Canopy hills, Vattakanal, November 2018

I trekked to Canopy hills, Vattakanal on the 3rd and 4th of November 2018. Vattakanal is situated very close to Kodaikanal (at night the glow of Kodaikanal’s lights can be seen from Vattakanal).

This is easily the most beautiful hillside I’ve ever been to. The trek was organized by Bangalore Mountaineering Club and lead by Shamanth. This happened to be the anniversary of the first BMC trek to this site.

The trek route was unusual in that we started the trek at the base of the hills and arranged for the transport to pick us up on the other side i.e. this was a point-to-point trek. We trekked to a village called Vellagavi (accessible only on foot, no motorable roads) where we had our lunch after which we continued to our camping site overlooking the valley. Dinner was by campfire and we slept in tents. The next morning after a filling breakfast we trekked to Vattakanal.

Took a break here
Small waterfalls along the way.
This leads to Vellagavi village. No motorable road goes there. We saw several Ponies carrying luggage over the trail.
At Vellagavi. Wearing footwear considered taboo here.
Day 2
That’s where I slept
Breakfast
Dolphin’s nose. The resemblance is… mostly imaginary.

And as if that wasn’t enough, on our way back to Bangalore we stopped at the original Thalpakatti Biryani in Dindigul.

Madhu Makrandgad, 26th December 2020

I had been long planning to do treks in Maharashtra but the distance from Bangalore makes it difficult to do this over a single weekend. On Christmas day I drove from Karwar towards Hatlot — base village for Madhu Makrandgad and a few other treks. This was the closest trek to Karwar I could find in Maharashtra on indiahikes.com. Around 8pm that night I exited the highway following Google Maps into an unlit stretch of road with no idea of where I will be sleeping that night. About an hour of driving later I was relieved to see city lights; far away and well above the level of the road. And the road though winding was soon clearly heading upwards and towards those lights. I had no clue that Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar lay that way (both places I’ve only heard of through Bollywood films). I was lucky to find lodging in crowded Mahabaleshwar that too on Christmas day (they have a rule that rooms are not let out to single occupants).

The next day I tried to find this Hatlot village. When Google Maps tried to send me up a steep, very narrow patch of scree (which I can’t even begin to call a road) I decided to drop the plan and return on the trusty Victoria to fight another day. I even started driving back. But… persistence is another word for stubbornness (and stubbornness is my middle name), so somewhere before Panchgani I realized that its a bit late to drop a plan after coming all this way from Bangalore. So asking around for directions I made it to Hatlot and took off with little ceremony. People in Hatlot are the sweetest lot I’ve met anywhere (no exaggeration, you have to meet them to see for yourselves). They showed me the route with a lot of pointing, gesturing and a lot of detailed Marathi instructions the last of which I could not understand though requests for Hindi did produce useful results.

A team of some 40 others had already started the trek at 8am and I was starting at 12pm. Alone. So, one thing I really don’t understand (in hindsight), is why they didn’t stop me. This was leopard and gaur country. At one point on the trail there was a clear, prolonged slithering in the tall grass right beside me, there was one langur who seemed to be stalking me, I found one porcupine quill and there was no shortage of sounds in the jungle indicating company. So… why didn’t those nice people either stop me from going in alone or suggest I hire a guide. I really would like to know. 🙂

Trek was fantastic as far as there was tree cover and till I got lost. After that I had to do a lot of retracing, trial and error till I found some villagers collecting firewood and followed them to the first temple (looks less like a temple and more like a house with a tiled roof). From that point on there is no tree cover, and the trail is hard to find. It helps to follow the electricity cables/poles to locate where it passes by the trail at several points. The path goes in a zigzag, so you need to be careful because at some points you need to take the branch going backwards to your left to get to the top (yet another titbit of wisdom from the world of trekking). That brings you to the second temple (also looks like a house with a tiled roof). Behind the temple is a path going over an uneven, rocky and very narrow ridge. I walked up that path about halfway, but the legs weren’t steady and the sun burning so I actually stopped short by some 20 feet from the actual end of the trek. Actually on looking back at the temple I saw that there was this big burly guy — the pujari — who had appeared out of nowhere and was looking at me. So to avoid any Q&A I stopped where I was, took a few pictures and turned back after a brief rest.

Let me be clearer. I was a lone fellow walking along a narrow ridge at the top of a peak. That’s not something stealthy pujaris are used to seeing in these lonely parts. I actually turned back as I was afraid the pujari might think I was going to jump.

Devbagh, Christmas Eve 2020

Renting a bicycle in Karwar.

I rented out a fine pair of wheels from Mangesh Cycle Shop (near Dilip complex), Konekar Wada, Karwar at ₹10 per hour. ID proof is mandatory. Open till 10pm.

Only these “old” style models were available. Technically correct term for this model is Roadster. These bicycles have probably the most comfortable seats in the business as they’re spring mounted. I doubt if any of the modern bicycles have seats as comfortable as this.

Blue food

There was this bar near Bowring Hospital, Bangalore. Food was decent, prices reasonable, the crowd a quiet one. Given all this, it should have been very popular. But it wasn’t and it was never full. They claimed seafood as their speciality and the nice Mallu owners chose to have ocean themed interiors. That meant a lot of blue. A popular theory goes (actually its just my theory, might get popular who knows) that the reason for the mediocre patronage was mainly due to the fact that while the colour Blue was clearly the colour of the sea it was nowhere close to being the colour of food. Samudra Bar and Restaurant no longer exists. Today I drink at Manoj Dhaba.

Less obvious things to take care of before a trek.

  • Stretch before you start the trek. This will make your joints flexible in advance so that there are no surprises (sprains, muscle tears) during the trek.
  • If your trousers are hung low, they can interfere with your gluteal muscles (i.e. bum) as you walk. Similarly bulky things in your trouser pockets can mess with your thighs. Just make sure all muscles from hip downwards can contract and relax freely…
  • Except around your ankles. They could do with some support. Ankle height boots. Firmly laced.
  • Trim your toe nails. Especially the big toes. You really don’t want a toe nail coming off halfway through a trek.
  • Carry a plastic bag to hold your electronics for when it rains
  • Extra briefs (i.e. chaddi, undies), trousers, t-shirt
  • Carry medication for diarrhoea, nausea, tummy trouble.
  • A hacksaw blade is useful if you ever need to cut branches, rope, metal. It takes very little space. (This is only for emergencies, in usual circumstances: leave no trace.)
  • Make sure you are not carrying any precious/important non-essentials like ID cards, vehicle documents (except for ones related to the vehicle you are using for the trip), keys, jewellery.
  • Carry ORS or alternatives (Gatorade, enerzal) to avoid muscle cramps.
  • On foot care (from The Navy SEAL Physical Fitness Guide)
  • To be continued…

Chembanoda, December 2019

These pics are from a road trip to Chembanoda, Wayanad on a Yamaha FZ25 motorcycle.

Day 1

Bangalore – Bellur cross – Nagarhole – H D Kote – Gonikoppal – Tholpetty – Lakkidi

Between Bellur Cross and Nagarhole

After forest checkpost 1 refused entry; on the way to checkpost 2

After checkpost 2 refused entry. Decision time. Go home or find another route.

Drove to Lakkidi via Thithimathi, Tholpetty. Decided against bedding down at a bus stop when I lost GSM/GPS at one point. Lots of chetas glad to help with directions.

Reached Lakkidi Grace Inn around 11p. Lucky to find Hotel Thattukada open after 1230a for some Shark Curry and Parotta.

(P.S: After the trip I learned there are leopards in Vythiri area. No more nocturnal gallivanting in these parts.)

Day 2

Lakkidi – Peruvannamoozhi Dam – Chembanoda – Mananthvady – Gonikoppal – Bangalore

Leaving good old, trusty Lakkidi Grace Inn early next morning.

Lakkidi View Point

Lakkidi View Point

Lakkidi View Point

Lakkidi View Point

Lakkidi View Point

Very crowded. Entire stretch was like this. – Lakkidi View Point

Phone towers in the distance – Lakkidi View Point

Outside Hotel Prosi

Road to Chembanoda

Road to Chembanoda

On the road to Chembanoda

On the road to Chembanoda

On the road to Chembanoda

Road to Chembanoda

Peruvannamoozhi Dam

Peruvannamoozhi Dam

Tea break

End of the road for the bike at least. (Good thing I stopped at Lakkidi last night; no hotel or homestay in sight.)

Turned around. Now to find that church.

Immaculate Conception Church

Immaculate Conception Church

Many km later. Vegetarea.

That’s 991km.

Brigitte

On the 1st of March 2016 I bought my first car — a used black 2011 Maruti Suzuki Alto K10. The previous owner had preserved the car in pretty good condition except that the clutch seemed too hard.

This was the first time I was driving a car all by myself. I drove to my mother’s place completely petrified, constantly expecting the far side of the car to knock down a pedestrian or a parked bike. At one point I turned on the wipers and was too scared to figure out how to turn them off. I kept driving for about 15 minutes till I worked up the courage to park by the side of the ring road and turn them off.

Bespectaled engineer, a bit thick in the middle takes a selfie in the driver's seat of a Maruti Suzuki Alto K10
Driving my first car home. “Do one thing each day that scares you.”

This used car was supposed to be a temporary, sacrificial, practice machine to take all the fender benders of the learning stage. But given how quickly she was taking me from 1st gear to 4th gear, I decided to keep her for good. The folks over at Team-BHP don’t call this the Pocket Rocket for nothing.

I thought I’d be too scared to take the car out at first. But it turns out that driving to office everyday in peak Bangalore traffic can teach you a decent bit of driving very quickly. Each day I’d count how many times I stalled the engine. That count started at around 5 and as I got better at driving I had much nicer things to think about.

Being a stickler for safety I resolved that till I had a year’s driving experience under my belt I would take no passengers on board and would not drive out-of-station. But that’s just bullshit! I have been zipping all over the countryside since April 2016 itself and I often have Mom in tow. Here are some pics of my ride.

Black Maruti Suzuki Alto K10, trees in the background
At St. Lawrence Church, Mallundur, May 2016

Black Maruti Alto K10 parked to the side of a road slick with recent rain. Forested slopes in the background.
Driving to Panaji, June 2016

While learning to drive, there were two incidents which led me to name my car after a French film actress. The first was opposite the K R Puram Tin Factory where a red Maruti Suzuki Swift brushed past me as I tried to steer into traffic. The second incident was just outside Shivajinagar bus-stand where the left headlight was applied slowly but firmly against the rear of a BMTC bus. Now the front of the car had a blue patch on the left headlight and a red patch on the right of the bumper and knowing the colors of the French flag, I named my car after the only French actress whose name I could remember.

Brigitte Bardot - 1962
Brigitte Bardot – 1962 (By MGM (ebay) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Who would have thought that one day there would be a page on the Internet with a picture of me and Brigitte Bardot on it. Heh.

Wayanad, December 2015

Shortly before Christmas 2015 I rented out a brand new Royal Enfield Bullet 350 and took my 2nd trip into Wayanad.

Royal Enfield Bullet 350
Rented out this new Royal Enfield Bullet 350 with 11km on the odo; they hadn’t even fixed the crash guard yet.

This was the first time I’d driven a Bullet and I loved the ride so much that I did very little on the trip apart from driving.

I left Bangalore on the night of the 23rd December and stopped over at Mysore. Left early the next morning towards Kalpetta. I came up with two rules for the trip: no highways and no traveling the same route more than once.

Royal Enfield 350 parked beside a village road
Heading out of Mysore towards Wayanad

Royal Enfield 350 parked facing the left; in the background a herd of skinny cattle pass towards the right
Just before entering Nagarahole

I drove through Nagarahole with my heart in my mouth and passed Kalpetta just before noon. I took a room at Lakkidi Grace Tourist Home; some pretty nice views from the 1st floor rooms here and lunch was Kerala fish curry meals.

Hills and trees covered in mist
View from the 1st Floor at Lakkidi Grace Tourist Home

Fish Curry Meals
Fish Curry Meals at Lakkidi Grace Tourist Home

I had to return to Bangalore the next morning itself due to some unexpected change in circumstances at home. So I slept well. Even though I did not get to see many places I was glad for the ride.

Christmas morning. This turned out to be the most beautiful Christmas I’d had in quite a while. I stopped at a church near Kalpetta.

Trees in the parking lot of a church near Kalpetta
Trees in front of a Church near Kalpetta

Misty Christmas morning at a church in Kalpetta
Church near Kalpetta on a misty Christmas morning

I looked up Google Maps to come up with a suitably interesting route while aiming to reach Bangalore late in the evening.

Gonikoppal. Beautiful name and the place is even more so. The roads, the homes, the little church… I stopped by to take a picture of this house which is just opposite a beautiful little church. More about that church later on.

House with hedge in front of it and creeper along the tiled roof
House in Gonikoppal opposite the Church

Winding road with greenery on both sides on a sunny day
Roads in Gonikoppal were in great condition that December

Two boys on a bicycle crossing a small bridge
Lots of pretty spots all along the road through Gonikoppal

A software engineer smiling beside a muddy path
Just me standing beside a mud road. But even mud roads are beautiful in Gonikoppal.

I hit a very bad patch of road near Anechowkoor which was nothing more than mud and gravel. This is where the RE350 earned its keep. It just kept moving like a thick-skinned pig unconcerned with all the punishment.

Two roads branching into the woods
The road towards Hunsur and another going left.

Royal Enfield 350 parked on side stand
Good looking bike. Looks better with a decent set of guards.

I received a call from Lakkidi Grace saying I’d left my keys under the pillows. I told them to hold on to the keys and that I’ll be returning in a couple of hours. Now I had a reason to avoid returning to Bangalore the same day and I could stop by all those places where I had wished I had more time to take photos!

Royal Enfield 350 parked on side stand beside a very basic bus-stop
This is where I had to turn around. I wasn’t too bothered. The more I get to drive, the more fun I have.

So here is the church at Gonikoppal I spoke about earlier. Now there was enough time to take some pics and look around. It’s hard to leave this place.

A small church with a garden around it
The church in Gonikoppal

Christmas lunch was some Kerala style Chicken Biryani at Hotel Bismillah.

The front of a small restaurant with a tall coconut palm rising behind it
Christmas lunch

And then I loafed around and taking only those roads I had not passed previously I found probably the most roundabout way to reach Lakkidi. Ask anyone from that part of the country and they will agree that when going from Gonikoppal to Lakkidi one really has no business going to Iritty. But I did pass through Iritty that day and have photos to prove it! \o/

Royal Enfield 350 parked on side stand in front of a very basic bus-stop with a tiled roof
Don’t even remember the places I visited.

Royal Enfield 350 parked by the side of a hill road overlooking a cliff with a hill rising further ahead.
You really don’t feel like stopping anywhere with this bike. This was one of the very few stops.

Tired but all I wanted to do was drive.

Reached Lakkidi, collected my keys and drove around all evening before a good night’s sleep. And next morning I was off again, and yes I again had to find a route avoiding roads I had taken before.

I passed through a place called Vellimunda just as it was explaining its name to the world. Look at it!

A hill in the distance with  a small cloud looking like it is draped over the peak.
Vellimunda

Here are just some of the places I passed through: Mananthvady, Kartikulam, Tholpetty, Kutta, Srimangala, T Shettigeri, Hudikeri, Ponnampet, Gonikoppal, Anechowkur, Periyapatna, Virajpet, Maakkootam, Makutta, Vallithode, Madathil, Peravoor, Nedampoil, Periyapatna, Valad Road, Korome, Padinjarathara, Vythiri, Lakkidi.

I did break the no highways rule by returning via Yediyur. But no regrets. Got home to Christmas sweets, Christmas stories and Christmas wine.

A Royal Enfield 350 parked beside a Yamaha RX135.
Home. Shivajinagar bus-stand. That’s my RX135 beside the RE350.

It has taken me nearly 2 years to get my lazy self to put this down on a blog post. A few more road trips have been undertaken since, some routes traveled repeatedly, some on highways too but for the most part I still stick to these few rules:

  • Avoid the highways – going through less prominent roads helps you discover new places that are not yet on the tourist map
  • Avoid traveling by the same routes repeatedly for the same reason, find new places
  • Be an early bird to grab a few more hours and to escape traffic. If you want to stay in bed, why travel at all?

So little time…

So much to read.

Leave alone the entire body of classics or the fiction that gets churned out seasonally. Just think of every single Wikipedia article about notable people. Can we even read every one of those in our life time? Today is Schumi’s birthday and I found myself on his wiki page and now I’m wondering if I will even finish reading that one page. I bet someone will edit it before I have finished. And I will have to read it again.

Then every time I hear of some conflict or dispute on the news ISIS, Syria, Ukraine… or even Telengana, Cauvery, Maoists out here in India. Will I ever be able to catch up on those?

And the media is busy distracting us with Kim Kardawhatever’s bottom. I deem it insulting to even find out how that name is spelt. Dhoni’s retirement from Test cricket, reviews of phones, cars, cameras which will be forgotten in two months. Noise. Who does it serve? I am reminded of that saying “Economics is very useful as a means of employment for economists”. Maybe that’s what media is all about these days. Employment.

Then there are those lists of books to read before you die. What about those we read after we die? I personally feel that that will be a far more interesting list. At least we will have no time constraint then.

Will anyone even read this?