So, it all started when ‘G’ got his hands (and legs and heart and soul) on his new Himalayan Snow and was calling me day in and day out to decide on a place where he can take her out for her first outing. We did a couple of highway runs during the weekday to get a feel of it. For no reason, we went dropping all our friends to the airport (who were going home for Deepawali) and went to receive a few all because we wanted to run the engine IN ASAP. For the last 1 week, G had been eating, sleeping and doing everything on his new Snow.
The foundation for the ride was already laid a month back when the group wanted to explore Western Ghats of Karnataka. I did a lot of touring in this side of Western Ghats in the last 5 years as I was based in Bangalore. The thought of reviving my Kudremukh memory of 2012 when I was first let loose to explore nature, was already running on my mind. Talked to Wrangler True Wanderer Finalist 2016 Experimentalhead with whom I had been to my last Kudremukh trip and decided the circuit. Bangalore > Kottigehara > Kudremukh > Ujire > Charmadi > Kottigehara > Bangalore. The plan was fixed with 3 Motorcycles – G, Aye and Ajgar. Aye (Me) always travels with his Stepney.
2 days before the ride, last minute calls were made to the last minute joiners of the group. In all 9 Motorcycles and 12 humans. A brief introduction about the humans and their buddies in crime.
G – Himalayan Snow – Toured a lot in the Southern part of India. D – Mahindra Mojo. Rented with Bikers Enclave S – RE TBTS 350 Marine – C – RE Cl350 White. Poochi and Su – Himalayan Snow. Rented with Bikers enclave Aye and Stepney – RE TBTS 350 Flicker Ajgar – RE Electra 350 Silver Pranav and Aarya – RE TBTS 350 Marine Bipul – Yahama FZ
Bipul was going on his first long ride (if Bangalore-Mysore-Bangalore is not considered long). Pranav and Aarya were joining me for the first time though they have been touring for a while. Rest all have wandered together for the last 5 years.
I have always felt that the ride starts about a week or two before the actual start date. Ajgar and Aye had a lot of work to be done on their rides as they were back after a 1600 Kms ride through TN and Kerala. Broken brakes, bent rims, heavy clutch, worn out disk plates (Yes, plates and not pads). A week with the mechanic and got the Ride the treatment that it duly deserved and we can clearly see it smiling at its humans, thanking for the rejuvenation. Off late, Ajgar had a problem of shoulder pains after every 350 Kms of a ride and we thought of trying out a new handlebar. Went for the ever trusted RD-x for both our rides (400 plus 200 for fitting). More about the ergonomics and handling at a later part of the journey. Ajgar also wanted to upgrade to a better helmet and went for the SOL SF-5 from Let’s Gear up, HSR. Cost around 6500 for size M. While we were busy planning the tour, our honorable PM had other plans. We needed liquid cash for the tour as we would be traveling to the remote parts of our country where plastic money is not accepted at every place. D, Ajgar and Stepney stood in the long bank queue and got some money exchanged and withdrew on all our behalf so that we need not worry about our expenses.
Motorcycles – ready, cash – ready, riding gear – dusted, members – called and confirmed. The ride was planned to start on the night of 11th November or early morning 12th November. We were all to assemble near BEL circle to take the Tumkur highway towards Hassan. The ride started with a couple of hours of customary delay at 3.00 AM 12th November. We hit the Tumkur highway and planned to take the diversion at Nelmangala towards Hassan. The road as everyone knows is a beautiful highway with little to no surprises. We were riding at a moderate speed of around 80-90 Kmph. Took our first break after 90 Kms. The moon was looking different from the regular days and it was red in color. We kept watching the moon and riding. There is something about all my late / night early morning start of the rides, we feel tired and sleepy very soon (after a long day at work with no sleep and riding on the highways). Even with all the gear, it was cold. I come from a colder region and my fingertips were freezing.
We took it slowly from there and hit Hassan at around 7.00 AM. Not bad for a 3 o’clock start. The surrounding alive with greenery all around and Tea is all that was needed. We could see vast stretches of paddy fields on both sides and suddenly the tiredness and sleepiness were gone just like the night. We watched the sunrise from between the trees and now I know why our lord wanted to fly and eat it. The highways give way to the state highway from Hassan to Belur and few curves were thrown at us here and there. The road was tarmacked and was in a very good condition barring a few Kms of potholes (which we didn’t mind, to be honest). Tanked up once again at Belur as they were accepting card during the cash crunch situation. Few happy and a few sad faces after calculating the fuel economy (tank full to tank full). Stopped for breakfast a little ahead of Belur and it was the beginning of the forest. There was a small Tiffin center selling hot Idlis dipped in Sambhar. Everyone picked their chair and kept it in the open to get enriched in Vitamin D. It was really cozy after the cold night riding. A couple of rounds of Idlis and hot tea and we made our way deeper into the forest.
The road from here takes beautiful shapes and it couldn’t stop leaving a grin on everyone’s face. We planned to start the ride very early in the morning so that we can eat up the highway when the sun is on the other side of mother earth and can make way for beautiful curves early in the morning when hitting the ghat section. Reached Kottigehara in no time and ‘D’ wanted to taste the specialty – Neer Dosa. We all decided to give it a try on our way back and headed towards Kudremukh through Kalasa. We stocked water and had few bananas to keep us energized and continued further. This is one of the most beautiful stretches of dense forest on both sides and some sexy curves. No one was in a mood to stop and we thought of continuing all the way to Kudremukh. I was not maintaining a constant riding position as Stepney was handling the only GoPro we had. We kept leading and then slowly sweeping so that we could capture everyone. It was during this time I noticed that Ajgar, who is our sweeper, was not in sight. I went ahead and asked the group to stop. Surprisingly we stopped right in the middle of nowhere and once the engine was killed, we would hear birds chirping and the trees were dancing with the wind. Opposite side of the road, there was a clearing right in the forest and a few of us decided to go little inside while we were waiting for Ajgar. Ajgar’s luggage apparently was lose and he was tightening it before he reached the group. It was very cool inside the jungle and we went a little too deep for us to even spot our rides. A couple of guys were with the rides and checking luggage on all the motorcycles. We spent a good half an hour here before deciding to part ways with the lone spider taking care of business there.
On way to Kudremukh one can see a small tea plantation section. This section looked rather small and cute as we were back from Munnar the previous month. But thought of stocking up tea for home. We had hot tea there and shopped some for home. Good place to get Wild Honey and some authentic Masala.
A few Kms and we were at the forest check post. Those of you who may not know about Kudremukh, it used to be a thriving colony of KIOCL – Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Limited which was shut down sometime in 2005. It was closed as it falls under the biodiversity hotspot of Western Ghats and the environmentalists took it upon themselves to deny the extension of the company which was initially awarded for only 25 years. To enter the reserved forest area, one must enter the vehicle registration number and get a slip from them. Time is noted on the slip and one must cross over to the other side of the jungle within 2 hours. I am not too sure about the distance between check posts but it should be between 45 Kms and 60 Kms. Or, there is another option that we discovered during our last stay. There is a KIOCL company owned guest house in the Kudremukh town which can be pre-booked for accommodation. After going through the details from Experimentalhead’s blog, Experimentalhead called the guest house and booked 2 rooms (as only 4 of us were initially planned to go). The rooms have become expensive in last 5 years (I know am greedy) but have been maintained with the same finesse in the middle of a jungle.
Cost: 950 including taxes for a room to accommodate 2 humans. An extra person to be charged at 250rs.
We went there hoping to get an additional couple of rooms for the rest of us. The Guest house has been renamed as Sahyadri Bhavan and it has gone private. We told about our booking and they said since we are 12 of us, they would like to show the cottages that they had built close by so that we can check them out. Took a left from the guest house and kept going further inside. I did not come to this side of the colony during my last visit and it was really amidst nature. There was no one to be found near our vicinity. A small barricade to cross and we were there. 4 cottages – they were nothing but erstwhile executive quarters of the company which has been maintained for guest houses. Huge 3 BHK house with private garden, AC in 1 room, swings, garage, couches, TV, Geyser and an extra bed in the hall. Highly spacious and we could have managed in 1 cottage for all the 12 of us but the garage could accommodate only 6 motorcycles. We booked one more cottage as the sight of all the rides in the garage looked too good to resist. Came back to the guest house and took the convoy to their new home for the night. Everyone was mighty pleased. We checked and found out that we were the only guests that day/night so that entire place was for us to do just about anything.
Cost – Each cottage for 3200 Rs. Each cottage has beds for 7 person. 3 in the bedroom and 1 in the hall. The rooms are huge and neatly maintained.
The colony in itself is strange and gives a spooky feeling. I’ve stayed in central government quarters as my father was working for one. So, am aware of the surroundings but there was no one to be seen. Similar quarters and I could distinguish between different kinds of houses. There was a playground, hospital, basketball court, Bank. There were trees grown all around them. The pathway to the bank had head high grasses in them. The buildings has their window glasses broken down, trees had grown big and started to push the ceiling outwards, also a hospital and its 2 rusted ambulance. One could only imagine how lively and comfortable the place would have been with more humans around. Currently, it gives a sense of being in the Mother Nature’s lap.
One needs to come back to the main reception for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are no networks available sparring BSNL which often plays hide and seek. One can make use of the landline available at the guest house for making calls to their loved ones informing of their safety. The calls were free. A Hot meal was waiting for us when we reached the guest house. We got freshened up and went to feed our hungry stomach. The food was decent and nothing to complain about. They didn’t have any non-veg dish as they were not expecting guests (they generally don’t expect any guest at all). We finished our meal and requested for Pepper Chicken to be prepared for dinner and they were grateful to oblige us. Once the tummy was full we explored the places a little and everyone wanted to take a nap. The bed was cozy and the weather was perfect. Unknowingly slept for about a couple of hours and I felt D and G talking to me in my sleep. I could hear them speaking to me but I wasn’t too sure if it was a dream or am hallucinating.
D: Dude, we gotta be at the bus stand by 7.30 as the bus comes at that time and we need to collect it from the bus driver. If we are late, we may miss it. And, the time now is 7 PM.
Aye: What? Who? Why? Why bus stand man, I have my motorcycle? And, are you guys for real, or am I dreaming?
D is so very subtle at all time and that one can not understand the urgency of the matter.
D: Yes. Its better you get up now so that we can go and get it. On the way we may stop and get some snack for the evening.
Aye: Are you guys serious. Or am I still sleeping. And what snacks. Why, when I am still sleeping. And, how come you are there in my bedroom when I didn’t even open it.
G: Aye, you better get up or….
I recognized this voice better than the other one. I gathered all my strength to understand and realized I was still in my slumber and they were right in front of me explaining that we needed to go to the bus stand and get OM bottle. There are no liquor stores in Kudremukh. In fact, we would need to go back till Kalasa to buy a bottle. Not to forget the check post where we would have to surrender the previous token and get a new token reissued. While I was taking a nap, D had spoken to the guest house guy who then called the bus driver who was coming from Kalasa to Kudremukh and he obliged to carry a bottle for us which we would be collecting from the bus stop. Now it all made sense to me. Quickly sprang into action and left for the bus stand which would be a couple of Kms away from where we were. It was dark and I was trying to remember the way we were going so that we could come back alive.
While I was sleeping, Ajgar and Bipul went in search of something and they kept going till the check post. From what I remember they went to see if there is any ATM nearby. They could have simply asked me and I would have educated them of where were and how lucky we were to get whatever we were getting. But, good for them and they explored the place a little more than I did. While coming back it already got late. They both were feeling a little scared from within and didn’t know if they were going the right direction. Bad – they don’t even speak Kannada. They were inside the colony but took a wrong lane. 200 meters in it and they realized. Quickly turned around and somehow made their way to the reception. Gathering their memory they traced their way back to our cottage just to tell all of us of how it was and gave us a chance to make fun of them. But trust me, the place certainly is spooky if you were to travel alone and that too at night.
At around 7.15 PM near the bus stand, spoke to a couple of locals (apparently they were waiting for their bottle☺). Seems like a common phenomenon. There were a few small shops selling chips and cold drinks. The only authentic product we could find was Sprite with 1 L Kinley free. It was a nice and an awkward feeling at the same time. We came back and everyone made their phone calls to their home. Had already ordered for some pakoras for the evening and we all assembled in one of the cottages. Everyone discussing their ride and expecting more for the next day.
It was time for dinner and we thought of taking a walk. Decided against it and took our rides out again. Nothing to complain about the food and the chicken was indeed good (as my friends said. I am a vegetarian by choice). Had a long talk about the road condition and other things to do with the caretaker we talked more about the people and their lifestyle. Finally, we hit our sack hoping to wake up early in the morning to see the sunrise.
Waking up to the mist was why we were so far away from our home.
Off late, am an early riser and my alarm clock starts off at 4.45 AM. I woke up exactly at 5.00AM. Tried to wake Stepney up but she wanted few more minutes of sleep. Few minutes of sleep early in the morning is the best feeling. I obliged and went out. I was the only one there and the sky was still dark it was misty. I could hardly see the gate of my cottage from the door. It was even cold. I removed my slipper and took a stroll in the grass. It was wet with dew in it. Birds were chirping and I tried to guess the birds with their sounds. Or alteast, try to recognize if I have heard them before or not. A familiar bird which chips like a singing lady, I recognized that voice. I wanted everyone to be awake and check the beauty of nature. Went and banged on all the doors to see if anyone was interested. Few folks came out and never went back. Few didn’t bother. Few came out and went back in with the same speed requesting me to wake them up when the sun is out. 6 AM and it was turning bright and most of the guys were out. Started taking the motorcycle out of the garage and parking it in front of the gate. Just for the heck of it. I and G collected keys of all the motorcycles and started idling them to reduce the delay in leaving. Thumpers were calling their humans and everyone was out with a grin. Took the rides for a spin in the misty weather and this time we were not scared. We ventured to all corners of the place and it was such a nice feeling with mist all around with a visibility of hardly 10 meters, green huge trees all around us.It was a very childish feeling with 9 motorcycles parked in front of our gate and everyone taking their turn to ride the Motorcycles in the same place and still feeling happy. Something about riders that doesn’t let them stop their rides. We kept parking our rides in the garage and then taking out and we didn’t know what we were doing. Few photo shoot of the beauties with nature and we were all ready with our saddle to bid adieu to the place. Stuffed our stomach with hot Idlis and had one last tea over there. Thanked the hosts for their hospitality but not before promising to come back again.
The plan was set – KIOCL to Charmadi via Bajagoli > Belthangadi
The Kudremukh stretch till Bajagoli was an absolute bliss. How often do we get to start the ride for the day with ghat roads and lush greenery all around? Around 40-45 Kms to Bajagoli and no one was willing to stop. We slowed the speed down and wanted to absorb the maximum that we can. I could remember a couple of places from where the treks in the Kudremukh region start. Of late, they have stopped trekking activities in this part of Kudremukh (Kurinjal Peak). November probably was one of the better times to visit this place. The air was clean and a little bit humid, very very fresh with chill wind hitting your face, and with so many different shades of green and at places, the forest was opening up to luch green fields. We reached Bajagoli and had a small break for tea. We were to head towards Ujire from where we would turn into Charmadi Ghats. Nothing to complain about roads but this section had a few more villages than while coming in. Even without realization we entered the Charmadi Ghats. This section has short curves and one could even see 2-3 curves ahead and plan the cornering. Absolute treat and we had only one stop at the top. There is waterfall in the middle of the road. Though water was not pouring through it but had enough to freshen us up and good enough for us to spend a good couple of hours over there.
Now, we were feeling really hungry. Reached Kottigehara in half an hour and went to have the Neer Dosa that D had his eyes on since we were heading to Kudremukh. 12 of us and only one guy preparing Neer Dosa. The last of us had to wait for a considerable amount of time before he could taste it. It was a little watery but very thin and the chutney was a good companion. We also finished our meal and left the place. The return from here is the same route taken while coming here and this time we were travelling in the evening and that was the only difference. We rushed through the highway and reached Nelmangala by 7PM on Sunday. This is where the group started thinning as some humans took nice road towards electronic city. Finally, Aye reached home by 9PM. Checked my phone and everyone else had reached their homes. Had dinner quickly and went to sleep hoping to see Kudremukh come alive again. It all felt like a dream.