Saturday, December 27, 2008

Day 3: Enter the God's own country

Today we leave Madikeri, heading towards Sultan Bathery. That will be the halt for the stage 3 of the TFN'08. One can imagine how cold it gets in Coorg during this time of the year. But we did not expect it to be this cold. Riders felt way too comfortable in the Wildcraft fleece jacket. Apparently it was a very good combination of style and comfort. Nevertheless, We had to wait for the fog to lift to make it safer for the riders. Even though the scheduled start was @ 0630hrs, the fog delay, birthday celebration of Kaushik Iyer and some logistical issues pushed the start to almost 0720hrs. It was a bright and upbeat start. Two riders joined us today. Arun Katiyar will be there for a day. George was representing Swiss people in the tour. Everybody started pedaling hard and wanted to make as much distance as possible before the sun came over the head and roads got bad. The roads were supposed to get very bad after Gonikoppal when we take a right turn towards Kearla. So, TFN had organized for a "bike float" - a ferry service for all the road bikes that would find hard to navigate. This would shuttle the bikes beyond the Kerala-Karnataka border when the roads would be magically good.

Until Gonikoppal, the road was manageable - not good not bad. Weather was fantastic... We (people in the makeshift support car) stuck to the same strategy of zoom-halt-serve-zoom. Within a couple of hours we (and about 30 riders) were at Gonikoppa. Although the roads were marked ahead using chalk, many riders missed the sharp left. This was the start of bike ferry. But many road bikers hard a long look at the road ahead and siad "This aint that bad after all!!" and pedaled ahead. Many other riders like Shankar took opportunity to take in fluids and chat up with others. Cyclists riding expensive cycles just did not want to take the risk of getting mechanical failures. The road apparently got better and better, encouraging the road bikers. But just before the Kerala Border the road got really worse. If became a pain for the car drivers of Bangalore, you can imagine how hard it would have been for the Road Bikers.
At the Karnataka - Kerala Border, the police were over whelmed with what was happening. They were not sure whether the cars were support cars, or trafficing food. They made us open the boot up and peered inside the back seats and let us go only after they were fully satisfied. Menakshi used her linguistic skills and the cops let us go easily. Other cars were not that lucky. They got more suspicious when they say truck loads of Aquafina and Nilgiris foodies. Since we got the clearance and many riders were ahead of us, we did not wait for everything to be sorted out. The roads in Wynad district of Kerala is maintained much better then Karnataka (Are you hearing Mr Dr BSY?)

After the border check-post, the roads were just wonderful. The forest was dense... the vegetation alternated between bamboo and teak. The terrain was a gentle downhill all the way through interleaved by mild gradients. One can climb thousand such gradients if he were going through such a beautiful forest. The bamboo portion of the forest is called as "Bitherkaad" (forest of bamboos). This stretch of bamboo along the road was planted some 60 years ago. Six months ago, they all came of age and bloomed with flowers. It must have been wonderful. Too bad that the main stream media did not cover such a wonderful event. Yes, some or other bamboos bloom every year. But since these lay so close to the road - it would have been very accessible wonder to watch. To see such grand scale blooming, we may have to go deep into forest, or wait for another 60 years. Bitherkaad is home for a tribe named - Paniyas. Dino had a good two hour chat with them after some off riding. Like all good things, the reserved forest had to end and we came back to civilization. I am disturbed at the shrinking size of our forests. My concern about all kinds of forest dwellers - including the humans. Do they not have the right to exist? and in the manner they choose to be? That's another debate reserved for another day.

Once we were out of the forest, we came to Katrikulam. This was our lunch stop. I had full meals - while boiled rice (the huge ones), bhendi sabji, tomato subji and majjige huli (more kalingu in tamil). But it was predominantly a non-veg place. The waiter was surprised when I inistested on eating vegetarian dishes only. At Katrikullam, we were updated about the change in plans. We are not going through the scenic shortcut through another forest - but a long cut right through Manathvadi to Sultan Bathery. That made the rest of the journey (ride) boring. The last few kilometers to Sulthan Bathery was made a little interesting by the slanting rays of the setting Sun.

At S. Bathery, a accommodation was a mess. I am told, that was the best available in the city at the time of planning. That is a fair explanation considering that all the other hotels in the city were equally horrible - except for the newly constructed Wind Flower. The rest of the night is best left alone.

Hopefully, tomorrow will be a nice ride. After all, we are going to ride to the queen of hills - Ooty.

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