Hailing from the Western Ghats, I find MOUNTAINS CALLING a befitting expression.
A custom – leaving Bangalore during the week of Deepavali – took us to the unmarred Western Ghats of Kasargod back in 2018. The escapade stayed with us, and after four years, we were back to revel in the winter of the Western Ghats. There are many routes to reach this part of God’s own country. The route to Kasargod and Kannur can be summed as: Meandering through winding, narrow roads in the forest - traverse the inconspicuous borders between the states. Later on, winding through excellent tarmac via small towns and hamlets.
Due to the last moment changes in the booking at our Airbnb, the journey was split into two days. Breaking the journey at (Kukke) Subramanya was mainly to descend the rustic Bisle Ghat. The road after deviating at Channarayapatna is not in the best of condition. Some stretches have patches, whereas others have crater-like potholes. The Bisle Ghat is rugged, making the other two ghats – Charmadi and Shiradi seem tamed. The simple and sumptuous akki rotti lunch at Udupi Veg Family Restaurant, Kudrasthe was an energy booster to descend the curves of Bisle.
The Dwara hotel at Subramanya is fine for a night’s stay. The new hotel next door Hotel Adithya Nest has better amenities for the same price, which unfortunately, we were late to learn. The euphoria of riding through the twists and turns of ghats was pacified by spending the evening by the river. An early dinner brought the exciting day to an end.
The route to Palavayal from Subramanya is pristine, untouched by tourists. The only vehicles on this enchanting route are the occasional locals commuting. Green plantations interspersed with forests; these narrow roads sporadically open up to a well-marked wide road. The aura of riding through green plantations interspersed with forest topped with thing layer of fog, cannot be captured by lens. Notwithstanding to lose the inexpressibly lovely ride on these twists the next brief stop was at Sullia to fuel the vehicles and ourselves. Riding on, a quick stop at one of the vantage points overwhelmed me with the vista – ranges of mountains until the eyes could see. The spectacular stretch between Kolichal and Cherupuzha falls under Kasargod part of Malayora Highway.
A faint devotional song playing from a temple in the vicinity mingled with the chirping of birds, the cawing of cocks, and the occasional pecking of a woodpecker is how the first day began at the charming Airbnb. Nestled in the middle of an areca-nut plantation, Palavayal Home Stay is next to the pristine Tejaswini River. This well-kept house is pure bliss to spend a few days away from the city. It is green around the property as long as your eyes can see, and a clear blue sky on top. The pleasantly cold mornings with a thin layer of fog and dew drops on the plants and trees gave the first impression of the winter ahead.
A walk through the plantation leads you to the stream. The path through the plantation reminded me of walks back at my ancestral home. The flowing water hidden behind foliage has strong currents. It is well-known for white water rafting in the monsoon season. The water in the river remains cool throughout the day. Making it perfect to jump in anytime. The calm and quiet on the banks of the river snugged behind the thicket is priceless. The sound of water gushing through stones is accompanied by the chirping of various birds. This makes for a perfect soundtrack (white noise) to help you sleep once back in the city.
A bridge connecting Palavayal and further to Pulingome with Palavayal Farm Resorts at Enichal, is under construction for over four years. Without the bridge, it is a roundabout of 12 kilometres to reach the town that is otherwise two kilometres away. A temporary (4year old) bamboo footbridge (Enichal Bamboo Bridge)lets pedestrians get across the river. Autorickshaws wait on either side of the bridge to ferry the passengers to the next destination. A temporary fix to make the daily life of locals smooth can be exotic to the outsiders (coming from cities). Having seen many such bridges across north-east India, it was surprising to see one in the most progressive state of Kerala.
Mohanan - the gentleman who took care of us at the homestay purchased a second two-wheeler parked on the other side of the bamboo bridge. He has to commute to towns on the other side of the bridge for work. His wife works at Pulingome. It is hard to imagine that a mere two-kilometre commute can be as cumbersome as this.
As with all nice things, this trip was coming to an end. Starting on Friday morning, it was time to explore more of Malayora Highway.
On the fantastic tarmac of the Kannur part of Malayora Highway, I was stopped by a police officer just after crossing the town of Payyavoor. The dialogue followed as below: It must be rare for them to see a fully geared motorcycle rider, and they didn’t know it was a lady riding.
PO – Police Officer; M – Me
PO: Where are you heading?
M: I am going to Bangalore
PO: Where are you coming from?
M: From Palavayal
PO: What were you doing there?
M: I was staying at The Palavayal Home Stay for a week. I was working from there this week.
He was still not convinced and kept asking more about the stay, and I had to explain the concept of work-cation.
PO: So you go alone on this motorcycle everywhere?
M: Yes, I like riding and prefer to ride alone
The police officer was fascinated and appreciated a bunch of times, uttering 'very well'. Most of the conversation happened in Malayalam. He was merrier when he learnt that I am not a Malayali but married to one and have learnt the language. The route was written and kept in the tank bag. The police officer was curious. He was told it is better to ask the locals than to trust and follow (everyone's beloved) Google chechi. He sent me off with a wave and many more 'very good, keep it up!'
Kerala state police are distinguished. They are unlike the conventional police force. It is comfortable to strike a conversation with them. They are well-behaved and treat others with respect.
The State Highway 59 (SH-59), Hill Highway also known as Malayora Highway is proposed to connect the northern most district of Kasargod with the southernmost Thiruvananthapuram passing through 13 of 14 districts in Kerala. Most part of the highway in Kasargod and Kannur districts are complete except a few stretches. The traffic is still not very high through these roads. From Kannur, it will deviate to Wayanad and Malappuram- two branches. Once complete this will be the most exciting route to witness the beauty of Western Ghats in Kerala.
Ending with the picture of the most important part of the trip – the transporters