Saturday 26 August 2017

Wayanad- bullet, rain and unniappam

There is something about Bullet that makes people buy it. After 1000km trip in 4days, we would say it is worth the troubles of keeping it running. The story begins when two of our friends cancelled their motorcycle trip and headed in a car. The motorcycle was none other than Royal Enfield, Classic 350cc. We had the motorcycle for ourselves for four days. It made no sense staying back in Bangalore with it. Wayanad sounded the best place to make most of the high torque engine and rainy season was a plus.

On a Friday morning, we headed to Decathlon to buy rain gear for the road trip ahead of us. Next stop was at a friend’s home to borrow the saddle bag- ViaTerra saddle bags and really comfortable. We started our ride at 1pm and reached Bathery by 7pm and finally Kalpetta at 7.40pm after battling the traffic on potholed road. Bangalore to Mysore was a slow ride, we couldn’t even see the Dukes riding past us. Our motorcycle didn't have brake at the rear, only front disc which was making noise, so we didn't go above 80. But once we reached hills and bad roads, RE CL 350 was really another beast.  

Total distance was 325 km and the route taken was Bangalore-Mysore-Gundalpet-Moolehole-Muthanga-Bathery-Kalpetta. Day 1 Route

At Gundalpet there are two routes, one towards Ooty and the other to Bathery. Take right turn at Gundalpet to reach Kerala or continue straight if you are headed to Ooty via Gudalur. This route through Gudalur takes you to Meppadi, in Wayanad but would be a very long one. Once you pass the Bandipur Forest entry Check Post and until you reach Moolehole check post - which marks the border between Kerala and Karnataka - you have the herculean task of going over 37 speed breakers.  

On Day two, there was heavy rain throughout the day and we did a 170km ride on the Kalpetta-Meppadi-Vaduvanchal-Cherampadi-Pandalur-Nadugani route. This is a fantastic route to ride and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the sole reason we headed to Wayanad was to ride on this route. In 2011 when we had come to Wayanad we stayed in Valley View and the owner Jenoy had taken us to a nearby waterfall which he said no one knew about. Today the same waterfall, Kanthanpara is a tourist place and the Kerala Government has spent a good amount of money in providing facilities and safety precautions. 

Meeting Jenoy was like refreshing our memory of the first trip to Wayanad. After a cup of hot coffee we started our ride towards Vaduvanchal-Cherambadi-Pandalur-Devala-Nadugani. There are two routes from here -one towards Gudalur and then Ooty, other towards Vazhikadavu in Kerala. On our way back we stopped at Kaithakolli and relished fresh homemade lunch. We made frequent stops at tea shops to warm up with black tea. There are many boards warning about the elephants, so keeping an eye for them especially when we can't see the road ahead due to heavy mist. A short stop at Soochippara waterfalls, 13km away from Meppadi town - a dilapidated road where the RE was a joy to ride.  Day 2 Route

It was pouring on Saturday and CL350 did not complain about it, though we were really worried about that. All the roads were potholed and filled with water. Our RE had dolphin exhaust, it makes a hell lot of noise! So honking was not required to make way in the congested town. The torque works wonders on inclines and saves you a lot of effort in riding on bad roads. Sunday morning welcomed us with a downpour, there was nothing to stop us from riding on. We headed towards Makkiyad, via Padijnarathara-Tharuvana-Vellamunda, the heavy rain with potholed road was manageable but the rash driving tourists bused made us think twice before heading further. So we got back to Mananthavady via Edavaka and set out in the direction of Thirunelly to satiate our palate with the famous Kuttetan’s Unniappam. It is at the junction where the road deviates to Thirunelly temple and other towards Tholpetty. After the finger-licking snack we moved towards Kuruva Island deviating at Kattikulam.

The Island was closed to visitors as expected. Unfortunately we have never been able to set foot on the island in the umpteen visits in different seasons.
Very close to the island there is a clay art gallery, named Valmeekam Tribal Museum. It is a unique museum, with sculptures carved in terracotta. Each sculpture here portray innumerable stories about the relationship between man and nature. The place is worth paying a visit, as the art and spirituality are admirably blended. You feel instantly connected with the surroundings. 

We then visited a friend’s home at Dasankkara. Shorter route to Panamaram sounded like end of journey, and it was not difficult to lure Romin into taking a longer route through Pulpally-Nadavayal and then reach Panamaram. This route winds thorough the spellbinding Padiri Reserve Forest. It is not a tourist route and is taken only by locals, so there is hardly any vehicular movement thereby you get to enjoy the serenity of the jungle. On the Panamaram-Nadavayal-Benachi road we stopped at a small tea shop to warm ourselves with black tea and feed our stomach some snacks. This was right opposite to the new Padre Pio Ashram on the aforesaid main road. Total distance covered was 180km.  Day 3 Route
Both evenings, Thoufeeq was our dinner destination to recover from the daylong fatigue. Monday morning was time to head back to Bangalore. Bidding adieu to the pristine nature, the refreshing rains, we headed to Muthnaga. Just before the Karnataka border we refreshed ourselves with tea and prepared for the upcoming arduous task of tackling the 37 speed breakers. 

Tuesday 22 August 2017

Kotagiri - walking along the ridge

Image Courtesy: Vijay Chandran

BMC started a new trek at Kotagiri from this August - We were excited to go to Kotagiri as our previous visit in 2013 had been very pleasant. Unlike Ooty, Kotagiri is still away from tourist crowd and touts.

We boarded the BMC-organized minibus from Indiranagar at 8:30pm on a Friday night. After picking up a few more from Domlur and LifeStyle, the bus was zooming past the Friday night traffic towards Hosur. Since the Bandipur forest is closed to night traffic, the only other option is to go via Salem -Coimbatore-Mettupalayam. Kotagiri is 30km from Ooty, famous for International Schools and tea/coffee estates, including newsworthy Kodanadu estate.

All of us were sleeping like babies until Kotagiri, thanks to the expert driving of our driver. After reaching Kotagiri town, Shivaji escorted us to our camping site. Ayyappan welcomed us with hot tea and allocated the tented accommodation amidst tea plantations. We soon learned that Ayyappan is a  full-time serial actor and busy on weekdays at Chennai.

After morning ablutions, we got ready for the trek. Then comes the best part of this trip- the hot sambar/idli combination was so delicious that we couldn't satiate with one or two serving. After packing our lunch, we started walking towards a cliff.

Image Courtesy: Vijay Chandran

A huge tree was uprooted in the recent cyclonic storm in July, Shivaji explained. Mesmerized by the fog covering us, we got thrilled to climb down the cliff to a nearby cave. After spending a few minutes there, we started climbing up through a rough patch to a house occupied by locals. Many affluent businessmen from Chennai make Kotagiri their vacation home, obvious by the unoccupied palatial houses along the road.

The native tribal people of this area are called Badugas -  - . and they speak a language by the name Badugu - a mix of Kannada and Tamil. No script and if you know Kannada, you can understand 70% of it. The local children walk 30minutes to get a school bus and educated at an English medium school. Shivaji also explained that government runs many welfare schemes for them. He mentioned that there is no birth control practices among them, intentionally to have more population of this indigenous tribal group. The school going children could use a few basic phrases to communicate with us, though they were too shy to see a big group of city-dwellers.

Image Courtesy: Vijay Chandran

After resting for a while on top of the peak, we marched along the tea estates towards Catherine Falls. A horde of peace-loving wild gaurs greeted us on the way. Occasionally a snake slithering away from our group of trekkies. Shivaji spotted poop of bear and cheetah on the trail, which accentuated our wild-life experience on the borders of a thick forest.

Image Courtesy: Vijay Chandran

Catherine Falls was not blessed with much water, thanks to deficit monsoon this season. We had our packed lunch and then started walking back. The locals were greeting us and asking about our whereabouts. Some of the ladies told us about their sons working or studying in Bangalore. Visiting  a tea-factory was a nice experience . The tea-leaves are collected by women who work for Rs 350 per day plus incentives. The huge bags of tea leaves are transported to the local factory where it is dried using huge fans and then powdered through a long mechanical process to various forms based on the granularity.

The tea sacks of 35kg each go to the town and are auctioned and processed and packaged by different brands.

Later at the campsite, we had a sumptuous dinner around the campfire. By this time, we were all friends who have never met before. The mercury dropped close to 15C and we were ready to snore and rest our aching legs. We really didn't want to leave the misty morning next day, but life is not  a dream. We returned through Gudalur- Mudumalai- Bandipur-Mysore.

If you are driving or riding to Kotagiri, contact Ayyappan for tented accommodation, food, trekking - Mobile: 9840909470

We had lunch at Thorappally Post, Gudalur. Hotel Regency owned by Sabeesh offers good meals.He also owns a lodge above the restaurant (dbl Rs 700) and a resort at Ooty. Mobile: 9487-866238 - an NGO working with the tribal groups for a sustainable trade of forest products at Kotagiri.