Saturday, 10 November 2018

Josegiri and Chembirika - from the hills to the shore and home

Josegiri is one of those postcard-perfect towns. A tiny town with rolling hills as the backdrop, it is an unexplored place. Josegiri is 50km away from Kolichal and is an interesting ride through some of the tiny hamlets - Malom, Chittarikal. Cherupuzha is the next major town, from where a deviation will take you to Payyanur in Kannur district. After crossing the Cherupuzha bridge, a left turn will take you to Kozhichal, Josegiri. There is another route to Josegiri from Kannur via Thaliparamba-Alakode-Udayagiri. If you are taking a bus, it is easier to get a bus from Payyanur to Josegiri.


A 2.5 hour ride through scenic route and a good breakfast at Kozhichal brought us to Josegiri. There are very few shops at Josegiri, so either you book a resort with meals or do this as a day-trip. To get a good view of the mountain ranges surrounding the place and give those legs a good stretch, there are a few walks you can do - Thirunettikallu, Tabore Cross, Kottathalachi mala. Otherwise, there is no point in staying at Josegiri for more than one night. Temperature at night is pretty low, thanks to the higher altitude of this hilly village. Santa Maria and Misty Mount are two resorts in Josegiri. Anil is managing a farm - Pukayuni Farm  (Tel:9446835631 dbl Rs 1500), very basic accommodation and food, nothing fancy. We stayed here for a night and continued to Kannur via Alakode. You will be excited if you love the twisty winding roads with good tarmac . We had to ride this way, to fix the burnt clutch plate of our bike at Kannur KTM, the nearest to Josegiri.

After spending 3hrs at the friendly KTM service center at Kannur, we got the burnt clutch plates replaced and continued to Kasargod. We didn't want to stay near Bekal Fort, as in this trip we didn't want to do anything familiar. Chembirika beach is not one of those crowded beaches. The landscape is unique with moss-filled rocks. Listening to the sound of waves crashing on the stones, one can enjoy the sunset sitting on the bigger rocks. Chandragiri Fort is not as popular as the Bekal, nonetheless, it offers a spectacular view of the sea and also the harbour where fishing boats are parked. Bekal beach is around 20km from here.

We stayed at yet another AirBnB homestay -Devanganam -  near Chandragiri river. Vinod's parents at this home are eager to meet new guests and they provide breakfast. Good enough for a couple of nights, if you don't want to stay at a hotel in Kasargod.

Our return route was through Cherkala-Mulleria-Jalsoor-Subramanya. GMaps. On this route, you will cross Kerala-Karnataka border couple of times. Criss-crossing the border without any check post, you will be riding through thick forests and hilly roads. Adoor temple is on this route and is in a serene location, which makes the detour of few kilometers worth the while. Roads are mostly good unlike the Sullia-Panathur stretch. Expect lots of traffic on weekends when you are near Kukke. Don't forget to stop at Doddathota to sip excellent coffee from Kamat restaurant, next to the Doddathota Post Office. Kukke temple was very crowded as usual. Staying at Hotel Dwara was pleasant (Tel: +91 9663921878, +91 8762492702, dbl Rs 1005 through GoIbibo). All good things come to an end. We were ready to complete our last and 10th day of the trip, riding back to Bangalore, after breakfast and superb black coffee at Ossor. Our routes are not always the shortest and practical. It might be insanely longer but close to heart.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Ranipuram and Kottancherry – Explore the unexplored jungles!

Ranipuram was known as Madathumala until the 1970s, and in 2011 there was a major government funding to start eco-tourism. There are two roads to get to Ranipuram, one from Panathur – a steep 5 km climb and another from Panathady a gradual climb of 9km. Enter the hiking trail by buying a ticket at the counter (Rs.30 for adults, Rs 10 for parking) which is open between 9 AM and 5 PM. The beginning of the walk is through the forest and the rest is mainly in open grassland with occasional forest covers. An abandoned stone house on top is an ideal place to spend time with nature, unfortunately, it is not functional. The hike takes about two hours to reach the top and ascend. The view from the top is stunning - overlooking the Western Ghats across Kerala and Karnataka.

To experience the real jungle and to walk on the leech-infested trail we headed to
Kottancherry in a hired jeep. Kottancherry doesn't have any organised eco-tourism activities like at Ranipuram. You need to get permission from Malom forest office to trek into the forest trails. Konnakkadu is the last civilisation on this route. Interestingly there was a couple of KSRTC buses at Konnakkadu going to Kottayam and Mundakkayam. Rubber plantations, churches, and these bus services show the origin of demographics at these hilly regions, where most of the people have migrated from Kottayam. Vellarikundu, Balal, Pulingome are the nearby towns.

Our guide Kunjiraman helped us by sharing tobacco, which happens to be the best solution to avoid leech bites – still, we got multiple bites. He had lots of stories to share on our trail to Kurumpanmala. One of those interesting stories was about Karimbil Kunjikannan Nair who was a zamindar in this area. He managed hectares of cardamom plantations and the tribal people worked for him. Later the government reclaimed these plantations and retained as forest. Kunjiraman pointed to an old building's remains and said it was the warehouse where the cardamom was stocked. Anyhow, this erstwhile zamindar is a revered figure in this area, with a primary health center named after him at Malom.  A strenuous one hour walk will take you to the peak through 10feet tall grass, for the last 30min. Watch your steps and follow the guide closely, there are deep pits underneath. The peak gives a magnificent 360-degree view of the western ghat mountain ranges spreading across Coorg, Kasargod and Kannur districts. Photography is strictly prohibited.

This trail goes next to the KL-KA forest border clearly marked by a stone wall. Karnataka forest range is called Mundrot and measures 972 hectares. There is a 13km trekking trail from here to TalaCauvery through the forest. This is a major elephant corridor and KA forest officials have created watering holes for elephants, digging ponds inside the forest. You will find lots of elephant dung on this trail. It's a wonder how we humans have managed to draw borders even in the jungle, where there is no differentiation amongst the plant life or soil or even wildlife.

Contact Philip at 9495561801, popularly known as Kunjettan at Kolichal junction if you need to hire a jeep to go through the hilly roads. He is an expert with his 1997 Mahindra CL500 and a good conversationalist.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Kasargod – God’s own District in God’s own Country

Riding a motorcycle brings out the child in you. When a bunch of kids wave at you from a school bus, it is indeed because you are living their dream of riding a motorcycle. One of the most exciting moments on a motorcycle trip is this. A seven-year-old boy was running to the road shouting ‘KTM, KTM’ while riding through an unknown village road to Settukunnu in Wayanad! That is a riveting moment on our road trips.

With the increasing frequency of our rides on the BM road, ride to Hassan is now like the homecoming. Stretch between Hassan and Sakleshpur remains bad. Hotel Aashrita (Tel: 08453994105, dbl 1000 onwards) on BM road in Sakleshpur is a good option to stay. Surabhi Restaurant, which is part of the hotel is at an ideal location making the footfall of the travellers high. They dish up basic vegetarian food with some specialties from Hassan and Mangalore cuisine. Rooms are clean and tidy and the staff is helpful, hot water is available between 5 and 7 AM.

Starting early on Saturday morning from Sakleshpur was a good idea as we could cruise through the newly laid Shiradi ghat road sans the traffic. Turn left onto Bandadka-Bangalore road at Gundya to reach Subramanya- takes a little more than an hour. Breakfasting leisurely at a local restaurant Hotel Devi Hallimane, few kilometres before Subramanya, we enjoyed the little drizzle, which lasted a mere ten minutes. The route from Gundya to Sullia is enticing taking us through the forest and tarmac of the roads are excellent. Be prepared for the bumpy ride after deviating from Sullia towards Panathur. The scenery is worth the pain, with zero tourist traffic. KSRTC - both Kerala and Karnataka - buses ply on this route, at Narkoodu the road bifurcates into two. Right deviation goes through Bandadka the other goes through Aletty- Kallappally– the route that we took, is easier to go to Panathur. Gmaps. The Bandadka route connects to a place little further from Panathur called Panathady – which is easier to get to Kolichal and further towards Kanhangad, but at the time of our trip, repair work was going on. Gmaps. Reaching Panathur was a relief from bad roads and also satiating the craving for black tea (fondly called "kattan" in Malayalam). Kolichal is 10 km from Panathur towards Kahnangad. 

Kanila Eco Homestay lives up to its name with a simplistic and eco-friendly room with basic amenities. Host Vinod has been helpful starting from booking the place (there was a problem with making payment from Airbnb app). His experience in the hospitality industry is evident in the way he takes care of every minute detail and the gentlemanly gestures. He is on his toes to make your stay comfortable and as enjoyable as possible. The property is the last house in the colony with a calm and serene stream flowing by. An ideal place to sleep listening to the sound of flowing water, while you are not gazing the stars. Chirping birds work as the natural alarm and it is the perfect place to enjoy your morning cup of tea without the newspaper - the worry about what's happening in the world. The room is adequately furnished with a kitchenette consisting of basic utensils. Lazy? Sit near the stream with your feet in the water and enjoy a free fish therapy. Active? Ask Vinod to take you to a river 30min walk away and swim against the strong current.

Bhagamandala is 40km from Kolichal via Panathur-Karike through a treacherous road inside TalaCauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. Though the roads are pathetic, the ride is awesome. Expect no traffic until you reach Bhagamandala, a left turn takes you to Madikeri and 6km to the right takes you to the TalaCauvery temple. Recent floods have created havoc in this region, many trees are still lying partially on the road.