Horsley Hills

Wow! A second bike trip (and a blog post) in as many months :D This was a first for us and to add to it, the trip was completed with the least amount of fuss. Horsley Hills, a hill station about 160 km from Bangalore was the chosen destination. The place has nothing much to offer apart from being a venue to spend a weekend away from the city; the sunset and sunrise from a vantage point being the primary attractions. So we were in it primarily for the ride. After a little research online, we found out that the place tends to get full on weekends with only a single resort run by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation available for overnight stay. Unni proposed to spend the night and return the next day and there were no disagreements. We managed to book the last available room that could accommodate the four of us via APTDC’s online booking facility, a week in advance.

Wikipedia says "Horsley Hills is named after a British officer named W.D. Horsley, the Collector of Cuddapah district. He visited this place around 1840-43 and was impressed by the beauty of the hills and chose this spot for his summer residence"

The day before the ride, we had a conference call. The recent change in climate added umbrellas and rain gear to our list of things to carry. We also reckoned a torch would be handy in our quest to catch the sunset/sun rise. Robin was running a temperature and had taken the day off from work. More surprisingly, he was not resting but was out with his friends and was confident of making it the next day. Next morning, Unni and I got to Kempa’s place at 6:20. We were in for a shock with Robin sending us an SMS that he wouldn’t be able to make it. Unni was about to dial Robin to check if he could join us as a pillion only to find Robin emerge riding his bike. Turns out that Robin arrived on time (at 6) and not finding the both of us, decided to play a prank!

The route for the ride was chartered by Unni with the shortest of the three possible routes being chosen. The plan was to ride till Hoskote on NH4 (Old Madras road), take a deviation onto SH82 and continue till Madanapalle. From there, Unni had detailed a route through Madanapalle town that would lead us to NH 205. Thereafter, it would be a deviation on to the road leading up the hills aptly called the Horsley Hills Road.

NH4 (Old Madras road) is basically our backyard. In no time, we were cruising along on the newly created, six laned awesomeness! That brought us to Hoskote rather quickly and wiser from our previous experience on this route, we decided to stop over for breakfast. Sri Sai Sagar had just opened its shutters and the breakfast was just getting ready. We ordered Idly Vadas , which was promptly served by Kempa and Unni (there was no service)! Little did we know at that time that the food here was a harbinger of things to come – it was no good!

We were the first ones here for the day!
After a not so impressive breakfast, we took a deviation onto SH 82 from NH4 and sped along on the familiar highway. From here it was a long stretch of about 100km with no deviations up to Madanapalle. Some of the earlier blogs (pre 2009) have mentioned this road to be full of potholes. But this has been repaired (although shabbily in the first 30 km or so). Soon we reached an area where some roadwork was in progress. As we struggled to make our way past the dusty construction zone, I noticed a mango orchard whose fences had been taken down to build new ones. I got the other guys to pull over and we went exploring the orchard. The trees there were all full of mangoes, mostly unripe. After clicking few pictures, we plucked a couple of mangoes with the permission of the caretaker.

The Mango orchard

Another view

Apple Rumani - Never seen this cultivar of mangoes before

L to R: Anoop, Robin, Kempraj

SH 82 for the most part was tree lined and smooth

A stretch of SH82 with Eucalyptus trees
It was cruising time again and the road ahead was simply too good to believe. Almost the entire stretch of SH 82 from here on was tree lined and smooth with a helping of twisties every now and then. This stretch was a joy to ride on and we only pulled over to enjoy the surroundings, every now and then. At one such stop over, Robin decided to show us how a hand stand is done. Soon we hit Madanapalle town and landed at a T junction. A left, as we would later find out, should have been our choice. But Unni’s charting would have us take the right which took us through the chaotic and confusing roads of Madanapalle. After leaving Madanapalle we reached an intersection where we found a signboard indicating a left to reach Horsley Hills. The left got us onto NH205 and this road, with a fair share of up-downs and twisties got us to foot of Horsley hills.

The Gulmohar trees added a dash of red to the green SH82

Robin showing us some stunts!

At the Andhra border. L to R: Anoop, Unni, Robin and Kempraj

From here, it was just a slow climb. Unni decided to shoot the climb on Kempa’s handycam. This was done by placing the handycam in his bag which would in turn be placed on his bike's fuel tank. We stopped mid way to click some photographs of the views that our position, half way up the hill, offered us. Before we resumed our ride, Unni decided to check the recording that was done so far on the handycam. It was a disappointment. The angle was such that only the trees and the sky had been captured. He made amends and soon we started the last leg of this stretch.

A brief pause en route the final climb

Some refer to Horsley Hills as Andhra Pradesh’s (AP) Ooty. This is stretching the reality a bit too far. Yes, the final climb does remind you of the ghat road leading to Ooty albeit with the hair pin bends falling short in quality and quantity. But, the biggest disappointment was the ambient temperature. Even as we were approaching the outskirts of Ooty, we could feel the dip in temperature. In contrast, even after getting to the peak there was barely any dip in temperature. With the four of us being from Bangalore, the temperature was nothing different from that at home. The tourist season, surprisingly for a hill station, actually begins in June with the start of the rainy season and ends with the start of summer. As we rode towards the building that housed the room that we booked, we went past what looked like another resort – Holiday Homes. This never figured in any of the blogs I have read thus far.

On arriving at the APTDC’s Haritha we were told we would have to wait as the previous occupants had just checked out and the room needed cleaning. That would stretch to nearly an hour before which our hunger got the better of us. This brought us to the restaurant within the resort which only had south Indian meals as a buffet and few side dishes a-la-carte. The south Indian meals were ok but the chicken that we ordered turned up completely roasted and dry. After Unni managed to get his money’s worth (with a little help from us) of lunch, even if only in quantity, we returned to our room. The room had been tidied and made presentable to for new occupants.

Our place of stay - Windfall

Calling our place of stay a room is a misnomer, although that is what it is called by the folks at APTDC. Windfall, the facility, is actually an independent building with four apartments. What was ours for 24 hours is one of these apartments which cost us 2975 INR inclusive of taxes. Each of these apartments had a living room and two bedrooms with attached bathrooms. It was neatly maintained and well appointed with facilities including TVs, geysers and comfortable beds. The living room, apart from a sofa and table, had an extra bed. This was one of the two facilities that could accommodate four people. Besides these there is also a dormitory and several other facilities suiting varied budgets that normally take two people each.

After a short rest, we decided to check out what the place had to offer. The view from beside the Governor’s bunglow was breathtaking and there was also a viewing point behind it. We decided to come back for the sunset and decided to explore further. We moved on to an area called Gali Bandalu (Windy rocks in Telugu) which offered more breathtaking views of the valley. From here we could also see a storm approaching and decided to head for shelter as it got closer. I was upset because the sunset would be ruined. The rain was soon upon us and we decided to take shelter inside a small shop selling snacks and hot bajjis. Unfortunately the rain got the lady cooking the bajjis to close and pack up. We decided to get some Kurkure (packed spicy snacks) and Pepsi and head for the room. But the rain didn’t last long and that allowed us to hop over to another shop and grab some coffee. We suddenly realized that we could still catch the sunset. Before that we parceled some bajjis and dropped them over at our room along with the Pepsi and Kurkure we bought earlier.

Gali Bandalu (Windy Rock)

The view from close to the sunset view point

 Peek - a - boo

The storm approaches

We had missed most of the sunset. All we were left with was a fiery sky that would soon bow down to darkness. So we got back to our room and snacked on the bajjis, Kurkures and Pepsi. It was close to dinner time soon and we ordered food to the room. The service was prompt with the food turning up in hot boxes (Thermos). The food again was nothing to write home about and I decided the crash for the night for I was eager to catch the sunrise. The other guys wanted to play cards and weren’t really keen on waking up early in the morning.

This was all that was left of the sunset

Binging on the Bajjis, Kurkure and Pepsi!

The sunrise and the morning mist is something Horsley Hills is famous for and I didn’t want to miss it for anything. The other guys had played cards late into the night and were in no mood to wake up at 5 am. I had a disturbed sleep myself, but that didn’t stop me from my pursuit of the sunrise. So with a torch in one hand and a camera in the other, I stepped out and started walking towards the east! With no one giving us any idea of the best place the view the sunrise from,when we enquired the previous day,  I just figured that the Gali Bandalu area would be the best bet and moved towards it. But to my dismay, a tree had fallen right across the road and was now blocking my path. With overhead electric lines passing alongside, I was hesitant to cross over or under the tree. I took an alternate route and made my way to Gali Bandalu. All along, the eerie sound and sight of the swaying eucalyptus trees in a dark surrounding felt like being in the midst of a Ruskin Bond story.

But Gali Bandalu didn’t offer a clear view of the area where scattered sunlight had now started to appear. So I decided to find a better spot. This brought me to a road which would eventually lead to the Horsely Hills road. The whole place was still devoid of any light but for that of the torch but was now eerily quiet. I was wondering if I would spot a panther or a deer that this place is famous for. No such luck and after about 10-15 minutes’ walk I got to a clearing near a hairpin bend from where I could view the sunrise. The end was not as exciting as the journey. With the sunrise anticipated at 5:52, I still had a 15 minute wait. But as the sky brightened, it revealed the pesky clouds that would ruin the sunrise as well!


But on a brighter note, sunrise also brought the jungle alive. The clearing overlooked a valley that was densely packed with trees whose canopies were the only things visible. An astonishing variety of birds and animals made their presence felt, vocally. Listening to the call of the wild, I trudged my way back. I spotted several birds on the way which made me long for an SLR.

Back at the room, I tried to take a nap but that was a lost cause. It was soon time for breakfast and we headed back to the restaurant for the complimentary fare that the resort had promised us. The Idly, vada, pongal turned out true to our experience thus far with food and was just ordinary. With sometime kill we ventured towards the mini zoo and to our amazement found a peacock dancing! The previous evening, just as it started to rain, we were at the same place, hoping he would do his jig but left disappointed. Little did we know, we would only have to wait till the next morning. After he was done with the show, we found that the place also housed rabbits, pigeons, monkeys and crocodiles. The place also had a better looking building which was reserved for the AP Government. This perhaps was the place the Horsleys had once occupied. This area also had a view point that overlooked into the valley. We were left wondering if the sunrise could have been viewed from here.

The dance that mesmerized us!

The Horsley Bunglow?

There was nothing else to do. We checked out and rode out on to the hill road. We decided to stop at a lake that we had spotted the day before on our way up. The lake, Gangotri, was a serene place and is probably a watering hole for the wild animals. But none could be found that day. So we resumed our ride and made our way down the hill. NH 205 with its changes in elevation and twisties made me jittery on our return. I knew flat straight stretches of SH82 lay ahead and was content in maintaining speeds I was comfortable with. Being relatively inexperienced in riding a geared bike , I was short of confidence to carry out overtaking maneuvers by riding on the wrong side of the road, especially in unpredictable highway traffic. Bringing up the rear of our pack of four, I still managed to keep one of the others in sight almost till the end of this stretch. But that was spoilt when an auto rickshaw and a bus, both fully loaded, decided to use the full width of the road in front of me (both directions) for a few seconds. By the time I managed to overtake them, the other three had disappeared!

The serene and picturesque Lake Gangotri

Before me was a fork in the road. I remembered having passed this place the previous afternoon and at that time I had felt that the second road was a shorter route from Madanapalle. I had, at that time, decided to check the map for this route after reaching our destination but had then forgotten about it. I wanted to take the shorter route, but seeing no sign of the others, I felt they must have taken the route we used the previous day. Surely they would stop for me if they chose to take a different route, I thought. Soon I reached Madanapalle town and crawled my way through traffic. After some time I got the feeling that I was on the wrong track. With no sign of others, I decided to pull over and give them a call. To my shock, I learnt that the others had indeed taken the shorter route at the fork and were now at the T Junction at the SH 82 side of Madanapalle. I was irritated and angry at the three of them, not because they had sped off, but because none had the common sense to wait for me, when they decided to take a different route. I took up Unni’s suggestion to ask for directions to the HPO (a landmark near the T junction) and rejoined them in a few minutes.

The ride after that was uneventful but for an encounter I had with a bird. While cruising at over 80kmph on a straight flat stretch of SH 82, a midsized, brown coloured bird decided to suddenly cut into my path. At that speed I saw the bird too late and simply couldn’t take evasive action to avoid it. The next moment I felt a hard thud on my chest and I knew that would have been curtains for the poor thing :( We reached the KR puram flyover by 2:30 pm and parted ways soon after to our respective homes.

Thats it! The trip was fun and recollecting it for the blog equally enjoyable. Here are two videos (in HD) of the ride/trip. The first one is the ride uphill captured on board Unni's Bullet and the second is a compilation of the rest of videos captured during the two days. Enjoy!

Tonnur Kere and Ranganathittu

Ever heard of Tonnur Kere? Two years back, this place (or rather, lake) had very little presence on the web. Few pictures, a short description and some info on the route were all that was available. Things haven’t changed a lot, even now. But whatever little there was had got me interested. A lake perched high above the surrounding land that would emerge as the road leading to it simply ran out of terrain! With a description like that, who wouldn’t? But it takes more than words and images to get the four of us to set off on a ride, even if it’s only to the neighbouring district. Perhaps the planets have to be in some strange alignment!

With me well and truly back in my home city of Bangalore and having landed a job that allowed for “weekends”, I reckoned it’s time to go see some places that , until now, I had only longed to! So I put down the weekend discussion on going on a ride to Tonnur Kere in writing, (detailing time, route map etc) and shot it off to the other guys. I added Ranganathittu and Kokare Belur to the itinerary as well. That seemed to have done the trick as without too much further fuss, the ride became a reality at the appointed hour (well, a little after that!).

Except for the initial stretch, where the metro work is in progress, the Bangalore - Mysore Road (SH-17) was excellent. Having stared at 6:45 am , we stopped for breakfast after crossing Ramanagara town. After that there was an unplanned stop, 20 km later, as we lost track of Kempa. We had to work out his location by comparing the odometer reading on our bikes (luckily we had noted the reading at our first stop). It was a nonstop ride upto Baburayanakoppal (which is a couple of kilometers before Srirangapatna) after which we had to veer off to the right onto SH 19 that leads you to Pandavapura.
Breakfast stop

After crossing the railway station, we took the road on right hand side (leading towards Melkote) and that brought us to Pandavapura. Every now and then you could smell Jaggery as we passed by units making them. Just after passing a relatively large sized government hospital building, we stopped to ask for directions. We were told we could continue straight on to the village road that was ahead of us (a short cut) or stick on to the SH which would meander to the same place. We chose the short cut and that rejoined the SH close to the bus stand. Further down, we took a left turn towards Thondanur (a green signboard in Kannada marks the turn). The lake we were off to – Tonnur kere - gets its name from the village ( Thondanur kere ~ Tonnur kere). Couple of kilometers on this narrow, but fairly well maintained road got us to the lake, but not without an incident!

As you get closer to the lake, you’ll come across a smaller body of water along the road. After we passed this, we came across a fairly large pothole that covered almost the breadth of the road. With it also being a low point compared to the adjacent terrain, it was filled with water. Robin who was leading the way, and Unni who followed closely behind failed to take notice/ evasive action and ended up getting their bikes dirty. Unni couldn’t stand the sight of his bike with dirt and decided to wipe it off immediately. As he did so, he brushed the hot silencer pipe, burning a portion of his palm. We had a good laugh at his expense!

The lake is approached by taking a deviation, to the left, onto a road that climbs sharply. On the right you will find a small stream fed with lake water and on your left the terrain drops, getting deeper as your climb higher. The road abruptly comes to an end and as expected reveals the lake on the right. The scene of a lake perched above the terrain adjacent to it is a sight that needs to be seen to be believed. There was nothing much to do at the place. We trekked up one of the hills bordering the lake and that gave us some good photo opportunities. Unni even chanced his luck by taking a dip in the lake. There was a small beach like area on the other side of the lake but our plans to go visit Ranganathittu meant it would have to wait for another day.

Tonnur Kere

Another view

Our Rides

We retraced our path upto the Bangalore-Mysore highway and then moved towards Srirangapatna. After crossing a couple of bridges, there is a right turn to be taken to go towards Ranganathittu. We stopped at that place to have lunch. Lunch was a meager affair, but did cost as much as a decent meal would have in Bangalore. After lunch, we made our way to Ranganathittu and proceeded straight for the boat ride.

The not so special lunch

The boat ride gave Unni the opportunity to test his new DSLR and I joined him with my trusty point and shoot. This was the closest I had ever got to wild life and thoroughly enjoyed the short ride clicking away at Storks, Ibises, Egrets and Crocs! After the ride we took a short break for refreshments and then explored the sanctuary on foot. We caught the croc, that we had earlier passed by during the boat ride, in a mouth open pose. We could only curse our luck that we weren’t up close to view and capture that!

Ranganathittu- Boat Ride

"Storks, Ibises. Egrets and Crocs!"

Hmm.. wonder what he's upto!

Open billed Storks

It was almost four and we felt it would not be possible to visit Kokare Belur that day. So we decided to head straight to Bangalore with a stop at Maddur for the famous vadas. Robin and I rode off and kept each other within visual range. With some more distance to go for Maddur, the two of us decided to stop as there was no sign of the other two. Soon Kempa joined us followed by Unni. We decided to have tender coconuts being sold nearby. After a messy drink (the guy had no straws), we rode up to Maddur. We stopped by at a highly advertised hotel for the vadas.

What followed was another long ride all the way upto Bangalore. Fearing traffic on Mysore road near the construction zone, we took a deviation onto the NICE road. This was my first time on the road. The hightly acclaimed road has deteriorated and had sandy patches in between. With no road lighting, we had a tough time. Even the stretch of Mysore Road before we entered the NICE road was tough and scary after it got dark with pedestrians crossing at random and crazy traffic!

We had planned to watch Fast Five – the movie - which released that weekend and had booked tickets for the 9:30 pm show. By the time we made our way to Kempa’s house, it was already 8:30 pm. We decided to freshen up and head for the movie right way. Vikram who chooses not be part of the bike rides, made it for the movie. With the movie done, we landed at Hotel Empire for an extra late dinner at 12:30 am and made it back home by about 1:30 am.

It was good fun. Hopefully we can do a ride every month and don’t have to wait for the next suitable planetary alignment!