The Monsoon Meanderings I : To ride or not to ride

The initial plan revolved around R going on a solo extensive Western Ghat trip – covering the entire Munnar – Periyar – Thekkady circuit and then circling back to Chalakudy and completing the Athirapally – Vazhachal – Valparai route, before continuing northwards towards Karnataka and Maharashtra.

The Athirapally-Pollachi route is considered to be among the best that India has to offer for motorists, especially in the monsoons – it is a unique combination of decent roads, exciting hairpin bends coupled with some breathtaking views – and there was no way I was missing that. I decided that come what may, I would join her for that part of the trip.

However, due to other pressing circumstances, she had to trim down her plans drastically –  leaving only the Athirapally to Valparai stretch which could be covered over the course of an extended weekend. Maybe we will plan separate trips to Kerela and MH later to cover the remaining areas of the initial plan.
( I have been categorically accused of influencing the decisions to drop the remaining parts of the journey because I would not have been able to join them – but I vehemently refute these allegations! )

Final Itinerary :
Day 1 : Bangalore to Thrissur via Salem-Coimbatore highway, approximately 460 kms of straight, smooth highways
Day 2 : Thrissur – Athirapally – Vazhachal – Valparai, approximately 150 kms of insanely awesome ghat roads
Day 3 : Valparai – Aliyar – Pollachi – Erode – Salem – Bangalore, a mixture of both kinds of roads

D-1 Day, 8:00 p.m. :
Bags packed, bikes fuelled up, all riding gears ready.
I felt a headache slowly building up – could be a result of the cocktail of pre-ride jitters and work pressure, or could be the precursor to a nasty cold. Somehow completed my dinner, popped a ‘Super Action Crocin’ tablet, and took refuge under the covers, fervently hoping that this is just another standard headache. Set 3 consecutive alarms ( yes, just one does not work for me ) at 2:30 a.m., with a target of starting off from Koramanagala at least by 3:30am.

D-Day, 2:30 a.m. :
Alarm #3 finally managed to catch my attention. I dragged myself out of bed, silenced the damned alarm and took a look out of the window. The intensity of rain hadn’t abated since last night – it was still raining pretty heavily. R was snoring away to glory, having arrived a couple of hours back braving the rainfall. Muttering about wasted plans and the futility of life in general, I went back to sleep, hoping that the rains would subside in a couple of hours.

D-Day, 5:30 a.m. :
Again, woke up to find no change in the intensity of rainfall. My headache seemed to have subsided quite a bit, but it was still not completely gone. Maybe the rains were kind of a blessing in disguise – I got to sleep a bit more. At that point of time, a very sleepy me was almost ready to call off the trip altogether. A quick Google search promised a very high chance of heavy rainfall and thunderstorms in both Thrissur and Valparai – further discouraging my already reluctant mind. I drifted off to sleep once again, more than certain that this trip was already over. Meanwhile, R was still blissfully asleep.

D-Day, 7:00 a.m. :
Somewhere in the corner of my mind, there was a small nagging voice that kept saying – would we really give up so easily? Just because of rain?
Doesn’t a bit of rain add to the glamour of the trip ?
I mean what about all those wanderer/explorer/nomad/biker blogs out there that almost always promise that there is nothing more glamorous than a spur-of-the-moment trip braving the elements of nature – they all seem to come back with vivid memories and tales of glory.
Sometimes, my hyperactive imagination ( which dreams of adventure ) tends to get the better of my actual self ( which is mostly satisfied being a cubicle potato ). The rains had not yet subsided, but all my reluctance had, now that I had had a good night’s rest. R did not need much convincing – we unpacked the rain gear from the saddle bag and within 30 minutes, we were ready to start our ‘Monsoon Ride’. Sadly, due to the change of plans, we were forced to leave the DSLR behind – none of us had suitable equipment that could protect it in such heavy rains – we decided to make do with our mobile cams. One more occasion when I was left ruing the fact that we had not yet added an action cam to our kitty.

Wearing rain covers over standard riding gear is certainly a chore, but there was no other option here. We were already late by a good 4 hours, which meant we would have to rip quite a bit, once we reach the highways. It also meant that we had crossed over from the ‘early morning’ phase to the much dreaded ‘office hours’ phase – which means long winding queues of honking vehicles and inconsiderate drivers clogging up the roads everywhere. Thankfully the heavy rains had kept most of the people indoors, and the roads were not overly congested ( by Bengaluru standards ). Anticipating the effects of the consistent rainfall, we took the ECity elevated highway to get out of the city faster; but a rude shock  was awaiting in the form of long stagnant traffic block just before the exit gate. The elevated highway does not have a lot of maneuvering space for even two wheelers, but somehow after darting through every possible nook and corner, we reached the exit gates in about 40 minutes. Our woes did not end there, the traffic block seemed to continue even after the toll gates – and it got even worse where the expressway merged with the normal road. The rate of movement was excruciatingly slow – we had to spend almost an hour covering only about a couple of kilometres. The cause behind this massive pile up, not unexpectedly, was rain – one of the low-lying traffic intersections had been flooded. A fire tender was pumping out the water from the roads,  while vehicles were making their way through a shallow portion of the road in a single file. The water concealed the crater-like potholes in the road, making the crossing all the more perilous for smaller vehicles. I saw a couple of bikes take a tumble in their rush to cross the water. Thankfully, neither of us had any issues in ‘sailing’ through this patch.

The stretch from Hosur onward to Salem passed eventlessly, but without any respite from the constant pounding of the rain. We had to stop a couple of times just to drain water from our shoes and gloves . It was around 11:30 a.m., when we stopped for a belated breakfast at an eatery just before Salem. This was our first official stop, since we had started from Bangalore at 8:00 a.m. – needless to say we were exhausted, soaked and starving. We ordered almost everything that was available – idlis, vadas, dosas, pooris – nothing was left out. After 30 mins of satiating our appetite, we finished it off with a couple of glasses of piping hot coffee, and started off again.

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Serenity and toothless : The first food break!

After Salem, we had to take a right towards the Erode – Coimbatore. This deviation is just after the LOA petrol bunk, where the road bifurcates – the right segment going on straight towards Dindigul, while the left deviation curving over into the Coimbatore highway. Following this, the next 150 kms barely took just about 70-80 mins – it was a real treat ripping off on those butter smooth roads. Especially for Toothless- this was the first time that it had the opportunity to go TWO after the second servicing. I could see R shooting off at well past 130 kmph, while Serenity ambled at a steady pace of ~100 kmph.
In the meantime, it had stopped raining , and by the time we reached Coimbatore, the rain covers had transformed from benevolent protectors against the rain to uncomfortable heat retaining green houses – so we had to stop somewhere and unload them. Took a break at a small eatery just after crossing Coimbatore, had some refreshments and then sped off towards Thrissur.

God’s own country welcomed us with its lush greenery and fluffy clouds painting a picturesque scenery against the backdrop of the bright blue sky. The bare, flat landscape gave way to hillier terrain and the roads kept shrinking down.
Maintaining 100+ speeds was no longer possible – especially with roads under construction and repair along most of the stretch after crossing Palakkad. Traffic was literally crawling at a snail’s pace throughout the entire stretch.

We had a reservation at Hotel Highway Palace Inn – a decent budget hotel with a good parking area, about 15 km before Thrissur. Finding out the hotel was not too difficult, it was right on the main road with a pretty big marker showing its location. After what had been a pretty tiring ride, it was a relief to peel off the layers of sweaty, wet riding gear and change into something dry after such a long time. The hotel also happened to have a decent restaurant – we filled ourselves with generous amounts of malabar style beef biriyani, spicy beef fried rice and karimeen pollichathu ( a  typical and unique Kuttanadan /Allepey fish preparation with pearl spot fist ) before retiring for the night. After all, nothing better to end the day than a hot, spicy plate of biriyani!

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Spice is nice!
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Karimeen ka kamal!
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Biriyani always saves the day!

Note : This is Day 1 of the Thrissur – Athirapally- Vazhachal – Valparai ride. Day 2 and Day 3 will be added separately.

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