Thursday, March 14, 2013

Post Trip Writeup - 2 Day Pulicat Lake Cycling and Bird Watching, Feb 23-24


This is a small write up about the longest cycling trip out of Chennai city in the history of CTC!

On 23rd Saturday morning we started at 4:00 am from Tidel Park, picked up the team already waiting at Guindy and joined the other team at Koyambedu. After a short briefing about the route we are taking, do’s and don’ts on the highway cycling and possible surprises and restrictions around Sriharikota due to President India’s visit to that place, etc. we took off at 5:00 am. Our last member joined at Padi junction making team size thirteen.



We split into two groups before reaching Red Hills – one small team of four members traveled towards Red Hills while the remaining set out towards the scenic route via Minjur and Ponneri. Early morning cycling in the misty weather on the wide and almost empty Minjur road was a great thrill. Almost no traffic on the road – whole road was ours; but after a while we had to contended with only the right half of the road because the left half of the road was occupied by container trucks that were parked in a series for about two kilometers distance. 


During our morning tea break the team proceeding via Red Hills contacted us to know that our meeting point would be Gummudipoondi on National Highway No 5 (NH5). After sometime, while we were having our breakfast at Minjur, other team has informed us that they have reached Gummudipoondi already. We continued our journey on the picturesque roads through the paddy fields. On the way we say the milestones indicating the distance to Pulicat village. But that is not our destination. Pulicat village is on the Southern tip of Pulicat Lake. Starting from here, Pulicat Lake stretches for a length of 60 km towards North with major portion of the lake lying in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh state. We need to reach the Northern end of the lake where Nelapattu Bird Sanctuary is situated.



I forgot to introduce a special member of our team – Raj. Raj just turned 18 recently and he feels he should not pedal on par with other elder team members. Actually, after the very first leg of cycling from Guindy to Koyambedu Raj lost his hope of pedaling for another 120 km and reaching the destination. But after knowing my age, he regained his confidence and agreed to continue saying “If I cannot do at this age, when can I do?” However, he used to fall behind of other team members and used to get additional care he used to receive from other team members.  Many of us practiced slow cycling in support of Raj. Finally by noon we reached Gummudipoondi two hours after the other team has reached there.

We crossed the state border and entered into Andhra Pradesh. First in the life for all of us to cross the state border on bicycles (last time I experienced similar thrill was two years ago when I crossed the international border by foot at Lipulekh Pass). 


Shyam’s cycle opened the account with the first puncture between Gummudipoondi and Tada. Rectified the problem and soon my cycle followed the suite; quickly replaced tube with another used tub. While pumping air, that tube gave away one of the old patches – that tube was thrown away and replaced with a brand new tube. Perhaps this new tube was not sitting well inside the tyre, it was taking about 80 PSI pressure to keep the tyre in shape. (Later, this brand new tube got burst while in Sullurpet town. Quickly went to a local cycle repair shop, bought another tube and fixed the cycle.) After a while, Raj’s cycle got punctured and it was repaired in Tada at a local cycle shop.



It was 1:30 pm and it was very hot. We started searching a for a place where we can have sumptuous Andhra meal. At the far end of Tada village we found a nice a/c restaurant. While having the lunch in a conversation with the restaurant owner we were told that the it was too late for the birding at Nelapattu. He told us that annual “Flamingo Festival” took place during the first week of January and the season is over now. He advised us not to go forward in vein. But after hearing on the contrary from the local police station we have decided to move forward. 


After about 12 km of cycling we reached Sullurpet town. There we took a deviation towards Sriharikota. It is about 20 km to Sriharikota from Sullurpet. It is the Northern tip of Pulicat Lake. There we get to see hundreds or even thousands of flamingo birds. We planned to there and set our night camp there. But once start going on that road, we do not get anything to eat for the night. So, we started shopping for some fruits, bread and biscuits. It took almost an hour for us to complete our shopping. But by that time it started getting dark. So, we quickly had a nice refreshing dip in a small pond and had our fruit-dinner.

We were told that there was rocket launch from Sriharikota with a payload of 7 satellites in two days’ time. President of India expected to reach that place to watch that event. Owing to this, security got tightened all over that place – hence we could not make our night halt on Shar Road. Thus we lost the opportunity to watch flocks of colorful flamingos.


We decided to proceed to Nelapattu Bird Sanctuary which is 17 km away on NH5. One of the Sullurpet traffic constables enquired us where we are coming from and where we are going. He advised us to go to Doravari Satram village police station for support night stay.   


It was 9:00 pm. There was nice moon light because it was only two days to Full Moon day. It was a nice 15 km long moonlight cycling on NH5 highway. Officially allowed maximum speed on this excellent stretch of highway is 100 KMPH.


But we pedaled only between 20 and 25, not because we were afraid of any speeding tickets – because we were all tired, we have been pedaling since morning 4 o’clock with practically no break for a power nap (only members who came via Red Hills got a about two hours’ time to relax while rest of the team is traveling via Minjur). We all felt that we cycled for about 150 km between 4:00 am 10:30 pm that day.

The hospitality we received at Doravari Satram Police Station needs a special mention in this trip. 

We reached the village police station at 10:30 pm and explained the constables there who we are, where we are coming from and our purpose of visit. Upon knowing about us and our requirement, they gave us a very warm welcome: provided hot water for taking bath, arranged a bike to go 5 km to fetch some food for dinner for the team, spared one can full of drinking water for us for the night, guided us to the local high school building for sleeping for the night. They have informed us that AP High Court judge is also visiting the bird sanctuary the next morning and these constables will also come there to show us the bird sanctuary. Looking at the hospitality constables were showing, some of us even felt that they are going to ask some money at the end! Beautiful turkey at the police station entertained us every much with its beautiful dance.  


We parked the cycles at the police station without any fear of damage or theft to them. We did not sleep directly under the open sky due to lot of fog and mist in that village. We used Sleeping bags, two tarpaulins and even an air bed to sleep in the school verandah. 


While I woke up to catch the beautiful Sunrise at Doravari Satram village, a Telugu teacher came at 7:30 am and woke up the remaining saying that they have a special class for 10th standard students at 8:30 am.


Nelapattu Bird Sanctuary which is 2.5 km from where we stayed for the night just across the national highway and railway track. We need travel about 1 km on a gravel road to reach there.  



We reached the Sanctuary by 8:30 am on Sunday and waited next to the deer park while some of us were taking photographs from the watch tower. We had our bread and jam breakfast there and entered the bird Sanctuary at 9:00 am after purchasing entrance ticket for Rs. 2 per head and R s. 50 per camera.


According to bird sanctuary authorities 22 types of birds were visiting the place this year. They also displayed the names of all the varieties of birds with precise count of each bird type in the reception area – I do not know how they arrive at these precise numbers. We photographed and identified around 12 varieties of birds during our visit.








There was heavy police protection in the sanctuary that day due to Andhra Pradesh High Court Judge’s family is also visiting the place. We spent around two hours watching birds and taking photos – apart from us, about 60 school children and about 30 normal visitors were there during that two hours on that Sunday.  


By the time we left the bird sanctuary and reached the national high to proceed towards Sullurpet, high court judge’s convoy is proceeding towards the Nelapattu.


Some of us had bath in the way side pools and few had a quick bite in the highway dhaba before we reached Sullurpet for lunch. Had lunch at a cramped restaurant in and reached Sullurpet railway station at about 2:00 pm. One cycle tube got burst on the way. Four determined brave souls took leave from rest of the team and started pedaling towards Chennai (80 KM) in the midday hot Sun. The other nine members left the place by local train along with their cycles. With support of railway police called the ticket collector from her home to get the luggage ticket for the cycles. We reached Chennai Central station by 6:00 pm. We were informed that the four peddlers reached home safely past mid night.



Total onward journey cycling was 133 km – from Thiruvanmiyur to Nelapattu. In the return, cycling was only 37 km because most of the team members have taken the easy ride by local train – but for the four who pedaled back to Chennai it was another 80 KM in hot afternoon Sun.

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