The first big ride : Love for Ghats

A long-short write-up on the 1700 Km ride ( Feb 2nd to Feb 8th )… ( Photos here )

I had been talking about a trip to Megamalai to Mano and BIL for almost six months and unfortunately neither of them could make it when the ride was planned finally. The itinerary was like this.

Day 1 : Chennai to Namakkal( home )
Day 2 : Namakkal to Megamalai
Day 3: Megamalai to Vagamon
Day 4 : Vagamon to Munnar
Day 5: Munnar to Namakkal
Day 6: Namakkal to Pondicherry
Day 7 : Pondicherry to Chennai

Pondicherry was never in the first plan and it had replaced Kodaikanal on Day 4. I am to be blamed for missing Kodaikanal as I had nearly coerced Sunny to change the riding plan. Nevertheless, the ride was memorable. Some near-death experiences and quite a few interesting people during the trip.

The day before the ride needs to be forgotten because there were many last minute confusions. Let’s get on with the Day 1 already.

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Day 1: Familiar roads

We started off from Chennai around 5.30 from Perundgudi ( our default starting point now for any trip ) in two Royal Enfield bikes – Mano’s Classic 350 (BLU) and my Electra ( SKY ). Since RE’s were new to Sunny Raj , I had decided to maintain 90 or 100 as top speed for the first 100 kms. We had pit-stops every 60 kms and had reached Namakkal roughly around 12 PM. It was highways for most part of the ride – at least 300 kms and highways ride is a piece of cake if one is careful.

This is a road I have taken twice now on bike. A couple more and I will know the speed breakers and turns by heart.
We stayed the night to start to Meghamalai on Day 2. We had everything planned and both of us were excited about the next destination.

Day 2: Nightmare

We started from Namakkal around 6 AM to our next destination – Meghamalai ( roughly translates to ‘mountain of clouds’). The route was simple : Namakkal – Dindigul – Theni – Chinnamanur – Megamalai. It was National highways till Dindigul and then a little stretch of some picturesque State highways. We rode between small hills that covered the Sun which made the first 5 hours of ride a comfortable one. When we took a detour to Chinnamanur from Theni, we had no idea that the next 18 hours were gonna be a litlle bitter and unforgettable.

What is your worst nightmare ? While you read the next few lines of this day 2, try bringing your nightmare as the backdrop.

The roads to Meghamalai were the worse I have ever taken. It could not be called as ‘roads’ in the first place. No one gave us a heads-up ( the people who helped us with the route, the hotel manager ). It was just a path. We had to ride fighting the pits, sharp broken stones and mud. The Sun was up and it was like 30 degrees. We were sweating and at the verge of calling it off but neither of us spoke about it at the pit-stops. The road had tested our patience and drove us insane.

I had almost rode it standing on the footrest for the balance( for this feat, I had lost my wallet ). We had not noticed our hotel riding uphill and reached the Highways Dam. The forest rangers instructed to ride downhill for another 4 kms to find our hotel. This is where I came to know that I had lost my wallet. It just couldn’t get any better I thought. We rode downhill to find our next disappointment – our hotel. (A precious piece of advice guys – Book only in Travel sites like Makemytrip, Goibibo – do not book from the hotel’s website. You will be fooled. And stay near the Highways dam. It’s better there and you have lots for sight-seeing and trekking)

The hotel was nasty, very small and the food was the worst. But when the sight of riding downhill flashed before my mind, I dropped the idea of leaving the hotel. A talkative and a little interesting young lad for a housekeeper kept it going for a while. We got bored, sat outside the hotel right on the roadside. The temperature in the night was somewhere near 15 to 20 degrees. How we managed to sleep in that shady hotel is now a debatable question.
We started early – sometime around 7 AM and reached Chinnamanur at 8.15 AM ( no pit-stops ). Keeping aside the wallet loss, I was so relieved and thought this road itself was an achievement no matter how the next few days were going to be.

Day 3: Love for the Curve

We had to do something about my lost wallet. We rode back to Theni ( 16 km from Chinnamanur ) to find a browsing center to block my cards and arrange for a driving license copy. All the haste and tension cost us 2 hours and we decided to have lunch at ‘Hotel Everest’. Man, that is some biriyani you shouldn’t miss when you are in Theni. We even went for a second plate of Biriyani and that somehow lifted our spirits and we were back on the road 😀 . The route was : Theni – Chinnamanur – Kambam – Kumuli – Elapara – Vagamon. When we reached Kambam, we stopped for fuel. The roads were awesome – a landscape of paddy fields, a very few vineyards ( though not vine exactly ) and the hinting hills of Western Ghats.
We started from Kambam towards Kumuli ( here comes my favorite part of the ride ). I never knew Kumuli itself was a mini-hill station. The roads were broad and covered with foliage on both sides for most part of the route. There are some risky curves, but the drivers were sensible and I simply loved the ride from Kambam to Kumuli. It was a small stretch though but we already started to feel the temperature drop. We had tea at Kumuli and started off to Elapara – where our next stop was planned.

The good thing about Western Ghats is that it is a continuous stretch for a while. There is no climbing up – you are only going to ride and ride with the terrains showing up ahead and around and all-over. The curves look never-ending and though the roads are smooth, they are small and challenging.

So we managed to maintain 40 to 50 kmph in the ghats riding up to Elapara and from there to Vagamon. Here is where I came very close to meeting my Maker but then it was luck and reflex that saved me from what might have come.

It was a blind curve where there was the deep valley to my left ( no barricade or railings across this stretch ) and the hills towards my right. On this curve, I had to turn a small right and there was this truck ( a tempo van ) from nowhere. I had come inches close to the headlight and maneuvered to my extreme left just close to the edge of the road and the driver hit his brakes close to his left almost grazing the hills. We didn’t know whose mistake it was because the road was so narrow that only one truck could go. No exchange of words but only a smile and we continued as if we just crossed each other casually. Thanks to my Maker.

We reached Vagamon around 3 PM and found our hotel. It was a good one and the host was a cool guy. Basically it was a home-stay at an affordable price just 1 km from the town area. We dozed off and met an interesting old man at Vagamon town just near the Police Station. If you are basically from TN and you need some help, visit the tea shop near the Police station.

We had a great evening – a much deserved one and a tasty dinner – Chappathis, Parottas with Chicken Curry from the hotel we stayed. After a small walk in the tea plantations outside the hotel and a heavenly kadala curry – puttu breakfast the next morning, we started off to Munnar.

Day 4: The higher hill

We had to go via Nedunkanadam and Devikulam to reach Munnar ( there are actually half a dozen routes to Munnar from Vagamon and it is easy you are circling to your route again and again ). Till Nedunkandam, it was the curves and foliage again – another great stretch that would linger in our minds. We stopped for tea at Nedunkandam and from there on there was only a single route from Munnar – no confusions or doubts. Almost half way from Nedunkandam, I thought I was in familiar ghat roads and hills – the altitude clearly ascending that I could feel each kilometre. All of a sudden, I thought there was traffic and we had to over take here and there. Kumuli to Vagamon and Vagamon to Nedunkandam had not much of vehicles. But this reminded the usual trips to Ooty and Kodaikanal. The lush green tea plantations started showing up and the temperature drop adding to the thrill. A few kilometres before Devikulam, we could see Munnar town area and I am sure Sunny shouted ‘yay !!’ . That was the second ‘yay moment’ in the four days.

The hotel was easy to find and we walked in the evening and had some warm soup and Quail eggs fry ( highly recommending the quail egg fry ). We had a decent dinner and when we almost reached the hotel, we saw two brawling and had to intervene between the two guys as one had teased the other’s wife. Some tension there but luckily the one who teased had apologized and they were on their way with some exchange of words. (Honestly, I had no clue how he found his gut to tease someone’s wife when his 8 year old kid was walking with him).

Day 5: New destination was on cards

The next morning, I had almost decided to go for ‘Rock Papers and Scissors’ to choose Kodaikanal or Pondicherry, but Sunny had conveniently accepted to Pondicherry which was a new idea I had proposed. We decided to stop at home, stay for a night and start to Pondicherry.

We tied the bungee cords and started off at 11 AM towards Namakkal. We had to take Udumalpet – Tharapuram – Kangeyam- Kodumudi route. Only a small stretch was the actual steep ghats on this route. The route from Vagamon to Munnar and from Munnar to Udumalpet are entirely different – we felt we were at two different regions.

We stopped at the Lakkam falls – a refreshing sight and a great choice for a pit-stop ( you had to stop here ). I had been to this falls earlier but one more time couldn’t hurt our schedule. After all, who said no to a Water-falls ?

We had crossed Chinnar wildlife sanctuary and some wavy deserted roads. The wildlife ( which were existent a few years back ) must have used this road to cross to the other side.

Not just Chinnar but in almost all the Wildlife sanctuaries, there are only boards that say ‘Wildlife’ but no real animals. In Meghamalai, they are blasting the rocks using ammunitions and the hotel guys told us these Roadways department literally drove off the animals. We have encroached their lands for hotels, resorts ( and by some super-hyped meditation centers and false-ideology-propagating-priests). In about a decade we are going to have the temperature in the hills same as that of the plains. And we are not going to see any wildlife then.

Let’s get back to the travelogue – there was some miscommunication near Kangeyam but we chilled off and reached home at 4.30. These were familiar state highways and it was a enjoyable ride after Muthur.

Home sweet home – a refreshing bath and dinner and we slept off early. A sleep that we deserved.

(My mom doesn’t really give a nod for roadtrips but I am sure she keeps praying for me whenever I am on the roads 🙂 )

Day 6 : Bienvenue

The ghats were over now officially and it was ‘Highway is My Way’ again. We started at 10 AM and it was only highways from Perambalur till Villupuram. We stopped once in a while – and we chose the places with trees and no shops.

I choose such places because that is where you could sit and rest watching the vehicles going by. Frankly, Sunny didn’t bother which place I chose to stop for tea or anything because he seemed to be contended with whatever I decided. Such should be your fellow-riders. I remember being one like Sunny whenever ‘bro’ rides with me. (Villupuram to Pondy will test your sanity a little – because you cannot average more than 50 kmph. Also, the Pondy folks are running short of road-sense nowadays )

We reached the hotel around 2 PM and I should admit – the hotel for that price – we were really lucky. We simply relaxed and checked out a few shops and places before my favorite roadside food joint.

Try this road-side shop ‘Rolex’ near Ram’s international – you can get Parotta – Mutton paya combo that you will remember whenever someone says ‘Pondy’ – no exaggeration. It used to be tastier before but you should still try.

After a satisfying dinner, we slept off around 11 as we had planned a early morning walk.

Day 7 : Wrapping it up

We woke up late and groggy and went to the restaurant near the Beach for Tea after a walk. So far, we had completed 1500 kms of roads.
Sunny wanted to visit the Aurobindo ashram and so we did. ( Of late, I am questioning more and more about Gods and stuff and a man being deified is something I really didn’t appreciate ). We checked out and hit the ECR around 2 PM. It was only 120 kms to Perungudi from there and we were not in a hurry. We had initially planned to two stops in between but only took one ( in a desperation that we didn’t find a good tea shop in the last 60 kms ).

We were not exhausted because of the ride and I actually wanted the trip to go on and on. Returning back to the normal life didn’t interest me but there was never any choice other than to head back to Chennai.

We reached Perungudi (Chennai ) at 4 PM and that was the end of our ride. Our two RE motorcycles might have given a sigh of relief 😀

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When I try to call the best moments from the 1700 km ride ( Feb 2nd till Feb 8th ), a few minutes of my ride flash and fade away in front of my eyes – the longest stretch of curvy roads from Kumuli to Vagamon,the soul breaking Meghamalai roads, the eye-candy Kumuli and of course the adventurous Munnar roads.

A seven days to be remembered for a long time in life. Road trips are a cliched fun activity nowadays. But I should say I was very happy about what I had just done – a 1700 km ride. Two years back, I had no idea on what road-trips meant. Now, I have been on three trips already and I have learnt quite a few stuff. Priceless experience and a load of memories.

The mind is just rooting to get back on the road again ! 😦

 

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