Kaivara revisited and beyond

Last time I headed out in this direction, I was still in college. Five years seems like ages and that was when along with my batchmates of 6 semester Civil Engineering from MS Ramaiah Institute of Technology, I set out for a Survey camp at Kaivara. The survey camp was just an eyewash (as was the whole engineering course) but it did give the experience of staying away from home. Strangely enough, I felt (and still feel) a sense of belonging to the village/ farming set up that I experienced at close range.

During the 6 semester survey camp. Our team taking a break and doing a Bugs Bunny

So when we were looking up and compiling destinations for a short, one day bike ride, I added Kaivara (about 60 km one way) to the list. I was curious to find out if the tomato, carrot and grape farms still exist. Hogenekal was first on that list and we planned to head there last Saturday.The South West Monsoon had other ideas. With a week of rains (albeit small spells) and an overcast weather, the day before the ride we felt we should go elsewhere. Kaivara was in the eastern direction and was one we had not explored. At almost 9pm, over phone, we finalised plans to meet at 7:30 the next morning. I felt 7:30 was a little to late, but you cant expect better of the software/ ITES types anyway ;) And oh yes, Vikram dropped out yet again.

Next morning. I reached Kempa's place at the appointed hour. Unni turned up 15 minutes later. Robin who watched the FIFA WC match till 4 am turned up by 8. Without wasting anymore time, we were off. Three of us had not had breakfast and that was first on our itinerary. We hit Old Madras Road, from HAL Engine division and proceeded towards Hoskote. No place for eats could be spotted and we decided Hoskote would be the place where we could grab a bite. Although this road is full of flyovers under construction, most stretches were in good condition. Soon, without even realising it (thanks to Robin and Kempa speeding off), we had crossed Hoskote and were at a Y, the left arm of which was Chintamani road.

Our Rides

Chintamani road, is a narrower road (2 lanes wide without any markings) but in very good shape. Soon enough, we hit a flat straight stretch and I couldn't resist the urge to hit 100k and I sped off, much to the astonishment of my friends. I must add, I have been just a pillion on our previous rides and don't fancy bikes all that much. But a high revving bike and a road to match was just too tempting :) Soon enough, I hit the mark and slowed down for the others. Robin joined me first on his Apache 160 . Kempraj was still running in his Pulsar 220F and Unni's Bullet Classic 350 had just being through a "mileage tune-up" which slowed them down.

It was 10am, and we passed by a Karnataka tourism signboard which indicated Kaivara was 29km away. Unperturbed by our empty stomachs, we stopped to pose for some photographs. We felt the bikes should get some attention from the cameras and soon we went clicking away from all angles.

From another angle

Scenic views enroute to Kaivara

Enroute to Kaivara

Our stomachs had had enough by this time and we set off on the lookout for an eating place. A villager had adviced us of "Standard Hotels"  near Kaivara and we hoped we would get there soon. Just past " Kaivara -3km to the left" signboard, we found Guru's eating joint (I cant recall the exact name which was in Kannada). They only had Chitranna (lemon/ turmeric flavoured rice) and toor dhal vadas. I was in no mood to eat a rice dish first thing in the day and opted to have a plateful (5 small ones) of vadas. The other three opted for the rice.

After polishing off our plates (Robin, with some difficulty), we hit the Kaivara Road. From here, I could recall my memories of the survey camp. First up was a village called Banahalli (which we had surveyed for a mock sanitation project). In no time we were in Kaivara proper; the Ashram (our place of stay during the camp), the streets, temples exactly as it were 5 years back. We decided to continue towards the Park/Zoo and stop here on our return. The narrow twisting roads had farmlands on either side with carrots, cauliflowers and tomatoes, mulberry and other crops being grown. We missed a right turn and continued straight only having to trace our way back after realising our folly.  The turn for the road to the park/Kailashgiri is well marked although the writing is only in Kannada. We had just failed to notice it.

Road to Kaivara

The almost extinct domestic sparrow (in Bangalore), seems to be thriving here

Few more minutes on the nice twisty village road and we were at the park. This was also the location were we had carried out surveys for a mock dam/ road project. Back then, it was one of the few spots from where we could access a cell phone network. Now, there was "full signal" everywhere!

On entering the park, we were told that there were no animals anymore, just few birds. It was disappointing. But we paid the Rs 5 per head entry fee and strolled around the park. We found several families of monkeys and dogs roaming freely in the park. Further inside we spotted a peacock, couple of peahens, some geese, rabbits and pigeons in their enclosures. Not so long ago, this park was home to deers and porcupines among other creatures. During our camp there were even rumours /scares of a runaway leopard!


Geese was it?

They look familiar!

Kailashgiri was next and was 8km uphill. The road was like those in the ghats and made the ride enjoyable. We parked our bike at the parking area and set off on foot on a moderately steep climb towards a gigantic monolith rock that that been tunneled to create the premise for a bunch of temples. At the end of the climb was a towering rock, a hillock in its own right, with openings created by tunneling. Unni and Kempraj went in leaving their footwear behind for us to guard! Actually I don't fancy entering temples and any excuse is good enough to stay away. The two of them popped out of another opening within minutes, which convinced me that I didn't miss much.

Atop Kailashgiri

Some more photographs and we climbed down. As we approached the parking area, we were invited to have lunch. It was a free meal; a simple one consisting of rice, some veggies, sambhar (gravy), butter milk and a helping of vermicelli paisam (a sweet dish). But it was delicious. Even the water had a certain crispness. After the meal, the four of us made a small contribution to the trust that was rendering this noble service. Some rest under the trees and we were ready for the return ride. The other guys seemed to be in a hurry and in my quest to keep up with them, I forgot to take pics that I planned to; especially of the locations that I once surveyed.

Rain clouds kissing a hilltop

Even the Ashram at Kaivara was given a miss on our return and in no time we were out of Kaivara. It was only 3:30 and there was still enough time to do something else. Parts of the sky was overcast and we knew the rains could be upon us soon. So we planned to watch a movie. We checked with Vikram about availability of seats for Robinhood and his willingness to join us. Most theaters were fully booked and and and catching Robinhood looked less likely that day. We decided to check one of the multiplexes on the way and call Vikram if we managed to get tickets. But the clouds opened up as we approached Hoskote and drenched us, ruining the movie plans. We decided to head to our respective homes and managed that by around 6pm.

If you need the historical/mythological  significance of Kaivara, Wikipedia has all the info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaivara

Ooty! Our first long distance ride.

It was six months back when we took our first step in bike touring with a trip to Mekedatu. All plans for the next trip, remained just that - plans! We even made plans to ditch the bikes and go camping; hiring the necessary gears and all.  Even that didn't work out. But then came one weekend, when during our usual exchange of blah blahs, we realised, if we didn't go on a trip the next weekend, it would be months before we got another chance. Few weeks of waiting would mean month-end money pressures. Secondly, Robin was being sent to Australia on duty in May and that meant the keenest amongst us wouldn't be available for a trip next month. Ooty and Mysore as possible locations sprung up. Mysore seemed mundane while Ooty just the opposite. With just the weekend available to us, 650 km seemed to be too adventurous, even downright crazy. But we decided to do it anyway!

The next week was spent looking for places to stay in Ooty. Being an Easter weekend, accommodation was hard to come by. So the the day before the trip we decided to take our chances and look for accommodation once we get there. Vikram dropped out the last minute and this meant it would be just the four of us on two bikes.

Unni's brand new Bullet Classic was all set for its first long ride along with the not so new Pulsar, that made the Makedatu trip. At seven in the morning, we set off. We made the mistake of going via Kanakapura as the Mysore-Bangalore highway would have been faster and smoother. But all said and done we got a chance to explore a less travelled path bypassing Mysore (asking for directions at every intersection) via Kollegal, T Narsipur and Nanjangud to join the Ooty road. The roads on the Kollegal - T Narsipur stretch were mostly single or 1.5 lanes wide with some short stretches under repair. The temple at Nanjangud was coloured differently from any I had seen before and was strikingly beautiful. Ooty road was a breeze and we made for lost time by doing a nonstop ride upto Bandipur via Begur and Gundlupet.

Enroute to Ooty

Temple at Nanjangud

After Bandipur we had a choice of taking the route via Masinagudi or Gudalur. The former was shorter but had 36 hairpin bends. Unni's Bullet was on reserve and we chose the Masinagudi route as it had a petrol bunk    7km away.  So we made our way past a narrow bridge, towards Masinagudi. After filling up our bikes and quenching our thirst at an Essar Pump at Masinagudi, we set off for the final destination. Soon we reached the first of the 36 hairpin bends leading upto Ooty. Along the way was a view point, where we stopped for some pics and rest. Here Unni decided to take off his helmet and pass it to me. With the helmet in one hand and a camera in the other shooting a video of our climb, I forgot all about my brand new jacket which fell off my lap :(

Ride through Bandipur Reserve Forest

Exiting Karnataka

One of the few "wild" animals we spotted

The narrow bridge at the start of the Masinagudi route

Filling up at an Essar bunk

As we climbed higher the Bullet started to show signs of fatigue. It was huffing and puffing away in first gear. The poor thing could have done with some rest (as we would find out the next day). At about 5pm we were in Ooty and the chills validated it. We stopped for some tea and asked around for rooms. An initial negative response, gave way to a possibility of a single room. It turned out to be a neat place with a clean toilet and cable TV! All for Rs 2500. Although Robin felt we should look around for more places, I felt it would be too tiring and finding a similar place at that price would be difficult. Yes, it was a little luxurious (excepting having to share a bed meant for two) but it was clean and had hot water facility! We soon paid up and decided to change before going to grab bite and exploring Ooty. Kempa unwittingly had a cold (read ice cold) water bath as Unni who went in first and was a victim himself did not divulge that the geyser wasn't working! We had a good laugh :D.  It turned out that the Geyser had to be turned on from outside the room.

The first chills of Ooty were felt at this point

One of the 36 hairpin bends

We did not have a proper meal since breakfast at Kanakapura and we were famished. We gobbled some parotas and chicken curry (wasn't very good) and headed out to explore Ooty at night. I was on the look out for "Modern Stores" which I had read stocked good home made chocolates. Ooty at night wasn't all that great. We explored the railway station area, which just had some cheap looking stores selling dresses, wollens, shoes, jewelery and all sorts of things. But chocolates seemed to be elusive. I had read that Charing Cross had some good bakeries and we had passed by a signboard indicating the direction to that place. We decided to try our luck there. And it turned out this was the place we were looking for. Full of shops selling sweatshirts, tea, leather goods and yes chocolates! Soon we found "Modern Stores" (which turned to be a full fledged supermarket) and picked up chocolates and some chips for the night as the parotas had ruined our appetite. Something unique here was bottled water being stacked in shelves outside the store;  it was cooler outside than inside the store.We then got back to the room and crashed for the night.

Fountain at Charing cross

The first photo featuring all of us: (L to R) Unni, Kempraj, Robin, Anoop

Shopping at Charing cross

Outside Modern Stores (Water being chilled outside)

And thus we crashed for the night

The next morning we decided to explore Conoor before heading back home. The ride lead us through the beautiful Nilgiri range full of twisting roads. But we couldn't stop for anything except breakfast as we were unsure if we can get back home in time. Overnight rest seemed to have done the Bullet a lot of good as it stopped putting on any tantrums. After breakfast, we set off on the route we had come. We did explore the possibility of returning via Coimbatore but was shot down due to the uncertainties of the route. We stopped at Ooty to pick some chocolates for Unni, who didn't pick any the last night. The ride back was largely uneventful but for the Bullet's brakes smoking on the down hill ride due to all the stress applied to it. We decided to return via Mysore and made it there by lunch time. We feasted on Biryani and the tandoor fare at a hotel next to the palace. After a quick photo session at the palace, we were cruising on the Mysore-Bangalore highway. The Bullet gave us a scare by switching off for no apparent reason, but we got it started again and it didn't bother us further. We stopped midway at Madur for some Madur vadas and coffee and resumed our ride to Bangalore. After a bit of confusion at the outskirts of Bangalore about the best route to take, we made it back home, safe and sound, by 8:30pm.

Tea estates enroute to Conoor
Winding roads through the Nilgiris

Short clip of the downhill ride after exiting Ooty (return journey)

Feasting on the Tandoor platter at Mysore

A royal walk!

Mysore-Bangalore highway

653.7 km in two days!

Lesson learnt from this trip: Plan the route, stoppages, places to visit if there is a time constraint.

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