Palani Hills Biking, Nov 12-14

Friday, November 18, 2011

Last Friday evening, 24 soul searching riders geared up for an exploration road mission through some the lesser known parts of the scenic Palani hills. Members from Chennai and Bangalore where assembling at base camp "Dindigul" either through overnight bus or driving down by bike. Most of the bikes were shipped earlier on between home and base camp using KPN parcel service to save time and maximize our biking pleasure in the ghats.

Most are familiar with the two main ghat roads leading up the hills - the Vathalagundu-Kodai road or the Palani-Perumal ghat.  Objective of this mission was to avoid the common traveled roads and instead explore several of the less known ghat roads including the original road built by the British to reach up to their summer camp. We started riding up the ghats at Sitharevu driving up through Palani Northeastern slope along a scenic, winding road offering splendid views on the TN plains below.

Soon we were driving through shady forests, coffee and pepper plantations, passing by small villages along the way till we reached Thandikudi. This town can also be reached along another less known ghat road through the Northern Palani slope via Oddanchatiram and Panchalur - definitely on the plan for the next ride.  From Thandikudi we proceeded towards Moolayaar where we joined the main Vathalagundu-Kodai tourist road. A little further we reached up to Perumal where we had our lunch. 

After lunch we continued uphill quickly passing the crowded Kodaikanal and proceeding towards Poombarai. The small ghat road was now winding down through beautiful pine forests. We were enjoying the fresh mountain and forest air - such a big difference from the hot, polluted metros we live in.

As we were looking down at the scenic Poombarai village surrounded by terrace-type cultivation-s and indulged in misty clouds we enjoyed a hot tea in the cold climate at 2000+m altitude. As it was getting late into the afternoon we decided to open the throttle of our machines and move on quickly to reach our camp site before darkness near the town of  Mannavanur.

On our way we could not resist jumping of the tar road and doing some off roading on a steep jeep track leading up to the top of a hill offering splendid 360 degree views over the surrounding valleys. Just before dusk while the rays of the sun setting at the West were peaking through clouds lying across the hills made us feel peaceful inside.

As day1 was coming to a close we drove down to the campsite located near a scenic pine forest 2 kilometers from the main road. As one of our  bikers was unfortunate to get a puncture we split up the group - some  went to search for a local puncture shop, some went ahead to set up the camp and some others to nearby Poondi to pack dinner. The off road stretch to the campsite was very muddy and a bit tricky to cover due to the recent rains.

After about 2 hours, the three teams converged near the campsite were we spread our tarps and set up a campfire to keep us warm through the dropping evening temperatures. The night went by very slowly - many just had a blanket which was not adequate against the cold winter nights at 2000+ m altitude. So many night and early morning hours went by chatting around the fire.

Day 2 we woke up along with the sun covered under a wet layer of dew. Everyone gathered around the campfire for at least one hour to defrost themselves. Mission target for the morning was the beautiful Konalar lake - a beautiful large lake hidden deep inside the pin forests. We packed breakfast, dumped our luggage in a local home and off we were on a 4km scenic stroll through the forest, the early morning sun rays peeking through.

Konalar is an artificial lake formed by a small dam built by the British located not far from the Escape road connecting Berijam lake with Top Station near Munnar. This peacefulness radiated by this place is beyond words - a 1km long, 200m wide lake surrounded by tall pine trees all around, crystal clear water, the clouds above reflecting on the water surface. One can hear the wind playing in the top of the pine trees.

Meanwhile we could feel our empty stomachs and we had our breakfast (bread and jam) at the shores of the lake. A few bikers could not resist the temptation to take a dip in the chill water. We easily spent 2 hours enjoying the beauty of this hidden paradise. Here and there we could spot bright red colored mushrooms on the forest floor covered by a thick carpet of pine needles.

After returning to our bikes parked near the campsite near Kavunji we loaded our luggages again on our metal horses to resume our journey towards the border with Kerala. We had lunch at Poondi before proceeding towards the last town in Tamilnadu - Kilavarai. There the local villagers told us that - although the roads are battered by recent rains - it would be possible to reach Kerala through Kadavarai and Koviloor. However as the road passed through a reserved forest and we required permission we decided to try this challenging off road section in a future road mission.

So we took a U-turn back towards Tamilnadu. Nearby we visited the majestic Polur falls falling down great height visible through the misty clouds. On our way to our campsite for day 2 near Kukkal we took a diversion towards Kilanavayal, located 10km off the main road. The thick afternoon mist prevented us from admiring the TN plains down below the steep Northern Palani slope. As the temperature was again dropping fast along with the evening we sped up to reach the campsite so we could make a warm campfire.

We set up our camp on an open grassland inside the forest next to a running water stream. Dinner again had been packed from the nearby town of Mannavanur as we did not bring our cooking gears along for the usual soupy Maggie noodles. Yet again the night was very cold and bikers were spending part of the night beneath their blankets and part of it chatting hours on various topics of life close to the fire. 

Nevertheless the half sleepless night we woke up early as the sun rose from the East. It was a beautiful morning again with the sun rays peaking through the forest transforming the landscape in a magical setting. CTCians were kicking their bikes hard to get the cold engines running again and drive up the slope back to the main road. On the way to Kukkal we got our second puncture. We removed the wheel and went in search again for a local puncture shop.

Meanwhile the rest of the group drove down to the scenic Kukkal lake as the sun warmed up the chill morning. After the shutters succesfully completed capturing the beautiful reflections on the lake we proceeded to Kukkal - a small village at the Northern edge of the Palani slope were we invaded and emptied a small hotel in no time. 

After completing breakfast we proceeded along a small loop road back to Poomparai. We were now driving along the steep Northern slopes offering splendid views on the TN plains around Palani. Far below we could see the huge Poomparai falls falling down the edge of the mountain slope dotted by terrace style plantations. 

At the junction of the main road towards Kodaikanal we regrouped again with the bikers who had gone to fix the puncture. After a short tea break a few bikers decided on an early return and drive down to Chennai using bikes. After a quick call to redbus to cancel the bus tickets we drove down together back through scenic pine forests to Kodaikanal for a final group pic and goodbye. 

The remaining bikers were planning to drive down along a less known ghat road through the Adukkam forest to reach the TN plains at Vadakarai. Along the way we found out that we were driving on the original road used by the British to drive up to Kodaikanal. A steep hair pin bend going through dense forest with splendid views on the valleys below. Near Adukkam village we could see a big waterfall falling from the hills above tempting us to return one day for a dense jungle trek to the falls.

By late afternoon we reached the plains and were driving through endless mango plantations. With some local intelligence we decided on a quick dash to the nearby Kumbakarai falls but were sadly to see a closed gate after 4pm. As true blooded CTCians we were not going to drive home without a refreshing dip so we continued our search for a cool water source and were soon dipping down along with the village kids into one of the big wells in the coconut farms.

Sadly once again time was up - the end of the long weekend was near. We resumed our 55km highway ride back to base camp "Dindigul" as the sun was setting down once again above the Western horizon. We drove into the night reaching the old KPN parcel building by late evening. After emptying our fuel tanks and filling up the necessary paper work we finished our dinner and lay down exhausted but mentally full filled on our sleeper berths as our bus took us back home...

CU all soon on our next road trip to Nagari

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