Varun Kumar and Naveen Ravi are the two people I am most comfortable riding with. This is because I ride real slow and they don’t complain about it. Varun Kumar was my de facto partner for all the crazy rides. I ran the idea past Varun Kumar who got excited and said yes even though it was during Onam. The drawback was that we had to cut short the ride since we couldn’t stay away from home for more than 4 days. The ride was changed to Trivandrum-Wayanad-Medikeri-Trivandrum. The stay in Medikeri was to be decided after reaching Wayanad because Varun V.V (who worked with me) knew people there and could arrange some accommodation.

Day 1:

Intended Route_Day_1
Intended Day 1 route.

We started from Trivandrum at around 3 a.m (my preferred time for rides) and progressed towards Thiruvalla. The plan was to take the Thengana road and cut across to thodupuzha and reach Angamaly for breakfast. While Varun said we could cut straight across, I wanted to go through Pala since I knew the roads till Pala were awesome and then it was a four lane after that. Till Pala it was bliss and then to our horror we saw that the road work was just in progress. There was no road!!! The bulldozers and backhoes were clearing the route to construct the road. It took as more than an hour to cover just 10kms. Then when things couldn’t get any worse, we encountered mud and slush. Varun Kumar was fuming, but kept quiet.

After sometime he did not care whether it was stones or mud, but simply took off. Both our backs and arms were hurting when we reached Thodupuzha. We took a much needed break and had a tea. We had breakfast from Angamaly and proceeded towards Thrissur. The roads were really nice till Thrissur and we were supposed to go to Wadakkancherry. On the way, there was a huge signboard saying Vadakkencherry. I confused “Wadakkancherry” and “Vadakkencherry” and took a “slight detour”.  We ran into horrible roads after around 15 km but still kept going. Here also road repair was in progress and the entire section was dug up. The trucks and buses indifferent to the condition of the road, kicked up thick dust clouds which made it really difficult to see. After around 15-20 km we started climbing hills, and that’s when I realized that we have taken the wrong route. Now I came to frightening realization that we had to ride all the way back through those horrible roads and dust to get back on track. I told Varun and he was like “No way in heaven or earth am I going through that again”. I understood his sentiments because the conditions were so awful and dangerous.

After having a short break, Varun asked people around for directions and they told us about a new route through some rural roads. We went through some narrow back roads where people kept staring at us since we were in full riding gear. We kept asking for Cherpulassery which was the next recognizable waypoint on our route map. We stopped at a junction to ask for directions and immediately were swarmed by people. Three people gave us three different directions and another guy from a nearby shop came running to us, just to offer his help. Riding in full gear has that effect on people. In hindsight it was funny, but at that time, we were just concerned about being swarmed by people. It was really hot and we took a much needed break under the welcoming shade of some trees. Suddenly, a wild peahen appeared and ambled past us with an air of royalty. It was something to bring a smile back on our tired faces. Finally, we reached near Ottappalam at noon and I had my first real look of the great Bharathapuzha (Nila). I was aware that the river had dwindled but was really shocked at the current plight of the Nila. Once a mighty river, is just a small stream now, with scattered bushes and sand. This disheartening sight has been echoing in my mind ever since.

River_Plight
The once mighty Nila dwindled down to just a stream

We stopped for lunch and refuelling at Nilambur. The roads were okay but the traffic sense was appalling. It was just scary with the people cutting in, and the autorickshaws riding the centre line at break neck speed. We passed through Nilambur teak plantations and quickly climbed up towards Nadugani. We had to turn left at Nadugani to reach Wayanad but instead kept going straight (I missed the turn again) to Gudalur. I called Varun V.V from there and he gave me the approximate location of his house. It was almost sundown, we were both tired. I slowly broke the news to Varun that we were off course and had another 40km to go. Varun Kumar just plonked himself in the middle of the road in despair. I really felt sorry for him.

Despair
Despair

The next 40 km was a bit hair raising as there were no road markers, nor any people on the way to ask for directions. Fortunately, we reached a place called Noolpuzha at twilight and then proceeded to Ambalavayal. We finally reached Varun V.V’s home at around 7.30 p.m. to a warm welcome. It was a like buffet dinner. We were offered a wide variety of dishes such as chips, bananas, fried bananas, achappam, kuzhalappam etc with hot tea. Just trying all the dishes filled me up and I was thinking of going to bed. Just then Varun V.V said that dinner was ready. Upon hearing this I turned to Varun Kumar with my mouth open in astonishment. His face mirrored mine. We came to the realization that what we had was just snacks and the main course was yet to come.  The main course of appam, chicken curry and other dishes made our mouths water again even though we were stuffed. After this really heavy dinner, we slowly waddled off to sleep.

Day 2:

Intended Route_Day_2
Day 2 route

We woke up the next day or rather, I pushed Varun Kumar off the bed (He gave a whole new meaning to the word heavy sleeper). We went for a small walk around the house, and then got ready. We had a change of plans by deciding to go to Gundlupete instead of  Medikeri.  We finalized on a loop of Ambalavayal-Muthanga- Gundlupete -Masinagudi-Nadugani-Ambalavayal. The roads were great but once inside Bandhipur, there were closely spaced speed breakers which rattled my whole body.

The most eventful sight we saw inside Muthaga was this pretty girl who stood up through the sun roof of an XUV 500. She was really alluring with a tattoo on her right arm (Yes, I do ogle even when riding). It was a welcome change from the usual view of monkeys and deer. Apart from the girl, the ride was uneventful till Gundlupete, where we took a turn towards Mudhumalai National Park. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant on the way and got some souvenirs from a shop nearby. The food was expensive and bland. The guy at the restaurant kept trying to sell me Hashish or something. He was like “You guys are bikers, all bikers need Hashish”. I was like WHAT?!!!! We just scrambled out of there towards the tiger reserve. Now inside the wild life sanctuary, we started seeing wild animals. The first was a female elephant and its playful calf across a trench by the road. We stopped our motorcycles but kept the engines running and ready to go at a moment’s notice in case the mother decides to charge. It was really nice to see the baby elephant just frolic around the mother. Moving on, we saw deer, monkeys, and a ring-tailed mongoose as it scrambled across the road. Along the way, we saw many cars stop and throw whole packets of peanuts or popcorn, and litter the forest. I wanted to yell at those people. They were endangering wildlife just to get some pictures for their Facebook or Instagram. Clearly the large signs of “NO LITTERING” and “PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE WILD ANIMALS” were not applicable to the monkeys travelling in the car. I felt sorry for the Forest Department personnel who had to walk along the whole road just to clean up the trash.

Then came one of our best experiences of the day. A lonely bison came out of the forest and stood majestically looking at the passing vehicles. We stopped our motorcycles in awe. It was huge and sinewy and kept looking at us from the other side of the road. Just when I was about to take a picture, a truck blew its horn and the bison retreated back into the forest. After cursing the truck driver, we continued towards Masinagudi and then Ooty. We bought the usual homemade chocolates from Ooty and stopped for fuel. The fuel pump attendants pretending to be friendly pulled a fast one on Varun by pumping less fuel (Lesson learned). We started from Ooty around 6 p.m and knew it was going to be hard riding back through the hills back to Wayanad. We underestimated the intensity of the cold wind blowing through our mesh jackets, making us shiver. Going through the forests, we found it to be eerily quiet, once in a while punctuated by some bird’s cry or animal’s howl. Quickly, it became pitch dark and we were alone on some forest road. Just the right time to contemplate my life choices. Fortunately, we reached Varun V.V’s home safely where once again humongous quantities of food and a warm bed awaited us.

Day 3:

Intended Route_Day_3
Day 3 and finally home

After waking up Varun Kumar, or rather kicking him awake at 5 a.m, we started for Trivandrum.  We saw the Phantom rock from afar but did not stop since we were short on time. We arrived at the first pit stop of our day, the famous Thamarassery Churam. After the usual photography session, we continued towards Calicut to the famous Mittaayi Theruvu for the famous  Kozhikodan Halwa. We took the Ponani route and here we met the craziest people on the road. People with kids on scooters and motorcycles just coming on to the main road without looking for oncoming vehicles. It was scary as hell and we were on edge and rode slowly while keeping a look out for the crazy ones.

Since it was a Muslim holiday, none of the hotels were open and we coudl have food only at Chavakkad. On the way to Cochin, some irritating kids with modified Dios and Activas were there trying to race us. It was fun watching them just revving their scooters and hoping for a race. We ignored them but I guess, that irritated them further. After more stupid stunts on the road they realized we were not going to entertain them and they left us alone. We stopped for a proper lunch at Grill Lab, Cochin where we were planned to meet a bunch of friends. It was really hot outside and I just collapsed into the bean bag there. After having a burger and a quick meet up with the new crop from Cochin, we started for Kottayam.

Monster_Burger
Something to satiate my hunger

While enroute to Kottayam there was this crazy guy who would not allow us to overtake him. He kept riding close to the middle of the road always and did not give us space even after repeated flashing of lights and use of the horn. He was like Gandalf saying “You will not pass”. Varun lost his patience after a while and just overtook the guy on the wrong side with some rude hand gestures which was really not like him. From there we kept going with routine breaks every hour or so. The sweet thoughts of our home, warm beds, and food spurred us on. I was home around 9 p.m after covering 1263 km in 3 days.

Every trip changes you and gives you a fresh perspective. This journey was an eye opener to the beauty of nature and to the fact that we are destroying it. This journey had its ups and down, scary moments and surprises but what I felt was pure happiness and peace.

 

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