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      • City:

      Cycling Goa to Ooty through the Western Ghats is a pleasure. Especially if you ride the route in winter. I rode this scenic route self-supported on a Fuji Touring in Feb-Mar 2019. The route is a foodies’ delight!

      Cycling Goa to Ooty…

      Ultra Spice Race. An ultra cycle race conducted by Inspire India which starts in Goa, heads to Ooty and returns to base. This race and route caught my eye. I of course am no racer, especially when a word like ultra is attached! But inspired by these fantastic folk, a humble tourer ended up cycling Goa to Ooty solo.

      Day 1: Mapusa to Canacona

      Goa for most is a party state, with a healthy dose of alcohol, beaches, sun and sand. When in Goa I go for the electoral option of NOTA (None of the Above)!

      Roads and Traffic

      The best bit for the avid cyclist in Goa are the roads. Narrow serpentine roads which climb sharply to get your heart in the red and yet aren’t long enough to force you to stop.

      Dense vegetation enveloping the road will suddenly break open on to a hilltop which is brown and barren. Every strand of grass burnt under the scorching sun.

      Bridges which go over tiny creeks with coconut trees on either side make for a picturesque route.

      But the best part of the roads of Goa is the traffic! Even on these narrow steep roads no vehicle will honk behind you. There were multiple instances where I would be climbing at 5 kmph and the vehicle behind waited patiently. Even buses which are generally in a tearing hurry!

      Cycling Goa to Ooty
      The clean water with coconut trees standing as sentinels!


      This is where the state shines. Especially if you enjoy seafood and meat. There is lots of coconut in the seafood dishes, which makes it perfect for a hungry cyclist! The beef and pork don’t get the coconut treatment generally but are delicious.

      If you are vegetarian your options are limited to the Konkan fare which is similar to what you get in coastal Maharashtra and Karnataka.

      The same named Pav Bhaji is very different from what you would get in Maharashtra. Here the vegetable is made from white peas and has coconut in it. The ubiquitous pav remains constant though.

      If you are in Goa, it is imperative that you try out the poi, a coarse grain bread. It is delicious with butter and tea or with curry or with practically anything you find!

      Expensive and Dogs

      The two downsides of travelling in Goa. It is ridiculously expensive for a bikepacker. The state is tailor made for tourists who come there with fat wallets and little time.

      The other terrible thing about cycling in Goa are the ridiculous number of dogs. Every house seems to feed one dog inside their house and five outside! As a result you will find 4-5 dogs on every 100 metres of road. The statistical probability of being chased by a dog every single kilometre is bloody high.

      I blame the overly zealous animal lovers. Thanks to them, the street dog population is out of control. Putting everyday road users at unnecessary risk.

      The Ride

      I started from Mapusa and took the highway till Margao, there are interior roads which take longer. Since I had previously ridden those inside roads, the highway was the fastest, if not the most scenic option.

      Lunch was in Margao at my aunt’s house, where I spent quite a few hours catching up on stories.

      Post Margao I got off the highway and rode along the ghats and coast. A beautiful bit of asphalt. By sunset I had only managed to reach Canacona beach, where I found an expensive hostel. The hostel was much shabbier, yet more expensive than stuff in Ladakh. The downsides of excessive tourism.

      With an earlier start and not such a long lunch break at Margao, I could have ridden straight out to Karwar. But what is the joy of rushing, whilst holidaying!

      I spent 450 rupees on accommodation and zero on food.

      Elevation profile from Mapusa to Canacona

      Day 2: Canacona to Honnavar

      On the second day of cycling from Goa to Ooty, I finally managed to get out of Goa and into Karnataka, which was still far away from Ooty!

      Cultural Ghats

      Canacona to the Goa-Karnataka border is around 20 km along the highway and much less as the crow flies. There is one small ghat climbing section before you drop down into Karnataka. The road passes close to Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary and even on the main highway the dense foliage is apparent.

      Huffing up a climb on a cycle left me with a lot of time to ponder. Long before roads were built, the thick forest and steep ghats must have been a major deterrent for the movement of goods and people. The lack of interaction then, means there is a marked difference in culture on either side of the border now.

      Of course going back and forth by boat would possibly have been significantly easier.

      Cycling Goa to Ooty
      Idyllic national highways in Goa. Beautiful asphalt. Shaded roads. Heaven!

      Roads in Karnataka

      As soon as you cross the border, the road goes from being a narrow ribbon of tarmac to a big broad four-lane highway.

      Fast highways come at a cost. Trees. Where in Goa I could have stopped anywhere and would be assured of a shady tree, in Karnataka that luxury didn’t exist. Shady trees are irrelevant for people in air-conditioned cars, for a cyclist it is invaluable.

      In Karnataka, along with the trees, traffic sense also goes out of the window. Trucks and pick-ups hurtling in the wrong direction on the four-lane highway makes for risky cycling. The irony of being less safe on better roads was not lost on me!

      Coasting along!

      Large sections of the highway in Karnataka are bang on the coast. You get to pedal along with gorgeous views of the Arabian Sea. The view is incredible and the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks is unimaginable.

      Well, actually you have to imagine it. The sound of heavy traffic on this arterial Kochi-Panvel highway drowns out any feeling of mystique from the ocean!

      On this stretch, what the ears cannot enjoy, the eyes must appreciate.

      cycling Goa to Ooty
      Arabian Sea


      While the culture changed rather markedly between the two states, the change in cuisine is subtle.

      Breakfast was in Goa, which included poi. Lunch and dinner was fish thali. It was the beginning of the rice belt. On that day, the rice was accompanied by fish curry, fried fish, a vegetable (which I steadfastly ignored), a salad (which was given the same treatment as the vegetable) and pickle.

      All my meals are always in the tiniest dhabas available. The food is good and compared to Goa, much cheaper. Eating in Goa is simply losing weight from your wallet.

      Another thing I noticed, the eating joints in the south are significantly cleaner than what I am used to in the north. More often than not, you will find women in charge of dhabas here, unheard of in North India.

      Coastal Karnataka Fish Thali
      Look at the mound of rice. Can one person actually finish it off? Apparently, yes!

      Uttara Kannada

      India is my country, all Indians are my brothers and sisters…

      A pledge children around the country take every morning in school in a variety of languages. This unity of India is amazing as is the game of one-upmanship in microcosms of the country.

      In this part of Karnataka, every board states that you are in Uttara Kannada or North Karnataka. A subtle message to remind you that they are different from those ‘not in’ North Karnataka! On conversing with a few, the tone is, “Yes, we are all Kannadigas. But, we are better than them!”


      Since there are no shady trees to stop under on four-lane highways, I found a temple.

      As I sat in the shade of the temple, a middle-aged gentleman walked up to me. He smiled, I smiled back. He grinned, showing off a couple of missing teeth, I grinned back. Then he asked me if I knew Kannada, since unfortunately I didn’t, he switched to broken Hindi.

      Then conversation flowed. 5 minutes prior to this conversation, booze must have flowed, because he was reeking of alcohol.

      He started off with the history of the village where I was sat. Then extolled the virtues of Karnataka culture, food and heritage. After getting warmed up, he praised the women of the place. With some, erm, inappropriate hand actions, he told me the women are very nice. *Nudge nudge wink wink*

      As a parting shot, he told me to pray in the temple there to get a Kannadiga wife!

      Cycling goa to Ooty
      End of the day sightings…

      The Ride

      The ride from Canacona to Honnavar is along the arterial Kochi-Panvel highway. As such there is quite a bit of truck movement, especially in Karnataka where the roads are broader.

      Honnavar is the town where you turn off from the coastal road and enter the ghats. It is prudent to enjoy the coastal cuisine before heading east!

      I learnt something new. Expensive hotels have drivers quarters which can be had for quite cheap! I stayed in one such bit of accommodation.

      I spent 300 rupees for accommodation and 215 rupees for food.

      Elevation profile from Canacona to Honnavar

      Day 3: Honnavar to Sagara

      The third day of cycling Goa to Ooty climbing through picturesque forest reserves and eating delicious food.

      Jog Falls

      Jog Falls. If you are passing through this part of the country, do visit it.

      That is what I was told. When I was 5 km from the place, the locals told me there were more tourists than water in the falls! I turned around and went home… It’s best visited during the monsoons.

      Cycling goa to ooty
      The bridge which you cross to go to Jog Falls

      cycling goa to ooty
      World Famous… …in Karnataka!


      One tiny village. It is the gateway to a forest reserve with a fantastic climb. I loved every painful minute of struggling up! What I didn’t like was that in my excitement, I forgot to switch on Strava.

      At Gerusoppa I stopped for a drink of water, where some helpful villagers told me that a steep climb lay ahead with nothing en route. The owner of the shop gave me a glass of spiced buttermilk to drink. The smell of the dosas he was making was so inviting, that I plonked my bottom on the chair to feast.

      In my gluttony, I forgot to switch on Strava for the climb!

      cycling goa to ooty
      Cool forest reserve climb. Well, this is before the actual climbing started!

      Lion Tailed Macaque

      The Lion Tailed Macaque is an endangered species of monkey found in the Western Ghats of India. The forest reserve had numerous boards reminding one of this fact.

      As vehicles trundled past me I wondered if anyone was going to be lucky enough to spot one. Near the top of the climb, there was a sudden lull in traffic.

      I pulled out my phone to check Strava only to find a monkey staring at me. There were tons of them, hidden away in the woods from fast moving vehicles. But easily visible to the slow moving cyclist.

      Finally the monkeys and the monk met!

      Lion Tailed Macaque
      I later got to know every forest reserve in the Western Ghats claim to be the ‘only’ home for these poor monkeys!


      A lesson I learnt on this trip was to not eat in towns. Get onto the highway and grab some grub. The second lesson I learnt was in South India, you need to have two breakfasts!

      Traditional breakfast is very light, mostly made with rice. You cannot hog on it, and a couple of hours later, your stomach is empty. So the first breakfast would be half an hour after leaving and the second breakfast would be around noon.

      Breakfast on this day consisted of poori bhaji and dosa. Lunch was another humongous plate of fish curry rice. Dinner was in a restaurant where they told me ‘north Indian food’ was their speciality. It was too late to go anywhere else, so I settled for parotta and a coconut vegetable curry. The mild spiced curry had an aroma which would wake up the dead!

      Eating copious amounts of coconut is fantastic for a long distance cyclist. As it burns slow, lasting longer than most foods.

      cycling goa to ooty
      Got wood?

      Elevator Ride and More…

      Riding in the western ghats is like being tied up in an elevator or with an exceptionally passionate lover! The entire time it is up and down. There is never a dull moment where the world is flat.

      Thankfully once past Honnavar, there is barely any traffic all the way till Sagara. The real joy of cycle touring is experienced on this stretch.

      Advertisement hoardings alongside highways tell a lot about a place. And this part of Karnataka was filled with ads of cement, steel reinforcement bars and other building construction material. Typical fare in a growing economy. The only other thing being advertised was gold, jewellery and other bridal items. People here are either building houses or getting married!

      cycling goa to ooty
      THE CLIMB. ‘Nuff said!

      My Experiments with Air

      After the first couple of days, I decided to stop experimenting!

      I had read online, that people pumped up their road touring bikes to 50-60 psi in search of comfort. That experiment didn’t pan out as planned. The cycle handled like a boat and barely rolled up a hill.

      On the third day of cycling Goa to Ooty, it was time to pump it up. 80 psi and the world seemed good again. I could actually go around a corner without the feeling of falling over, damaging the rims and with reduced rolling resistance.

      cycling goa to ooty
      Would you like some greenery to go with this barrenness!

      Hot Hotels!

      The hotels in Karnataka and the south in general have a few peculiarities.

      None of them are called hotels. Hotels are where you eat food! If you enquire for a hotel, you will be sent for a meal.

      Accommodation is provided by lodges. Lodge is a very loose term, it could mean bare bones basic sleeping quarters or 3 star comfort.

      What all these lodges have in common is hot water. All of them provide hot water. They advertise the fact that they provide hot water. The receptionist will tell you that there is hot water available for bathing.

      None of them quite get the irony that it is 30 bloody degrees outside. At night! After steaming myself the entire day on a cycle, do they really think I look forward to being boiled like a frog in hot water.

      Bridging gaps

      The Ride

      The interesting sections of cycling Goa to Ooty started after Honnavar. The road immediately starts climbing out of Honnavar. It is entirely rolling terrain, till you hit the base of the 12 km forest reserve climb.

      The rest of the day is back to rolling terrain.

      Food is available everywhere except on the climb. Accommodation is also available in plenty of places along the route.

      I spent 500 rupees on accommodation and 220 on food!

      Elevation Profile from Honnavar to Sagara
      Lost 24 km of data. Most of it was the climb through the forest reserve!

      Thanks to Mohit Gena for editing these ordinary looking pictures and making it look a thousand times better!

      Thanks to Deepak for helping me out with details of the route for cycling from Goa to Ooty, before the ride and to Niraj, Chandana and Nithin for the help during the ride. Cheers people!

        • City:


        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.

        Cycling through the western ghats
        All these coconut trees, only so that I can eat bowls and bowls of coconut chutney! Sights one enjoys 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!

        Ghee roast dosas are perfect when cycling through the western ghats
        Ghee roast dosa and coconut chutney. Fat. What else do you need in life when cycling through the western ghats!


        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 Lodge

        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!

        The Owner

        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”!

        Marriage Offer

        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 Ride

        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.

        Elevation profile from Sagara to Tarekere

        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!

        Shakha Pramukh

        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!

        Smug Mudguards

        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!

        Cycling through the western ghats
        When you build ever expanding highways for cars, then you are going to leave this sort of destruction in the wake

        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 Ride

        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.

        Elevation Profile from Tarekere to Belur

        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’!

        Chapati made of rice flour
        Chapati made of rice flour served with sambhar and coconut chutney

        Lunch while cycling through the western ghats
        Poori, papad, potato and pakoda on a paper plate. Alliteration much!

        Kori Rotti
        Kori Rotti. Chicken curry and rice flour roti. You are supposed to pour the gravy on the roti and eat it like rice!

        Coffee Plantations

        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!

        Cycling through the western ghats
        That car doing the job of the Starbucks coffee mug in GOT! For those born earlier, the red Mercedes in Ben Hur…

        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!

        Somwarpet Error

        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.

        Elephant Property

        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!

        Cycling through the western ghats
        Cycling through the Western Ghats saw me perched upon that small black thing for 10 days!

        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.

        Shopping Experience

        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

        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.

        Elevation profile from Belur to Madikeri


          • City:

          The last section of the blog of riding from Goa to Ooty. Cycling in the Nilgiris sees you climbing gorgeous hills till the highest point, Ooty.

          Cycling in the Nilgiris

          Day 7: Madikeri to Irrity

          A day of descending into a sauna.


          A day of culinary delights. It started off with a staple of the state. Sewain bhat, which was basically salty sewain with loads of coconut chutney. Once again, breakfast was for 50 rupees. I believe the laws of the state stipulate as such!

          This area is famous for its pork. Coorgi Pork is a delicacy of the region, which is a slightly spicy and dry dish. At least that is what I had been told, as I unsuccessfully went in search for it.

          I saw shops selling raw pork along the highway, but not one restaurant advertising it.

          If I were serving pork, it would be plastered across the city on big banners in ‘Impact’ font, with the text bold and underlined. The eleventh commandment states, one shall not be subtle with pork!

          Eventually in Virajpet I had to ask a vegetable vendor to point out a ‘good’ restaurant. ‘By the side of the alcohol shop‘, he told me. Ah! That made perfect sense. The pork was as advertised and not one bit over-hyped.

          Tea was egg pakodas and chicken samosas on the Karnataka-Kerala border. The food was so good, that I forgot to have tea. The reason for which I had stopped!

          Dinner was in Kerala. And when in Kerala, eat beef! Beef fry with parotta is my go to food in the state. If I want variety, I order appam. The beef remains constant!

          food while cycling in the Nilgiris
          Egg pakodas and chicken samosas

          beef fry in Kerala
          Beef fry with parotta and gravy

          All that glitters is gold!

          It was a Sunday morning in Madikeri as I was pedalling out of there. People in town were decked to the hilt. Men and women alike were submerged in gold. Not just the jewellery, but the clothes as well!

          People were swimming in gold in the ultra-cheap lodge I stayed in. Not for a moment could I imagine what the rich and mighty in 5-star resorts looked like. You would probably need special Ray Bans to protect yourself from their ultra-golden radiation!

          Reliable sources state that these Sunday revellers are visible from outer space.

          Kerala, here I come!

          From Madikeri to Virajpet, you ride through scenic roads. Enjoying the countryside, the curves and the descent.

          Suddenly you are hit by insanity. Vehicles from Kerala are headed in the opposite direction.

          Now, no matter how much I love the food of the state, the traffic makes me want to avoid the place.

          I blame the stuntmen bus drivers.

          The Kerala bus drivers are the worst in the country (and I have ridden in almost every state of the country!). Their anger is rubbed down to lesser mortals like trucks, who in turn push it onto cars, who in turn push the auto-rickshaws. Two-wheelers become coconut chutney in this road grind.

          I hadn’t seen an iota of aggression for 6 days on Goa or Karnataka roads. Then in half an hour I saw almost 3 accidents right before my eyes.

          Take a guess, which state these vehicles belonged to. Go on, don’t be shy, guess!

          Going down isn’t fun!

          Post Virajpet, the road descends steeply through a forest reserve. The reserve itself is gorgeous and thickly forested. But the road is too steep to descend happily with a fully loaded touring road bike.

          While going down, the only thought in my mind was, ‘how much fun would it be to ride up this!’

          Unfortunately, the Himalayas do that to a person. After cycling for 3 months there, I now love climbing a hill. No matter how slow and painful it is.

          From Madikeri to Kerala, you lose about 1100 metres of altitude.

          Which translated into real terms is, taking your head out of a freezer and shoving it into a sauna.

          Cycling in the Nilgiris
          Now, who wouldn’t want to ride on a road like this!

          Mother and Child

          The tea shop where I hogged on egg pakodas and chicken samosas was run by a young mother and her 15 year old son.

          The both of them spoke to me in impeccable English. On enquiring, the young boy told me his mother was from Trivandrum and so he was Malyaali.

          But what about his father, who was Kannadiga, I asked. Didn’t he relate to his father’s land of birth and his own residence.

          Kerala is better than Karnataka the young man told me emphatically!

          As I was chatting with him, I showed him photographs of my cycle ride from Ladakh. Immediately his eyes glassed over as I spoke. He couldn’t imagine the Himalayas in the same manner that the Ladakhi children couldn’t imagine what an ocean was!


          The name of the town where I stayed the night. Contrary to popular (okay, my) belief, Iritty isn’t a shortened version of irritable.

          Though it could very well be.

          After cycling through Goa and then Karnataka, Kerala seemed unfriendly.

          Actually, unfriendly isn’t the correct word.

          It is just that people don’t smile there. It is as if the government taxes smiling and as such everyone has a permanent stiff upper lip!

          I wasn’t smiling, but for a different reason. I was looking forward to staying the night in Iritty, a beautiful place according to the photos on the interweb.

          But it wasn’t. It was a hot, dusty, humid bowl of humanity from where beauty had packed her bags and left a millennia ago!

          Apparently, the place I had seen on Google was Idukki! Bloody autocorrect…


          Language generally isn’t a problem anywhere in South India for me. Hindi or English helps me get by without too much trouble. Not in Kerala. No one seemed to know (or speak) a word of either language.

          Which seemed kind of strange considering the state has a supposedly 100% literacy rate. Maybe they need to focus on quality now, not just on quantity.

          All things aside, I love the state. They have beef fry available everywhere and commies who will protest if anyone tries to ban it!

          The Ride

          This day of cycling in the Nilgiris was almost entirely downhill before it flattened off in Kerala. The temperature rises along with the humidity as you move closer to the coast.

          Food is available everywhere except in that short stretch of forest reserve between Virajpet and the Kerala border. If you are going in the opposite direction and climbing towards Virajpet, then it would be prudent to carry enough water and a bite to eat as well. Since it is a 5% 15 km climb.

          Accommodation is available in Virajpet and Iritty.

          I spent 400 on accommodation and 200 on food.

          Elevation Profile from Madikeri to Iritty

          Day 8: Iritty to Sultan Bathery

          All that descending to sea level, ensured a climb back up to the top while cycling in the Nilgiris!


          Kerala doesn’t disappoint when it comes to food.

          Breakfast is a different beast entirely out there. There is a veritable blitzkrieg which happens in your stomach as you hog on a variety of succulent treats.

          Even with my limitless cyclist capacity of being an undignified glutton, I couldn’t do justice to all that was on offer.

          As such, I settled on multiple plates of pazham pori, a banana fritter. Puttu, a cylindrical steamed rice cake, eaten with some curry. If you are smart, you eat it with beef curry! And a type of poori which was more of a standalone snack, than a fried bread.

          One Tamilian friend once told me, the worst filter coffee of the south you will get in Kerala. I thought it was just regional bias behind that statement, apparently he was right!

          Lunch was a grandiose affair with loads of rice on a banana leaf, sambhar, papad, salad, fried fish and more. The food was excellent and hospitality which even 5-stars cannot match.

          Dinner was more beef, this time accompanied with appam. The great thing about beef in Kerala is that you can never go wrong with it. Big or small eatery, it will always be delicious.

          Breakfast in Kerala.
          Breakfast: Puttu, poori and pazham pori. Eat and repeat!

          Lunch in Kerala
          Lunch. A fish thali, I mean leaf!

          Beef fry with appam in Kerala
          Dinner. Appam and beef FTW!

          The Left Turn was the Right Turn, while the Right Turn was the Wrong Turn

          Mistakes are the spice of life. Can you imagine how boring life would be if we didn’t make mistakes! This held even truer when cycling on the spice route.

          Just out of Iritty, there was an option. Go right with the rest of the world or go left. When in Kerala, be a leftist. So left it was!

          Instead of following the Ultra Spice Race route towards Mananthavady, I turned away on the recommendation of a passerby.

          And what a mistake it turned out to be. I loved every moment of it!

          Cycling in the Nilgiris
          See it to believe it. A place called Boys Town and distance measured in decimal points. I was of course more interested in directions to Girls Town!

          The Climb

          I passed a signboard which said, Boys Town 6.27 km.

          Who in the world gives highway distances to the decimal point and who is crazy enough to name a place Boys Town.

          Clearly someone who had spent too much time in a ‘toddy parlour‘. Yes things such as toddy parlours exist in Kerala!

          But I digress.

          The climb. It was brutal. A 7% climb, which made life, erm, interesting! The last 6 km was at 9%, just to liven up the party. That is when I realised why they had written the distance in decimal points on the signboard. You are going to count every single metre.

          The final pitch of it had a bit of broken asphalt which made it worse. All the power in my legs was sent for a meeting with the pedals. The wheels in turn weren’t impressed with the power point presentation and snapped a spoke.

          A broken spoke in the rear wheel meant I needed to pussyfoot my way till the end of the trip.

          Cycling in the Nilgiris
          First of the five hairpins up the Boys Town climb!

          cycling in the Nilgiris
          The view from halfway up the Boys Town Climb

          Children of the State

          The state of children is more or less the same wherever you go in India. They crowd around you, they babble, they touch the cycle and ask a million questions a minute.

          That wasn’t the case in Kerala.

          As I washed up, the kids stood around the cycle inquisitively, not one of them touching the bike. They then waited for me to sit down have water and grab a cup of tea. Only then did they sit around me like the audience in a mini-amphitheatre and started the questioning.

          In the most polite manner imaginable. They took turns asking questions, waited for my response before asking the next question.

          The conversation was in English. The smaller kids who couldn’t speak the language, would ask the older kids to translate. And the ‘elders’ among them obliged.

          It was ridiculous how civil those kids were. I am far more used to children being as delightful as a raging cyclone!

          Cycling Roulette

          As I was riding through Mananthavady, I spotted an upmarket cycle store. One which sold ‘imported’ bikes!

          A store of that calibre could easily repair the broken spoke on my cycle. Getting it repaired there would have been the smartest thing to do.

          One broken spoke weakens the wheel, which leads to another broken spoke and before you know it, the spokes persons have left your party.

          So I stopped in front of the store and contemplated getting the repair done. But where is the joy in life if you aren’t making foolish decisions. So I rode on hoping that my wheel wouldn’t destroy itself.

          Post Mananthavady, I once again rolled the dice. A helpful fellow told me to take a back route to Sultan Bathery rather than the highway which I was headed on. What a lovely piece of advice it turned out to be.

          Cycling in the Nilgiris
          Pee break. Away from open roads and prying eyes!


          Everyone loves their sleep. People in Kerala more so, apparently. There were innumerable roadside hoardings for mattresses. I clicked a picture of one of the most amusing ads on offer.

          The other constant ad in the south is for gold. Jewellery ads for brides litter the landscape. Amusingly most of the models in the hoardings look like East Europeans. The fascination with fair skin women pervades every corner of India.

          Advertisement hoarding in Kerala
          If your partner ain’t hot, you can call them on the helpline!

          Sultan Bathery

          As I was approaching Sultan Bathery, a car from the opposite direction stopped bang in front of me. That morning they had been going in the opposite direction and had seen me near Boys Town. They were shocked that I still hadn’t covered any significant distance, whilst they had driven to their destination, got their work done, and were headed home.

          Not everyone can comprehend how slow a cycle is!

          The lodges in Sultan Bathery looked really shady. I went to the least shady looking lodge and took their least shady looking room. Yet it looked like a low budget Bollywood movie.

          Since no parking was available, I left my bike in the adjacent petrol pump. The manager of the lodge assured me of the safety of my bike, ‘this is Kerala, no one is going to steal a cycle’, he said!

          I couldn’t sleep the entire night. Not because I was worried about my cycle. But because there were a million bed bugs. I could see them crawling all over. Eventually I slept on the cold hard floor.

          Cycling in the Nilgiris
          Who doesn’t love curves like that!

          The Ride

          All the altitude I had lost the previous day from Madikeri to Iritty while cycling in the Nilgiris, I gained it back while climbing towards Sultan Bathery. Most of it was in a 6 km stretch of the Boys Town Climb!

          Post Boys Town, the road continues climbing but it is a gentle climb, which you wouldn’t even notice. Especially after having finished off that brutal climb!

          There’s accommodation available in Mananthavady and Sultan Bathery. Food is available throughout the route.

          I spent 400 rupees on accommodation and 280 rupees on food.

          Elevation Profile from Iritty to Sultan Bathery

          Day 9: Sultan Bathery to Ooty

          The final push while cycling in the Nilgiris, almost literally!

          Food (or lack thereof!)

          I got out of Sultan Bathery without grabbing breakfast. Assuming that I would get food along the way.

          ‘Along the way’ happens to be through a forest reserve without a single shop. Food wasn’t my biggest problem though. I didn’t have any water either!

          At long last my famished mind spotted a dhaba a few kilometres before the Tamil Nadu border.

          The only option for breakfast was, beef fry. I for one wasn’t complaining!

          I didn’t stop for lunch at Gudalur, once again hoping to get food further up. Again my stupidity prevailed and I didn’t get anything to eat and once again proceeded to run out of water!

          Eventually lunch happened at 5 in the evening and consisted of a stale tooti-frooti bun with a cup of tea.

          In Tamil Nadu I did spot a few beef shops and was quite surprised. Beef was supposed to be a Kerala speciality, right? According to some Tamilians who I asked, Tamils don’t know how to cook beef properly. Beef in Tamil Nadu tastes like a mixture of luke warm water and sandpaper apparently!

          Dinner was a bit of a redemption with a spicy mysore masala dosa and buckets of coconut chutney!

          This ride from Goa to Ooty, which otherwise was a food carnival, turned out to be a damp squib on the last day.

          Kerala-Tamil Nadu border
          The land of beef comes to an end. Behind the Kerala board is the Tamil Nadu board, welcoming you to the land of the tiger!

          Forest Reserve

          This section of forest reserve is a treat to ride through. Because on the other side of Ooty, they don’t allow cyclists. No such problems in Kerala for us humble pedal pushers.

          A village dog chased me while I was riding through the reserve. It was a pleasant reminder.

          This was the first dog to get on my arse since I had left Goa. The dog menace is restricted to Goan borders only. Everywhere else, leopards eat them I presume!


          The road from Sultan Bathery till Gudalur has a number of pretty sections. But at no point are you doing any crazy climbing. It is all easy peasy.

          Once past Gudalur, the climb starts. The third climb of this trip. The first was before Sagara, the second was to Boys Town and then this.

          This was arguably the toughest of the three, yet it isn’t all that difficult. It only took me four and a half hours to climb the 21 kilometres!

          By the time I reached TR Bazaar, the end of the climb, I was exhausted and resembled monkey poop.

          Cycling in the Nilgiris
          Eucalyptus plantation

          T R Bazaar

          T R Bazaar has accommodation I was told. Splendid, just when I needed to stop for the night, a lodge appeared out of thin air.

          Except it wasn’t quite so magical. A room in the lodge was 4000 rupees for one night. The entire trip’s total accommodation cost wasn’t that much.

          Thus I moved on!

          Just outside the gate of the TR Bazaar lodge, I asked a guy for a cheaper place to stay. He told me that the next place was Ooty and nothing in between.

          As he spoke I noticed he had blood on his forehead. He had crashed right there some 5 minutes before, while riding his scooter. After wishing him good health, I moved on.

          Ooty beckoned.

          cycling in the Nilgiris
          ‘Eeee. How prettyyyyyy’, is what you are always thinking! Also clothes drying on the back of the bike.

          Rain rain go away

          There is something about Ooty and me.

          9 years previously when I had ridden to Ooty on my motorcycle, it was raining like crazy. When I looked up at the same sky after a decade, the clouds were bunching up to start chucking it down.

          Fortunately the road after TR Bazaar is an easy climb and I gunned it. From 5 kmph to 7.5 kmph. Now the ‘glass half empty’ people will pooh pooh that as a miserable increase of just 2.5 kmph. Even the country’s GDP grows faster!

          I looked at it as a 50% increase over my previous lazy speeds. And just like that I was impressed with my tortoise self!

          As Promised…

          The skies promised a downpour and the heavens opened up.

          I was sad about having to ride in the rain, but happy that finally my rain gear was going to be used on this ride!

          All electronics had to be speedily dumped into the waterproof bags. To compound matters, my phone discharged while stored in my saddlebag. And thus Strava couldn’t record my glorious (or not!) ascension to heaven, aka Ooty.

          Smiles Galore

          The last day of cycling in the Nilgiris might sound like quite the downer.

          But, there was something which continuously lifted my spirits, no matter the rain or the brain drain.

          The smiling faces.

          Once I crossed over the border from Kerala into Tamil Nadu people once again started smiling, waving and generally being cheerful.

          Old ladies in the plantations cat-called after me while checking out my legs. Young children ran alongside my cycle as I struggled up climbs. Truckers tooted in acknowledgement of my suffering and the cycle touring world seemed normal again.

          The stark contrast between morose Kerala and happy Tamil Nadu is felt very deeply when touring on a cycle.

          cycling in the nilgiris
          A joy to ride in the shade of these trees. The scent is enchanting

          Bloody Man

          The bloodied man who had given me directions in TR Bazaar caught up with me some 4-5 km before Ooty.

          The persistent rain had slowed a bit. Enough to discard the rain gear and soak in the tiny droplets.

          It was 8 at night and pitch dark.

          The gentleman offered me a lift on his scooter till Ooty and promised to drop me off at an affordable lodge.

          I jumped at the opportunity and on his scooter!

          He kept the saddlebags on the footboard of his scooter while I sat pillion holding my bike upside down on my lap. The teeth of the bike’s large chainring inches away from my neck as we jostled along the broken road towards Ooty.

          I was hoping and praying not to hit a big pothole, else I would be decapitated by my own bike, just miles before my final destination!

          As we rode along, he told me that he was a fruit seller in Ooty and had a few fields near TR Bazaar which he had been visiting during the day.

          I thanked him when he dropped me off at a lodge. He said, “Just remember me in your prayers, help someone else in need and most importantly, pray for our country as the elections loom!”


          Once in Ooty and the exhaustion wore off I cursed myself. It would have taken me an extra half hour for those last 5 kilometres. I shouldn’t have accepted that lift, instead ground it out to ground zero.

          As I was describing my journey to the lodge manager it struck me. This is a cycle tour, not a race and surely not proving a point to anyone. The beauty of touring is accepting whatever is thrown at you; the good, the bad and the ugly.

          And thus, it was Ooty finally!

          This region has some strange fascination with boys. Erm, stay away!

          The Ride

          The ride from Sultan Bathery to Gudalur, while cycling in the Nilgiris, is a pleasant and reasonably easy section.

          Immediately after Gudalur the massive climb starts. If you are crossing Gudalur anywhere after 12 PM, it makes sense to just stay in town and start the next morning.

          It takes a loaded cyclist four and a half hours up the climb and a long way still to go.

          After the climb from Gudalur to TR Bazaar, the road continues gaining altitude, but not so dramatically.

          Food is available almost throughout the route, with just the climb missing some nutrition.

          Accommodation is available in Gudalur, TR Bazaar (though that is expensive) and Ooty.

          I spent 400 rupees on accommodation and 225 rupees on food.

          Elevation profile from Sultan Bathery to Ooty while cycling in the Nilgiris

          Read Chidambram’s travel tale as he rides 1775 km from Mumbai to Kanyakumari!

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