Saturday 30 June 2018

Roaring Waterfalls in Monsoon

Monsoon this year has been aggressive so far. Though it's creating havoc in many places, it is the best time to get a glimpse of the waterfalls full of life. Two such spectacular waterfalls are in Shivanasamudra also known as Bluff.  It's a 130km ride/drive from Electronic City Phase 1 on the NH948 via Kanakapura.

One of the first Hydro Electric Power Station in Asia was set up here in Shivanasamudra in 1902. We see the river bifurcating into two, giving birth to the 4th largest island formed by the Kaveri. Both the branches plunge through rocky outcrops forming two waterfalls, namely Gaganachukki (western falls) and Barachukki (eastern falls). In both, water flows over cliffs cascading into multiple side by side waterfalls.

Deviate from the (NH948) Kollegala Road by turning left on to the small village road and go about 3km to reach the Gaganachukki waterfall. From here there is a shorter route to reach the main road that goes alongside the check dam. The water level here was to the brim when we visited and water was splashing on us due to the heavy wind. The old stone bridge (Wesley Bridge) on the way to Barachukki will make you admire the engineers who constructed it. It is sad to see that our people have made this spot a convenient place to bath in the water.

Road widening on Kanakpura Road is in full swing, which means the sides of the road are almost chipped off. Expect traffic jams and slow movement of vehicles. The route gets interesting after the town of Kanakapura when the terrain gives way to rocky hillocks. During monsoon lot of shrubs crop up between the rocks, making the barren land abundant with greenery. 

Malnad: Monsoon Magic

When is the best time for a motor cycle ride? "Monsoon"
Where is the best place to ride to ? "Western Ghats"

There are many who think along the same lines. Oswin was one of them and when I discussed about a monsoon ride to Chikmagalur, he was all game. He was inspired by the photos from our Kalasa ride. Staying at a hostel would be a new experience for both of us. The last time I slept on a bunk bed was during the college days. Zostel is an excellent choice for real travellers Rs 500 for a bed in mixed dormitory. Mostly young crowd, so not recommended for families with tiny tots.

Starting at 6.30am from NICE toll at ECity, we were going past many hordes of bullet groups and orange groups on a fine overcast Saturday morning. Western Ghats welcome you with its glory after Hassan and you feel like making many stops to enjoy the breath-taking landscapes. After breakfast, refuelling and photo-stops, we reached Zostel at 11.30am. 8km away from town, it is on Agumbe road just 500m from The Serai on the right side of the road.

We resumed our ride towards Lingadahalli, after offloading a bit of our luggage. We took a left turn at Kaimara towards Baba Budangiri Road. After paying the entry fee Rs 10, we enjoyed the surprises at each corner. We skipped the turn towards Mullayanagiri because there was not enough time.

The vivid colour of rolling hills, the bluish hue of rain clouds, the deep red soil - the sights at every turn is mesmerising. We couldn't help it, but stop many a times to soak in the beauty around. Roads are in excellent condition and that takes the pain off dealing with potholes. The best part was the road leading up to Baba Budangiri Peak or Manikyadhara waterfalls. "This is better than Scotland" was Oswin's comment. No offense meant, I know Scotland is far more beautiful, just a respite for less immortals who can't afford a vacation in Scotland.

We continued our ride after a stop at Hotel Sharanam at Mahal.  The owner lady was happy to see me again after 5months since my last ride in Feb 2018. Black tea and hot omelettes energized us.

"The forest guards stopped us. They won't let anyone go through the forest route to Kemmangundi" - The couple on a motorcycle told us on our way to Kemmangundi from Mahal. 

"What did they say?"

"They said they don't let anyone after 4pm"
"Let's  try our luck, if not, we will return "

The major goal of riding to Chikmagalur was to ride through the 13km forest route inside Bhadra WLS from Mahal to Kemmangundi. I was a bit sceptical if the guards will let us ride as it was already 3:45pm.

At the check post, the guards asked us our details and warned us about the knee-deep streams to cross. It could be the local parlance or our confidence, they let us go further. 7th time I was riding through this route since 2008 and I still want do it again. The enchanting beauty of green hills and thick forest with rivulets are calling me again and again. 

We took almost 40min to cross the 13km treacherous route filled with potholes and deep streams. Crossing many streams without getting stuck was pure luck and skill. But it was worth the effort.  We didn't ride back through the same route, instead we continued to Lingadahalli and rode back to Chikmagalur town in the evening.

After dinner at Siri Café and a hot shower, we crashed at the hostel bunk beds and slept like babies. 430km and almost 14hrs.  

Next day, we headed towards Agumbe, but didn't go until there. Instead we took a turn at Balehonnur and continued to Magundi-Balur-Kottigehara-Mudigere-Sakleshpura. On these roads, the lush dark green forest was really cool. We stopped at Malnad Café at Mudigere for lunch; akki roti at this place is delicious. 

Reached Hassan around 2pm and the ride to Bangalore was smooth until Nelamangala junction on Tumkur road. The traffic was at a standstill here. I took a long 20min break to cool down myself and overheated 200cc engine.

A handful of accommodation options in Chikmagalur:

Rainbow Comforts, Mob: 9449415019 ; 9845890876
PCS Serviced Apartment Lodge, Tel: 08262-236844 ; Mob: 9844168091 and 9972612551
Panchami Cottage, Mob: 9901712196 ; 9739710714
Lavasa Regency, Tel: 08262228877 ; Mob: 8762811527
Manjunatha Residency, Tel: 08262238111 ; Mob: 8277446111 and 8277338111

Saturday 16 June 2018

Melukote - a quaint temple town

It was after the famous Srivaishnava saint Ramanujacharya lived here for 14 years it became a prominent center of the Srivaishnavas. Unlike other temple towns, Melukote isn't merely temples and commercial shops around them. This (temple) town has a character of its own. The streets of Melukote will not only take you back in time but also resonates the Agrahara in the novel "Samskara" by U.R. Ananthamurthy. Many grandmothers will be sitting at the veranda of their century old houses and chit-chatting with their friends.

Melukote is 150 km from Bangalore if you go via Mandya and a 180 via Nelamangala- Kunigal - Bellur Cross - Nagamangala- Melukote. We took the second option and deviated at Bellur Cross, towards Nagamangala onto 150A - this road leads to Srirangapatna - and turn right a little after Chinya. This route is better, except that there is some road widening work in between. Watch out for speed breakers and the construction debris. Otherwise, the traffic is less and it took a little more than 3hrs to cover 180km from Electronic City to Melukote.

Cheluvanarayanaswamy temple is a pleasant and well maintained temple. It is mainly stone and wood. The main image is made of Brass. The architecture is stunning with fine details on all the pillars. There are few smaller shrines inside the temple complex. Walking inside this old temple complex is a calming experience.
Yoga Narasimha Swamy temple on the hill can be reached by foot in 30min. The steps are very wide and placed apart. You will find many women selling butter milk and peanuts en-route. 3 glasses of butter milk cost just Rs.10. At the time of writing, there was lot of renovation work going on at this temple and surroundings.

The largest pond -Kalyani- is breathtaking for its gigantic size and the architecture around, made famous by movies. There are many other ponds around this small town, most popular are the twin ponds known as -Akka Tangi kola (sisters' pond). Dhanushkoti is a short ride from the town and view from here is spectacular. On the way to Dhanushkoti is Raya Gopura, again made famous by movie populace.

The house where PuTiNa - famous Kannada Poet, one among the well-known trio of Navodaya poets (D.R.Bendre and Kuvempu being the other two) - was born, can be visited before 5pm, unfortunately we couldn't make it in time. There is a Government Sanskrit College and also a Sanskrit Research Centre. 

The best way to explore a town and appreciate what it has to offer is to walk around and eat from local places. Puliyogare (Tamarind Rice) stalls will be ubiquitous and you will start thinking puliyogare was invented at Melukote. So it is a must-do activity at Melukote to taste Puliyogare. Subbanna Mess is the most recommended for a sumptuous meal of white rice, Puliyogare- Rs 80 per meal.

 Accommodation is limited; a few places we came across:
1) Ahobila Yatri Nivas- TeL: 087227 16468/ 070260 92345. dbl Rs 650.
2) Yadhugiri Guest House- 7676767638. Available on hourly basis.
3) Bangur Yatri Nivas- Rs.400 with common toilet, dbl, A/C Rs.1000. Walk-in.

We stayed at Ahobila, the housekeeping is very poor. Carry your own toiletries and bed sheets.

Sunday 10 June 2018

Maiden Monsoon Ride

Riding bike in the Western Ghats has been on my bucket list for long. Now that I have learnt riding a geared motorcycle it was beyond thrilling sensation when I rode our Duke in the Western Ghats.

On a fine Friday evening, with mild drizzle in Bangalore, we set out towards Hassan - our first stop - en route Kalasa. Patches of rain kept the road and our mind fresh. Following morning, heavy rain accompanied us all the way to Kalasa. It was after a very long time we experienced the saying "it's raining cats and dogs". Our riding gear kept us warm and thanks to Decathlon rain gear we were dry.

Roads in Chickmagalur district are in their best condition ever. The age old, potholed, broken roads gave way to fully  tarred smooth tarmac. The lush green scenery can be enjoyed instead of gluing your eyes on the road. With the heavy rains there are streams at every corner and fallen trees are very common.

Our route was Bangalore-Nelamangala-Channarayapatna-Hassan-Belur(Left turn)-Jannapura-Mudigere-Kottigehara(Right)-Balur(Left)-Kelagur-Hirebyle-Kalasa. 340km in total.

On day 2, we were riding through Kudremukha NP, to erstwhile  KIOCL township in torrential rains. A detour from Samse will take you towards Elaneeru Waterfalls.

And Day 3,  Kalasa-Balehole-Magundi route. There is a diversion on this route to Agumbe/Sringeri - which is still a potholed road. From Magundi, the road leads to Balur - alternate route to reach Kottigehara from Kalasa. There is  also a shorter route Haluvalli- Horanadu road to reach Horanadu Temple.

Instead of coming back through the same route to Hassan, we turned right at Jannapura towards Sakleshpura. This road is fantastic - both the tarmac and lush green scenery.  After Sakleshpura, the roads are in pretty bad condition until Hassan. Road widening work is in progress from Hassan to Sakleshpura.

So, our return route was Kalasa-Kelagur-Balur-Kottigehara-Jannapura-Sakleshpura-Hassan-Bangalore. 350km -7hrs of leisure riding.

Due to heavy construction at Shiradi ghats on Bangalore-Mangalore national highway, there is a detour through Belur- Mudigere-Kottigehara-Charmadi. So, there was heavy traffic on this route until Kottigehara.

Quick facts:

Location: Kalasa is 340km from Bangalore and Kudremukha is 20km from Kalasa.  Horanadu, Sringeri, Agumbe can be reached from here.

When to visit: October to March is the best time. During monsoon, life becomes different at Kalasa. If you love rains, that is the best time.

Where to stay: Thottadur Yatri Nivas (at Kalasa) is for the budget traveller. Central, clean and basic. Rs 750 for dbl. Tel: 08263274699

What to carry: Some winter wear and trekking gear. A torch and umbrella will be handy. Always be ready with change of clothes. Waterfalls are tempting.

Food:  There are a few places for food  on Belur-Kottigehara route. Malnad Café dishes up authentic Malnad food with pipping hot coffee. At Kalasa, you will find basic meals at the restaurant next to Yatri Nivas.
Precautions: Salt, tobacco, Odomos etc for preventing leeches. Turmeric powder or turmeric oil to stop bleeding and itching if you are bitten by a leech.

Cash/ATM: Please carry liquid cash on this route, there was no power at Kalasa for 4days. Expect ATMs not to work and petrol pumps might need cash payment.