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 a fascinating ride through small hamlets - Malom, Chittarikal. Cherupuzha is the next main 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 the 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 surrounding mountain ranges, give those legs a good stretch, 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. The 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 manages a farm -Pukayuni Farm(Tel:9446835631 Dbl Rs 1500) basic accommodation and food nothing fancy. Staying here for a night, we 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 centre at Kannur, we got the burnt clutch plates replaced and continued to Kasargod. We didn't want to stay near Bekal Fort, as on this trip, we didn't want to do anything familiar. Chembirikabeach 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 large rocks. Chandragiri Fort is not as commercial as the Bekal. Nonetheless, it offers a spectacular view of the sea and the harbour where fishing boats are parked. Bekal beach is around 20km from here.

We stayed at another Airbnb homestay -Devanganam- near the 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 the Kerala-Karnataka border a 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, making the detour of few kilometres 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 prolonged 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 significant funding from the government to start eco-tourism. There are two roads to get to Ranipuram, one from Panathur – a steep 5 km climb and another from Panathady with a gradual ascent of 9km. Enter the hiking trail by buying a ticket at the counter (Rs.30 for adults, Rs 10 for parking) 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 the Malom forest office to trek into the forest trails. Konnakkadu is the last civilisation on this route. Interestingly there were 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 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 amusing 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 them 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 centre named after him at Malom. A strenuous one hour walk will take you to the peak through ten-foot-tall grass for the last 30min. Watch your steps and follow the guide closely. There are deep pits underneath. The mountaintop 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. An important elephant corridor the 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 troupe of kids wave at you from a school bus, it is because you are living their dream of riding a motorcycle. This is one of the most exciting moments on a motorcycle trip. A seven-year-old boy ran 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 our frequent ride on the BM road, the trip to Hassan is now like the homecoming. The stretch between Hassan and Sakleshpur remains dreadful.Hotel Aashrita(Tel: 08453994105, dbl 1000 onwards) on BM road in Sakleshpur is a convenient option to stay. Surabhi Restaurant, which is part of the Hotel, is an ideal location to increase the footfall of the travellers. They dish up basic vegetarian food with some specialities from Hassan and Mangalore cuisine. Rooms are clean and tidy with helpful staff. Hot water is available between 5 and 7 AM.

Starting early on Saturday morning from Sakleshpur was a good idea. We cruised through the newly laid Shiradi ghat road sans the traffic. Turn left onto Bandadka-Bangalore road at Gundya. It takes a little more than an hour to reach Subramanya. A few kilometres before Subramanya, atHotel Devi Hallimane, we enjoyed the faint drizzle that lasted a mere ten minutes. The route from Gundya to Sullia is enticing, meandering through the forest with the tarmac of the roads in excellent condition. Be prepared for the bumpy ride after deviating from Sullia towards Panathur. The scenery is worth the pain, with zero tourist traffic. KSRTC - Kerala and Karnataka - buses ply on this route, the road bifurcates into two at Narkoodu. The right deviation goes through Bandadka other goes through Aletty- Kallappally. The road we chose is easier to go to Panathur.Gmaps. The Bandadka route connects to a place a little further from Panathur called Panathady. This is easier to get to Kolichal and further towards Kanhangad. Though, at the time of our trip, repair work was going on.Gmaps. Reaching Panathur was a relief from bad roads and 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 - 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 the Airbnb app). His experience in the hospitality industry is evident in the way he takes care of every minute detail with his 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 when not gazing at the stars. Chirping birds work as the natural alarm and 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 essential utensils. Lazy? Sit near the stream with your feet in the water to enjoy 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 spectacular. 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.

Monday 17 September 2018

Jog Falls and the scenic routes on the way

When some plans get cancelled at 4.30am others are made at 5.30am. That is how our trip to Jog falls happened last weekend. Our friend couldn't come with us on a planned drive to Jog falls because his daughter was not keeping well. Poor girl, she was the most excited about this trip to a waterfall. Once we cancelled the trip at 4.30am the immediate was to cancel the accommodation and get back to sleep. But the wanderer partner of mine, wouldn't sleep and started thinking about plan-Bs. Thus Revv automatic Celerio was booked at 5.30am and was delivered at 7.30 -an hour earlier than promised. From the previous experience, it was too much to assume Revv will not do on-time delivery.

Pedalling really hard back home from weekend ride, we were cruising through NICE road to Tumkur road (NH48) by 8am. The route was Ecity – NICE Road – Dabasbet – Tumkur – Tiptur – Arasikere - Kadur – Birur - Tarikere – Bhadravati – Shivamogga – Ripponpet - Hosanagara – Nagara deviate right towards Nittur– Nittur – Siganduru road – (right at Sasigolli to proceed to Huruli ) 443 km. Click here for Gmaps

After Shimoga the traffic was smooth and tarmac was really nice. Ganesha troops made us stop at every 10km and delayed our ETA at least by an hour. It was sure that we will be missing the last launch at 5.30pm to cross Linganamakki dam. So we detoured via Hosanagar-Nagara-Nittur towards Byakodu. Many more Ganesha troops to come! Finally we reached Huruli by 8pm.

The early morning walk around Huruli was breathtaking. The green paddy fields bordered by the mountains, I was spellbound watching the overflowing river and the fog above that. The lush green grassy lands after the heavy monsoons was mesmerizing. Later we visited the cattle shed to see the newest member of the group - a tiny calf born a few days ago. Then it was time for a delicious finger licking breakfast of dosa and freshly made butter with liquid jaggery. Sunay fished out a chess board and pieces, almost 40yrs old, somewhere from the attic of this century old house.

There are two ways to get to Jog Falls from here. One going to Sagara then through Talaguppa to Jog Falls (click here for Gmaps). Other is more scenic with good views and winding roads, which goes through Kogar, Muppane and then to Jog (click here for Gmaps). We chose the second option.

Though there was not much water in the falls, it was a gratifying experience hiking all the way to the bottom of the falls. It is not the same as it used to be, with all the fencing around for safety. It used to be a good hike - no staircase with handrails - but now it is a walk through 1000 odd steps. A visit to Jog Falls is not complete without hiking down and watching the mighty Falls from down below. This makes it look more gigantic. Megha had stories to tell about the time when she stayed at Jog with one of her cousin. Also, how it used to be a mandatory visit (and hike) to the Jog Falls and Kodachadri every time she would go from Bangalore to Huruli.

When we reached Jog Falls parking lot, maybe due to the excitement of seeing the falls, I had forgotten to switch off the parking lights of Celerio. Mea Culpa!Being really exhausted from the hike , I tried to start the car in a hurry and the it won't crank. The rental car Celerio with an automatic gearbox, we can't push and start in 2nd gear. So we called up Revv customer care. They arranged a call back from Bangalore. Later, I got another number to call to reach the Road Side Assistance. Help was offered and frequent updates were given by SMS and calls.

We had our lunch and were watching the rainbow overcast waterfalls, whilst waiting for help from RSA to jump-start the car. At around 4pm, I told Megha to try her golden hands to switch on the engine. Maybe because of her golden hands or the warmth of the Sun, engine started!! Our way back was through Talaguppa – Sagara and then to Shimoga. Stopping at Tarikere for dinner we deviated from here to come through Hosadurga and join the NH at Hiriyur (click here for Gmaps). The tarmac on this route is fantastic except for a few bad stretches, way better than the other Arsikere-Birur route. Occasional spells of rain and heavy traffic on NH48 made it more difficult to drive. We were home by 2.30AM.

Saturday 8 September 2018

BR Hills - Confluence of Western and Eastern Ghats

BR Hills has been on our bucket list from the time we watched the Kannada movie by famous director Puttana Kanagal “Sharapanjara”. Looking at the mesmerizing views of the BR Hills in the song which talks not only about the place but many other aspects of life, we had to visit this fascinating hill station. 

Evening ride on Mysore road was surprisingly smooth, with less traffic, covering the distance in 3hrs. We made it in time and finding the Good Touch Serviced Apartments on Google Maps was effortless. This newly started serviced apartment is centrally located but tucked away from hustle and bustle of the city. The rooms are well maintained with comfortable beds, air-conditioner and sparkling clean bathroom. There is a common kitchen with basic utensils required for cooking and a dining hall to peacefully relish self cooked food.

We chose to taste the local cuisine and headed to Nalpak after high recommendation from the locals. It was close to a kilometer away from the apratment and was refreshing to walk on the road minus traffic. Another option nearby is the Trattorias which dishes up cuisines from Italian to Continental to Chinese as well as Indian along with a German Bakery. They have another restaurant at Varkala, Kerala. 

Starting early next day, we followed the route suggested by Google Maps to B.R Hills. The route after T.Narasipura gets pretty as a picture with paddy fields and sugarcane plantation on either side of the road. The tarmac of the road is excellent until you reach a junction where the road forks with one going towards Kollegala, and M.M Hills. From here, until Santhamarahalli the road is rough with many potholes. From Santhamarahalli the ride is smooth with good roads but be prepared for the traffic. Many buses ply on this route to B.R Hills. With the narrow and winding roads especially at the climbs, buses tend to go at snail’s pace. Nonetheless, the ride through the forest is enticing.
There is an entry/parking fee near the famous Biligiri Ranganatha Swamy Temple on top of the hill. Temple is at the dead end on this route, beyond which is only wilderness. Take sometime out and relax at this temple atop the cliff and enjoy the breathtaking views it offers. Parking is available close to the temple. Buses stop a few meters downhill, which means you will have to hike up a couple of meters – on the road – to reach the temple. 

If you would like to stay at B.R Hills- Rajathadri seems to be the only option. Rs 1350 per person including food, on twin sharing basis. Tel: +91 90368 09218 / 9740820508

The alternate route to Mysore is more enchanting and gives a chance to experience more of forest, though it is longer. Traffic on this route is lesser and fewer buses ply on this stretch. Right in front of the K.Gudi (Kyatadevara Gudi) Government school the Soligas - indigenous people - were selling the appetizing produce from the forest. It was impossible not to gobble up a good amount of delicious jack fruit. Government runs the school for children between Grade 1 and 5 after which they will have to go to the school run by VGKK under the inspiring leadership of Dr.H. Sudarshan.

On Sunday, we visited the Zoo, a well maintained zoo with a variety of flora and fauna. E-tickets can be bought online in advance Rs 80/adult Rs 40/child. Zoo is closed on Tuesday and open from 8.30am to 5.30pm on all other days. Most of the animals seem to be happy but they must be missing the vast expanses of the forest.

It was definitely a bad idea to start riding in the hot sun from Mysore to Bangalore with occassional traffic snarls at the towns on this route. Better to start riding after 4pm or early next morning. With the Bharat Bandh declared for next day, we didn’t want to extend our trip further. Reached Bangalore in 5hrs, with a few pit stops for food and fuel.