Javadhu Cycling, Jan 21-22

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I still remember those good old college days... For several months I used to cycle from my parents home in Lokeren to the University of Ghent, a daily 50km round trip, through those freezing Belgian winter days and peddling hard against the strong head-on wind in the plains where I grew up. Just felt great to fill up the brain with fresh oxygen after reaching college or home.

2 decades later with little cycling done in between, I decided to get myself a cycle in Chennai. Didn't want to spend much on it given its infrequent use. I went to the cycle shop with the idea of spending around 3K and end up spending 16K on a Trek 3000 aluminium beauty with 21 gears. Great machine, very light and very zippy - it felt like it was moving by itself with minimal effort.

After several months I just did a few small cycle trips in the evening along the beach along peaceful roads and enjoying a nice sea breeze. It came to me that there is actually no place in or around Chennai where one can do some peaceful cycling in the weekend. You either get killed in traffic, poisoned by pollution or scorched by the hot sun in the open plains. If only I could take my cycle to some nice scenic hills further away and ride in those beautiful winding ghat roads in a peaceful environment and chill mountain climate. Javadhu had been in the back of my head for a few weeks already as a perfect candidate spot for cycling. The question that kept coming back was how to get the cycle to at least the base (or preferably top) of these hills? I could load my cycle in my car but then again preferred to rather go out with a small group of friends and it's not really possible to take all cycles along in a personal vehicle.

Then came Simon along - he dropped into my place one evening and told me about the 200km ride he just completed in some external group. We started discussing and he told me he could get a light van which could easily accommodate 20-25 cycles. A few days later we en queried and worked out the cost - 300Rs per head to transport our cycles up and down to Javadhu, a 500km round trip. The participants could travel along with the van in their own cars. Logistics solved I immediately sent out an invite to the group "Javadhy mountain cycling" and we soon we connected with 20 like-minded cycling souls.

We started early morning 3am from Chennai - picking up participants and their cycles at our usual assembly points. The cycles were stacked closely together to avoid movement during transport and a thick rope was used to keep them straight in their position. My worry about possible damage (we have some bad experiences with KPN Travels while transporting our bikes) turned out needless as they reached Javadhu in proper shape even though the roads were quite bumpy.

After leaving the Bangalore high way we took a right a Vellore towards Kanyambadi and entered the very scenic NH234 near passing at the Eastern base of the Javadhu hills. Javadhu are one of the larger mountain ranges in the Eastern ghats - fairly flat on top sprinkled with beautiful paddy fields on top and small villages. We climbed along the Polur ghat road towards the main town Jamunamarathur where we parked our 3 SUV-s - a Fortuner, a Tata Grande and Mahindra Tar and de-boarded our cycles from the van around 9:30am. YEAH! We finally made it - enjoying a nice chill mountain climate at 700m altitude after posing for a group snap and fixing already 3 punctures we were all set to ride across the scenic Javadhu hills. Finally I was happy to be here after months of thinking about it.

Taking photos on a cycling trip is A difficult job. By the time you stop and take out the camera the gang would have already passed by. Neither do you really feel like stopping while zipping down those hair pins with the cool mountain breeze in your face and surrounded by only green and peace. So we were not really able to take much photos while riding the cycles. Javadhu has a nice network of small winding ghat roads, many of them tar. I did 3 bike/road/camping trips earlier to this range and you easily have 100+km of roads to explore.No traffic here, no hot climate. Only the sound of birds and breath taking views on those rolling hills surrounding you. Scenic paddy fields with big Tamarind trees here and there. Very very small tribal villages (just a few houses in many cases) along the way with every friendly and smiling faces.
As there are few peaks and valleys in Javadhu - mostly it's a flat plateau with few rolling hills - I targeted the Northeast which has a more interesting topography including a couple of nice valleys, more forest (less encroached by paddy fields) and a few nice streams (we all know what CTCians like no? ;-). So here we go, day 1 morning rolling down from Jamunamarathur initially along flat, beautiful paddy plains and a bit further picking up speeds till 50kmph while descending along to 600m along through a scenic forest stretch. Along the way we drove through a small stream with crystal clear water flowing over the road and pose for some photos -

Once we reached the Northern Javadhu plateau we exited the forest again and entered scenic rolling hills covered with terrace plantations sprinkled with a few houses and big trees here and there. We soon reached a dead end near a small tribal village, parked our cycles and climbed up a nearby hill offering splendid views on the Javadhu hills. Upon descent we rejoined with a few cyclists which faced initial punctures and stopped over at nearby Nammiyambut for lunch. The local hotel had trouble feeding 20 starved people which was probably more then the usual customer count he got on the usual days. With the sun rising high and the stomach stuffed we took a quick power nap under a big, shady tamarind tree.

By late afternoon we resumed our cycling expedition - we soon left the tar roads and entered a rolling sand trail used by tractors and jeeps. Our cycle enthusiasts swiftly changed gears as they zipped down and slowly climbed up along this rolling sand track sprinkled with rocks. This is where our rugged offroad cycles with wide tires and gears shined and those with city bikes with more narrow tires which went faster on the tar roads had a tougher job. A few participants jumped off the saddle and pushed cycles without gears up the hill....

In a few places the dirt track crossed a few clear mountain streams where a few adrenaline pumping souls splashed through curving the water waves through gravity and velocity. Meanwhile myself and Simon cycled back 20km uphill to Jamunamarathur to get the cars loaded with backpacks and camping/cooking gears for the overnight camp. While catching up behind our cycling gang we got stuck with the 2WD Tata Grande in one of the streams (slippery boulders) and loaded all luggages in the Fortuner. After several challenging ups and downs and avoiding bigger boulders and ditches along the dirt track we finally made it to the campsite near Kuttakarai where our group had already started a small campfire to keep themselves warm against the fast decreasing night temperatures.

We camped near the stream on a beautiful, flat grassland. We set up the two big tents - myself and Simon had brought our identical 4-person Quecha tents which can comfortably house 8 people each. Simon started cooking soup and noodles - CTC's signature dish and a few of us made a nice, big campfire to keep everyone warm. A third group went to get drinkable water from the nearby village well. The ground water was surprising warm in contrast to the chill water in the streams. After finishing dinner we settled around the campfire and exchanged old trekking stories from CTC. The night was getting colder and colder with the constant chill wind blowing over the plains. Sleeping bags or thick blankets are a must at these higher altitudes in the winter months.

We woke up as the sun rose that Sunday morning. Simon cooked tea on his gas stove and myself and another early riser cycled back 10km to the Tata Grande to pick up the cornflakes we had forgotten the previous evening. It felt so great - description beyond words - to cycle across the rough up-and-down dirt track during the early morning chill climate with sun rays peeking through the morning mist. One had to stand up straight and push hard on the pedals in lowest gear to drive up the steep slopes. Once over the top it was quickly changing to the highest gear before rolling down at high speed while descending. Awesome morning work out in the most scenic lush green surroundings.

After completing breakfast we broke up camp and again had to fix a few punctures before proceeding further - the dirt track had taken its toll. We put one of the gear-less cycles on the roof top luggage carrier of the Fortuner and a few participants decided to follow the group by SUV. The rest of the gang continued cycling till we hit the end of the jeep track near another village a few kilometers upstream where we decided to take a U-turn in order to exit Javadhu as per schedule before nightfall. It was around 15km back to the tar road which we had left the previous day afternoon.

The photographers went ahead to position themselves at downhill slopes and stream crossings to capture some "interesting" moments. The car sweeped the back taking care of punctures and providing refreshments to exhausted cyclists. By noon we reached a stream which we had explored the previous weekend (Javadhu Exploration) and parked our vehicles. We trekked a few hundreds meters downstream to a nice waterfall where everyone took a refreshing morning dip to wash off the sweat and dirt. The Fortuner also did not escape a clean bath washing away a thick blanket of dirt from recent trips.

The water was chilled due to the cold night but the rising morning sun kept us warm blooded ;-) After a nice refreshing dip the stomachs started growling and we peddled hard uphill back towards Nammiyambut for meals. "Intensive work out + heavy meals = post-lunch power nap under shady tamarind tree". Balaji and a few cyclists meanwhile had gone straight after the campsite along a two wheeler track back to Jamunamarathur to pick up his Mahindra Thar and the van. Both vehicles caught up with us near the lunch spot. 

By late afternoon again we started our descent from the Javadhu plateau along the Northeastern side towards the touristic Amirthi falls. The downhill road offered breath taking views on the beautiful valley in which we were descending - our team picked up record breaking speeds again while sometimes halting and posing for a group pic along a hair pin bend. Once we reached the plains we had to cycle another 10km inside this scenic valley before exiting Javadhu hills near Amirthi where our pickup van was waiting. We loaded the cycles on board again and proceeded homewards in our three SUV's as darkness set in over the beautiful and lesser known Javadhu. CTC's  first mountain cycling expedition was a very memorable one and while driving back to Chennai my restless mind was already thinking of the next possible cycling  destination.... to be continued soon.....

More photos on our forum

Peter Van Geit
Dare to create your own path rather than follow existing trails



Copyright © 2015 • The Chennai Trekking Club