Sunday, May 31, 2009

Nomadic bikers charging for Valparai

Travel is like being in a different world in a different sense, apart from the literal meaning. Travel by bike through the most scenic of places, through roads that could transform from smooth to rough, weathers that can be penetratingly hot or chillingly cold, and through days of not knowing what is to come next, is nothing like anything you could imagine if you’ve not done it before. There is, in each of the members of the Biker’s Fraternity a big rage to break free and live that life that the earth has to offer. And trust me; it’s got a lot to offer.

This time around, Valparai was the target. The goal as usual was to ride through day, through night, to ride through all weathers and all obstacles. Initiated by Renjith, then taken up by the brothers and with inputs from the group, the final plan was out. The trip was to begin May 1, 3.00 a.m. and end May 4, morning. A wonderfully planned out 3 day trip with routes figured out, costs perfectly calculated, and obstacles anticipated, was ready. The bikers were geared up, as always, and so it was onward to Valparai!!!

Route and distance
The proposed plan was to ride from Bangalore - Krishnagiri - Dharmapuri - Polachi - Valparai back to Coimbatore - Ooty - Bangalore and finally Chennai. This would result in an expected distance of approximately over 1200 km for bikers from Bangalore and 1700 km for bikers from Chennai.

The plan and the anti-plan *wink*
The warm up (Boxing session)
Raul and I were to start on the 30th April, (Thursday), at 3.00 a.m, in order to be able to purchase a jacket he’d been hoping to get and then join the rest. Sandy and the others from Chennai (3 bikers) were to start on Friday morning 3.00 a.m. That meant we should have been in Bangalore before 10a.m Friday. However, being prone to set backs is something we have to learn to live with. Here’s why : On the eve of Raul’s and my proposed departure from Chennai, Raul had been riding his bike with Sandy as pillion rider. They were just touching the hundred feet road, when all of a sudden, a random bloke happened to clumsily walk right into the line of advance of Raul’s bike. Since it was completely unexpected, taking Raul’s by surprise, he had to jam on the breaks. The bloke who was so careless as to not even bother looking where he was going, almost got hit and immediately did what blokes like him do…. raised himself and started arguing, blaming it all on our innocent Raul. The bloke was the miscreant who had to apologize, but instead, went on complaining, eventually thrusting forth his hand offensively toward Raul. Sandy, being the bigger brother, with his brotherly protective genes working at full swing, immediately took the lead, jumped out of his bike and warned the clumsy chap to keep it decent, mind his actions and walk away. But after that reproach, the chap began a physical fight which, by the way Sandy had related, must have been absolutely brutal. The man who was trying to act like the victim, was on his feet, trying to fist fight with Sandy and Raul. While the fight went on, another lad from a nearby Tasmac, came over and started a fight with the two brothers, while the careless bloke I mentioned earlier, vanished from sight. The Tasmac chap called three more of his people. Out of the three men, one was pretty old yet ferocious. They fought furiously, with the bad guys grabbing Sandy and Raul’s helmets and actually trying to hit the owners of the helmets with them!! Our boys were enormously gallant young men. Lol. They fought like brave heroes. The unfair part was that they were only two against a continual inflow of three to four men coming in groups, group after group. So when one group got tired of fighting, they called another group and the vicious cycle went on, while Sandy and Raul remained players in the fight from start to end. As time went on, and our boys were struggling hard to get the bad guys out of the way, whilst trying even harder to protect each other, a new group came in with one man looking like a real, real goonda. Ouch!! He and the others charged towards Raul, when Sandy shouted out to him to “be a man and fight it one on one!” Even the street ladies jumped into the fight and began screaming at our guys like witches. Meanwhile, our Raul was busy doing his verbal stunts, shouting out at the men at large “Do you know who I am?” (Naan yaaran therima), which, we may be proud to say, actually helped scare the men a little. While the wrestling and ‘boxing session’ went on, the bros managed to tell a few random onlookers to call the cops, and although they did call the police, another group of cops arrived at the scene sooner! This is the sudden incident that pushed our trip to hours later than the initial plan.. and hence our anti plan. Lol. Sandy came out of the scuffle with a painful knuckle and hand in general, Raul, with a punched eye.

The trip - a shaky cat on the wall
Well, we got delayed even more because the police kept calling Raul and Sandy for inquiry, and postponed the inquiry so often that in the end, Raul actually called up saying the trip was cancelled. But hey, it’s the BIKER’S FRATERNITY we’re talking about. Even in the midst of such a horrible event, the mind cannot be let to allow a trip such as this to be cancelled. And the biker that he was, he called back immediately, telling me to hold on a few more minutes. I waited a few minutes, until Raul called yet again saying THE TRIP WAS ON! And I was delighted.

Hitting the roads!!!
Although Sandy was to ride the next day with the others, plans had changed by then. The other three bikers dropped out, so he decided to join us on the 30th itself. Sandy, Raul and I started from Chennai on the 30th of April around 3.30 p.m. For us, this would be a 4 day trip, although for Sandy and Raul it became a 5 day trip. Our rides were Sandy’s Avenger and Raul’s Pulsar. We had an initial hunt for shades for Raul and Sandy, (because during the fight, the goondas had somehow grabbed and escaped with their former shades) Finally when the Ray Bans, Bandanas, helmets and Jackets were pulled on, we hit the road around 5.00 p.m! The excitement began just there. We were heading first to Bangalore, where we’d be joined by our other bikers. When we reached Ambur; the sun slowly setting as we rode, it was close to 8.30p.m. When you’re mind tells you to buckle up and just relax, you listen. For me, when we hit the Poonamalle High Road, I’d already forgotten about the trivial commitments that I was leaving behind and that seem to mean so much while one is living them. We halted at a little restaurant called the Taj restaurant where we hogged chicken and mutton biriyani, not to mention the goat hoof for Sandy. Ewe! Lol. He seemed to have liked it though! *wide mouth stare* Once we got ourselves refreshed, we were back on the bikes heading for Bangalore, through Hosur and Krishnagiri. Just as we reached Bangalore, we stopped at a Ganesha temple, spent about 5 minutes there and headed on.
It was exactly midnight when we arrived at Bangalore covering a distance of close to 340 Km from Chennai. Our meet up point was Empire Koramangla where Niki, Ranji and Senthil arrived first and we had a small snack of Shawarmas and tea. Cjo and Jash arrived next, had dinner, cracked jokes till about 2.30 a.m after which we left for a few hours of sleep.

Our trip was just beginning. We knew there was so much to look forward to, but decided to get some sleep before setting out again, so we stopped by at Ranji’s place for the night.

Our meet up and start off
After about 2 hours of sleep, we awoke at something like 4.30 a.m, ready to get back on those bikes. Raul and Cjo had left to pick up the remaining biker pals who were to meet us in the morning. The rest of us gulped down some black coffee and packed ourselves and our bags to meet the rest of the gang, which was finally completed by Roy, Varun and Nipin. The other riders were Ranji’s and Roy's Enfields, Senthil’s Enticer, Nipin’s Avenger, Jash's Pulsar. So on the whole; we had two Pulsars, two Avengers, two Enfields and an Enticer.

The AIDS awareness, condoms and a weighty box of pamphlets
A mission to serve, change and protect
We chatted a while and then made our way for breakfast (at a restaurant called the Tamil Nadu restaurant) in Krishnagiri and a meet up with a member from the TNSACS (which is an organisation dealing with spreading awareness on AIDS). Our objective in meeting with them was to find out what we could do to help them, during our rides, in acting as a mobilisation team that carries the information for them to the various nooks and corners that we touch as we journey. The gentleman (Mr. Anand) was very friendly and gave us as much information as possible about what they are and how they go about spreading awareness on not only AIDS but also other concerns of society such as deforestation, child infanticide, usage of iodine salt etc. He then took us to the office where we were briefed on how they operate and the kind of funds given to them by the government. Here, an inauguration program for their AIDS awareness was being held, and we were treated as Chief guests. That was very unexpected. They took photos of us as well as videoed us and these would have been published in newspapers and broadcast on local news channels in Krishnagiri. We were introduced to every other member of the TNSACS organisation. Our interest was to share as much as we could with the truckers because they are the men that we usually meet or talk to during our riding breaks or when we need to find our way to our destination points. Sandy had a lot of questions to ask, and to which the gentleman answered precisely and clearly. After about 30 minute briefing, our member, Senthil gave a short introduction about who we are (The biker’s fraternity) and how we’d like to help out. The organisation was very pleased and gave us a big box of condoms and pamphlets to distribute to truckers on our way. When all was done and said, and we'd promised to get back in touch in near future as well as do all we can to distribute the pamphlets and condoms, we shook hands with them, bid goodbye and left. We distributed most of the pamphlets at Krishnagiri, and preserved some to distribute to other truckers on our way.

We rode on, 7 bikes in all, with Niki and Cjo dancing happily, and the rest of us chatting, teasing and taking photos of each other and the lovely roads.The road we took leading from Bangalore to Krishnagiri made a total of about 90 Km.

The spectacle through Krishnagiri
I cannot forget the vista of the route that led us to Dharmapuri. Through Shoolagari and Krishnagiri, the sight was spectacular. There’s something mystical about the colours of nature when they hit you just there and you’re looking at them with absolute lucidity. There were such brilliant hills, big and small, some clear and some hazy in the mid morning, there were hills covered in grey stone every side we turned, there were also hills that seemed to support large white stones. This was just absolutely magnificent in the morning hours, the view being held against a clear blue sky, at a time when the sun was not too scorching hot, and yet still emitted that essence of itself in which the right touch of warmth would wash our faces and our very being. Apart from the natural beauty of what has been left untouched by man, was also the impressive decoration of what IS touched by man. As we rode, we saw man’s breathtaking skill in setting up the roads. Right through the centre of the long road through Shoolagiri and Krishnagiri, were a series of flowering plants that ranged in colours from orange to pink to purple to red to yellow. That sight is still so clearly refreshing in my mind. The beauty is added by the feeling one gets when he’s riding through such magnificence, while on a bike. It feels as if you’re connected to nature, not just because you’re in it, but because all that holds you is a seat, and the rest of you is just flying through it. But wait, all that beautiful talk and I shouldn’t hide the fact that it was on that very road, while I was riding with Jash, and we were way past the others, that we lost them. We came to a small halt, where I removed my spectacles to wipe the minute grime off and realised I’d lost my left lens and the frame was broken. I’d been riding like that for ‘who knows how long,’ completely ignorant of that comical looking sight of myself.

At Hogenekkal falls
When all that had passed and we reached the Hogenekkal falls (after traversing a distance of about 90 Km again), we hadn’t had lunch as yet. It was mid afternoon, while the heat of the sun was scorching and we were already getting dehydrated. Since we were in Hogenekkal falls, it meant boating. We were already feeling the heat get to us, and boating would mean putting ourselves in direct attack of the sun. Half of us still decided to go boating. Who could have thought it would turn out to be as wonderfully refreshing as it did? So there it was, Sandy, Niki, Senthil, C jo and I walked our way down the rocks and toward the boat. While the rest of the guys lay back in the shade and just relaxed themselves completely, enjoying the sounds of water splashes and rehydrating themselves, we sat on that boat in the hot sun, wondering “Do we know what we’re doing?” The boat ride was 3 Km. Three kilometres in the mid-afternoon sun. It turned out to be great!! While we were steered slowly we just talked and joked and splashed water on each other, the sun had set and by that time the boatsman had already begun splashing water on us till we were completely drenched, Cjo, Senthil and Niki had taken a dive into the water, allowing themselves a short swim. They got back into the boat satisfied with the decision to dive into that very water that made my bandana stink! It was a wonderful laugh. The relief we got when the water splashed upon our backs and through our hair was like heaven. All in all, it was a lovely boat ride and worth the initial heat of the sun provided we had our sunscreen with us. :P

Toward Polachi
Hungry as we were after our long afternoon, we sat down to a late laid – back lunch. Once our stomachs were filled, we headed for Polachi but Roy took leave from here as he had to head back for some work. So when we left from Hogennekal, we were 10 of us. On our way there, late in the evening, we stopped at a petrol station for a break and a refuel for the bikes. Here we met a few truckers, distributed condoms and pamphlets and of course cleared a few doubts that they had.

Ranji’s trick
Ranji, earlier that day, played a little trick back at the others when he was given a dare on one of our stops for a drink. The boys dared him to give a condom to a cop that we happened to bump into, just a random cop. Wonder how a cop would respond to that. Lol. Ranji boldly accepted to take up the dare, which surprised everyone else. They all watched quietly as he walked confidently towards the police officer, handed out a condom and then began a friendly conversation with him. What a joke on everyone else, because the cop was apparently someone Ranji already knew well enough. In our faces :P.

Senthil’s birthday
From the petrol station, we hopped back on our bikes and were on our way, like real wayfarers. We rode for hours on end taking the Salem bipass toward Erode (we wanted to go through Yercaud but due to time constraint, we decided Salem would be a better option), and by midnight, reached Erode, stopping in front of a lodge, hoping to get accommodation for the night. Being completely exhausted, our ability to ride any further, seemed a big question mark. Now for a place like Erode, getting a room?? Not as easy as one would like to believe. It was Senthil’s birthday, May 2. We surprised him with a cake, smothered cream on his face and made him make his wish. A cigarette stood as his candle. Lol. Well we lost half the cake that fell off the bike, but I guess a surprise like that at that time of night, when we’re in the middle of some place looking for a lodge and tired to wits end, is a surprise that counts. Dinner that night was at a Dhaba, before we reached Erode, where we ordered more food than we could eat and you’ll find a picture of Niki trying to hog it all. Hehe. We had rotis, dhal and chicken masala, gulped down some thumbs up and sprite.

The lodge fiasco
Looking for a lodge at Erode
And now, as some of us waited for a room, Raul, Sandy, Varun, and Cjo were out on a hunt for rooms. And yes they visited a couple of lodges. They came back saying that either the room was not snug or not comfy or that it was just below standards and bleak. And so they kept searching until finally we came to a point where we just needed to get a room, comfy or not. One place seemed alright, especially for our 'NEED' at that moment. We all went to take a look at the place. An old man stood at the reception desk. It was past 12.30. A group of bikers arriving at that time of night, looking for a room, aroused his curiosity. As Varun and Senthil sat at the lobby area, the old man started talking to them. Rahul had left to search for other rooms, because frankly on second thought, we didn't like the dingy place. The old man asked Varun who we were, what we were doing, and why we were at Polachi. He nagged Varun (who at that moment was too tired to make an attempt to use up any renmant of energy, to reply to the old man). Varun tried to answer a few questions, but the old man shot question after question, tirelessly, while Varun answered slowly tiring to such an extent that he called Raul and told him to get back immediately and save him from the old man's torture. The elderly guy then got frustrated and impatient because we were still wandering around the lobby, looking around, deciding whether to take up the rooms. He charged us a total of 1100 for 4 rooms (each room costing Rs. 250 + and extra charge of Rs.100 for two mats). We finally concluded that this wasn't worth it, and hence slowly walked out, as the elderly man showed his irritation asking 'are you coming are you coming in a duck's quack'. Varun who was really tired, and fed up too, shouted back ....finally! lol, and then we all stomped out, fretting and fuming. Yet when we decided so, even when another room was available, it just WASN’T available to US. We were 8 guys and 2 girls and that is just not good when you’re in a village and the times don’t favour a mixed population of friends. When we arrived at this other lodge, the receptionist immediately took one look at Niki and I and that was it. He had fumes pouring out his ears and nostrils. He said to us that he would not permit girls to stay there because we’d come along with the guys. :O And then we told him that we were looking for a separate room for the girls (Niki and I) and he still didn’t consent. He seemed so stubborn. We tried to show him ID cards, tell him about the fact that we’re trying to promote awareness but nothing worked. The guy acted like a child, slammed the gate shut on our faces and told us to leave. How weird! And so we decided this would just not work. Our next option was to just ride on! After a small stop for tea at a restaurant, (where Nipin was almost being hit on by a guy who claimed to be an actor), outside of which, Rauls and Ranji were trying to catch up on some much needed sleep, (sleeping on their bikes after snapping on the cente stand) Jash falling flat on the ground, and after distributing more pamphlets and condoms, we headed on.

The call for sleep..
We rode, we rode and we rode. All heads were bobbing. We realised that we were too sleepy to go on. It was like a virus had caught onto us. Slowly, one by one we were all knocked into a state of complete sleepiness. I tried to shake my head awake. Sandy asked me to keep talking, but I just fell asleep now and then, with my helmet knocking Sandy at regular intervals. And then, it was just over limits. There are many things to be sure of before you hit the road. A few would be: Don't drink and drive, don't sleep and ride. Don't give the bumpers the duty of waking you up. Make sure you've had enough of sleep and make sure you take enough rest between long rides. Well, Raul’s eye started aching terribly because of the punch he had gotten earlier, a punch he did not deserve. He had a rough time riding at night. And this time his eye ached terribly, more than ever. We took the Coimbatore bypass towards Polachi. About 10 - 15 Km beyond the Check post, we stopped.

Nearly a road camp – No where to sleep
Firstly, Raul just couldn’t take it that he got off his bike, and just fell flat on the roadside! He just lay there asleep for about 15 minutes after Sandy poured him some eye drops. After that, he awoke. We rode on till a tea shop, just there beside the roadway. Raul found a charpoy in a small area on the opposite side of the road to where we had halted. Cjo and Niki were about 7 km ahead of us. We couldn’t call them back. Niki was extremely sleepy and found a place to sleep at the petrol bunk. The rest of us caught up on about an hour or less of sleep, just there, outside in the open, with our bags as pillows and the sky above us. It was very important for us to get some sleep. I completely enjoyed the feel of that hour of sleep. It was like heaven when I awoke at about 4 in the morning. It was beautiful to wake up in the outside, to see myself surrounded by bikes just parked there ready to take us through newer roads, to see the dark sky slowly showing signs of welcoming the sun for another pristine day, to watch the others leisurely gear themselves although still exhausted from the continual riding. It’s a wonderful feeling to be on the roads, ride on the roads, sleep on the roads and eat on the roads. It gives you a sense of reality. Anyhow, we then had some more tea and gave the shop owner some condoms and pamphlets and were back to riding, directed straight for Polachi.

Traffic lights and Raul’s eye
Raul was still unable to take the glare of the traffic lights. They seemed to irritate his eye very much, that we had to blindfold him with a cloth and since we were all still a little sleepy, blindfolding him would mean he’d be prone to sleep. Therefore, for safety sake we had to tie him up with Jash who was riding, with Raul as pillion rider. The guys used jackets to tie Raul to Jash and when all was set, and Raul held on to Jash, we directed ourselves toward Polachi. Jash took such excellent care of Raul. That is what is even lovelier about us riding in a group. We always rode making sure every other biker was within certain kilometre distances of each other. We paired ourselves when it seemed necessary making sure, always, that the bikes with least fuel rode in front and those that could last longer, remained at back. This was essential to ensure that all bikers were safe and we could keep track of each person, also making our contact with the other bikers easier if we happen to lose sight of them.

Polachi at last
Hunger vs Sleep
Around 7.00 in the morning, Polachi took us into its midst. A little town, it was just the place we were to refresh and get some shuteye. But wait, our stomachs were empty! We were both exceedingly sleepy, and yet awfully hungry. It was like a gamble… sleep while we felt sleepy, or eat and risk the idea of losing the blissful daze we were all completely engulfed in. Varun, I believe was the sleepiest. He was the one who set in us the idea that if we waited for breakfast (which was another 30 minute wait), we might feel awakened by the wait and sleep might not come in that easy. However, I suppose our stomachs growled louder than our pineal glands. We gobbled down breakfast at the Sakthi restaurant and by around 8.30 we were ready to get to our rooms, a 2 minute ride away from the restaurant. Niki and I had a room on the ground floor, while the guys split themselves for two rooms one on the first floor and one on the second. Two seconds, and we were fast asleep. Two hours later we awoke.

Riding up to Valparai
We got some biscuit and juice, had a bath which was rejuvenating and as soon as everyone was ready, we made for Valparai! I don’t have to explain the intense heat of the sun that struck harshly upon us and how our jackets were both a protection as well as a terrible incubator of heat. Yet that was us, riding through the afternoon, joyfully as if nothing else mattered, as if all we cared about was the roads and Valparai, as if we knew that getting roasted in the sun would certainly pay off, pay off in more than enough ways. And yeah it certainly did! It’s all completely worth it in the end, completely worth it because when we reached Valparai, I tell you, I’ll give you a two syllabled ‘damn’!! (The way a random guy says it to Lilly in the TV series ‘How I met your mother’). When the clock was close to striking 5, we reached Valparai. One usually never has words to describe a hill station. I am going to make an attempt, but be sure to know that it is just not enough to get the real picture. We had a brief halt for a snack of bananas, banana rolls and tea, as our eyes relished the sight of the beautiful shades of green and blue, shades that only the natural magnificence of earth can portray.

The journey up
I fell in love during this trip. Fine, yeah, I did sort of have my head bobbing on and off during the ride uphill because clearly I was still dazed from the lack of sleep for the past 48 hours, but after the little catnaps, my mind felt energized again. Having parked the bike at a lovely spot en route uphill, we lingered there, whilst the others were still arriving. As Sandy, Cjo and Jash were trying to climb a small elevated portion of land that looked like a miniature hill and ended up with the picture of three men lined one after the other, Sandy holding Jash's leg and Cjo holding Sandy’s butt (hehehehe), Varun, Senthil, Niki and I went down the side of a plantation area and stood there few minutes immersed in a plethora of green. A small snap session, and then the others joined us. Cjo had his modelling session too. :P

The Sholayar Dam
Time was running out, so we rushed up yet again and rode up till we spotted one of the most beautiful topographies I could have ever believed I would see during this trip. It was B-E-A-U-TIFUL!! There was a dam, called the SHOLAYAR dam that was led to, following a trail of rock and stone. From the road and across the pavement, one could not see the edge of the water body. It was steep to look at from where we stood. The hill on the other side was complete in green. It looked more like a valley, with a body of water at its centre. There was something so numinous about that place, something that caught me while I looked at it till I went completely blank. You keep looking, expecting something from the scenic terrain, yet knowing that you’ve already been given the best you could have at the first look of the image. Images like that are exceedingly luring. As I watched over the wall which was an unspoken warning not to cross beyond it, my bandana flew off my head and fell onto the other side. Now, I like that bandana, but I won’t pretend that the bandana was the reason I jumped over the wall. As I clambered over the wall and leapt down to the other side, I picked up my bandana, and turned toward the landscape, not allowing that wall to be a restriction. The air was so pure, the wind was soft, and the water at the foot was calling me. I walked slowly, crawling over rock and carefully taking each step down giving myself the time to take in the exquisiteness of a place that one doesn’t see everyday. As I reached halfway, and the others screamed out to me to place stones in my pockets (so that it would add to my weight), lest I be carried away by the winds, I turned around to see that the others had followed. That vastness was being pervaded by just the 10 of us. It felt like we owned it for that half an hour we spent in it. Steep as it was, we had to be careful with our step. Eventually, we reached the foot, and stood there, some of us bemused some of us preoccupied and some of us washing our feet in the water. As we allowed ourselves to unwind to the maximum, we heard calls from the opposite side that sounded like unseen tribal men chanting cries across the hills. The sun was slowly crouching out of sight, a mark of wanting time. We hurdled our way back up, hoping to be able to ride up to the peak before the night had set in. Sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you’re not and yet again, sometimes experience has a way of making what comes to pass more important than the plan itself.

The drunken cop awaiting us
Before we reached the top of the dam, we started suspecting the arrival of cops at the scene. Duh! What else could we have wished to expect? A red carpet welcome for a brave and fearless group of 10 who set out toward a rock-strewn incline and confidently walked out of it naively expecting anything as dignified as just that…a red carpet? but did I say cops??? No, it was just one cop, and no, he didn’t really strike as a cop except for his uniform. Sandy had already tried to frighten me saying if the cops asked us anything he was going to place all blame on me, because I was the one who started our wander downwards. I was one of the last ones to reach the top and the cop was already questioning the others. He talked and talked for about half an hour. No, it wasn’t so much of advice. It was more of him blowing his trumpet. He claimed to be an NSG who'd had the opportunity to meet Indira Gandhi once in the past. One would know clearly the motive of such cops. They try to become friendly, delay us by nattering on and on until we have to pull out the bucks from our pockets and be done with it! You should have seen Raul and Sandy. They knew just how to handle the guy. Butter him up so much he gets all emotional. Haha. And then we gave him a choice of bikes and asked him if he’d like to pose for a photo while he sat on the bike. He chose Ranji’s bullet. Donned in a police outfit and cap, he felt magnanimous. You could sense it in the air, the way he was curling his moustache to the maximum. Lol. And even whilst he was sitting on the bike just for a photo, he talked and talked and talked and we were delayed and delayed and delayed and we frowned and fretted and fumed! Finally, the bucks were in his pocket, and we ran for it. Speeding up the hill till we knew he would not find us no more! Lol. We did a total of about 41 hair pin bends there. Although we couldn’t make it to Top Slip or visit the Athirapalli falls, because it was late, the ride back was INCREDIBLE! We had a few minutes of contemplation, deciding whether to go into the jungle area when it was around 7.00p.m. The votes however were not in favour of going, because it was late, and very dangerous that time of the day. Besides we were happy with Ranji’s (the Hillman) judgement because he was in many ways a guide when it came to the hills. So it was an ‘about turn’.

Lights off and lights on, dense mist and a dark winding narrow road
We were riding down a winding road, with hair pin bends, cruising so smoothly and cautiously downhill; the wind was chilly, biting against our jackets and skin. Sandy, Senthil, Niki and I were ahead of the others. We weren't sure where they were so we decided to wait a while at a small level area from which we could see the long winding roads ahead, swallowed in a pool of mist. The look of it at that moment, when it was dark was so splendid that for a moment I held my breath as I saw beyond the endless twisting roads that were lit by the bikes headlights which so far were the only source of light that focused the narrow roads. I held on to the thought that those headlights were the only reason I could see the road ahead. And all of a sudden, as the darkness seems darker, and the cold gets colder, and the mist sets in, the bikers turn off the headlights and we stood there watching the beauty of a road, built by man, upon a hill whose magnificence was beyond description. For a moment, we were suspended in awe…. Not the jaw-dropping awe, there’s another kind more intensive than that. It is the kind of awe that paralyses you, preventing you from jaw dropping. The splendour of those few seconds of impulsive desire to see the world as it would have been seen ages ago, was tremendous. Everything was dark; we could only see few metres ahead of us. The mist was swishing and swirling around us, somewhere in the distance we could spot another biker’s tail light. A moment never ever to be forgotten. The splendour of it is indescribable!

Raul, Ranji, Nipin and the wrong diversion
Anyway, after that experience, we were rolling backward to Polachi. We hit the Kerala border (Check post) on our return. This is part of the Thirussur district. Round about 7.15 p.m that day, we were in this area, when Raul, Ranji and Nipin were way behind us. Sometimes we get misled by numbers and lights. Apparently, the three guys saw three other headlights somewhere in the distance. As they rode on, they came to a diversion and not knowing which one to take, they looked ahead for the three headlights they imagined to be ours. Raul, Ranji and Nipin then took that road which happened to be the wrong turn. It took a while later for them to realise something was not right, and then they asked directions and headed back and towards us. We had been waiting for them over 20 minutes not knowing what was taking them long. Finally, however, they'd gotten to the right turn, and reached us.

Back at Polachi, for a grander dinner and drinks
Around 10.00 p.m. we were back at the Sakthy hotel, where we had had breakfast earlier. The place had an A/C bar and the guys decided to take up a room, get some drinks, smoke off to bliss and hog some good meal. And so we got ourselves a lovely big room for rent, a room very opposite in looks, to our room at the hotel where we were to spend the night. A nice large bed and a T.V, we just relaxed like we deserved it. We bought Rotis and Chicken curries, Veg curries, Fried rice etc. It was more than we could have asked for. Most of the drinks were readily stacked in the fridge and so the guys helped themselves out while the remaining came in a little later. We spent a couple of hours there, chit chatting merrily. Cjo was dancing away quite enthusiastically. That was wonderful. We ate well and chattered until we became heavy eyed. Sandy and Niki were making plans for the next day. We were to start early morning in the direction leading back home. It was a Saturday night. Most of us had to get back home by Sunday evening. The original plan by now had changed so at that moment, the next step was not yet clear. We wanted to stick together for as long as we could. There was a discord of ideas but we put all that behind and decided to sleep on it, which cured the confusion and cleared our minds. Nipin took up the A/C room for the night, which was really a good decision. The rest of us slept in our original rooms at the BVG hotel that we checked in, earlier that day. It was around 1.30 a.m. when we entered the hotel. The gate was locked and we had to wake the receptionist who opened the gate for us and we all swayed and swaggered off to our rooms and those comforting beds. Snap! And we were already sound asleep.

I woke up around 6.45 that morning. I have no idea how. Niki was next and once we were ready, we tried calling the others, but couldn’t reach them over our mobiles. Later Raul called up and I thought he was calling from his room, but brat! He had sneaked out a ride to Palaghat even before we had awoken. Apparently he told the others that he’d be back in 5 minutes. Yeah right! Nipin called up too, saying he’d gotten two complimentary coupons for breakfast and since Niki and I couldn’t stay in our stuffy room any longer, we decided to walk up to Nipin’s, where we had a nice morning chat as we sipped some hot tea. The others were ready by this time. We got back to our room at the BVG and checked out.

The confusion regarding our return route
We hopped onto our bikes, rode back to Sakthy hotel, sat at breakfast and there continued our un-ended confusion that was on pause since our sleep the previous night. Again, we still wanted to stick together, but we all had commitments, duties waiting to be completed back home. We had to either split into separate groups, from Polachi, heading back in our own directions, with Sandy, Raul and I toward Chennai, the others toward Bangalore and Ranji through Ooty. We wondered whether we could all take the Ooty route, but we’d be very delayed if we did. There was a lot of confusion that morning, with all of us saying this, saying that. Deep down, I guess we didn’t want to have to split up yet. We wanted more excitement, more fun and more entertainment. When we finally came up with a decision, it turned out to be the perfect decision. We decided that all of us would ride through Sathyamangalam, Mysore, Bangalore and then make the split, so once a good breakfast of dhosas and tea was tossed down and we all laughed together at the confusion we originally had and the joy we had in our new decision, we picked up our bags and helmets and readied ourselves for the next route. The box of remaining pamphlets in hand, I got onto the back seat of Sandy’s Avenger and onwards to Sathyamangalam we all rode. We spotted a small tender coconut cart just a few kilometres further from Polachi where, although full from the heavy breakfast, we swigged down coconut water.

On the road ahead, we halted at a temple where there was a round conference of cops and whom we talked to discussing routes and while Niki went into the temple, Nipin was clicking away photos. We stayed there about ten minutes and then were back on our way.

Nipin and his lost camera
Everything seemed to be going alright when suddenly, as Varun, Raul, Sandy and I were ahead of the others; we got a call from Nipin saying he’d lost his camera. That was terrible news. He’d gone back to the temple to see if he’d left it there. Apparently none of us were sure where he might have lost it, whether he forgot it at the temple or whether he’d dropped it on the way. Since we were already way ahead, we stopped at a lake, hoping that we’d hear from Nipin with good news, but Nipin called back saying he’d not found the camera and that he was riding back toward us. It was upsetting, but we figured we had no choice and looking for the camera was not going to be fruitful. Just as we started the bikes, and the others (except for Nipin) had reached us, we got a call from Nipin again… this time with partial good news! A man in a car had seen the camera drop out of Nipin’s jacket somewhere after the temple, so Nipin had ridden back again for the second time to look for the camera along the route, and VOILA! He found it! Woo hoo! We were filled with happiness and relief and Rauls strongly believes that it was because of the prayers at the Ganesha temple, back at Bangalore during the start of the trip, that Gods blessings were with us and we were lucky. Nipin was still way behind us, we had decided first to wait for him at the Siruveni falls. We took the turning into Siruveni falls but a few metres in and we decided that since it was a diversion from Sathymangalam, it would take time for us to get back en route there, so we turned back and took the road straight to Sathyamangalam itself, informing Nipin to join us there. The road to Sathyamangalam was a lovely slightly winding road. It was beautiful. Since we had a halt just a few kilometres before Sathyamangalam, Nipin caught up with us, and we rode together thereafter.

Deforestation awareness - Chat with another gentleman
Here at Sathyamangalam, we were to meet another gentleman regarding the awareness program. Sandy had apparently talked to the gentleman earlier a propos our interest in helping share and spread awareness concerning the ill effects of deforestation. We were to call him and discuss matters, but since the signal was bad, Sandy was unable to talk to him. In the end, the man himself decided to come up to meet us face to face. He was concerned with planting more saplings, in order to make a point. We had already been given seedlings which unfortunately, in our alacrity and rush (that we were put into due to the discouraging act by the goondas back in Chennai, that put the bros held for question by the cops), we forgot the saplings back there. Also, because we were already delayed, and time was running out of our hands, we didn’t have enough time at this point to make a start with the saplings program, so we greeted the man and Sandy talked to him for a while, regarding how we could continue the deforestation awareness procedure during the next ride, and hence bringing the program to action the quickest as possible. Assuring him that we’d be in touch for more deforestation prevention programs, and asking him to keep us updated, we left.

The Panorama through Sathyamangalam
The highway we took was that connecting Coimbatore to Bangalore through Sathyamangalam. Some roads were not laid well and there were about 27 hairpin bends. Although the roads seemed worn out and some patched, the view was exclusive! My!!! I don’t know how many of us knew that was coming, but if I had fallen in love at Valparai, then Sathyamangalam was something more. We were mesmerized. As we rode higher and higher through yet another hair pin bend we could see the hills at different angles. There was something like an island at the centre of the valley that had a water body stretch around it. The hills around it looked slick and sophisticated. The sky was a lovely shade of blue with several hazy clouds lingering about. Right at the bottom the different hues of the brilliant waters and landscapes shot back at us with striking magnificence that for a moment, each biker stopped his bike on his own accord, marvelling at the serenity and wonder for a few silent moments of amazement. As we zoomed by, slowing down at the hairpin bends and gaining momentum thereafter, my mind was running on par with the pace of the bike wheels. There was no discontinuity in thought, just clarity. It was the knowledge that I was on one of the most beautiful places at that very moment, and that places like this exist out there to be explored, that got me realising how much we are actually missing when we’re not out there and how much more there is to explore.
We gave ourselves a lovely period of relaxation halfway up where Raul got busy making movies with Cjo and Varun as models for a Condom ad. The punch line was “Don’t be a fool, protect your tool!”. Varun, the witty one came up with that one, which was just perfect. So as Cjo and Varun modelled, and later Niki and I, we laughed, joked and jumped around. We took snaps there, savoured the beauty around us and then headed on.

My admirer
Although lunch was late again, we had an entertaining time at the Bull and Bush resort where we had Egg dhosas served by a very enthusiastic young boy of around 15 years. As he came around taking orders and shouting them to the men in the kitchen, smiling at us again and again, he specifically came toward me and called me (chellon, chellon or papa)!!! hehe. Well, initially I just laughed it out, and while I heard the others talk about how I should make his day by winking back at him or patting his cheek, I noticed him looking at me, for almost a whole minute. When I jokingly told the others that he was looking at me, Varun immediately changed the words from 'Make his day' to 'Make his LIFE!!! Anyway, before we left, I guess I did make his day, if not his life, lol. I girlishly tried to pat him on the cheek and said 'ina ma kanne'. hahhaha. I would have left this section out if it weren't for Raul. *pout* 'Well so that's the story of my little admirer. Anyway, back to the main point. The Sathyamangalam forest is part of the Nilgiris biosphere reserve and is well known for elephant population. Little were we prepared for the event that followed.

The elephant (part 1)
As we zoomed through the Sathyamangalam forest, we were suddenly all bolted to a stop. There were oncoming trucks that pulled to a stop opposite us and we had to pull the breaks on our bikes a distance away from the huge mass of an object we were all looking at, with heart beats racing. An elephant was feeding right there on the road, preventing us from riding past it. We might have tried, but when dealing with an elephant(and one like this one, although not too huge), taking chances is really not that much of an option. We all waited, even trucks frightfully waiting for the elephant to leave. Senthil was in front of us which means he was closer to the elephant. He seemed to try to make an attempt to cross the elephant, but we cried out to him telling him not to take chances. For a moment, the elephant turned around and looked as if it would charge at us. A second there, we were all terrified, because Senthil was in front and the elephant seemed almost to head his way. Turning the bike would take a bit of an effort and time, especially with jittery hands. Somehow Senthil managed to turn back and ride away from the elephant. It was a rush, with us trying to take snaps of the elephant, yet hurriedly putting it away and watching the scene waiting for more action or movement. A few minutes later, the elephant silently made its way into the trees.
Well, by now our eventful journey was gradually ending, but not yet uneventful. If things went well so far, now we faced a bit of hardship. We rode passed thereafter, calmly after a long ride in which Sandy was out of reach and we heard that he might be on reserve.This happened as we rode along a beautiful tarmac, a beautiful road with trees that elegantly flashed a tinge of soft reddness, enveloping the road, and standing as a lovely arch above us. The news that his bike might be on reserve worried us because we weren’t sure where exactly Sandy was. However, within a few minutes we got word that all was fine and Sandy had found a petrol station to refuel and was waiting for us.

Jash n Cjo's Prank with niki's help
As we rode from the Sathyamangalam forset to Mysore, passing through Chamaraj Nagar, Sandy had been the second biker with Niki as pillion rider. C jo had been the first biker with Jash as pillion. The rest of us were way behind. C jo had apparently stopped at a petrol station. He and Jash planned a trick on Sandy, a trick that worked out with Niki's help. According to the real plan, Jash and Cjo were supposed to play the trick at the start of the trip, but it turned out to be at the end of it. Cjo was incharge of the finaces.. so all the money went to him and he'd manage it. Their plan was to pretend to run away with the money. Due to the pairing rule we had, Sandy's bike was supposed to be within visible distance of Cjo's bike. This made it difficult for Cjo and Jash to carry out the trick. Smart as they were, they then decided to hide at a petrol bunk as soon as they could got Sandy out of sight. Niki, sly ally in the crime, pushed Sandy to catch up with Cjo and Jash who seemed to be way ahead. She knew they were hiding somewhere way behind, but she told Sandy that they must be somewhere far ahead and they had to reach them. And so Sandy and Niki rode on, oblivious of the truth. It was here, as they rode ahead of us, that the incident with Niki and the elephant occured.

The elephant (part 2)Niki's close encounter with an elephant
Our Niki was riding with Sandy, when all of a sudden they stood at a distance as they spotted a whole herd of elephants. Just diagnolly opposite them however, an elephant was busy feeding on leaves about 30 feet away, across the road. I suppose Niki was trying to click a photo when the camera case fell off and onto the road. Niki, stepped out of the bike, walked up to the case, looked up at the elephant which by now was heading toward her. She walked casually back toward the bike, undaunted I’d say. Lol. However, this is something one must be very careful about in forests such as this. Animals will attack if they sense danger. It is not strange to see an animal charge at the sight of movement. Elephants especially must not be provoked. Movement can cause them to sense danger and charge at you, so as much as possible, if one comes across such situations, it is essential to stay absolutely still, doing one's best to stop as far away as possible from the animal. With a whole herd of elephants in the distance and one just a few yards away, hearts must have thumped!!

When we had crossed Charmaraj Nagar and reached the Karnataka district targeting for Mysore we stopped for drinks and I got to ask Niki whether she did not see the elephant. Her reply to me was “See the elephant!!! I was chased by the elephant!!”

Bikes on reserve
As Sandy was being tricked by Cjo and Jash, and Niki faced by a charging elephant, the rest of us rode with Raul and Ranji way behind us, not knowing that Ranji's bike had gone into reserve. A few moments later, Rauls bike also went into reserve. There were three petrol bunks along that road after the Bush and Bull resort. There was a Hindustan Petroleum, an Indian Oil and a Bharat Petroleum. Since Rauls and Ranji had been riding behind us, we watched out for them and when they had arrived, the arrangement was for Rauls and Ranji to ride ahead of the rest of us until we got to a petrol station. This is one way to keep further problems in check and ensuring that we minimize any difficulties that could be faced. Since Raul and Ranji were on reserve, keeping them ahead of us would work out right, as it would enable the latter riders to be available or catch up on them to help them out. The good thing was that we finally and did reach a petrol station, refueled and rode on. Also, we called Sandy to inform him that he had been tricked and had overtaken Cjo and so he waited for us at a Paan shop, down that road.

Coffee day and dinner at dhaba
We were riding closer and closer to home now, farther and farther away from the beautiful hills and views of Valpararai and the Sathyamangalam forest. As we rode to Mysore road from Charmaraj Nagar (approx of 80 Km), it was about 9.30 p.m and we stopped at a cafĂ© coffee day. We spotted three coffee days along that road. There was one across the road, and since we had planned to stop at any cafe coffee day along that route, for a break, Rauls, Nipin and Cjo took a u-turn toward the Mandiya coffee day. The rest of us noticed that coffee day but waited for word from Raul, Cjo and Nipin. Raul called back saying that that coffee day was closing and we wouldn't be able to refresh so we rode to the Maddur coffee day which is supposedly the only coffee day on that road that is open till midnight. It wasn’t the place to have dinner, so we just snacked on some cookies and refreshed. Our inclination was to have a proper dinner at a dhaba, so we rode on to the nearest one from there. It was just a little way further down, a lovely place to have dinner during the end of our trip. We had dinner at a perfectly sized table (for the 10 of us) that lay outside just below the dark sky. It was late, close to 11.00p.m. We ordered rotis as usual with our chicken curries, paneer masala and the drinks of course. It was a lovely night. We were tired, but we didn’t feel it. We looked through the snaps, talked about our trip, kidded around and had a great time with a lovely group of absolutely wonderful, laid back, fun loving people with whom beautiful memories were made.

Synchronisation - A commemoration
When we were ready to leave, with Varun and Nipin having to take a different route, we got the bikes arranged one beside the other, and took a few snaps, bikes, riders and pillion riders. We synchronised bike horns, and then indicators directed left towards our route. A mark of the end of this trip.

Jash and C jo switch seats! :O
From Mysore to Bangalore, we travelled about 130 Km. Our first split came there, when Varun and Nipin headed homeward toward North of Bangalore. The rest of us rode on till Ranji took off in a different direction, while we turned towards Jash’s place in Bangalore. As we rode down, Jash and C jo apparently were still lively with energy and were still stuntsman at full swing. It was during this time that C jo was riding and Jash was sitting pillion. The stunt here : C jo was riding! They were on their bikes, on the move, while Jash from the back switched seats with C jo, and before you know it, C jo is pillion and Jash is biker!! Sandy, who had missed it, wanted to see this! and hence they did the stunt once again, bringing Jash back to the pillion seat and C jo back to being biker! So there you have it, the fun didn't have to stop so soon! However, as a word of warning, this is not something to be tried or experimented just like that. Jash and C jo are experienced biker's and hence were able to do this stunt with caution.

We spent a night at Jash's place. I slept pleasantly without moving a bit. I awoke the way I slept. Lol. I know Sandy and Cjo were awake for a while, that night, still making jokes and laughing away. I awoke first because I was to wake Raul so we could make it to Chennai before noon. Cjo and Niki had left with Cjo dropping Niki at her place, while Jash, Sandy, Senthil, Raul and I went down for some tea. Since our friend Jason was also nearing Bangalore from Mysore, arriving from a journey he’d gone on with his colleagues, I was to join him so I could get back to Chennai as soon as possible. While I went from there to Chennai in Jason’s car (reaching home at 4.00p.m.), Sandy and Raul took towards Chennai through a different route, with Raul first getting himself an awesome rider’s jacket right in Bangalore. Since he couldn’t get it during the start of our journey, he got it during the end of it. Lol, that one’s going to come in handy for him from now on. On their way back, as they rode through Kolar and reached Ranipet, they enjoyed a beautiful ride in the rain on a lovely road where Raul had to remove his shoes, tie it up on Sandy’s Avenger, and ride barefoot for a while.. They stopped for a small interval at a cafe coffee day on the Old Madras road, reaching home that night, around 10 p.m.

A trip to remember
A trip that went from 3 days to 4 days to 5. As a group we had the best of times. What added to our enthusiasm and sense of integrity was the fact that this time around, we made an attempt to start on an ongoing journey to help our society in whatever way possible to us. To be one of those who want to help those who need it, the people who are isolated in a world of absolute ignorance, to spread word on how to protect our earth gives one a feeling of purpose and definitely, a happiness that is explained only in terms of the change we believe we can make. Those few days flew away in a flash, and it now feels as if a large bag of memories was condensed into a single point in time. The trip might not have gone as had been planned, we might not have visited every place we had proposed to, but that’s what made it priceless; the fact that we went through it, all smiles, and were together as a single group with a single desire: to travel, to give ourselves the luxury of another new landscape, new challenges, new roads and new memories! The feeling to travel is nurtured again and again every single time we suspend our thoughts, allowing them no constraint and no compulsion, but one - the compulsion to surrender to the sounds of the road's calls.

1 comment:

  1. hey, the little stunt by cjo and me is missing from the description aint it??