Lush green hills, chirping birds, numerous waterfalls and gorgeous sceneries together make up the serenity in this corner of Uttara Kannada. A quaint and quiet place invaded by spandex clad, carbon wielding cyclists. Around 35 riders landed up in this gorgeous part of the country to spend four days, ride hundreds of miles and enjoy countless smiles.
Serene Sirsi 2021: Part Deux
Sirsi, a small town in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka, is nestled in the Western Ghats. Home to caves, climbs, waterfalls, forest reserves and more. Pretty at the best of times, this area is exquisite after being washed clean and green by the monsoons.
Which is when the VeloIndians crew held the second edition of this ride. As we approached Sirsi in our motorcades from Bangalore, we couldn’t help salivating at the tasty riding which lay in store.
Clean air, rolling terrain and serene sceneries make for ideal riding conditions. We got even luckier with the weather. The ride being blessed with overcast skies for the most part, with a smattering of rain, once we parked our bikes for the day.
The only thing more important than the cycle in a bicycle ride is the rider. And Serene Sirsi had a variety of riders. From fast competitive roadies, to randonneurs, to professional mountain bike racers, to tourers and a handful of first timers as well.
Variety is the spice of life and Serene Sirsi 2021 was no different. The essence of such tours is meeting people from different backgrounds and riding capabilities. While the latter is fun for the riders, it keeps the organisers and marshals on their toes. Kudos to the support crew for herding the riders and managing the massive differences and distances.
As diverse was the rider’s backgrounds, so was the case with the bikes. From gorgeous road carbon, to glittering titanium, with a couple of humble hybrids and mountain bikes thrown in for good measure. Though the joy of cycling in Sirsi is best experienced on a road bike. If you are planning for it next year, you know which bike to bring!
The route had been planned in a manner which saw the town of Sirsi as the base, with the riders riding out in the morning in different directions every day and being ferried back by vehicle at the end of the day. This allowed everyone to cover more ground, explore a larger tract of the land and still not be too fatigued to enjoy the evening with friendly banter.
There was something for everyone on this trip. Rolling terrain with punchy climbs, sharp corners, long descents to bomb down and more. For those who enjoyed their riding, there was ample opportunity to put to test skill, power and endurance.
Those who were willing to take it slow and easy, they were rewarded with views of an earth covered with a verdant green blanket. Picturesque paddy fields dotted the sides of the road. The slow humdrum of village life was in perfect harmony with the snail pace of a cyclist. Which is what makes a bicycle the perfect machine for travel. You are going so slow, that you have all the time in the world to appreciate the countryside. Experiences which you would just fly past in your fast automobile.
Day 1: Fall(ing) in Love
The first day’s ride started 5 km from the third largest waterfall in India, Jog Falls. A magnificent sight of water cascading down, roaring past anyone who dared stop it. We were mute spectators in more ways than one. The viewing point of the falls is considerably distant from the actual falls. As a result, you ‘see’ it more than ‘experience’ it.
Also, it was the first day of the ride and a handful of kilometres from the start line. The view though gratifying, was masked by antsy riders, who wanted to get on with it and ride!
After Jog, there was a nice little climb to properly warm up our legs. One of those Western Ghat specialities, where it rises sharply in your face. It was good to have this sort of climb so early in the day, as it was a primer for things to come…
The terrain rolled and so did we as we rode through Uttara Kannada’s countryside and the town of Siddapura.
Post Siddapura, we turned off the highway and onto a narrow winding village road, crossing serene streams along the way. This route was just what the doctor ordered and we got our first dose of serenity. Too much serenity makes you hungry, they say. And lunch was at the end of this road, some 50 km from the start.
Lunch with areca nuts and other nutters!
Lunch was an event in itself, hosted at a village homestay. The place riddled with Areca nuts, dried, drying, on the tree and in any other form you want.
Traditional local cuisine was feasted upon to the point where no one wanted to get back on the saddle. The problem with heavy lunches and bicycle saddles is that they don’t go hand in hand. Lunch breaks were also an opportunity for all the riders to regroup and chat with those they didn’t see on the road.
Post lunch, we had cake with icing and a cherry on top, which was the humbling Unchalli Falls. But to get there was no mean task. A sharp steep climb on an overfilled stomach posed challenge enough. Which was only bettered by an off-road section from the road to the falls viewing point.
Unchalli was worth every bit of trouble it took to get there. The falls were breath-taking, not as big as Jog, but you are much closer. You don’t see Unchalli, you experience it. Hills around the falls covered with foliage made you half expect dinosaurs to be popping out from this Jurassic Park like place.
Unchalli Falls was the perfect way to end the day. As a few riders chose to do. Others rode back varying distances before jumping into the backup vehicles.
The support vehicles took us to our headquarters for the next 3 days, Sirsi.
Day 2: Oh Dam!
The second day of riding was the longest. Starting in Sirsi and going all the way to the Kadra dam near the Kaiga Nuclear Power Plant.
The first few kilometres of this route were along a rolling 2-lane highway with moderate traffic. After the village road of the first day, this was a bit boring. The highlight was the pretty bridge across the Bedathi River.
The route continued to be a bit ‘meh’ till Yellapura and a few kilometres beyond along the arterial highway.
Suddenly the world changed.
One right turn later, we were enveloped by dense forest. From the agrarian lands of the previous day, we were now being treated to thick tree groves. Our silent machines allowing us to enjoy the chirping of birds and the sounds of the forest.
Lunch was at a distant 70 km from the start, which saw some famished riders gulping down large portions of Uttara Kannada cuisine.
Whether it was the effect of a satiated stomach, the forest seemed to get thicker, the air heavier, the humidity higher, the climbs steeper. Under the tree cover it would feel like evening and in a clearing, the sun would wash the land bright. There was a small detour to be taken along the way, as a big landslide had washed away a section of the road.
We tiptoed to the edge of the destruction to have a look below. Nature’s wrath and human frailty was encapsulated in that one moment right there.
Dam, oh damn!
The moment to say ‘oh damn!’ came right after, as we descended a 12 km stretch of narrow road through the forest. The downside of bombing the descents is that you don’t stop to enjoy the view and before you know it, you are at the bottom. And the views from that stretch were well worth stopping for.
After 12 km of riding under the power of gravity, we found ourselves staring at the Kaiga Nuclear Power Station. Well, not quite the power station, but the signboard which said it was close! This place is Karnataka’s only nuclear power station currently, which is a couple of decades old.
Instead, we rolled in the opposite direction to Kadra Dam, built over River Kali. And this time we said ‘Oh Dam’. It was fitting to finish off the longest ride day of the tour at that supersized engineering marvel.
Day 3: Rock Star
After an exhausting, but exhilarating second day, we were allowed to take it easy on the third day. The distance was short, the route easy. It was a day of just sitting back and enjoying the scenery.
Most of the route was on traffic free roads with good asphalt quality and gentle climbs. Till the time the end seemed near. Then all hell broke loose!
That feeling of so close yet so far left everyone frothing at the mouth with a steep 7% incline just before the turnoff for Yana Caves. For some that climb was a bigger highlight than the actual caves!
At the turnoff for Yana, everyone parked their bikes and walked the rest. Except for the mountain bikers, who went all the way to the caves with their bikes.
Yana Caves is known for its Karst Rock Formations with the Bhairaveshwara Shikhara and Mohini Shikara rock formations which are 390 and 300 metres tall. No number of words or photos do justice to the place. You need to go there to experience it.
We did a parikrama of the rock formations, where you can smell the pungent scent of bats hanging upside down. For a moment there was a light drizzle and we could see the fine mist wafting through the cave. A moment later, the sun shone, and the black rock reflected all the heat, making it a furnace.
Most chose to end their rides at Yana, after being blessed by the magnificence of the rock formations. Ending the day with the Rock Star…
Day 4: Point of View
The fourth and final day of the tour saw us leave Sirsi and head towards Dandeli and the Kali Tiger Reserve.
Rather than starting our ride from the hotel and traversing the road previously covered, the ride was planned from the scenic Bedathi River Bridge.
From the bridge we rode towards Yellapura and soon after turned left off the main highway. The left turn was the right turn, as we left all the smoke spewing vehicles behind and entered the jungle.
The road wasn’t as densely covered, which allowed us to spot quite a few of our feathered friends sitting in the treetops. It was the ideal day to relax in the lap of nature.
Time slowed down and ground to a halt, as the realisation that real life awaited the next day. Everyone went extra slow, hoping that the day won’t end. One truly appreciates the joy of bicycle touring when the legs are too tired for spirited riding. You are then forced to stop and enjoy the world.
Unfortunately (or not!) we didn’t spot any tigers. The closest wild thing we saw in the forest were domesticated buffaloes. Spotting a tiger would only have helped us find out who the slowest rider in the group was!
Psyched Out at Sykes
Serene Sirsi ended at the top of the world, literally and figuratively. We were all high on the experiences of the previous four days. And we were sitting perched atop a hill called Sykes View Point. The most incredible scenes to be enjoyed. An eagle eye view of the Kali River winding its way through the green hills of Karnataka.
Leaving us with a picture embedded in our minds for years to come.
The people, places, food, organisers together made it a memorable 4 days of appreciating our incredible India with Serene Sirsi 2021. Here’s to many more with Team VeloIndians…