After leaving the western coast at Honnavar, it was time to get a proper taste of the Western Ghats. Like life, these ghats are filled with continuous ups and downs!
Day 4: Sagara to Tarekere
The earth might not be flat, but the road from Sagara to Shimoga is. Riding this section is of course far more boring than discovering for the first time that the world is round’ish’! Unexpected boredom while cycling through the western ghats.
The food takes a subtle shift away from the coast. But I didn’t. For breakfast I hogged buns, or Mangalore Buns (from the coast) as they are known in this part of the world. These are a little sweet, have a tinge of banana flavour and are soft. You put it in your mouth and it just melts away!
I devoured many plates of them with coconut chutney and washed it down with filter coffee. The beverage that makes this ride worth it!
The effect was that lunch was just a glass of sugarcane.
A dosa lathered with ghee and dipped in some more coconut chutney was dinner. While the dosa remains more or less the same across the south, the chutney varies and that is the spice of life. Literally!
The stretch approaching and leaving Shimoga is flat, hot and boring. Riding this stretch is a chore.
The town itself is big, crowded and avoidable!
When I stopped to take directions from a gentleman on a scooter, he accompanied me. He rode with me through the town and saw me off on the highway on the other side. This sort of helpfulness from absolute strangers is amazing and missing from our bigger cities.
Sugarcane or can(e)not!
Past Shimoga I stopped for a sugarcane juice break.
The heat was incredible and the idea of a hot meal wasn’t appetising. At the Bhadravati bypass turnoff there was a sugarcane juice vendor, who helped cool me off.
As I sat sipping on this refreshing local cool drink, 4 guys on motorcycles stopped. They desperately wanted to know from where had I come and a dozen more questions. But they didn’t speak a word of Hindi or English, and my knowledge of Kannada hadn’t increased since the previous day!
The juice vendor became the uninterested translator. Motorcycle boys would ask me something, look at the juice guy and then wait for him to translate my reply. They left after their curiosity was satiated.
Mine had just got stoked. I asked the sugarcane guy how come he spoke such decent Hindi. He told me that he was Muslim and Muslims in the south speak decent Hindi. The next time I needed help, “Go to a man with a beard”, he said. Language won’t be a problem!
Politically incorrect stereotyping maybe. But humanity doesn’t care about these modern nuances that we have come up with.
The previous evening in Sagara, I had dodged many a lodge before I bit the bullet. I didn’t want to make the same mistake in Tarekere.
Not sure how big the town was or what was the quality of accommodation available. I stopped at the first lodge on the highway.
A flight of narrow sleazy steps took me up to a cheap looking motel. There was nobody around. I dialled the number printed on the wall. A guy answered, much confusion ensued, finally he told me in broken English, “find the old woman”!
The old woman offered me an expensive room, I said no. She offered me a cheaper room, I still said no. She then finally gave me the cheapest room they had to offer. I was then instructed to park my bike inside the room, which was barely bigger than the single bed in it!
The bathroom was so icky, that rather than bathe after a day in the sauna, I used half a packet of wet wipes to clean up! I used the loo in the restaurant where I ate dinner. Fearing for my life in the one adjoining my room!
After an early dinner, I returned to the lodge to see the old woman had been replaced by the owner of the establishment. The same gentleman who had spoken to me earlier on the phone.
The first thing he enquired about was my religion. On hearing that I wasn’t Hindu, he told me that he was a BJP supporter. Statements like that can be quite alarming at 8 PM in an unknown place in the current political scenario. Especially as bang on cue the electricity disappeared and we stood there with only the light emanating from the screens of our phones.
But I wasn’t bothered, because the next statement was even better. “I am from Udupi, I have Christian neighbours and I have no problem with them”, he said! How magnanimous was he.
As the conversation continued, I realised he was a harmless man under the circumstances. But with strong political convictions.
The funniest statement was, “These people who live here are a bunch of jackasses, the only good Kannadigas are those from the coast”! An interesting observation on his part and I asked him for the reason, “Because they eat fresh water fish here”!
Its not everyday that you get an offer for a honeymoon even before a marriage offer. But this was one of those days…
The owner of the fine establishment told me in all earnestness, “I will offer you the best room in my lodge for free, on one condition. The next time you come here, you should get married and come with your wife”.
“A cost of one room will go from my pocket right, that’s all, but at least someone will experience marital bliss”, he said.
That was the moment I knew he was a sadist!
The actual riding for the day was boring. Interspersed with gusts of wind!
Sagara-Shimoga-Bhadravati-Tarekere was the route, with the sections on either side of Shimoga the worst.
There is food available all along the way, and accommodation available in these four towns.
I spent 150 on food and 350 for accommodation.
Day 5: Tarekere to Belur
Out of the sordid plains and back into the ghats. After a big mistake!
Breakfast was in Tarekere. It consisted of idlis and vadas prepared undoubtedly by a north Indian and tea by the King of England. If you haven’t yet cottoned on, the first was terrible and the second doesn’t exist!
Second breakfast consisted of dosas in a tiny tiny village in the middle of nowhere. No language was needed for communication, except the language of humanity, and well, the language of money as well.
Lunch was a grandiose affair with a meal which consisted of rice, sambhar, red vegetable, green vegetable, rasam, chaas, papad, ragi juice, pakoda, salad and pickle. All of that was a ‘eat as much as you can’ affair! To top it off, the meal cost a whopping fifty rupees.
I ended up eating so much rice, that I could barely push the pedals after. And had to call it a day at 4 in the afternoon!
Wrong Turn Sarkaar
As I left Tarekere, two things bugged me. The breakfast and the number of lodges.
There was a lot of accommodation available in Tarekere, I somehow had managed to find the worst. Which requires a special talent.
Peeved with my choice of stay I pedalled hard. Saw a few signboards in Kannada and went straight ahead. Normally I ask for directions at crossroads, on that occasion I didn’t.
20 km later I realised that the road was wrong. Actually, the road was correct, I was wrong! My morning irritation had caused a lapse in judgement, which resulted in me riding on a hot, flat boring highway.
The correct road would have taken me on a scenic route through verdant green ghats leading to Chikmagalur.
Lesson learnt, live in the present. Not in the idlis of the past!
Once I got my bearings, I got onto the road towards Chikmagalur at Kaduru, having cleverly bypassed the scenic vistas.
At Kadaru I enquired from a passing gentleman on the correct route. He gave me directions. A couple of minutes later he caught up to check if I was on the correct road.
He then wanted to buy me lunch, since I was a poor cyclist. I declined, so he offered to buy me tea. I again declined, so he offered to buy me coconut water. The third time I couldn’t say no to the persistent man.
Over coconut water, he told me his family was originally from Maharashtra and settled in Karnataka for three generations.
He then taught me the proper method of drinking coconut water. Not from a straw, but by holding it to your mouth and knocking it down in one gulp!
As we were parting ways he told me that he was a RSS Shakha Pramukh of his area!
Every time I ride my Fuji Touring in the rain, I feel very smug. While other cyclists have water and filth thrown in their faces, my mudguards keep me squeaky clean. Within a kilometre they look from a swampy battlezone, while I look fresh from an air-conditioned gym.
Not this time!
There was road construction work on. There was a truck in front of me dumping water on the loose mud to help it settle down. My bike was sliding away in the mud for a bit before it came to a grinding halt.
The mud ‘guards’ didn’t do a very good job of guarding anything. The space between the fender and tyre was filled to the brim with red, slimy mud. By the time I pushed the bike to the side and started cleaning, it dried.
The mud had caked. Not a soft fluffy cake like your mother bakes. But the stone quarry cake you bake when you are drunk!
It took me almost an hour in the sweltering heat to clean up my bike sufficiently for it to be rideable again.
Never again will I act cool about this plastic tool!
Silver Lining Cloud
This road had almost zero traffic. Everyone takes the scenic route with better asphalt.
It was a pleasure to ride. Especially once I started climbing towards Chikmagalur under shady trees.
I was looking forward to the Chikmagalur climb, it had been a long time since I had climbed anything of repute. The last being Rohtang the previous September.
It turned out to be a damp squib. It took me 21 minutes and 1 second to complete the climb. I was laughing all the way, remembering Shinku La, which took 2 days to climb!
Chikmagalur was crowded, noisy and not a place to holiday in! The decision to ride ahead was made in the blink of an eye. Places like Shimla and Manali are filled with Delhiites and thus avoidable, this town was the same except it was infested with Bangaloreans.
Once past Chikmagalur, I stopped for that humongous lunch. After which, I could barely turn the pedals. The relaxed position of my touring bike felt like a TT winners cycle.
Even though I could have ridden past Belur as well, I couldn’t. There was far too much pressure on the stomach!
As I rode through the town of Belur crackers erupted. I looked around to see if there was a local festival on or were these Belurians really happy to see me!
The truth was far more sobering. People were celebrating the return of Wg Commander Abhinandan to Indian soil, after he was captured by the Pakistanis, during the Indo-Pak flare up.
The correct route from Tarekere to Chikmagalur is supposedly gorgeous, with a few places to visit along the way. Kallathigiri Falls, Kemmangundi and Mullyanagiri are some of the cool places to hang out in!
Its a day with a bit of climbing as you rise from 700 metres to roughly 1100 metres. But being the Western Ghats, it is all rolling.
Food is available aplenty along the route. Accommodation is available in Chikmagaluru and Belur, since both are tourist attractions.
I spent 145 for food and 350 for accommodation.
Day 6: Belur to Madikeri
The day things got interesting, but the rolling terrain continued as I was cycling through the western ghats!
In the tiny dhaba where I had breakfast, language seemed to be a bit of a problem. So they served me with whatever they were in the mood to!
It turned out to be chapattis. Not something I was used to eating in the north, because these were made of rice flour! It was served with sambhar and coconut chutney. A few of these down the hatch and I was ride ready!
For the last 6 days on the road, no matter what I ate for breakfast, the bill would be 50 rupees. It was some sort of statewide agreement to charge no more or less than the half-century mark!
Lunch was in a tiny village with an even smaller eatery. The doorway was so small that I had to stoop to conquer. Or at least stoop to eat.
A 14 year old boy was handling the place. He put a piece of paper in front of me. Kept two pooris and potato vegetable on the paper. I waited for him to place the accompaniments. He waited for me to finish my poori before serving the next course.
Neither budged as we were locked in a south Indian standoff! I buckled under pressure and ate, the entire meal he served turned out to be delicious.
Dinner was Kori Rotti in Madikeri. A Mangalorean dish. Once again eaten in the wrong town of Karnataka. It was far too late at night for being choosy and the other option was ‘speciality north Indian delicacy’!
Cycling through the coffee plantations was possibly the highlight of the trip. The smell of the forest and trees, water being sprayed and hitting the hot soil emanates an earthy scent, greatly missed in cities.
People going about their work in the plantations. The world around me was moving at a dreamy pace. My slow plodding touring cycle was perfectly in sync with the lifestyle around me, I didn’t want this section of road to end.
Surprisingly, most of the coffee plantations were owned by Tata. Surprising, because I never see Tata coffee being sold in any store in India. Where does it all go!
Highway to Hell
For a very brief 4 km I got onto the highway. The arterial road which connects Bangalore to Mangalore.
Riding on that stretch of asphalt after the back roads was pure torture and felt like hell.
Gulping down diesel smoke, eating dust and being side swiped by speeding cars is a grisly affair, which most Indian cyclists are quite used to. But while cycling through the western ghats, it was the wrath of the devil himself!
A nondescript town around 40 km before Madikeri.
There is nothing special about Somwarpet, other than the fact that it has a couple of lodges. I passed through it around 4 PM, and it didn’t inspire any desire of staying there.
I decided to ride ahead another 20 odd kilometres before bunking for the night.
That was a big mistake, as there is no accommodation between Somwarpet and Madikeri!
What goes down…
Immediately after crossing Somwarpet the road went downhill. I was stoked and was confident of reaching Madikeri fast, since I was going downhill.
“Wait a second, isn’t Madikeri supposed to be at the top of a hill.”
That was my next thought as I whizzed down. Clearly a lot of climbing was in store.
The signboards were friendly.
Elephant crossing area, the boards stated. Run or die was the underlying message!
Elephants are vegetarian, what’s the worst a vegetarian could do, I thought. Then I remembered, Hitler was a vegetarian!
Fear works as good motivation! My legs were showing signs of mild fatigue after having ridden for 5 days on the trot and then having already ridden 100 kilometres on that day. Yet, I was pedalling my arse off and moving faster than I ever had as a touring cyclist.
Being a side salad for an elephant’s dinner wasn’t quite on my bucket list!
A bazillion friends!
The inky black night was enveloping the world around me as my fear quotient was steadily climbing. Unfortunately my cycle wasn’t climbing at the same pace!
There wasn’t a soul anywhere in sight. I was properly scared.
Then I looked up and saw God. Well, not God, but the bazillion sentinels watching guard. The stars in the sky are the last refuge for a weary traveller.
Over the centuries so much has changed on this earth. But those stars have always guided and guarded solo travellers like me. It gave me an indescribable boost. Not the type which any energy gel or caffeine shot can provide.
I had a headlight and tail light at easy reach. It would have taken me 30 seconds to set up on my bike, even in the dark. But I didn’t bother.
There was a sense of serenity riding alone in that dark thick forest road.
To Cleat or Not!
I have been using clipless shoes and pedals for a few years now and amply comfortable in them.
This was the first time I was touring with a clipless setup and loved it. It was so much better than riding with flat pedals.
Out of sheer exhaustion I stopped. I unclipped my left shoe and came to a halt as my right foot went down. At least that was the plan. My tired brain unclipped one foot and and put down the other.
The result was that it wasn’t just my foot which hit the floor. My bike and body were on the road as well.
An empty road in absolute darkness, with a bike and rider who had tipped over at zero kmph, lying flat on their respective backs. I lay there for a few seconds laughing at my stupidity before getting up. If anyone had seen me, they would have thought it was a drunken monkey on steroids.
A handful of kilometres before Madikeri, I stopped for juice and biscuits at a small village shop. It was run by an elderly lady.
We had a long and joyful conversation. It was possibly the best chat I had on this entire trip, even though we didn’t speak a word of each other’s language and spoke through a guesswork of sign language!
After cycling through the western ghats for 6 days I reached Madikeri. Finally!
It was a disappointment!
The place was packed to the rafters with Bangloreans. You can spot them for a mile away. With their sunglasses at night and floral shorts.
Well, at least the guys would be wearing floral shorts which looked more like boxers and never to be worn outside the privacy of one’s bedroom.
The couples were glued together as if their were brand ambassadors for Fevi-Quick.
The women in short dresses, which they would constantly be pulling down. And most of these wonderful people would be speaking Hindi!
I had been correctly told that, Ooty and Madikeri are honeymoon destinations for couples who hadn’t yet gotten married!
The ride from Belur to Madikeri is a bit challenging because of the distance and a relatively difficult climb near the very end. The Hattihole Climb is 6 km long with an average gradient of 4%.
Food is available throughout, except the stretch between Somwarpet and Madikeri. Accommodation is available in most small towns, except on this same stretch.
I spent 225 rupees on food and 400 rupees on accommodation.