It was still raining when we started off from Valparai for the last leg of the journey. The roads were deserted – it was just us and our machines, with the constant drizzle that had been a loyal companion throughout the trip! A dense cover of mist hung over us – lending a surreal touch to the already beautiful landscape. The rain adds a different tone to lush green hills – everything feels so fresh and full of life! Once you leave the town limits, the road starts twisting more and more as it cuts through the forests. The entire stretch from Valparai to Aliyar has 40 hairpin bends, and is a heaven for motorists. You get to see a range of visual treats throughout the road, and at times, the urge to stop and click a picture is too hard to resist….
We had our first stop at the Carver Marsh statue a few kilometres out of Valparai. So named because of the statue of the English planter Carver Marsh erected here, it was not a typically “tourist” stop. For one thing, there was literally nothing or no one there – we had the entire place to ourselves. It was an otherworldly feeling – watching the mist come swooping in and engulf everything with a shroud of white smoke. As the mist cleared, we were also treated to the spectacular view of the valley below, surrounded by green hills all around – it was as if Nature had created a perfect playground for the clouds to run around, far away from humanity’s prying eyes. The road snaked on ahead, bisecting hills decorated with lush green tea gardens, looking right like some idyllic movie set. I might have made this point somewhere before, but it is views like these that make all these long and slightly inconvenient journeys worthwhile ; you might be cold, wet and exhasuted from the trials on the road, but then suddenly you set your eyes on a sight like this, and all your complaints just fade away.
Around 10 kilometres from Valparai, we encountered the first traffic advisory board, cautioning us about the ‘mist spreading zones’ ahead. About a few metres ahead, on the other other side of a particularly steep curve, the road suddenly dissappeared behind a thick, white veil. So severe was the intensity that even the headlights barely managed to penetrate through the fog. Naturally, progress was slow, but the thrill of riding in such an unbelievable situation cannot be described in words!
Visibility was down to about a few metres ahead, and with the winding and twisting narrow road – it can be a recipe for disaster if someone gets even a little bit careless. For a few kilometres, we relied on the effectiveness of our horns – honking loudly at every hint of a corner, just to let others know that we were out there. Thankfully, traffic in general was very sparse in that section – we passed only one truck that was laboriously climbing the slope towards Valparai, and making enough sound in the process that could be heard from at least a kilometre away.
The next impromptu stop near the Tiger Valley view point – just a narrow stretch of grass clearing by the road side, where we could park our bikes and then look down towards the valley. This view point provides an actual bird’s eye view of the entire valley below. As the sun was just climbing up to its full potential and the mist slowly dissipating, the hills in the distance seemed to be coming into focus against the backdrop of the blue sky and fast paced clouds…
The road to Pollachi bisects a large forest section – with the Aliyar Reserve forest on one side and the Indira Gandhi national park on the other. There were multiple sections of the roads which are known to be animal crossing sections. Elephants and Nilgiri Tahrs are among the most popularly sighted animals here. We did pass by a peacock, a few tahrs ( mountain goats ) and martens, while riding.
What makes riding on this road a sheer blissful experience for any biker, is the unbeatable combination of crazy hairpin bends and excellent asphalt quality! Add to that the mesmerizing view of the Aliyar reservoir, and you have something that is bound to make you stop and click pictures every 2 minutes! We were scheduled to stop at Loam’s view point – which was definitely a popular place, going by the number of vehicles that had already stopped there – but we had already stopped at so many places that we decided to give it a miss. Once again, this view point is named after a British general, who was responsible for laying the road back in the late-1800s. It is the single most popular stop on the Valparai-Pollachi road – so much so that sometimes the authorities have to enforce a “no-stopping” rule just to prevent a traffic snarl! However, when we passed through this point, the tourist population was just starting to build up, and we did not face any such difficulty.
Post Loam’s viewpoint, the Ghat section is almost over and the road settles down into a more or less straight line. personally, I always feel a tinge of sadness every time I have to bid the mountains goodbye and come back on plain land, it feels like bidding goodbye to the fun and adventure, and travelling back towards the same old pressure and responsibility filled daily life. We had planned to stop at Monkey falls – just because the name sounded so wacky! But I guess both of us were kind of sad that the twisties had ended, and also a bit tired after the early morning start – and both of us were reluctant about following the tedious routine of parking bikes and unloading luggage and walking to the falls. We even asked a couple of local guys standing outside about what made these waterfalls any different from the others – their reply was something like – ‘nothing, it is just a waterfall which has a lot of resident monkeys around’. They also warned us against leaving stuff loose on our bikes, as they monkeys just loved to borrow anything that they could lay their hands on! After a few minutes of deliberation, we decided that it would be unfair to have come so far and not give it a shot – so we parked our bikes and moved towards the entrance. True to its name, the place was literally infested with monkeys of all shapes and sizes – and they seemed to be more than familiar with humans in general. Just as we had crossed the road towards the entrance, I happened to turn back and saw an unusual scene.
Me : Hey, look, a monkey is lying on a bike seat.
R : Where? Oh, how cute!
Me : Wait, isn’t that your bike ?
R : (sudden realization and already running towards the bike ) Shoo, shoo..
Me : (Laughing)
R :(Supremely pissed) look at what that monkey has done to my bike!
I reached over to see a gaping hole in the rear seat of the Pulsar – apparently the monkey had found the leather covered foam to be too irresistible and had been nibbling on it before being unceremoniously shooed away. After this incident, we decided that it was not particularly safe even to park our bikes here, so we ditched the plan to visit the falls. Hence ended our plan of visiting the Monkey Falls, aborted by, unsurprisingly, a monkey.
Once the ghats ended, the rest of the journey was entirely made of arrow-straight, boring roads. Salem was our next halt, and we would be there just in time for lunch. We had heard of the famous Selvi Mess quite a few times before, both on various FB foodie groups, as well as from other riders who swore by the delicious taste of the food there – so we decided to have our lunch there. Sunday afternoon’s are almost always peak hours for restaurants – and there were some people waiting outside for their turn, when we reached Selvi mess.
After waiting for a few minutes ( maybe around 5-10 ), one of the servers guided us towards a table which had a couple of vacant seats. Now, the thing about this ‘mess’ is that unlike other restaurants, don’t expect a dedicated table – there are common long tables which are almost always shared. The servers were always moving around, expertly dodging tables and customers, while at the same time serving every table with a kind of natural fluidity that only comes with practice. We ordered chicken biriyani, mutton biriyani and a plate of chicken sukka – which arrived in less than 5 minutes. The speciality of this eatery is the typically Tamilian style, which was pretty evident from both the dishes we ordered. After gorging on delicious biriyani ( I even asked for a second helping ), we were once again back on the road.
Now this is the one time during the entire day, when I would rather be sleeping than riding – especially after I have helped myself to such generous helpings of biriyani. Fighting off the urge to stop somewhere for a power nap, as well as the discomfort of the sun bearing down on us with its full might – it took us another 3 hours to reach the Attibele toll booth. As a ritual, we stopped for a cup of coffee to freshen ourselves up, chatted a bit about the last couple of days, and then finally started off towards Bengaluru.