Blame it on Google!

“You have arrived”!  The familiar message from google maps’ voice navigation usually indicates your arrival at a destination. But when the five of us switched off the engines and the lights of our vehicles, we were a hundred percent certain that we weren’t where we wanted to be. It was pitch dark with no sign of any civilization around us; the beautiful night sky glimmering in all its glory offered proof. There was no cell phone coverage either. Our frantic discussion on the next course of action was interrupted by flashing torch lights that appeared to come from the other side of the valley to our left. The lights were accompanied by voices – people shouting something at us, but we could not make out what they were trying to convey. One of us started to flash a torch back at them – it was no Morse code, it was unlikely either party knew anything about it and was just a futile and in retrospective, a comical exercise. Somebody suggested we should attempt to listen carefully to what was being shouted at us, the voices now started to sound more agitated. The sharpest of us could just about make out the word Vaango which in Tamil (language), means come. Although not fully certain if that’s what we heard, we convinced ourselves that the voices were urging us to move forward and that should take us towards those people.

We started the engines and slowly made our way forward. We were not on asphalt but on what seemed to be a dirt track that was poorly maintained exposing pebbles and larger rocks. What were we doing on this “road”? We were clearly out of our minds, probably delirious due to fatigue from the 400 km ride from Bangalore that we started earlier that morning. As we inched forward, the torch lights and the voices did get closer and soon we had a bunch of hysterical folks brandishing torches in front of us. They wouldn’t hear anything we had to say for they could not reason what we were doing on a tractor trail cutting across a tea estate where at this time of the night elephants are known to roam about! Their concern was not misplaced for an elephant in panic mode could turn fatal for the five of us. Soon the people calmed down sufficiently to understand we had lost our way and set us in the right direction.

The manager of the resort at Valparai where we were to stay had given us specific instructions to call him when we passed a forest check post so that he could assist us but we trusted Google and learnt our lessons the hard way. The location of the resort on the map was wrong and lead to a plantation rather than the bungalows some distance away! In the darkness, we had unwittingly followed the map to land in the middle of the plantation much to the irritation of the workers there.

At the time of publishing this post, my request to Google to correct the location of the resort was pending.

The five of us!
(Pic credit: Unni)

My first solo ride!

It’s been eleven months since I had got home the KTM Duke 200. Since then the bike has only been put to use as a commuter – the weekday office ride of 7km and back. The bike is capable of doing much more both on track and highway and I was feeling bad that I hadn’t put it to better use. The feeling would get aggravated when after looking at the odometer, the guy at the service center would ask if don’t ride the bike much. I wouldn’t fault the man as approximately only 1000 km were being added every four months (service interval).

The only remedy for this - long rides! The monsoon was past its prime and the summer was still some way off – perfect weather for riding. The only problem was that I hadn’t done anything more than couple of hundred kilometers before and even that was ages ago. With a lean week at work anticipated during Thanksgiving and a truck load of un-availed leave at hand, I decided that there could be no better time for the ride. I looked for possible options for the route that would notch up about a thousand kilometers and shortlisted Bangalore-Wayanad-Calicut-Mangalore-Coorg-Bangalore.  I split the ride into four days with three halts for the night. Not many I know would have immediately warmed up to a bike trip and even if they did, matching calendars and preferences would have been hard. Therefore without consulting anyone, I decided that this would be done solo and booked accommodation! The dates – 25 November 2013 to 28 November 2013 (Monday- Thursday).

The route!

No matter how capable a bike is for highway touring, you would need to beef it up to carry luggage for long duration travel. After looking at many options and reading reviews I chose to go for the KTM speedbags by Dirtsack ( They have a dealer in Bangalore and I planned to go and pick it up in person rather than order online. But as luck would have it, I fell ill the week before the ride and missed the shopping plan. The bag was sold out when I called up the Wednesday before the ride. That left me with no other option but to order directly from the manufacturers in Mumbai who did a remarkable job in getting the bag delivered to me by Saturday (Thanks Jaydeep, Mandar!). Also on my shopping list was a puncture repair kit, but I forgot about it till it was too late. I had to hope for some luck!

Duke with Speedbag mounted

It was soon the first day of the ride. The bags were packed the previous night – back pack with the DSLR and paperwork; the new speedbag with clothes, additional lenses and a lot of room to pack in stuff I wanted to pick up. The speedbag was a breeze to mount on the bike and a perfect fit with no movement.  After having a quick breakfast, I set off at about 07:15. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous and the feeling got heightened when I realized I was not very familiar with the exit from Bangalore! I had researched the route from Mysore and had believed getting till there would be a no brainer. I have mostly been on the back seat on trips via Mysore and never really internalized the way to exit the city. But soon enough I managed to recall how to reach Mysore road and that conundrum was laid to rest!

After making past my way through early morning traffic on the Bangalore end of Mysore road, it was open, smooth highway ahead. That allowed a stress free cruising at around 100 kmph. It was a tad boring though and I chose to hum along Lokadi Kalaji to amuse myself (What! You haven’t heard this Raghu Dixit number yet? Check it out at: If you like it, buy their new album!). Also, I kept my senses on alert by trying to work out which vehicle or pedestrian would do something unusual J

The roads in and around Mysore were a little patchy and slowed my progress, but on travelling further towards Gundlupet, the roads were smooth once again and cruising resumed. The Gundlupet route was a familiar one having been on it during my first long (group) bike ride to Ooty.  I remembered from that trip that Sultan Bathery (Wayanad) was a right turn at Gundlupet.  It was good that I remembered this bit as I would have missed it if I weren't on the lookout for it. The Sultan Bathery road was equally smooth and devoid of traffic and in no time hit the reserve forest area. The road through the forest was like driving through alien country – well marked twisty roads replete with signboards. The only things that brought me back to India were the numerous speed bumps. The jungle was serene and my bike must have created quite a racket!

Entering Kerala

Duke in the jungle

After making my way past the forest and bits of civilization, I reached Sultan Bathery town and soon found my pre-booked accommodation – Hotel Mintflower Residency.  As I was trying to cross the road, one of the taxi/jeep drivers from the parking lot adjacent to the hotel walked up to me and asked if the helmet I was wearing was air-conditioned :D I guess the vents on it make it look that way (I later realized, mechanically it is “air-conditioned”, channeling internal air flow from the front to the rear). After dropping of my baggage in the room, I had a quick lunch at the attached restaurant. It was a thali with a difference, full of Keralite preparations like avial, kootu curry instead of typical south Indian ones. To make the meal complete there was payasam and boiled water to drink!

It was just past 14:00 and I decided to have a short rest and head towards Banasurasagar dam at 16:00. I had seen some pics of the lake near the dam and had read the sunsets there are worth the visit. I did not fall asleep, which I would have preferred and at about 15:30, I could hear rain. I thought this would bring an end to my plans but the rain was short lived. Just past 16:00, I set out towards Kalpetta from where I had to take a deviation. After the initial traffic and diversions at Sultan Bathery, the road leading to Kalpetta was sublime! The initial stretch post the deviation at Kalpetta was horrible, but soon turned into a narrow, twisty, undulating but pothole free road that was a thrill to ride on. Soon it started to drizzle and that made it more fun; the Duke handled these roads marvelously.  The mobile network in these parts was impressive too as I had to constantly look up maps to aid my ride.

The dam was an anti-climax! It had some impressive Civil Engineering credentials but I was looking for aesthetics! At the gates to the dam complex, I was told I could not take my vehicle inside. The only thing to do inside the complex would be to get a closer look and walk on the dam. I was not interested. I asked the security if there was a lake around (in Malayalam). He told me that if I took a right at the previous junction, I would find one. He used the word, “valthote” meaning right in Malayalam. At that time I couldn't immediately translate the word. But I thought I would get slapped if I asked for translation! He had also gestured right with his hands, but I have come across numerous occasions when gestures and words don’t match :D

So I did take that right turn and a couple of kilometers down that road, I reached what appeared to be the reservoir behind the dam. I took a narrower cross road that appeared to lead closer to the water. It did and I ended up abruptly next to the water body. The view was awesome and I spent some time photographing. After satisfying myself, I headed back the way I came. The same awesome roads, this time in darkness and with some notorious Kerala buses for company! I reached the hotel’s basement parking lot and discovered the bike’s steering lock was not working. I took my chances with the hotel security and left the bike unlocked for the night.  I felt spending too much time there would only attract unwanted attention. Earlier that day, I had discovered that I had forgotten my mobile charger. The receptionist at the hotel had kindly lent me a spare charger. After a light dinner, I picked up a cheap local charger from a nearby shop as I still had three more days on the road.

The reservoir behind the Banasurasagar dam

When we ran out of road!

The next day found me making my way past the same roads towards Kalpetta. This time around, I would travel further on to Calicut (Kozhikode). Originally my plan at Calicut included only picking up the famed banana chips. But the bike lock problem I discovered the previous night made me include a quick stop at the KTM workshop there.  The route to Calicut was scenic – full of plantations and a ghat section with eight hair pin curves. There were some breathtaking views from the hill side as well. I reached Calicut city by 12:00 and with help from GPS made my way to West Hill KTM. The lock issue turned out to be a non-issue! It turned out that the handle bar had to be in a particular position for the lock to work. I had not realized this in the 11 months I have owned the bike! Since I was at the workshop, I decided to give the chains a clean and lube job.

I had not realized that riding to the workshop had taken me away from the city center. Since I was travelling in the “right” direction towards Mangalore, I continued on. I soon realized my folly. I had wanted to pick up the chips and moving away from the city would mess that up. It was also past 13:00 and I was beginning to feel hungry. I decided to re-trace my path to Calicut city to grab a bite and the chips. That’s when I got lost! Lost is not the correct word for I knew exactly where I was, thanks to the GPS. But I was neither finding a decent restaurant nor a seller of banana chips (the kind which make them on location).  After making my way past numerous diversions and one-ways, as if by some unearthly intervention, I stumbled across a name I was looking for – Kumari Chips! This place was reputed for making and selling the chips I was after and I had just passed it (having glanced at the name from the corner of my eye). It was in a very busy part of the city and I had to go some distance to find parking. After parking, I walked back to pick up the chips. It was 14:30 by then and my next destination Mangalore was 250 km away. Having found the elusive chips, I decided to munch on some biscuits for lunch and make some progress towards Mangalore. The chips in the bag had me in good spirits; it felt like having done the undo-able J

At Calicut, with the bag loaded with chips!

The ride towards Mangalore via Kannur was uneventful except for a couple of stray incidents. First an auto rickshaw driver who decided to bring his vehicle to a halt right in my path while crossing the highway. Second, a brave gentleman who chose to cross the highway from the opposite end, reached midway and upon seeing me coming made some abusive gestures as I stormed past him J

I reached Kannur by 15:00 and decided that I should take a break as there was still about 150 km to go. I popped into a restaurant for some late lunch and after that had a look around outside at the surroundings for familiar things. Kannur is the district my parents belong to and I had been to this very place about 15 years back. The only thing I remembered was Sheen bakery, a place from where we often packed chips and cake as we prepared to board the bus to Bangalore.

Sheen bakery, Kannur

The ride from Kannur to Mangalore was a mixed bag. The initial part was full of elevation changes and was fun. Yet, a slight drizzle had made the road slippery and it also seemed to have a layer of oil on it that glistened in sunlight. Post Payyanur, it was mostly flat with some sections of twisty hill roads. But the worst was at the door step of Mangalore. It had gotten dark by then and there seemed to be no road. The bike’s suspension and my bones were getting battered and I was blindly following the vehicle ahead, occasionally checking GPS to see if I was on course. After what seemed liked eternity in hell, I made it to my next pit stop – Ginger, Mangalore. I was too tired to head out post that, ordered food via room service and called it a day.

The next day was planned with minimal riding, about 140 km. The bike looked rather dirty and the chain that was lubed 250 km ago also looked dirty. With over 400 km still to go to reach Bangalore, I felt I should make a quick visit to KTM Mangalore and get these sorted. The cleaning and lubing took up more time than expected. By the time I got started towards Madikeri, it was 12:30. The exit from Mangalore was the other extreme of the entry the previous night -twisty roads downhill that were a pleasure to ride on. I got so engrossed in it that I missed the deviation to Madikeri and continued onwards to Sakleshpur/Bangalore! J

I realized this at Upinangadi. I knew this place was on the route to Saklespur from my previous visit to Mangalore and took corrective action. I chose a deviation to take me to Puttur, a place on the Madikeri road. I thought this deviation would be a mistake, but that was far from the truth. That road was a 12km stretch that had its share of bad patches but was mostly alright. What followed after I joined the road to Madikeri was horrible, worse than the Mangalore stretch. One and half hours on under construction and beyond repair roads with some incredibly good sections in between started to get me sick. The trauma ended as soon as I entered Coorg (Kodagu) district. The scenery and the roads reached the other extreme – it was biking heaven!

The scenery and the road conditions upon entering Coorg

The stretch upto Madikeri town was better than the forest section at Wayanad. The sharp twisties uphill were a delight. The markings and signboards were perfect and so was all the scenery around. It felt like being in a video game! As the milestones counted down the distance to Madikeri, I wished it would never end. But you don’t get everything you wish for and I landed smack in the middle of Madikeri town! From there I opted to use the GPS to find my way to the homestay where I had booked my accommodation. But its location on the map was inaccurate and I had to call my hosts to guide me to their place. I got to Alpen Glow at 15:30. My hostess was shocked to see me ride in on a bike, all alone!

After a short rest, I decided to go pick up some spices. The hostess had asked me to fill up the registration form after I am done with my rest. I ventured to their house next door and she offered me delicious upma and coffee while I filled up the form. Her husband told me they also had an option of an estate stay outside the town. I then ventured out and picked up the spices and thereafter decided to have an early dinner. I wanted to eat Biryani at Hotel East End. I have eaten there before and their Biryani was the best I have ever tasted and therefore desired to eat it again. But as luck would have it the Biryani chef was on a half day leave and Biryani was not on the menu that night! I had to settle for lesser things!

The next morning my hosts served me breakfast. The hostess also offered some packed Coorg special sweets for me to take home.  I bid adieu to my hosts and started off on the home stretch at 09:00. Some more of Madikeri’s mystical roads and thereafter I was cruising on flat stretches; that meant more Lokada Kalaji J The uneventful ride took me to Mysore and then an equally boring stretch brought me to Bangalore. After negotiating some Bangalore traffic, I was back home by 14:00. 1227+ km, 4 days, 3 nights, a memorable and enriching experience!

1227 km (the meter was reset at 999.9)