Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Day 6: A ride through the jungle

The rest day has given a chance for every one to attend to their body aches and socialize. Today, we will descend from the Queen of hills through the precarious Kalahatti (or Shigur) ghats. It is a long long highly technical descent. Beyond that we will pass through two long stretches of reserved forest before we come back in touch with people. The rest day talent show had prolonged till late in the night. Nights get really cold in Ooty. -3 was the lowest temperature of the night. Most of us got up early. Not because we wanted to, but because of small holes in the blanket that lets the cold air in. A small fire was made and everybody awake huddled around it. People who slept in the tent outside told stories about what body parts froze in what order... Somebody got tea ready. Pongal and Vada was served as breakfast. A photo shoot for local media was arranged and our enterprising riders posed very nicely.

Since it was a treacherous descent the organizers wanted to make sure that make sure that the fog had lifted. In the briefing the riders were asked to check their brakes and reduce saddle height to gain more control. After all riders completed necessary checks, we could flag off by 0945hrs. It took a while to get out of the Ooty city. We re-traced the same path until the bridge at the 8Km mark. Here, we go straight instead of left. There is a small uphill section to be climbed before we start the Kalahatti descent.

The Kalahatti (aka Shigur) ghat takes us down by about a 1.6 Kms in 14 kms. That's 12% average gradient. It has a total of 36 hairpin curves. The idea was to allow the MTB riders ahead since they would take more time to get used to the gradient. 10 minutes and 3 curves later we could smell the rubber burning. But it was heartening to see that riders had realized the virtues of group riding (although a descent like this is not suited for it). At the check post the policeman promptly stopped our ambulance from going ahead. He said he had orders that vehicles as large our Ambulance were not to be allowed to descend the Kalahatti ghat. (no problem for climbing it up). He was just following his boss's orders. Dr Renu spoke to the right people at right offices and got orders passed to make an exception for our Ambulance.

Even though the riders were cautious, they set a good pace. I am sure thoughts of climbing the Kalahatti ghats would have crossed every riders mind... It would be hard, but worth every inch of the incline we climb. This is a tailor made for anybody who wants to train. Most of the hairpin curves turn inwards. If it was difficult for us to navigate the curves on a Scorpio, one can imagine how hard it would be on a cycle with V brakes. The first double bend is at curves 20-21. The boards along the road always reminded riders that if they did not break in time, they would be plummeting into deep valley below. If you break late, you will be on the ground face first. You have to break just enough and just at the right time. We were descending so rapidly that our ears would pop every 15 minutes. There are are small stretches of straight road now and then - we would feel imbalanced driving through them. The curves are addictive. We ticked off one bend after another... more of the same.

After the descent we entered the Madhumalai forest range. No photography allowed inside this (and the Bandipur) forests. I did not have any riders ahead of me as well. Today we were assigned as the "Sweeper" car. A sweeper car has the duty to tail the last rider on the road and make sure nobody is left out. So I have no cycling stories to tell. However, when I saw Dino on the road, it made me wonder what on earth is Dino doing so far behind. We got a chance to chat up and he told me that he had gone off road a bit to meet his friend. There had been an elephant death in the area and post-mortem was going on. The most likely cause of the death was suspected to be poisoning. One of the tusks of the elephant was missing. Elephants have strong family bonds. They even mourn family deaths. Dino tells me that people have been misbehaving in the forests very much. They blow loud horns, glare head lights at the elephant herd just to get some response from them. All this only to get a story to tell back home. This behaviour is as bad as hunting itself. You dont kill them at once, but trouble them untill they die. This plays with the psyche of the elephant and makes them rogues. There was a series on Nat Geo on human impact on the minds of these gentle creatures. Why do they some times kill even when they are vegetarian? There are simple rules while passing through a reserved forest - No horns, No Stopping, No Photography (cause the flash upsets the animals), No cooking, No fire... all these seem so common sense. But if they had to write it explicitly, then we can understand how insensitive people in respecting the homes of wild animals.

We passed the beautiful forests of Madhumalai and Bandipur with out much action. I gathered later from the riders that they enjoyed every stretch of it. Who would not? gentle slopes, green every where, ocassional brush with wild life (monkeys, deers, boars sighted). Some riders did have an anxious moment or two when they found themselves too close to an elephant. Once we were out of the Bandipur range, we had lunch at Pugmark restaurant run by the jungle lodges fellows. A complete buffet... salad to dessert. The road from Bandipur to Gundlupet is horrible. The road bikers struggled to get accross. The MTBs had no problems at all. They formed a small groups among themselves and enjoyed every bit of their ride.

The road bikers found their rythem after they crossed Gundlupet. They also formed drafting groups and started setting some super pace. Since most of the road bikers took an hour long nap at Pugmark, they were riding as if it were a new day. Since most of them had now found out their own speeds we got to see a lot of single file riding. As the sun started setting, the temperature cooled down and made riding much more easier. Some city riding in the dark got us back to YHAI, Mysore. Rest for the day.

Tomorrow we are heading home. There is a grand show for the home-coming riders. Be there to receive the riders @ Cubbon park: 5:00PM, 31-Dec-2008.


Subra ....[ V . Subramanian ] said...

Nice blogging friend .Thanks for sharing the adventure of the riders .

Shriya said...

Nice post
Did you see any wildlife?
you can see some of my bandipur mudumalai wildlife / bird pictures at http://www.wildlifesanctuaryindia.com/wildlife/
Best regards

Jungle Lodges said...

Happy New Year..wonderful experience and thanks for sharing. Jungle lodges has started a blog and we would like to invite you over to participate and share your experiences and pictures on wildlife..the url is http://junglelodges.blogspot.com

Arun said...

Sometimes, when I read your posts (and I have read them over several times)I can smell the forest.