Starting from the land of Yore, I took off with two experienced French riders from Canada on what was to be a life-changing journey through the South of India. What was supposed to be a tour led by a Road Captain + 2 riders, was soon a ride of 3 friends who had similar taste and circumstances of life.
Bangalore to Mysore & Srirangapatnam (145 km ) On National Highway 275 ( NH 275 )
A short and sweet ride, 165 km to Mysuru where we reached the most amazing and warm homestay of Manjula, which had the simplicity and the diversity of various cultures and nationalities under one roof. There were Swiss, Germans, Brits, French, and Canadians following just one thing – going where their heart takes them. Manjula’s Homestay is jointly run by her husband Stephen Farrell. Besides breaking some social norms, he is running the most adventurous cycle tours called “Mysore Bed & Breakfast”.
Stephen though is an experienced cyclist; he uses the skills to maneuver a Royal Enfield through the back yards of Srirangapatnam, which was once the Capital of Tipu Sultan. Despite bring a Brit, he did not mince words while describing the 4th Battle of Mysore where Tipu Sultan was fighting the might of the British Empire, only to be let down by Napolean who reached the Gulf of Aden but for some reason did not proceed further to Konkan Coas. Indian History would have been different had Napolean kept his word, and had the Sikhs & Gorkhas not sided with the British!! After seeing the place where Tipu Sultan attained Martyrdom, we rode on to the back yards of the local villages, not before having the most scenic view from a Karnataka Tourism Development Corporation Hotel – Mayura that was at the outskirts of Mysuru with some chilled beer and sumptuous food!! Perfect watering hole!
The evening was the most memorable time we had as all riders sat and guzzled some beers; bonding and sharing our life-history, current situation and what we intend to do later. Meeting for the first time and after having spent just over 24 hours together we realized how similar things were, whether it was France, Canada or India. With these deep thoughts, deep bonds developed.
Visited the Chamundi Temple placed on the Chamundi Hills which give a bird’s eye view of the entire Mysore city including the famous Mysore Race Course which I felt was half as big as the Old Mysore City!! This was my first Temple visit in South India where you can skip the queue to see the Gods by paying officially receipted fees that allow a VVIP visit.
Thereafter, the next destination was the Iconic Mysore Palace where I could not stop to admire the beauty and architecture of the different regions, religions, and cultures that were amalgamated into one colossal structure. The domes of the palace resemble the Gurudwara, Mosque, and Christian Churches of the Vatican, not to mention the 270 kg gold throne, which even Oceans 13 cannot pick up!! Mesmerizing to see the opulence of the Maharaja, which is carried on today as well.
The two-day stay ended, but not without a visit to the Royal Enfield Workshop as my lead vehicle “ Bahadur “ was coughing and giving some missed heart beats owing to paint from the fuel tank checking the fuel pump which was changed by Royal Enfield Authorized workshops – Abhuyuday Motors in typical laid back …Mysorian style ?
Mysuru – Coorg ( 165 – 190 km ) NH 275
This was indeed the second best day of the ride…Forests, sprawling coffee estates, and very friendly people. Coorg also known as the Scotland of India is home to the bravest of the brave having given us 2 COAS (Chief of Army Staff) including one Field Marshal. It is said, that the people of Coorg are descendants of Alexandra The Great who had camped here before departing back for Greece. Fierce and formidable warriors with a flair for India’s National game – Hockey. Not many know this, but as per the Constitution of India, a Gorkha is allowed to carry his Khukri, a Sikh his Kirpan, and a Coorgi his Gun!!
Post the Greeks it was the Arabs who came here bringing the Coffee bean and hence the name “ Arabica” coffee. Coming from North of India, I always thought land holdings in the Punjab were huge, but seeing the land parcel sizes here in Coorg & Madikeri…I was happily mistaken!
While our home stay was in striking range, we suffered an navigational error that took us 30 km off course…thanks to the poor network connectivity or our dependence on technology…. but this error also took us through some beautiful roads and coffee estates that we only saw in movies !!
Arriving at the Appachu residence which is also a home stay called “The Moorings” was like coming home, nestled in the pristine tea & coffee estates of Chaitally which is 12 km from Madikeri…this was a super place to stop by after the long ride. We ventured out to see the Mandalpatti and Abby Falls by bike and keep. Abbey Falls were a bit of a disappointment, as it seemed more like a gutter that is flowing down. The water was stinking and there was plastic littered all over.
The Last 5 km to Mandalpatti …needed a T-72 Tank as even a faithful Mahindra Jeep rolled over like it was about to die!! Maybe Mars had better roads…but reaching on top of the hill we saw the most breathtaking view…and for a change, all plastic in bins, which was commendable for the Forest Department, that was manning the place. The ride back to The Moorings was an eventful one with Lad, one of the riders losing concentration while negotiating the bends and curves and slipping down the road. Fortunately, for some bruises and broken headlight and bent handle…not much damage to the bikes…we were able to limp back to the Madikeri market looking for both medical & Royal Enfield help…not being able to find either, we had our second fall…while trying to navigate …we decided to ride back to The Moorings and relax there…. not before stopping at a local hooch joint where we bought beers and some whiskey to wash the wounds both internal and external !!
But since it was still daylight, we had coffee fresh from the estate with Mrs & Mr. Appachu of The Moorings. What pleasant personalities and warm hosts, they went out of their way to ensure that medical care take of the bruises…and of the bikes as the wild elephants were regular visitors to their estate in search of water and sweet nothings!! Mr. Appachu was kind enough to share his brother’s number in Coonoor for any assistance that we may need. And a very warm gesture wherein he asked us to text him once we reached our next destination. We were very touched to have him request this which we complied as soon as we got mobile signal
After a quick shower, in proper Fauji style…1900 hrs drinks were to be had…bonding over beers and whiskey, we evaluated what went wrong and why the slip and falls happened…spooky as it seemed that next to fall was me!
Dinner…and we were treated to the most delicious Coorgi Cuisine with Akki roti (bread made of rice flour) some corgi chicken and cottage cheese made to perfection…lost track of how many routes we had…what a fine meal it was…and with the warmth that it was served to us…a home stay we will visit again.
Coorg to Connoor via Bandipur (260 – 280 km) State Highway 91 + State Highway 86 + National Highway 766 + State Highway 181 + State Highway 700
After stopping at the Royal Enfield workshop at Kushalnager to change the broken headlight and bent handle, stitch up the torn jacket…we got rolling 3 hours behind our scheduled time on way to Bandipur. Some great roads, but no signage in English…just got used to the script and followed the State Highway till we could ride in search of Begur and Gundlupet !! Not before stammering and trying to pronounce “ Heggadadevena Kote “ after trying for 2 hours, realized its called HD Kote in short!!!
After HD Kote…the forest ride commenced…and with very little traffic, we opened up the throttles and tried to make up the lost time at the Royal Enfield workshop.
Begur Ahoy!! After being promised that it’s just around the corner and 9 km away…we rode till the never ending 9 km were over…Begur where we stopped over to grab a quick bite (Thali) and scrambled back on the roads in 20 minutes…a quick calculation…and technically we could not have made it to Connoor …did not want to stress …decided we take it as it comes…
1500 hrs, we entered the gates of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve…and the curiosity to do a tiger safari was growing…as we rode, we saw elephant poop…deer, antelopes and some great birds that were a bird watchers delight.
The high-speed run had taken a toll on Royal India Bikes “ Bahadur” who had lost a few nuts and bolts and the one of the main bolt holding the exhaust from the cylinder. Just when we needed stealth and zero sounds…my bike was sounding like motorboat plying at seas of Gateway of India!!
1630 hrs was the last Tiger Safari ride which Ladislas & Raphael made it to while I battled the monkeys who attached the bikes, tore the seats, stole my cell phone, helmet and gloves…as by the time I turned to ask for the tickets, all was over!! Despite the language problems, I asked the lady selling tamarind and small eats to help me get back my phone…for some strange reasons, the monkeys knew how to operate a Samsung A5 Smartphone…luckily while browsing he opened a music video…sounds of which spooked him and there came my phone…down a few feet to land on the mud…and hang!!
While sitting and trying to restart the phone, a curious bystander staff of the Bandipur Forest Reserve mentioned of a “ Madamme Biker “ who lives in the area…I had seen Jungle Book and well aware that Mowgli didn’t ride a bike and certainly not a Royal Enfield!! On further discussions, I realized he was referring to a dear friend Malvika who I always though lived on the outskirts of Bangalore…not realizing that Bandipur is 5 hours away…
What a reunion it was to meet her by a stroke of monkey luck…tucked away, 10 km inside the Reserve periphery, was Mangala & Yelachatti two small hamlets where she has an 8-acre eco home called Swayaam! Protected by a solar powered electric fence, two friendly guard dogs…we felt safe only till she mentioned that 4 out of the 5 poisonous snakes dwell there!!
I ran back in her Jungle Gypsy to pick up my fellow riders…as first needed to explain the risk of riding in the night through 80 km of thick jungle had we decided to ride from Bandipur to Ooty. Wild Elephants, Hyenas, Tigers…name it and they would be there…my LDP training stepped in (Leadership Development Program) and I guided the two bikes damaged by a monkey attack to Swayaam and I could see the sheer joy on the faces of my fellow riders!! This was the moment …they had never seen this raw nature before and here it was…getting to stay in nature’s lap in an amazingly made house, done entirely by Malviya…single handily..Cheers to Women’s empowerment!! She just proved what a determined woman could create. From nuts and bolts to a toolbox that can open a truck engine…she had it all and it was indeed helpful to put back my exhaust clamp and get the sound to normal
Getting into a Forest reserve…being used to my quota of alcohol be it a battle field or jungle…we scouted for what was in her bar… 2 cans of beer, 90 ml of whiskey and rum…and Jungle fowl as dinner along with some bean. That was the night of our lives! After a long time…saw many shooting stars…the darkness of the night and what it means to read in “ starlight”…no phone…no electricity…
With the comfort of knowing that Malvika has an anti-venom shot in her solar-powered refrigerator, we slept to awake to a life changing sunrise! Ladislas being a professional photographer went berserk clicking with whatever little battery life we had…this was our mother nature, in its raw form! The sound of Elephants walking past us. …Grunts of the Wild Boars…alert calls of the Langur..barking Deer…name it…we heard it all at night
After our goodbyes, we took off for Ooty on a superbly made highway that cuts across Bandipur + Madumallai National Parks…65 km of sheer jungle ride..that we covered in an hour of easy riding. Thereafter commencing a 24 km steep climb to Ooty – Coonoor. Very sharp bends, hairpin bends and the view of tea estates all around. Ooty to Coonoor was another 15 km. It was indeed and honor and privilege to pass by Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw Memorial as it was in Wellington where this lionhearted soul left. After giving a riding salute …rode on to Bison Country, which was as misleading as the name.
We were a day late…due to an unscheduled stop at Yelachatti (Malvika’s place) and hence stayed here for 1 day only. Thanks to some good friendly advice, we ate at an awesome Pizza joint near Bedford Circle…and whizzed past one of my favorite Hotel Chains…Wallwood Estate – Neemrana Hotels with a final salutation to the Staff College at Wellington where India’s finest Officers and future Chiefs are nurtured, groomed and launched. Feeling of National Pride while riding past the Wellington Cantonment…the best Cantonment Board I have seen.
We were unlucky to have missed out on Connors cheese making factory…. We departed early morning for Fort Kochi, which was the longest ride of the trip…315 km….
Connor – Fort Kochi – 315 kms…National Highway 181 + National Highway 544
Conoor to Metupallayam was once again a breathtaking ride with view of the Nilgiris…and some very tricky “ Elephant Crossing “ signboards that we saw…35 kms…what a breeze in the chilly winds…so cold it was that we had to almost warm our hands with the exhaust pipes, which too were not very hot…
Then came the “ game of death “ riding through Coimbatore – where a million motorcycles fighting to overtake each other, where trucks competing to fire the worst and darkest of exhaust smoke…where riding skills had to match those of “ Star Wars – Return of the Jedi “ where even the GPS failed to get us out of the maize of roads and traffic…finally it was the old way of asking way out that helped and we were finally out to get on to the Best National Highway of India – NH 544.
India my Great …as soon as we got on to the NH 544 we were greeted by a Haryana Dhabha in Tamil Nadu!! A few kms ahead, we had battery trouble with one of the bikes and decided to show it to Royal Enfield workshop at Pallakad
Have to say here, Royal Enfield have got it right this time…. A strong and wide network of dealerships and workshops and most being along the main National Highways and important roads…roll in roll out. Every workshop we stopped at was helpful and extremely professional in attending to Motorcycle Tourists like us. Mysore, Kushalnagar, Pallakad and Kochi…it was standard service…100/100 to all the workshops.
After changing the battery..rotors turned again…and we moved ahead to our destination – Fort Kochi…after 6 days of riding, we finally had some flat surface to cruise…and we did…and the highway was perfect for this run. Like horses waiting to charge…. all three bikes fired and we moved in the “ Vik formation “ ..The heat was increasing and it was a race against time…to jump into the pool before 1600 hrs…
After a brief lunch break…full throttle …terrain changing…hills being replaced by big rocks…coconut trees…and backwaters on our left..not to miss out the sprawling Malls of Kerala which resemble the best of the once we see in Dubai.
Final 15 kms….fatigued..de-hydrated…dying for beers….we chugged into Fort Kochi…Adams Woodhouse ! Warm welcome…and a great shower… and tuk tuk to Brunton Boatyard…chilled beers at the Café along side the harbor to end the day. Brunton Boatyard…and Aspinwall are Fort Kochi’s oldest structures with history and old charm…if you have the will to spend…. then nothing like staying at the Brunton Boatyard…worth every penny.
Next day… was time to say Au Revoir to two great friends, riders and my part of the tour that ended in Fort Kochi. Ladislas & Raphael continued further…