11 mean machines, 11 bad boys, 11 fearless gals, 3 sweepers, 500km of ghat roads, countless mind-blowing valley views, endless tea gardens, lush green jungles, vast lakes & huge dams were the ingredients of a 3-day road trip through the Western Ghats on May 22-24. Here is a recount !!!
Bike Trip through the Western Ghats, May 22nd-24th - Akshaya.T.J
If I said the three day bike trip had been a wonderfully exciting adventure, it’d be an understatement. It was a blessing to get to travel through the Western Ghats taking in all the exotic rendering of nature that we are bestowed with. Every single day was so different from each other each one that can be drafted into a short story full of adventure and fun.
I have tried to summarize the 3 day Bike trip through the Western Ghats through Madurai >Theni >Idukki >Munnar > Valparai > Coimbatore below with almost every memorable detail.
The night before
“The bus to Madurai is in 15 mins but I am still at home!!!” I was almost screaming into the phone to Amal on 21st night (whom I was yet to meet in person). While Amal replied in typical CTC style “that’s ok,you take your time” and I really thought “Is this guy crazy, how can the bus possibly wait for us??” and of course the bus did wait, when 90% of the bus had CTCians traveling how can the bus possibly not wait?
Out of the 25 member contingent Selva, Bala traveling by car to Madurai, Arun, Ramya and senthil were traveling from Bangalore to Madurai, The rest of us cruised our way to Madurai in this sleeper bus of KPN .While a significant part of the journey we spent playing UNO and card games; the rest of the journey while we were awake was spent each one of them advising me, pitying me on the choice of my biker, Amal. During the entire journey while one person asked for my insurance details, the other person took a photo which could be my last photograph and Lastly, Peter spun the zinger of them all: to take Amal’s safety jacket while am on the bike. So finally when we all called it day it goes without saying that I was filled with nothing but trepidation and it was quite a sleepless night!
In spite of the traumatic (jus kidding!) episode the previous night, I was filled with a surge of excitement when we reached Madurai on 22nd morning around 6 am. While the bikers set out to pick up their Machines from the parcel service the rest of us hogged on delicious south Indian breakfast. By the time the bikes arrived we were all starting to feel the adrenaline rush with the atmosphere so charged and so positive. The upbeat spirit took a slight set back for a few minutes when we realized that Peter’s bike keys had been left behind In Chennai. The damp moments lasted hardly a few seconds immediately after which guru and the others set out to find a lock smith. While the Sun was slowly rising and scorching down mercilessly, we were all waiting for the lock smith to work his magic:” The art of Lock picking”. Well, the Lock picking procedure consisting of taking in the shape of the lock and filing the grooves accordingly on to a dummy key. So after 20 minutes of maneuvering, burning and filing, Voila! Peter had keys for his Bike! Yippee!
As we were approaching midday we were having the final preparations to hit the road. While all our big backpacks were being dumped on to Selva’s Car, The essentials needed on the road were transferred to saddle bags and petrol tank bags. The bikes got their fuel tanks filled, minor adjustments in the bikes were being taken care of. .Finally, a slather of sunscreen, donning our Scarves, Jackets, Sunglasses and Helmets (Phew!) we were good to go. So there we set out on 22nd may …to conquer the Western Ghats...making history.
The CTC battalion…11 biker dudes (err!!)…10 daring gals and Balaji as pillions on 11 Mean Machines and Selva, Bala and Senthil on their Verna. The itinerary for the day was to reach thekkady via Theni and Idukki. With the sun scorching down we weaved our way out of the erratic Madurai city traffic and hit the highway. While the other bikers cruised along side throwing a knowing smile at me and Amal; I was overcoming my initial trepidation and was getting acquainted with my biker .After an hour of riding with Amal not only was I confident that I would survive the ride, but having a laugh riot especially when he abuses the bus and lorry drivers using English expletives. J.
Even as were approaching Theni, we were able to view the Western Ghats in its full glory; so overwhelming and scenic with the clouds grazing beautifully on the Mountain tops. It was one of those moments that you are thankful for being able to witness such unadulterated beauty and can’t get enough of it. So jus before we started to climb the ghats we had stopped to take pictures, we were approached by a local tabloid and were interviewed and photographed. We were stars already!
After appeasing our hunger at Theni all of us except for Peter and Madhu whose bike needed to be fixed started from theni planning to go ahead and wait somewhere along the highway. We found this perfect spot, a small clearing with a well by the cornfields. As usual Guru dove into the well, followed by Amal and Nisha. The rest of us rested on the grass and some of them feasted on the corn cobs. After regrouping with peter we set out again. We progressed further down for an hour and ahead of us guru pulls over to the curb but this time we are looking at this lovely vineyard! Like it has been copied and pasted from some exotic foreign land. We got to feast on some heavenly and a little sour black grapes directly from the creepers. Though we got screamed at by the watchman later it was so worth it.
The day was turning to night; we progressed steadily on the ghat roads towards Idukki, visited a tree top view point and got a breath taking view of the valley below. Slowly as the twilight disappeared and darkness began to engulf us the roads began to get difficult ride. The rugged roads combined with the rain and mist weaving in and out got the best of us.Paari and Balaji miraculously escaped with minor injuries from a fall due to the rugged terrain.
As we progressed further the mist surrounded us completely offering zero visibility forcing us to move really slowly with caution. Our only bacon of hope was the tail lamp of the bike going before us and the thought of reaching this resort where were to have our dinner. Post dinner we set out to search to for a camping site to halt for the night. After rejecting the idea of sleeping at a bus stop and a graveyard we finally got allowed to stay at the front yard of a church in Idukki. So with the rain lashing away and a gazillion frogs croaking we all fell into a blissful sleep for the night
It was somewhere around 6’oclock in the morning when a bell started ringing. It was almost romantic, waking up in a church on top of the hills, to a beautiful cold morning. But the romance of the morning stopped there. What with the Pastor ringing this huge bell signaling us to wake up and leave. So 15 minutes later after scrambling to freshen up and pack up we were heading out to Munnar; but not before a quick photo session and swapping the bikers and pillions for the next day.
After a pseudo breakfast of Chai and biscuits we were proceeding towards Munnar with full josh. We rode through the exhilarating landscape savoring in each inch of gorgeous tea estates, exotic flora, the mist that grazes along every few minutes, the distant valleys, the serene mist covered lake. All that one could do was to be thankful for being alive and with the fresh air filling our lungs and cleansing out the entire carbon monoxide one feels alive. In the mesmerized state we had somehow reached a point above the club mahindra resort near Munnar when Peter announced a surprise trek!
Well, the trek was to a 400M peak on top of the club mahindra resort; was a relatively easy trek. The rise was gradual, the terrain was also favorable. The only villain was the altitude which caused breathing difficulties for some people, especially me panting my way to the top. We reached the top in ah hour’s time. The view down the valley from the peak was simply breathtaking. The nearby peaks, the far off picture perfect houses, the winding roads, the tea plantations, the roofs of the resort were a visual treat from that altitude. It was a true gala time up the peak with Peter’s stunts at the edge of the cliff, all of us forming a human chain, arun lifting three people.
During the descent some of us got bitten by leeches. Before leaving we went to this placid lake with freezing water at the base of the peak onto which most of them dived and refreshed while the rest of the non swimmers sat and watched. After a small run-in with the club Mahindra guys on trespassing we were on the move again. By afternoon we had reached the town of Munnar for lunch and after the meal there was a small discussion as to where we were heading next as we were behind our schedule. So finally we settled upon going Valparai via Udulamalaipet and Aanamalai.
After a quick lunch at the outskirts of Udumalaipet, we proceeded towards Aanamalai in search of a camping for the night.We proceeded down this dark not so wide road looking for a place to stay. After being denied to stay in a couple of buildings, rejecting a saw mill; we grudgingly approached a Lodge at the foothills of Aanamalai.The lodge was a small neon orange building which was apparently full. We got a shed for the girls to stay. While the Men crashed on the parking space of the lodge.
Most of us woke up early the next day at the prospect of having a bath. Most of us queued up for our turn. Some went to the stream nearby and bathed with cattle alongside. After a quick chai and gathering our things, we proceeded towards Valpaarai. The ghats road to Valpaarai consisted of 40 hair pin bends; through the wildlife reserve of Aanamalai; the natural habitat of endangered species of lion tailed macaque. Right after the 9th hairpin bend we stopped at Loams View point; at the huge Aliyar dam water reserve below. With the wind rippling and sun rays reflecting of the surface; we were all mesmerized and lost in thought for a few minutes. After a group photo session and cruising through the tea estates we reached Valpaarai for breakfast.
After breakfast; the plan was to head out to the sholayar dam which was 28 kms from Valpaarai. One group headed by Peter set out to the dam. The other group consisting of 5 bikers, we somehow lost sight of the first group. As none of us were really sure as to where to the first group was headed we took the road out of pure intuition. We headed out of Valpaarai and tried asking people on the way. We got mixed responses from the locals about spotting group of bikers. So after a good one hour of adventurous riding and checking with the locals it became evident that we have indeed come the wrong way. So we headed back to Valpaarai
This time we took the other way from the city and thankfully the locals clearly told us they had seen the other group an hour back. After 15 mins of riding on the right track with the rain lashing down upon us, we spotted the other group returning from the Sholayar dam. Apparently, there was not much water and hence we did not miss much. It was absolutely hilarious when we proceeded back in the same direction where the 2nd group had proceeded earlier. So thus we began our descent down the ghats to reach Coimbatore via Pollachi.
During the descent we had a very memorable time with peter riding with 3 people first: Sheetal, Balaji and Nisha and then with four people Sheetal and Ramya on the petrol tank, followed by Peter, me and then Nisha suspended at the back. After swapping back to our bikes we stopped at the Aliyar dam for a dip. At the sight of water all the pro swimmers plunged into the water. While the rest of us watched. Hardly after few minutes Peter came and dragged me and Madhu in to the water.
I was being floated into the water to a shallow point, followed by Madhu, Sheetal and Ramya. While we yet to comprehend how far into the water we had come, Peter already had other plans. He wanted the girls to be lifted on their shoulders by the guys! Yeah, next thing we were all lifted walked a few feet forward, photographed and promptly dropped back in to the water. On our way back to our bikes from the water we had a small tiff with the locals who were tying to bully us for money. Balaji told them where to go and we stormed out of the place leaving behind only smoke and dust for them to devour on.
Well, with leaving the Aliyar we had left the ghats L and heading to Coimbatore via pollachi. We were back to the plains with all the heat and humidity. We reached Coimbatore with just enough time to load the bikes at the transporter and scramble our way to the bus stop to go back to our respective destinations. The three days were so refreshing; being away from the concrete jungle; nestled on nature’s lap. In a way the experience was holistic and almost spiritual. The days had no Outlook Express or Pizza Delivery or Air-conditioning but we felt completely relaxed, rejunivated and completely ALIVE!
Transport the toys of eleven boys to a land where misty, meandering mountains roll out of ride roaring roads; throw in ten perfectly poised pillions (and one Balaji); bask in the luck of last weekend of calm before the south-west monsoon strikes - don’t forget the usual spoonful of CTC adventure and Indian randomness before leaving for three days to explore. Makes for a memorable weekend.
I’ll not give a blow by blow account – just offer three of my favourite moments for use as enticement to potential future riders and pillions. It’s worth mentioning that I know very little about bikes; to me Enfield is a dodgy, dirty place in the suburbs of London. I certainly never expected to find myself closely acquainted with three of them in one weekend as we pillions made a daily rotation; each bringing far more positive connotations to the word and transporting me through the Kerala countryside in stylish safety.
After arriving in Madurai on the first day we made a long, eventful drive into the Ghats. The threat of rain was apparent from our first, distanced sighting of the mountains – clouds rolling over their peaks, shielding their valleys from view and creating a perfect picture (not that CTC photographers need that much of an excuse). As the gradient of the road increased it became obvious that, ‘il pleuvra’ and soon the fat drops fell from the sky. As sensation-filled as this watery drive was, it was but an appetizer to the post-dinner digestif; mist.
Mist is something I am familiar with as it envelops London in an atmospheric blur for months on end – I’ve always avoided driving in it, in fact it makes you want to huddle as close to an open fire as possible, preferably with some kind of toddy. This was a similar consistency of mist (note stereotypical British weather obsession), equally treacherous but at a far friendlier temperature. It made what had been a roller-coaster ride through pot-holed ground on the way to the restaurant more of a ghost-train – the ominous music provided by a chorus of frightening (or frightened?) frogs. I can imagine it took all of the fatigued rider’s attention to negotiate the road – indeed, as a pillion I concentrated hard knowing that four eyes are better than two, even if two only have the power to passively yelp rather than instinctively act. Shoulders relaxed as the mist lifted and the road smoothed out and we continued on our quest for accommodation. Possibly this is an odd incident to describe but with hindsight the tension made it an enjoyable one and it represents just one of the exhilarations enjoyed on the trip.
For the next exhilaration, I move to day two where the reputed Kerala beauty really revealed itself as wild flowers mingled with dense undergrowth to create a mêlée that would please the most fastidious of English gardeners (my parents spent years training creepers that here run spectacularly wild!). Here too the olfactory tour began, sinuses cleared from Chennai smog I could smell fresh… and after Chennai smog, fresh smells good; it makes breathing a joy rather than simply a necessity and allows the spectacular scents that flowers exude to be truly appreciated.
The drive through undulating scenery – vibrant jungle complementing ornamental jigsaw puzzled tea plantations - was truly breathtaking, as the photographs testify, and it made me think that nature really does know what she is doing with regards design and perhaps we should leave her to her work more often than we currently do. The bike, of man-made design of course, enjoyed this journey immensely and actually, in my opinion, is the best mode of transport for appreciation of this countryside; allowing for 360 degree panoramas of the intriguing landscape. Too many times I saw pillions opening their arms to feel the freedom of traveling at speed through such a backdrop. It was during this part of the trip that I decided that retirement to Kerala would be the optimal way to spend one’s dotage – waking each morning to feel the life of the hills breathing around you.
The final anecdote takes place in exactly the opposite location to the previous one – perhaps to illustrate diversity, or perhaps because no tour of India is complete without the experience of a Metro and its associated stresses and chaos. The journey back into Coimbatore had me perform my only significant pillion duty (apart from posing for photos that is). When Amal’s bike had drunk its last gulp of petrol and stopped exactly in the middle of a level crossing, at the precise moment that the lights changed I could not help but laugh at fate’s joke. Any other moment would have been fine – this was probably the worst possible. However, using initiative and strength I didn’t know I had I leapt off my aching bottom and shoved the bestial bike, guided by Amal, out of the way of the honking, impatient sea of vehicles. A small act of thanks (and self-preservation) for all his hard work driving us through the various conditions the day had thrown up. It also set the tone for the predictable difficulties associated with guiding eleven bikes through the Sunday night rush hour to the bus loading location.
Even the disappointment of having reached the end of the trip and beginning the journey back, combined with the tiredness of three nights with minimal sleep could not dampen the spirits of the participants of the first CTC biking trek. The positive and energized attitude the weekend fostered took a battering by the loss of the bikes in another of fate’s jokes (the lorry accident) but it remained admirably intact and I doubt it would stop anyone repeating the adventure on another occasion. Thanks to all the organizers and participants for making this weekend AWESOME (an over-used but appropriate word in this context) – I couldn’t recommend such a trek highly enough to others and would only provide one piece of advice; pillions: take a cushion!
Day 1: May 22nd: Madurai to Nedumkandam: Apprx 180 kms
Day 2: May 23rd: Nedumkandam to Munnar to Aazhiyar Dam: Apprx 220 kms
Day 3: May 24th: Aazhiyar Dam to Vaalparai to Coimbatore: Apprx 200 kms
Terrain – Plains and City traffic to start with - Hills and Ghats Section for most of the 2nd & 3rd day and close the formalities with city traffic at Coimbatore
The Road runs on and on
From thy doorsteps – begins its journey
To pursue it – be our destiny
The Road runs on and on
Only to meet a larger one
Where another thousand roads meet
This in summation – was how our bike trip across the Western Ghats began in earnest; the goal being not just in mere pursuit of a reaching a destination in time nor taking known roads to ease our way through the Ghats but by breaking this single minded vision into a kaleidoscope of little simple breaks ala be it stopping for a cuppa chai or for a walk through the tea estates – Every step into the wild and the greenery was taken at a sedentary but childlike fashion that simply bought nothing but sheer joy in the minds of the lucky few who chose to tread into this taming of the machine trip – that believe me – on a paradoxical note bought nothing but sheer peace and tranquillity into our otherwise cranked-up confused minds.
The journey although chosen to look like a walk-through a maze in an uncomplicated fashion was indeed planned in detail from the start to finish – the ‘ifs and the buts’ villains showing their nasty ways of what could go wrong and the team ever so clinically addressing the issues in clock work like fashion helped us ease through the last stages of the trip with little or no difficulty at all.
Elsewhere in Kerala – Monsoon Magic had begun already and while we were counting in hours to the D-day – News had already begun ‘pouring’ in from Kerala of an impending burst of showers across the Ghats – And would you ever lose heart being a CTCian – what better way to romance the monsoons than be there when it arrives on the shores of God’s Own Country – Kerala. Such was the mood and the mindset that nothing could have ever stopped us from breaking into the wild with our beasts of a machine and a beauty to tame him on the tail when needed!!!
We had packed our bikes off to Madurai in advance to avoid last minute blunders. Our problems of carrying excess baggage on a bike trip was finally addressed by a brute of a machine – the Verna - driven by equally ‘mad-max like’ brothers – Selva n Bala who drove all the way from Chennai to Madurai to Coimbatore – quite a ride ey !!! Monsoon Magic worked in my favour with my clients delaying payments – we chose to stop work at the site and Voila – three days of no work meant – no phone calls and superfluous masti on the road trip and with nothing to stop me now – I was on cloud nine waiting to see the heavens meet earth in the beautiful western Ghats and watch life begin all over again.
The sleeper coach bus from Chennai to Madurai helped revive ourselves for a gruelling start in the Sun; Madurai finally was in our sights at 8 in the morning – Periyar Bus Stand on a Friday morning looked deserted – strange in’ it !!!
Our bikes were safely ensconced at National Travels – a healthy breakfast and filling our beasts to the brim with fuel – We were ready to take off but for the fact that our machine of a man – peter had to attend to his beamer with a minor glitch. Arun, Ramya & Senthil joined us at Madurai from Bangalore - We finally hit the roads at around 11 not wanting to look back at the civilisation for anything at all. Our sights were now set for the theni – kumuli highway – via counties and beautiful sun kissed fields of paddy, corn and bananas – the journey was very comforting indeed – given that my machine would not do more than 60 an hour – I was more than happy to listen to him rather than push him to the limits and was fully rewarded the next two days with one hell of a ride with no complaints whatsoever..
My Canon kept egging me on to stop wherever possible and being the last of the herd – I did not want further delays therefore kept my canon in the sacks until we reached theni for lunch. A sumptuous lunch that sure would have put us all to sleep if not for the drive ahead – we strode off in a typical Harley Davidson fashion ‘vroom - vrooming’ all other vehicles out of the way until we hit the highways yet again.
Peter’s monster hit yet another snag and we were given a well deserved break off the highways and some of us chose to hit the sack for whatever possible time we got – whilst Guru n Nisha chose to jump into the well with aplomb n ease. Amal in his very own ‘characteristic’ apparel chose to dive in the well too and they all clambered upto safety. Peter’s two wheel wonder was finally ready to take the roads and we were all back to where we belong finally...
A break at the vineyard, a pit stop, and a heart-craving stop for mangoes later – we had reached kumuli – Our journey into the Western Ghats had truly begun.
Kumuli – the sleepy little town plays host to thekkady - a beautiful little nature reserve that forms part of the Mullaperiyar dam and also plays host to the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. We were to take a right to our gateway to the Western Ghats and our road to Munnar.
Our first break in the Ghats thankfully bore fruit as we chose to trace the tracks for our first rendezvous in the night. Cutting chaaiya, vada and sweet bun on the menu added to the fan fair.
Now Began our journey into the unknown – a road that led to a sedate soothing outgrowth soon gave way to a watch tower; a glimpse of the little town below that could have been theni for all we know and we were back to the roads treading our way back to Munnar and may be – on the way – hit the sacks before another exciting day out.
We soon hit upon a resort where we hogged as much as we could on a buffet menu replete with keralite and south Indian specialties and toasted the dinner with a special kheer and chocolate pudding dessert.
And all the while – the Rain gods chose to stay put in their alcoves drizzling a bit here n there but no significant monsoon shower had come upon us to scare the living daylights outta us.
Just when you thought that the day had been successful in terms of zero incidents; Paari and Balaji misread the median of a newly laid road completely and skidded down to a halt. Preliminary scrutiny revealed nothing serious had occurred and we were off in a flash to find a spot soon.
The event of the day however - irrefutably belonged to the mist that covered us pan 360 degrees whilst our ride down to Nedumkandam – near-zero visibility and no fog lights to help show the way further - Peter simply led the way as if he could see through almost anything in thin air.. Me right behind could make out nothing and the only thing left for me and Petra was to bang our heads with our head gear and laugh all our way out of the mist amidst eerie silence from the rest of the team.. Diwakar suddenly strode across in non chalant fashion reminding me of the importance of tailing Peter and he chose to lead the rest from Peter’s tail – A red light can be seen even in zero visibility and Diwa’s tail lamp was the shining armour at that moment.. I needed no further excuse but to follow RED ... we cleared the fog in minutes; me n Petra banged our head gears yet again to announce the successful arrival outta the mist.
As a CTCian, the rule of thumb when hitting the sack is to find a place in the open and be one with nature – in ‘it ... Our problem here was not that we could not find a place but to be invisible in the ambience that surrounded us, which you would have guessed by now, was near impossible with 11 bikes and a Verna to park their boot on. A school, a residence with a big front yard and church that offered to show the door to 25 mavericks – we finally hit the jack pot at yet another beautiful church with a big enough front porch – but the catch was that we leave the church premises at 6:45 as mass would start moments later and so it was that we slept early that nite and who would ever complain after such an eventful day.
I would – with Rumble in the Bronx competitor – Paari to my left and add a voice-over to the proceedings – Arun Gowda had taken his place in history – the man with the gift of gab would not even shut shop while sleeping and such was his panache that I had to wake up to see if he indeed was on the phone explaining how the trek went – “The trek was amazing – ahem ahem ... yeah yeah ... you should have been here” – at 2:30 in the morning – would you ever find such beautiful company in an otherwise peaceful and silent as a dead leaf wilderness – I forced myself to sleep and thankfully though – Paari this time roared back in delight at Arun’s comments – the music and the mayhem was too much to bear for me – and when the clock stuck 5:45, the tinker bell had raised its alarm in the jungle. The insect world came alive yet again and my sleep went off in a flash – I had to sit up and listen to the roars of Paari and the incongruent yet clear blabbers of Arun went unchecked by everyone else but me lying next to him.
So much so for a good night’s rest – not a trifle of a recollection from either of them only made me go mad on a beautiful misty morning. My canon chose to help me this time and I was only happy to get the group together and click a moment or two outta them.
A new day and a new partner – Nisha joined me for what I chose to be a great day for my Canon –Fight unto death option!!! And so it was – the tea estates and the lilting landscapes adjoining the forest reserves to choose from – devikulam was at our sights early morning and we chose tea over breakfast – an hours’ drive separated us from Munnar and we jauntily drove out to meet her highness in the hills of Munnar. Meanwhile a king fisher and a cormorant toasted our presence in a small jeel for company – we had reached the outskirts of Munnar when Peter chose to trek one of the hills adjoining Mahindra Resorts.
The trek bought bloom n sparkle into our tired legs – it was “breath – taking” indeed in every literal sense of the word – the climb steep enough to accentuate the proceedings – was worth every penny not spent on a puttu and aapam curry - How else would you dictate the terms of endearment when a couple of chai and biscuits would drive u up the hill – Peter delightfully called it the test of mental strength – and indeed it was – fun on the run as I call it – my canon for company delivered some of the best pics here – Arun as ‘kaaka kaaka’ – the police man – would sure agree with me.
The return was as eventful; with the local guide announcing the presence of a lake nearby and no water goes untouched by CTC – jumping jacks and hobbits took to the wild side of things and our sound was too much to keep the officials away. It was later known that the lake we jumped in was private property and it was a drinking supplement for the tourists visiting the resort.
Our return back to the machines was uneventful to say the least and soon we rode out yet again – this time with only one thing in mind – FOOD.. Munnar finally came to the rescue. A sumptuous lunch yet again with no limits of time this instant – we were full and ready to take on the Ghats yet again.
Our destination – Chalakudy – was misread and misdirected and we ended up touching the outskirts of Marayoor instead – a tranquil county that housed the forest reserves of chinnar and also home to the thoovanam water falls; which we could see from the point where we chose to decide on where we were to head next.
Although wanting to stay back in the Ghats section but without an iota of information on Marayoor and its rich environment – Nothing could have been done anyways and with the forest guard ruling out any chance of trekking to the thoovanam waterfalls alone by us – there was little chance of doing it without any consequences so to speak. After deliberations within the group, a decision was made to head to the Aazhiyar Dam – stay put for the night and head to Vaalparai early morning. We drove out into the night – half expectedly to catch a glimpse of any wild life but none really came to our aid.
A final stop for dinner about 45 kms from Aazhiyar; with our fill for the night complete – we rode into darkness of the night looking for a place to crash and rise early to begin the ascent to Vaalparai. As luck would have it and it’s a known pact anyways with the local community around udumalpet, hell bent on keeping strangers away to the maximum in the nights i.e. – there was little chance of us finding a safe shelter in the open.
The Balaji lodge – the only one in the Aazhiyar County opened its doors with whatever space was left and we chose to hit the sack on the parking space for a cost whilst the ladies were given safe cover to rest within a room.
All our thoughts about meeting the Sun rise at the heights of Vaalparai were now nonexistent considering the time at which we crash landed in Vaalparai. My sleepless nights continued with me waking up to charge my camera batteries and for drinking water. I woke up yet again at 5:45 to welcome the insect world for yet another beautiful day and with the local chai wala up early helped every bit. A cuppa chai helped ease myself a bit and I soon was ready for the next day clean and comfy.
With plenty of time on our hands, some of us chose to ride down to the river to take a bath. Fresh water, curious locals and a pink fly made it a memorable outing and I was further enthused when a scarlet minivet / black bird which I still know not chose to pose for the camera for a very long time - a rewarding experience in the end.
The team finally ready for the ascent rode into the valley of now barren Monkey falls & attakatti waterfalls. Professor Ramya chose to ride with me and we were soon chatting away about our last trek experiences and life otherwise.
My last visit to Vaalparai was in 99-00 with my schoolmates whilst we also drove up n down the hill in a Yamaha RX 100 & all I could remember was the drive around the numerous hair pin bends and the Balaji temple. The roads were fresh and well laid and inviting nonetheless to put our machines to the test.
If you aint doing it – you aint riding it – and with no requiem to drive slow around the hills – I cautiously chose to drive the hills with a very little freedom that you seldom get from a pillion who would otherwise taunt you to choose a safe path rather than be sorry about it later. Ramya had no qualms about the drive otherwise and thankfully – I had found a great pillion for the day – no disrespect to any of the other members – mind you!!
But then – she gave me enough rope to play around – just enough to a point sometimes that I was actually having fun with my bike – a nonexistent synergy suddenly opened up in the vestibules of the numerous hair pin bends – Me and my little Honda Shine were now one soul in two different revved up modes – the zone , the moment , Nirvana – that very altar that very few seek it and so less achieve it was finally there for me to feel and live within – my bike was driving me into soulful bliss and here I was with one heck of a pillion having it all without remorse or guilt and yet whenever I chose to ask her how she felt – Am perfectly fine - came the answer.
Breakfast at Vaalparai was pretty much a local affair – dosas and chicken for some while the rest chose to happily gobble chutneys and sambar instead. At around 11 – we still had time to go around Vaalparai. Sholayar dam was the chosen destination – Some of our bikers lost track of the lead team and woefully fell back - Being the last of the group and having known the destination – it was decided that we join the team at any cost and not make our own way instead. The confusion did cost us time nonetheless – the group managed to stitch together and a tea break ensured we all had our minds set for the return to the native.
Peter thought differently and he chose to drive down the Ghats with 3 and then 4 pillions. It was a pretty sight alright with only the primates and I waiting for them to cross my Canon – and Ramya with her camera readied up for the challenge and we did end up winners in the end.
After a nice drive down the Ghats – would it be aright if you aint swim and chill in the Aazhiyar waters – we rode into the residence of a local and the dam waters was soon in sight. A quick dip and a cross over to a mound across the waters – we were all ready for a group click.
It was the return from the rock that taught me yet another lesson in swimming – No matter how half baked you could be as a swimmer – you are no better than a non swimmer when it comes to panic attacks and the moment when you think you are gonna drown; No amount of reading or practice of floating in the safe waters can help you when your brains decide to switch off everything else but the panic mode. I had fallen into the deep yet again without proper practice and this time there was no respite atleast for a few seconds when I could have drowned both Nisha and Maelle – two brave souls who chose to escort me safely back to the shores. The sleeping mat in my hands from Bastien laid my brains to rest and I could finally feel air filling my lungs yet again.
A moment of panic so uncalled for, which could have been duly avoided if I had chosen to put my brains to use rather than test its strength with impudence and ignorance in the deep waters - although happened in a spur of the moment – remains etched in my head for another day to erase it completely – the day when I shall swim across free as a fish would in any waters – and this to me – is the ultimate task at hand right now – Go Kill yourself swimming – but no more excuses about drowning another brave soul trying to save yours.
A few moments of rest to breathe easy and we were finally off to the target point – Coimbatore where we would board our bikes and bus back to Chennai.
Although – an indifferent end to the proceedings marked the last part to an otherwise brilliant biking trip – I soon had to shrug it off to ensure that we reached Coimbatore safe and sound on time. A group click on the way bought me back completely to the group’s content and we drove off comfortably to Coimbatore touching base just in time to load our bikes and board the bus to Chennai.
Looking back – there has never been a dull moment – Be it the pre – prep mode when emails were shot at almost every minute – to the first day drive across the valley – sleeping amongst T-rexed nosed snoring competitors and a somniloquist who blew my brains apart at 2:30 in the morning – to the sun kissed tea estates and the little birdies and homies who posed every bit for my canon – From a moment where I was in Elysium riding my new Honda Shine and to one where panic and blood gushed into my veins and arteries of almost every blood vessel in my head – the effect was pretty much similar – the only difference was that – whilst one moment - was calling for action to help save myself, whilst the other - was driving me nuts and I loved every moment of it.
There was nothing amiss from the whole trek and I can’t help but think – And with the Monsoons playing perfect hosts this time choosing not to wish us good bye in their alluring fashion - If, How would it be – If we had lost way yet again in the night on our way to Aazhiyar?
Until our next biking trip when we chase the Athirampalli waterfalls – Dream on folks and think of the various adventures we could have really had by taking the road not taken!!! Only to meet another large one and who knows where we would have gone from there on!!!
Written by: Akshaya T.J, Anna Campbell , Hari Balasundaram
Organized by: Peter
Participants: Peter,Julien, Bastien, Diwakar, Vikram, Vetri, Paari, Amal, Arun, Guru, Hari, Selva, Bala, Senthil, balaji, Anna, maelle, petra, rosaline, nisha, ramya, sheetal, madhu, akshaya, divya