Wrangler True Wanderer
Praveen Selvam



Road to ST7 - It's not on the map




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Road to ST7 - Its not on the map


 Quick Navigation

Day 0 - Prologue

Day 1 - From Limelight into the Woods

Day 2 - Hustle in the drizzle

Day 3 - One part brave, three parts fool

Day 4 - Relaxed, Recharged

Day 5 - Vagabond in transit

Day 6 - To the lost Fortress

Day 7 - French connections

Road to ST7 - Did I make it? 

 

 




Day 0 - Thursday, June 2

Prologue

Here I am, sitting in front of my laptop starring at emails from the Wrangler team and attending to phone calls from my friends. The last couple of evenings have been crazy preparing for the big ride. I have no idea where I am heading to, in the next one week. Ten riders, from all over the country have qualified as the finalists for Wrangler’s True Wanderer contest. The blogs of hundreds of contestants were put up online for public voting for a few weeks, from which the top 10 were selected. With quite a lot of support from all my friends, I’ve qualified to the finals.
 
Although its just me who will be riding, a bunch of friends have been helping me pull stuff together for the ride. Its now down to the checklist mode and I’m ticking off one by one, starting from imaging equipment and riding gear to bike spares and toilet paper.
 
My name is Praveen Selvam. I'm a rider from the South and I hand craft web based software for a living. What started as a personal diary of memorable travels, became a public blog and eventually encouraged me to ride all over India. Visit my website for more info. I've also completed a Saddle Sore 1600K on my Ninja, but haven't registered it with the IBA.

Ride Plan

There is no such thing.

How I got a lot of attention

When I first read about the contest, I was excited that someone actually likes the fact that we ride bikes and blog our experiences. I’ve been living a life like this for a few years now and found this a great opportunity to participate and read what other bloggers have written. I picked one of our best rides and posted it as an entry to the contest. It was a ride to the Himalayas that was about two weeks long. We had quite a lot of adventure during the ride and people who read the blog walked up and appreciated the content. I used Facebook to call out to people I knew and tell them that I needed their support. I initially tried sending out messages on Facebook, but after a point the system blocked me thinking I was a robot. I was forced to write out notes and tag friends to grab their attention. Although at the back of my mind I didn’t like being so intrusive, I had very few options with the time running out. Finally, things fell in place and I got a call telling me that I’d qualified.
 
It took me a few days to get done with the formalities and understanding the procedure for the ride. When done with all that, I had to now think of a much more sensible way that would be sustainable throughout the ride. I decided to create an online campaign where I could keep users informed of the ride. I provided an option for people to leave their email IDs so that I could keep them informed of the updates. For people on Facebook, I made it easier. I created a Facebook page for the ride and provided a Like button on the campaign page. With one click, I could save the interest of people who wanted to know more.
 
On the other side, I called my friends and we did a photo shoot to create an image of a biker with multiple hands holding a lot of gadgets, which we treated as a theme. We created posters and all of us stuck it in as many places as we could; from entrances to offices to places you will have to visit now and then.

 

Poster at the cafe



Poster at...



Poster at entrance

Gadgetry & Riding Gear

The Ride

Kawasaki Ninja 250R - The stallion, all set to wander where no Ninja has ever been to before.

Navigation Equipment

Garmin GPS 76CSx - To track back from the jungles. A GPS that floats on water!

Imaging Equipment


Canon 550D - The light processor.


Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM - For that wider perspective in everything.


Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM - For those moving targets and to see across the hill.


Tamron SP AF 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II VC - For the most practical range. Has fixed aperture that helps in low light.


GoPro Sports Camera - Loads of mounts and one tiny wide angle camera that can be mounted in any part of the bike or gear.


Joby Gorillapod - To pose like a star in no man's land.

Processing Equipment


Dell Inspiron N5010 - The ultimate media processing monster.


Dell Tablet - The backup PC and easy blogger to keep writing as our chai wala is busy.


Western Digital 1TB storage - Thats enough storage for 35,000 RAW images.


HP 16GB Pen Drive - The backup storage in the wallet.


Internet on the move - Reliance, backed up by a BSNL data card. When both fails, Airtel to the rescue.

The Gear


Cramster Jacket - Protects the torso against winds, rains and that unexpected fall. Has slots to tuck a few items.


LS2 Rage - The brain is an important thing.


Alpinestars Drystar Gloves - All weather gloves thats both breathable as well as water proof.


Alpinestars Bionic Knee Protectors - Wraps around the knees and does the job when the unexpected happens.


Wrangler True Wanderer Jeans - For the toughest rides that never end.


Oakley X Ten - To fight the burst of heat on the highways. 


Cramster Tank Bag - Encloses the camera bag completely and hugs the tank pretty well. Easy to flip open the fly and get the cam out.


RJays Super Sport Panniers - Tuck the whole world inside!


Tent - To get as close to nature as I can.


iTouch with Bose In Ear headsets - Even recorded stuff comes with background scores. Doesn't some live action need music? 

What’s coming up?

The ride will be flagged off from a Wrangler showroom in Anna Nagar. I’ll be meeting with the staff tomorrow morning, and checking out the apparels Wrangler will be providing for the ride. After a brief meet up with the media, the ride begins! Stay tuned.
 
  
The perfect riding combo
 

Day 1 - Friday, June 3

From Limelight into the Woods

Everything was perfectly set. Saddle loaded, helmet stickered, emails checked and everyone at home waiting at the gate to wish me luck and start the ride. I flipped the key in and gently pressed the ignition. Nothing happened. I wasn’t sure what was happening. My instinct was to press the ignition button a little harder. I noticed the Fuel Injection red light and the low fuel indicator both flickering pretty fast. Not a good sign, certainly not. I checked the side stand (because the Ninja won’t start with the side stand in place) and everything else. I noticed that the green neutral light was glowing much lighter than it generally does. I had a strange feeling things weren’t right. My Father had already sensed there was a problem. I had a flag off scheduled at the Wrangler exclusive showroom at Anna Nagar and my bike wasn’t in any way going to move. My next call was to the Service Manager of Bajaj. He has never let me down in situations like these and I was sure he was going to get me out of this, this time as well.
 


Ninja malfuntions. FI and low fuel light blinks at the same time.


Stranded at home with media coverage in an hour.
 

I explained the situation as he listened to me patiently. He said it has to be a problem with the battery and said that he would send Jeeva, the best man in the Service Centre. Things happened so quickly. Jeeva came by, checked the batteries and asked me if I had ridden anywhere after the recent service I’d done a couple of days ago. Since I had not, the batteries had been drained by the addition of distilled water during the service. The problem wouldn’t have arisen had I ridden the bike after the service. Thanks to Jeeva, we were quickly back on the road.

I reached the Wrangler Showroom at about 10 AM. The Showroom Manager and the rest of the folks at the showroom were expecting me a little early. I explained them what had happened and they were courteous enough to bear with the delay. I was supposed to choose my apparel for the ride. I had a big showroom right in front of me and I tried one pair after the other. Such things don’t happen all the time, and there was obviously a big smile on my face! I was going to wear a single pair of denim for the entire ride and this was to show how rugged and durable Wrangler is. I patiently picked one having in mind all the different ways the denim was going to be tested in the next 7 days. The showroom folks were extremely helpful in guiding me with the right information behind each design and how it would make a difference to my ride. After about half an hour, I had my denim and a few t-shirts.



Photo shoot at the exclusive Wrangler store at Anna Nagar, Chennai.



Photo shoot at the exclusive Wrangler store at Anna Nagar, Chennai.


The photo shoot began once I switched the Wrangler True Wanderer outfit, if I may call it so. The photographer helped me pose all around the showroom and took his time gathering all the pictures he needed. It was my first experience being a model. I knew I didn’t perform well, but I think it was a good start, especially with all my friends watching from one corner, giggling and enjoying the all the fun. We also had a few snaps shot outside the showroom in front of the ride banners that were installed. People on the road stopped by thinking it was some kind of movie being made.



Flag off



Getting ready to leave


The photo shoot was followed by a quick interview from Radio City. We spoke about the contest in general and the experience so far. My expressions and tone was enough to show how excited I was about the whole thing.

 
It was then time for the big thing; the flag off. It was finally the moment I was waiting for. I got on the bike, while people gathered around me. The Showroom Manager was ready with the flag with the cameraman watching everything through the lens. I started the engine, twisted the throttle gently as the bike gently pushed the flag away and made it to the road. Everyone behind was waving, and put one hand out thanking all of them.


It’s this feeling; the feeling of being on the road. You don’t know what’s ahead. All you know is you’ll go somewhere and you’ll be back in a while, but your mind will still keep riding.


I checked up the time and it was quite late than what I had planned. I’d fallen behind by over 2 hours. I targeted to reach Vellore by 2:30 PM. I weaved through the traffic until it was just the open highway beyond the outskirts of Chennai. This time the saddlebags were completely loaded and I’d applied crazy techniques to get it mounted along with the other stuff. Not far away from Chennai I could see the saddles hanging to the left, in my rear view mirror. I stopped the bike and switched to other crazy techniques to mount the saddle bag. This time around, I ensured it was going to be pulled more to the right to adjust the weight on the other side.

 
I checked up after 10 or 20 kms and everything was doing good back there. I was now concentrating completely on the highway since I was averaging at slightly higher speeds to make up for the loss. I passed Vellore just as I planned. In about half an hour after Vellore, I made my first stop for fuel. The Ninja is a hungry vehicle, by the way.



Tank up at Ambur



Enroute the highway


I tanked up and looked up at the sky. The clouds were setting in although the evening was still early. I wanted to make it to some place for sunset. My usual escape it was; Yelagiri. Just after Vaniyambadi, the clouds were slowly clearing out letting the sun slip through the small spaces in between and casting beautiful shadows on the hills nearby. Just as I passed the base of the foothills, I had a strange encounter with a foggy area. As I moved closer, I figured out something was being burnt on the side of the road. Although it didn’t smell so great to stand there, it looked pretty good on the camera.



Holy smokes!



Yelagiri foothills



Sweet ride up the hill



View from a hair pin bend



The scenic uphill ride


Climbing the hill on the Ninja was super fun. Although this time I was patiently stopping now and then for pictures, I recently climbed up the hill in 13 minutes flat. The rev friendly engine was happy to burst out loud in every corner. The recent rains had cleared out the sky very well and the blue shades with the red flowers created a fantastic opportunity for great pictures. Just like they call out colors, I captured  Red, Green and Blue light. I wanted to stop by in every corner, but time was running out. I had less than a few hours before I could make it to one of the sweetest spots I’d known in Yelagiri.



A painting by God



A painting by God


It is a trekking trail that is at the end of the road that is adjacent to the lake. The trail leads into the jungle passing through water holes where animals generally turn up early in the morning. I was consciously estimating the time remaining and made my stops accordingly. I was pretty familiar with the whereabouts of Yelagiri and had no problems finding my way to the woods, after buying some bit of food for the night.



As far as the Ninja could get


This time around, I’d made up my mind to take the Ninja as far as I could. The tarmac turned from tar to sand and eventually stones. At some point, it was just mud and rocks. I patiently flipped the bike from one side to the other and it was absolutely impossible beyond a point. I parked the bike there, hid my saddle bags behind the bushes a few metres from there. I was pretty sure nobody was going to get there, but I wanted to make sure even in the rarest case, I did not lose everything together. I knew that just after the small rocky patch, the trail would be ridable. This meant that I could take the bike all the way up to the water hole. But I decided to chuck the idea since the sun wasn’t going to take extra time to set.



The trek into the woods begin



In the woods


I carried just what I needed, and started my short trek inside the woods. The smell of the eucalyptus was quite inviting, as if it was awaiting my arrival. I wildest of the animals I encountered were just a few wild cows. I was thinking it might be quite scary straying all alone amidst the tall trees, but the continuous chirping of the birds made me comfortable. I kept walking along the trail and reached the water hole in about 15 minutes.



Camping by the water hole



Camping by the water hole



Nothing like it!


Without wasting much time, I unpacked the tent and settled down just near the water hole. Unpacking all the photo equipment, I went around the entire place setting up the camera, and clicking quite a few pictures. Thanks to the remote, without which quite a lot of the photos would have never been possible.



Spirit of the biker



Spirit of the biker


I settled down in the tent and started blogging for the day. After about half an hour, I realized that there was no coverage and I wasn’t going to get my blog out. I stayed as long as I could see and packed my bags before it was too dark to see anything. A short trek, back to the bike, I headed back to the town to continue my blog and end the day.



Wrangler - The perfect choice to wander


Ride Stats

 

Route: Chennai - Yelagiri - The woods
Distance: 225 kms
Ride Time: 4 hrs, 15 mins
Trek Time: 1 hour 
 

 

Day 2 - Saturday, June 4

Hustle through the drizzle

I heard a strange noise. But wait, I’d heard it before. The vibrations brought my senses back. I realized that the alarm was ringing, and was in no mood to wake up. I remember the last night very well. I couldn’t sleep quickly. I kept thinking about where to head to the next day. I had quite a few choices confusing me. There was also a power cut to which I woke up in the middle. After all that disturbance through the night, I wanted a little more rest to tackle the long highway ahead. I snoozed the alarm for another half hour and finally got out of the bed.

 
I realized that I’d switched off the phone last night. I like the way my phone’s alarm still works when it’s switched off. I wanted to avoid all the calls I was going to get in the middle of the night. It wasn’t a great thing to do after all; switching off the phone when someone wants to wish you on your birthday. But I had a ride that was more important. This wasn’t one of my usual rides and I was under pressure to do stuff, which normally doesn’t happen during my leisure rides.

 
My previous day had been pretty smooth, except for the fact that I couldn’t publish my blog. I had written down the entire story and I’d processed all the pictures, but the internet at Yelagiri was extremely poor and I gave up after a few tries. I found it more sensible to postpone the publishing to the next day rather than wasting time on it and killing my sleep.


Dawn, from atop Yelagiri

 
I packed the saddle and was on the move by 5 AM. I saw securities outside buildings still busy at work. I was pretty gentle with the throttle as I slowly slipped out of the sleeping town. A couple of turns ahead, I saw very few streaks of the sun coming out. Practically people still call this the night. Having gazed at skies quite a few times before the sun, I could actually make the difference. I knew I had about 30 minutes before I was going to see things without the headlight. My heart skipped a beat while I saw shiny planet just around the hill. I wasn’t pretty sure which planet this was, and kept moving on slowly to get a better view of it. Eventually I’d travelled too much around the hill losing sight of the planet, but being able to see the well lit towns at the foot hills. I had a choice to make; either the planet, or the town lights. I remembered the sky gazing at Yelagiri not more than a month ago and thought that the town lights were a better choice.


The town of Vaniyambadi as seen from atop Yelagiri



Deep blue sky

 
I picked a nice spot near a hair pin bend from where I could see almost the entire town of Vaniyambadi. Setting up the camera on the pod, I set the timers and went in for a trial shot. I was taken aback by the nice shade of blue I’d captured; yet another moment, when I felt justified for my purchase of the wide angle lens. Excited, I went around clicking the different parts of the sky I could see from there. I was way too tempted to stick to that spot for a while, but the placed I had to reach by the evening forced me to move on.

 


 
By the time I reached the foot hills, it was well lit and before I knew, I was back on the highway, cruising comfortably around 120 kmph. While I was overtaking every other vehicle on the road and making my way like a king, I noticed a slow moving truck ahead from which the driver’s hand was stuck out for a long time. For a moment I thought he wanted to come to the right, but there was no need since there was no other vehicle around. As I went near, I realized that the hand was holding a tooth brush and then, I predicted what was about to happen. I didn’t have to do much. My reflexes held on the brakes, balanced well and moved away from the truck. Moments later, a spray of white liquid came out of the driver’s window; happens only in India!

 
Grinning, I made my way past Krishnagiri. Since I had to find a spot to publish my previous day’s blog, I thought the Krishnagiri Dam might be a pretty good place, especially so early in the morning around 6 AM. I went around the Dam prying the area for a sweet spot. Clicking pictures of the beautiful architectural creation, I finally settled down very close to the Dam wall. I opened my laptop to check the speed only to realize that Reliance had no tower and BSNL was on GPRS mode. I could have considered the small detour a waste of time, but the pictures justified the change of plan.



KRP Dam, Krishnagiri


KRP Dam, Krishnagiri


KRP Dam HotSpot - No signal

 
Riding out of the Dam, I was weighing my chances of a good signal at Dharmapuri, but I would be wasting time if I was out of luck. I decided to keep moving to Salem where the chances were pretty high. I reached the place in slightly more than an hour from the Dam. I headed straight to a fuel stop. Luckily there was an ATM in the fuel station. I parked my bike close to it and setup my laptop. I had pretty good coverage and started working on publishing my previous day’s blog. It took me about an hour, to update the content, link the pictures, proof read it a couple of times and then publicize them on Facebook. I chose to avoid the mailers for the day since I was lacking time.



Settled down outside an ATM to publish the previous day's blog


Moved in when the sun was up

 
Back on track, I was riding in peace. The activity lingering in my mind was finally complete. But now, new things came up. My tummy started growling. I was heading to the Queen of Hills, which was still 5 hours away from where I was. I kept looking for a food joint where I could have an eye on the bike as I had my food. I passed a couple of them, but the parking was far away from where the food was served. Finally I settled down at a small joint and ordered for a simple breakfast. While was food was getting ready, I called up my friend for advice on the best way to avoid the highway construction before the foot hills.



Bhavani River


Nearing the hills

 
Every now and then, while I stopped, I had missed calls and messages in my phone. Obviously, it was my birthday but I had no such feeling. It was probably the worst thing I could have done, but the least I managed to do was respond with a delayed thank you note.

 
The construction on the highway slowed me down and was also testing my patience a little. The roads were being worked on took me a while to get out of there and reach the road to the foot hill. The weather was now changing. The smell of wet mud was all over. I couldn’t feel the heat of the sun anymore. I was just about to experience complete change of climate. With every turn the hills were getting visible. There was a white patch right above the hills that completely covered the peaks. I was assured it was going to become a rain ride very soon.



Mettupalayam River


Is that route shorter up the hill?

 
I pulled over and geared up in my rain gear. Now I felt the sultry feeling with multiple layers of clothing over my skin with the last layer completely not breathable. It took me a few minutes of constant riding to get some air circulating between the layers. The problem with the rain coat is that it doesn’t let water from outside in and vice versa. So it takes a lot of effort to position the torso to let air through the gear.



Enroute the ascent, while it drizzled making it harder to ride as well as take pictures


Enroute the ascent, while it drizzled making it harder to ride as well as take pictures

 
I was getting worried a little since I had to get the written permission from Forest Office up the hill. I had reached out to him earlier requesting permission to visit a few off beat locations in the middle of the jungle which was far from human inhabitation.

 
Just like I suspected, it started drizzling right at the foot hills. I didn’t like this way of riding much for the fact that I couldn’t take out my camera and shoot at my will. I was carrying an umbrella for the worst case situation where it might rain heavily and I still need to capture something. After a few kms through the ascent, the drizzling became heavier and it started pretty well. I was restricted to very few pictures through the ascent, especially when I could find a small shelter or the rain subsided a little.



Enroute the ascent, while it drizzled making it harder to ride as well as take pictures


Enroute the ascent, while it drizzled making it harder to ride as well as take pictures

 
Once I reached the top, I headed straight to Eastwood Colony, where the DFO’s office is. Swiftly moving through the traffic, I reached the office only to find that the DFO was not available on the weekend. I wasn’t sure why they’d not mentioned this to me before and was completely clueless on what to do next. My plan went for a toss and I’d already spent a lot of time coming up the hill targeting those spots for sunset.



Almost up the hill

 
I sat down and calmed myself a bit and thought through the different places I’d already been to. I had about 5 hours left before the sun would go down. I decided to make it to the meadows to settle down and write my blog. I picked up lunch on the way and proceeded towards another route that descends from the Queen of Hills on the other side. This scenic route was a popular pick for a lot of movie makers quite a while ago. After having seen them on multiple movies, they evolved into sightseeing spots. However, only very few of those spots are infested by the public. There are quite a lot of places where one can get the bike into the meadows.



On the way to the lost meadow


Passing to tall trees

 
Since I knew the place fairly well, I planned about an hour to get there, an hour to get into the meadows and settle down, couple of hours or slightly more to blog and then pack and return. I reached the place as planned, but the climate was getting worse by the minute. I was still contemplating on what to do. On one side, the thought of having come all the way was pushing me to get in; especially with the temptation of sitting in a tent in the meadows while it’s raining outside. On the other side, it was going to be too slippery on the grass and muddy patches on the uphill slope. With the rain becoming heavier, help was going to be even more difficult.

 
I made my choice; I went in.

 
The initial drop into the meadows was easy to get in. I targeted to cross a couple of hills and settle down on a peak that looked interested from where I presently was. During the first ascent, I travelled along the slope and the bike was slipping was too much. I had to stop at some point, and slowly reposition the bike to point directly uphill. One step after the other I slowly brought the bike backwards and back to the bottom of the slope. I decided to give this a couple of more shots. This time I went directly against the slope. I also approached it with a little bit of speed and this time I was almost at the top, but wasn’t there yet. The bike couldn’t make it, so I had to get off the bike and push it up. I was glad I took it there without dropping it. The Ninja is a bad choice for a drop! I’d learnt the trick and tried on the slopes ahead and finally reached the spot that I wanted to head to.

 
I started unpacking the tent but, the rain was too heavy and the wind was blowing hard. I found it extremely difficult to even lay down the tent with the ends flying without control. By the time I could nail down the ends, the porous cover of the tent had already let a lot of water inside. Without wasting much time, I took the rain cover and attached it to the hooks. I’d only laid down the tent; not raised it, and I was already panting for breath. I questioned myself if I was going to get this at all. I gave it a minute’s thought and decided to give this another 15 minutes. If it wasn’t going to happen by then, I was going to head back.

 
I struggled hard to get one diagonal edge stand up. With the weight of the water on the rain cover, it made the task extremely difficult. The wind occasionally pulled out the rain cover and made me run around for it. With the rain coat on me, water was still seeping inside and I could feel my jacket getting wet. I was getting worked up. I finally got one edge up, but there was one more remaining. It was promising, but I’d almost crossed the 15 minute limit. The second edge wasn’t as bad as I thought. It was up in a jiffy. My happiness and sense of accomplishment was slowly coming back. The tent was in place. All I had to do was to drill down the nails harder so they wouldn’t relocate with the winds. 

 
Finally!



Cozy inside. Heaven outside. That's the birthday sandwich.


Heaven 


Heaven 


Heaven 


I removed the camera bag and entered the tent with a big grin on my face. I wiped the water inside the tent with a piece of cloth. It was still wet, but I could manage. I removed the sandwich from the bag and placed in front of me, getting ready for the big meal. I pulled over the piece of cloth that serves as an entry to the tent so that I had the complete view of God’s creation right in front of me.

 
It’s my birthday and it had to be treated well. Right there, I sat in the middle of rainy meadows inside a tent, and munching the sandwiches. What a feeling! Just after the meal, I got back to my trip log for the day. I wanted to enjoy the nature outside, but time for the log was also limited. I wrote as much as I could until sunset and waited for the right opportunity to pack the tent. I had thoughts of staying up, but the wind was becoming heavier and might become risky through the night. I headed back into the town in search of shelter.



Heading back to the town


Heading back to the town 

What a day; one of the birthdays that I will never forget.

Ride Stats



Route: Yelagiri - Krishinigiri - Ooty- Hustle through the drizzle
Distance: 397 kms
Ride Time: 7 hrs, 15 mins
Trek Time: 30 mins 



 

Day 3 - Sunday, June 5

One part brave, three parts fool

If you probably missed reading the title above, I’d suggest you read it again. Today was quite eventful, but the series of events put me through a lot of introspection. I was all excited about where I had been to last evening. This year, I made sure I Facebook was not going to remind others on my birthday. Two reasons; one, I didn’t want people to get distracted from my updates and two, I was curious to find out who actually remembered my birthday. I was happy to respond to quite a lot of people who had tried to reach me and later left messages. Everything put together, last night was long. I slept an hour more, but didn’t wait for the sun to go way up.



Remembering what happened the previous day

 
With the complete sense of achievement of last evening, I decided to venture into the reservoir area in the south western part of the Nilgiri Hills. I knew which direction to head from the town, but resorted to asking the locals for help. It was drizzling, and combined with the cold weather, I was finding it hard to ride without my gloves. I generally avoid the gloves when I have to remove the camera every now and then. But this time, I found it hard to take out the camera in the rain.



Taking a small road that could take me somewhere

 
By the mile, I saw more and more signboards to different places, so I stopped by to ask people how these places were. Most of them recommended a place called Avalanche, but I had a rough idea what was there. I decided to venture into a nearby place called Emerald which also spawns from the Avalanche area, but is more accessible without forest check posts. The route started with a lot of civilization initially, but started getting deserted sooner. The tarmac was slowly disappearing, getting replaced with broken paths and muddy patches. I found a small trail going up the hill. I took my chances and chose the route which branched quite a few times. I had no specific plan, and so when I was at a split, I rode the side which looked more spectacular. I didn’t have to worry much about tracing back since the GPS was doing that job for me.



When there is a split, choose the side thats more spectacular

 
Beyond a certain point, the broken roads were covered with wet clay that made it extremely hard to manoeuvre the Ninja. Even the gentlest of the throttle was making the rear tire slip out of place and lose balance. I almost dropped the bike when I crossed a slushy water hole, but traded off by placing my right foot in the slush rather than the other way round. It was now getting difficult to keep my right foot on the foot rest with all the clay in the shoe, and the rains doing no good. I looked at the roads, which actually still seemed pretty possible to me except for the layer of thin clay on top of it which made things uneasy. I chose to ride on the rocks wherever possible to avoid this and finally reached a sweet spot from where I could see the reservoir. It was probably the best place to camp, but I wasn’t ready to repeat the rain tent setup exercise that I’d gone through the previous day.



View enroute the slushy roads

 
I spent some time enjoying the calmness of the place with the sizzling sound of the drizzle outside my helmet. I think should have been there for about 10 or 15 minutes, since I still remember a couple of songs that was playing then.

 
I was then thinking whether I should head back or proceed further. I checked the watch and the time was 8:45 AM. I still had plenty of time left before I could head somewhere else. I decided to move forward. The road was getting worse, but the Ninja had already taken enough mud and it was time to test it out. I decided to stay within 10 AM and start my return from wherever I would be.



View enroute the slushy roads

 
The roads were passing through thick trees occasionally exposing the meadows and cultivation on either side. I was hoping I’d get to see the reservoir and get close to it at some point. I had to slow down quite a bit to cope up with the bad roads. After about 30 to 40 minutes of riding, I found a spot that exposed the reservoir area. But to my hard luck, there was no water. The levels had gone down so much that only the sand was visible. There was small farm by the side with very few people working. The place looked exotic, and I certainly made up my mind to come back a few months later to see it with the water. I couldn’t do much in the drizzling rain, but just stand by the trees and watch the lovely place. I selected a couple of slow tracks and added them to the playlist for the 15 odd minutes that was remaining.

 
Then it happened.

 
The clouds parted slightly allowing the sun to enter the place. For a moment I thought the rain was going to stop but I didn’t look like it. I turned a little to the right, and was taken aback. A rainbow; the sun had painted a rainbow to complete the picture. I immediately removed all the bungees to get the umbrella out. I didn’t want to let the rainbow disappear. I knew I hardly had a minute or two before the sun would vanish behind clouds. I was much easier to hold the umbrella without the winds. I popped out the camera and clicked about 10 pictures before I could no more see it.



The magic moment


The magic moment

 
It was time for me to leave, but I wanted to wait a little longer just to see if the sun would come out again. I spent another 10 minutes, but things didn’t happen the same way again. However, I was completely satisfied with that the Sun God has presented me with!

 
Half way through the return leg, the rain stopped. I parked the bike and fished out the GoPro helmet camera. I installed in on the helmet and shot a couple of videos. I had already passed the tough parts, but still whatever I could capture was worthy enough to share.







The reservoir almost dry, but still a nice sight


Slushy roads with pot holes filled with water and slippery stones

 
I came back to Emerald at about 12:30 PM. The other places I had in mind were Avalanche and Glenmorgan. I wasn’t interested in heading to Avalanche since I would be seeing the same reservoir again, and Glenmorgan was way too far on the other side of the hill. I asked the locals where road beyond Emerald headed to. They said it passes through Manjoor and reaches the foothills connecting near Mettuppalayam. They also mentioned that it’s pretty scenic as passes through the forest. By then I was convinced about what the next plan was. I targeted to reach Mettupalayam or Coimbatore for the evening.

 
I checked the fuel range I had left in the bike. I’d done about 165 kms since the last filling. The usual range for the Ninja is 230 kms. I inquired about the nearest fuel station, and the locals said that I had to head back to the main town from where I’d come in the morning. This was 20 odd kms. Doing those additional 40 odd kms meant that I would probably not be able to reach Mettupalayam or Coimbatore while the sun is still out. I did the simple math. I had a range of 65 kms left and the distance to the foot hills was 75 kms. I had a feeling that the reserve fuel should be able to get me those additional 10 kms and therefore proceeded towards Manjoor.



View enroute the Manjoor route

 
Half an hour through the route, I was already getting lost from the people. It was much better than the Coonor or Kotagiri routes. This route I took seemed to be a longer path, but was extremely scenic. I was glad that it was not raining anymore. Rain was making it very hard for me to ride, and slower speeds meant that I had to put more pressure on my forearms to balance my body. I had crossed about 30 kms through the valleys and suddenly I was in for a surprise. The low fuel indication came up. I was wondering how this was possible. I’d done only 200 kms since the last tank up and the low fuel indication came up much ahead of when it was supposed to come. It didn’t take me long to figure out the reason. The previous day when I’d filled up at the base, I stopped the service attendant at the fuel station to cut out much earlier than when it reached the brim. He was insisting that the tank would hold more, but I refused since I was sure I was going to fill it at the top anyways.

 
I certainly wasn’t expecting this small decision of mine was going to put me in such a tricky situation. The main town all the way back was 45 kms. The town at the foot hills that I was heading to was also roughly 45 kms. If I headed back, my day was going to be done and I would still be stuck at the same place where I started. If I proceeded, I could probably make it to the foot hills, but the route was going through the forest and there wouldn’t be any help.



Descending a hill via the Manjoor route


Descending a hill via the Manjoor route


Descending a hill via the Manjoor route

 
Yet again, I chose to ride on. Somewhere at the back of my head, I was thinking if I got stranded somewhere, some vehicle would come by in a couple of hours, and I could definitely borrow some fuel from them. On the other hand, it could very well be a four legged creature approaching instead of a vehicle. However, I couldn’t change my decision as I was already heading in.



The scenice route to Karamadai

 
In about half an hours’ time, I was out of the valley and in forest land. The region was still hilly and whenever I was at an elevation, all could see was a thick forest. When I had about 25 kms left to cover, I felt the bike was slightly choking. My heart skipped quite a few beats. That was the moment I felt I was completely foolish. I should have turned back. I would have probably been stranded in a small village where I could have gotten some food. Here I was, in the middle of a forest, with no food or water and very less fuel. I didn’t want to stop the bike and let it run without revving hard. At some point I was going down the hill and I found it more sensible to switch off the engine and ride with the gear in neutral. Every bend, I had to slow down quite a bit. Sometimes, the road was flat and was going down a little ahead. I resorted to pushing the bike with the legs rather than using up the very little fuel that was left.



Broken bridges through the forest


When Earth and Sky collided


Remembering the mud

 
I was getting too tempted to open the tank and see how much was left. But what if it was dry? I would completely be lost in confidence. In an attempt to keep myself going, I assumed there was very less fuel left and kept it going. I was losing a lot of time pushing the bike through flat roads and only using the fuel when the road was going uphill. But, anyway, I was gradually proceeding down towards civilization which reduced the risk of me getting stuck.



Can't really avoid the colors, can you?


Just about the time when I realized I had been riding with a pillion

 
About an hour later, I was almost at the foot hills. The road was getting entirely flat. I saw a couple of houses a little far away, but I knew I could always walk up to them. I gathered confidence and eventually started the engine. I rode at very low RPMs to use as little fuel as possible. The town I had to reach was called Karamadai. It was probably the most patient ride on the Ninja ever. It was slower than my run in, actually. Roughly at about 5:30 PM, I entered the small town. Every mile of the ride, I was actually prepared for a break down.



A few kms before the Karamadai foot hills


A few kms before the Karamadai foot hills


At the foot hills, very patient about riding the bike


Cultivation at the foot hills of Karamadai

Even when I finally saw the fuel station, the thought stayed in my mind until I finally parked the bike near the pump. I targeted to reach Coimbatore and asked the attendant to fill a few litres that would take me till Coimbatore. Just before he filled, I finally peeped into the tank and saw nothing but empty space. I shook the tank a little, and heard a very little glug noise, but I still wasn’t sure if it was the little fuel remaining, if there was any. I felt a rush of blood through the body when I saw the actual state of the fuel tank. I asked the guy fill a couple of more litres just to satisfy myself.



My oxygen, after a long wait!

 
From there on, it was traffic piled ride into the city. Being an auspicious day for marriages, I found it pretty hard to find space to settle down for the night. Finally, I ended up in an expensive room, but I was extremely glad things had not become worse in the middle. Whether it was my thought of switching off the engine through the downhill, or pushing the bike through flat roads, whatever brought me to the base, I was thankful for it.

 


Ride Stats



Route: Ooty - Avalanchi - Karamadai - Coimbatore
Distance: 130 kms
Ride Time: 10 hrs, 15 mins
Trek Time: 30 mins




 

 

Day 4 - Monday, June 6

Relaxed, recharged

The low fuel ride through the forest last evening had stressed me out quite a bit. The Ninja also badly needed a wash. By the time I’d finished all the blogging and publishing, it was 12:30 AM last night. I’d been on a standard schedule for the past three days; Ride, blog, sleep, repeat. I decided to break this and start late today. I wanted to take it easy with the ride today. My wrists were starting to ache due to the sporty position of the bike, which is not so comfortable for downhill rides.

 
I was still confused on where to head to. I settled down in this city since it opened up options to different places. My best bets were Munnar and Valparai. I was tempted to head towards Valparai since the route from there to Chalakudi is an exotic forest road. But then the rains were raging to wreck havoc enroute to Chalakudi. Munnar ,on the other hand, was expecting rains as well, but not nearly as torrential as Chalakudi. I resorted to reason. Ergo, Munnar it was.

 
I checked out and was on the road by 8:30 AM. The city of Koyamathoor (a.k.a. Coimbatore) seemed quite laidback. At about 9 AM on a Monday morning, the roads were relatively empty. I was expecting  Monday morning madness, but was pleasantly surprised to be wading through a trickle of vehicles. I was around the Gandhipuram area, the heart of the city, waiting at a signal, watching the countdown and noticing people around me gaping at the Ninja. To my left was a white SUV, slowly inching forward. I was wondering where the guy wanted to head to, with still about a minute left on the timer. When the driver was almost adjacent to me, I noticed it was not a guy, but a young woman, probably in her early twenties. She was still staring at the bike as the windows rolled down. She smiled and said, “Nice bike!” I was frozen for a moment. The kind of image I had about this city was totally different. Getting back to senses, I blushed and responded, “Thank you!” I was glad I was wearing a helmet, without which things could have been a little different. Fifteen seconds left on the timer, and I could probably be opting for a Monday morning date. But somewhere deep in my mind, was I longing for the mist and the mountains? I was still thinking while the timer ticked to zero. I looked to the left and she was watching the signal. She noticed me turn and responded with a smile. Reluctantly I made up mind and opted to head for the mountains. “See you... Bye!”



The wind mills enroute Pollachi


The wind mills enroute Pollachi

 
I was out of the city heading towards Pollachi on the crowded two lane road. I had to be patient with quite a lot of local show off teenagers who wanted to take it on the Ninja. It was hard avoiding them, but after a point, I had to zip past and vanish. Things were much better after Pollachi. The road had much lesser traffic and the trees to either side were in different colours. The best part of the stretch was the wind mills on either side. They looked pretty small from a distance, but when I tried to walk closer, I realized they were massive structures and each of those blades was as long as huge trucks. I could in fact hear the swishing air noise as they spun.

 
I reached the town that was just before the foothills. That, being the best option for quality fuel, I tanked up and went in search of food. I packed it up at a small road side shop and headed out towards the foot hills to find a spot to have my breakfast.


My breakfast food joint


Sweet spot for a relaxed breakfast and blog

 
About 15 minutes from the town, I spotted a small well adjacent to the road with shady trees around it. The perfect spot I was looking for! I settled down under the trees to have my food and also transfer the videos I’d recorded thus far. I realized that the trees and the windmills were scenic to the naked eye, but the GoPro managed to screw up the lighting. Obviously, that’s the best I could expect from a sports camera.



Some exploration of the well, found a turtle in it 


Moving ahead after the breakfast, I crossed the first check post. Crossing this took me towards the Chinnar sanctuary area. Munnar has a couple of routes up hill. I chose this route specifically since it passed through the sanctuary is more scenic while compared to the other commercial routes. The Chinnar sanctuary was dry, as usual. I could see the hill from there covered with the cloud. I was validating the satellite images that I’d looked at this morning.



Cloud covered Munnar Hills

 
On the way, there were a couple of trails with the warning of not to trespass. I was getting very tempted, especially with the water body that was right across the trees. Like I’d said before, I didn’t want to strain the bike and myself today with surprise. I settled with a decent option of just entering the visible woods and not wandering much into the wild. It was certainly creepy this time. No insect noises. There wasn’t much wind too. It was pretty much quiet all through which gave me the fear of animals approaching because of me making some noise. I tried to stay quiet and just shoot a few pictures.



Chinnar forest area


Chinnar forest area

 
Something suddenly shocked me. It was a person calling from the road. He spotted the green Ninja through the woods. For a moment I was thinking of reasons to escape from the forest officials. As I walked closer, I realized it was a local jeep driver who was passing by through the forest. He warned me that elephants were crossing the road just a little while ago and warned me to be very careful. He advised me to get back on the road immediately. Intrigued by the elephant encounter, I tried to rev as gently as possible and kept myself to the road. I was extremely alert to spot anything big in gray. About 10 kms through, I gave up the search and moved on hoping that I would spot something going forward. The jungle road passed through a few check posts, which meant I was moving into Kerala. I also passed a few villages, closer to which the roads were protected with electric fences to prevent animals from straying on the road.





Enroute Chinnar sanctuary



 
Just after the jungle, the ascent began through the hills. The valleys exposed the mountains covered with mist and there were quite a lot of waterfalls all through the way. Some of them were reachable, but some were right across the valley. I ventured to the falls wherever possible. I was getting tempted to take a dip, but the things were being unattended on the bike. Taking everything and trekking to the falls was going to be impossible considering the loads of stuff that I had. I shot a couple of pictures and moved on.

 
Somewhere in the middle of the entire stretch, there was a huge waterfall that was pretty accessible from the road. It was extremely difficult to take a picture since the spray of water from the falls was settling on the lens in a matter of seconds. I had to continuously wipe out the droplets to manage at least a shot or two.



A lovely stream. Wish I could have had a dip.


A lovely stream. Wish I could have had a dip.


The streams of water through the forest


A lovely stream. Wish I could have had a dip.


Spent a while near the falls enjoying the spray of water on my face.


Spent a while near the falls enjoying the spray of water on my face.


Spent a while near the falls enjoying the spray of water on my face.

 
Heading up the hill back on the road, I was starting to pass through tea estates. There was also a factory and the aroma of fresh tea overwhelmed your senses. I wished I had a way to capture all of that. Probably that would be my next interesting gadget to look out for! I was relatively up the hill and I could feel the drastic change in climate. Droplets of water started trickling on my visor. The sun wasn’t visible and the gray clouds had covered the entire sky. There were tea estates carpeting  the place. I couldn’t see much anymore with fog covering it all.



Misty tea estates


Misty tea estates




Misty tea estates


Parked my bike and listened to the air swishing past


Enjoying the lonliness in the tea estates



 


My wrist pain had increased and I need a break. I pulled over where there was a nice view adjacent to a tea estate. I sat down on a small stone by the side of the road, enjoying the drizzle. A few minutes later the drizzling increased and it started raining. I had to gear up to handle the rain. Just as I predicted, the rain got heavier slowing me down drastically. I could no longer take my camera out for pictures. I resorted to the GoPro to cover as much as I could. I found it extremely useful in these conditions. The small gadget fits in the corner of the tank bag without taking up much space. Being a wide angle camera with a sensitive microphone, it captures everything pretty well. Since it’s also waterproof, it’s probably the best option for rain.

 

 
I was in the town by 4:30 PM. The night was still young and I had plenty of places to go to. But the rain played spoilsport clogging the traffic everywhere. To add to it, the entire valleys were covered with mist preventing me from seeing any part of the valley. I decided to find a room and settle down for the evening.



Drying my wet gear


The view of the town, from the place I stayed in

Ride Stats



Route: Coimbatore - Pollachi - Udumalpet - Chinnar - Munnar
Distance: 170 kms
Ride Time: 9 hrs
Trek Time: 1 hour


 

 

Day 5 - Tuesday, June 7

Vagabond in transit

I was feeling cold and uncomfortable. I was too lazy to get out of the bed and switch off the A/C. I tucked myself under the comforter, but my sleep was almost gone. Moments later, I realized I was in Munnar and the chillness wasn’t the air conditioner. My senses rushed back reminding me of the ride. One side, I was thinking there is no plan for the day, so might as well sleep a little bit more. The other side was pushing me to get out of the rainy area as quick as I could. I peeped through the window to check if was raining. The place was wet, but it wasn’t raining at that very moment. I freshened up, and loaded the saddle by 5 AM.

 
My wrist pain was starting to worry me a little. In the case of it getting complicated, I wanted to stay closer to Chennai so that I would be easier to head back home. I decided to head down hill towards Dindigul, but I had no idea where to go after that. The ride through the darkness reminded me of my ride in the Himalayas. Pretty much during the same time of the day, I was riding there in the ghat sections that had no safety rails. I was taking it very slow not sure what lay beyond the darkness. It could be just a patch of sand, a river or maybe a deep valley. I had a similar feel now. But this time around, I was occasionally able to see the tea estates. I still had to keep it pretty slow since the visibility was bad.



Driving in the dark down the hill of Munnar

 
The roads passed through the estates, then a bit of thick trees and beautiful valleys. At some point, I felt the need to attend to nature’s call and pulled over by the side of the road. All that I’d been hearing thus far was the rev happy Ninja’s engine roars. The moment I shut down the engine and removed my helmet, things were so different. I felt the cold air on my face. There was a mild sound of the crickets. There were other birds singing aloud making it so charming to listen to them. I pulled out my camera to record the sounds made by these creatures. The moment I spoke a few while the camera was recording, the entire place reacted to it. The singing birds stopped paused and the crickets started to make a louder noise. It was getting creepier than before. I spent some time sitting by the side of the road listening to those sounds for a while.



Where the birds caught my attention




Munnar towards Theni

 
Minutes later, I got back on the bike and continued on the journey. I wanted to descend the hill as quickly as possible to avoid the commercial vehicles that would ply during day time. I crossed quite a few check posts and was back in Tamil Nadu. Somewhere throught the journey, I stopped by when my bike had completed 20,000 kms on the odo since I'd purchased it. I stopped at a tea stall at the foot hills for some chai. While the chai wala was busy preparing, I was removing my jackets to feel a little better. Suddenly, I noticed a patch of green liquid on my knee protectors. I was shocked, thinking that the radiator coolant had started leaking. I checked every spot I could see through the spaces in the fairing. To me, nothing was visible that proved a leakage. I loaded the stuff off the bike and requested a person around to hold the bike straight. I bent down to check the coolant levels and it was just fine. I was feeling much better. After the entire circus act, I sat down by the tea stall to enjoy my cup of chai. That's when I explained the whole thing to the chai wala about what I was trying to find out. He laughed and he said, it was probably one of the insects that hit the knee protectors on the way. Their blood is generally in green.



When my bike completed 20,000 kms on the odo


The spot where my bike completed 20,000 kms on the odo


The green liquid on my knee protectors

 
Heading out of there, the roads were slowly starting to become busy. Fathers taking children to school, farmers carrying their produces, shopkeepers opening stores and so much were happening while I looked around. I passed through quite a few towns before I was at the edge of Dindigul. The road I was travelling connected to the massive highway where there was a sign that read, straight to Didigul city and left to Salem.

 
Now, the big question was lingering in my mind. Where was I heading to? I had no clue. I parked the bike near the highway junction and pulled out my laptop to see if I could get any signal. Dindigul being a big place, I was lucky to have Reliance reception. I positioned the bike right under the highway flyover and started my blogging right there. It was a little noisy with trucks passing once in a while, but I was enjoying the fact that I had spotted a 3G spot. I felt the pain my wrists again and removed to the gloves to see how I was doing. I wasn’t very happy to see my nerves bulged out and the lower part of my palm swollen. I was hoping it wouldn’t worsen by the time I’d get back home.



My swollen wrist


At the Dindigul bye pass where I check for signal reception


Settled down under the fly over for some live blogging!


My beverage counter

 
Finishing up with the publishing and campaigning for the day, I loaded the saddle again and headed in search of food. I bought a dosa and carried forward in search of a shady location to enjoy the meal. The biggest disadvantage of these well built highways is that all the big trees by the side of the road are chopped off and literally one has go to a shop to get shelter from the sun. My search turned out in vain, and I decided to pull over behind a lorry to finish of my food. To my luck, only after I parked the bike near a lorry did I realize that the sun was right above and there was no shadow being cast in any of the sides.

 
I decided to have it right under the sun. While I was unpacking the food, I heard someone call me. It was the lorry driver. He was asking me to come inside the lorry and have the food instead of standing in the sun. I was slightly hesitant leaving all my stuff outside, but later decided to head inside since I could see the bike from there anyways.



The lorry where I took shelter to eat the food I'd packed.


The lorry driver who gave me space to eat my food.

 
I’d never climbed up a lorry before, and I must say they are nowhere near being comfortable. I’d have felt safe with rappelling ropes, but still managed to make it to the top without help. The driver put a plank near the seat where I could place the food. He was very courteous and asked if wanted anything like water that he would go and buy for me. As I ate, I picked up a conversation to know the nearby places from him. He was suggesting there are a couple of hilly areas around there; one, being Kolli Hills and the other one being Yercaud. I wasn’t very happy with Kolli since the place had nothing much out there. I was happy about Yercaud, but I’d been through the hills for a few days now. I asked him for something different and he suggested Hogenakkal, which is a waterfall place. It looked like a choice, but there would be too many people out there. I was done with my meal and I already had a few good choices to pick from. I thanked him for the space, and got out of the lorry.

 
Before I could start my ride again, I had to decide where I was going. I was getting equally tempted towards two places; Yercaud and Hogenakkal. I spent five whole minutes weighing both and ended up making no decision. There was an easy way to this. I took out my wallet and grabbed a rupee coin. Heads, I head to Yercaud, tails to Hogenakkal. I placed the coin on my finger and flipped it. It fell near the lorry tire. Anxious every moment and I walked up closed to find tails. So, there, I’d made my decision. Hogenakkal it was.



Flipping a coin to decide where to head to, next.

 
On the way to Salem, I stopped by a fuel station to tank up. The service attendant was very curious to know what I, the alien like suited person was doing. While the tank was getting filled, I explained to him about the entire ride. He was insisting that I must go to Kolli hills which were probably visible from the fuel station itself. Typical locals, they brand the places near to them pretty well. I gave it a thought, but I’d made up my mind on Hogenakkal.



Some shelter to beat the heat. Live blogging while time permits.

 
Crossing Salem, I tried finding different routes to the place. Being closer to the Mettur reservoir, I could find different routes taking me there on the maps. I tried talking to the people to understand it much better. Most people suggested a road route passing through Mecheri, Pennagaram and finally ends in Hogenakkal. Some suggested that there is a ferry ride across in a place closer to Mettur. I was thrilled by that suggestion and went around asking about the ferry place. Further closer to Mecheri, I was stuck at a rail crossing for about 10 minutes. I got off the bike and spoke to the guard to find out if the train was going to come by anytime soon. He said there is a delay and it might take another 10 minutes. It was the best time to fill my tummy.



Waiting for the train to come.


Waiting by the rail crossing.

 
I rolled the bike into a dhabha that was right there. The parota master (as we call them here in South India) was excited to see a sportbike at shop. He couldn’t believe the fact I spoke Tamil. People nearby came to see what the buzz was all about. It was just me who knew there was no buzz. I had to keep a close watch on my stuff since these situations are typical places to lose gloves, wallet or anything that looks interesting to the common man.



My special parota master


Curious shopkeepers


Now, we're friends. They say "Bye bye!"

 
I went around the place while my food was getting ready. When I was back, the parota master handed to me, what he called as a special omelette. It looked pretty inviting. I was sure this would satisfy my hunger. Half done with it, I was struggling to finish the rest. I wondered how many eggs he used to make it.

 
Meanwhile, I head the train pass and the traffic was clearing near the gate. I wanted to rush before there was going to be another stop. I pulled out my wallet to pay for the food and the people in the dhabha refused to get money for it. I was getting a little embarrassed. I tried convincing them but they wouldn’t budge. They said, such a person in ‘super’ bike generally spoke only English or Hindi. This time, they were happy to see me speak in the local language and to add to it, I came by to eat in their shop. This wasn’t the first time such a thing was happening. I’d experienced this a few times because of the Ninja. “I’m loving this bike.”

 
Just across Mecheri, I enquired the locals about the place for the ferry cross. They told me that it’s a 30 kms diversion towards Mettur, whereas the road from there to Hogenakkal didn’t need that diversion. I decided to take the road since I didn’t want to waste that time. Having no idea what to do at Hogenakkal, I wanted to reach the place quickly to figure out options for the evening.

 
I was expecting the roads through the villages to be pretty bad with potholes. To my surprise, all the roads had been well laid and I could do 80 – 90 kmph comfortably. Enroute the villages, I passed by a bridge across a pond with a lot of water. I stopped by to take a picture and there was only one thing running my mind. With the sun soaring high above, and sweat all over my body, I felt like jumping right in. I waited and watched to see how many people came by. I was concerned about my stuff being on the road and me being in the water. There weren’t too many people in the area except for a couple of kids playing around in the place. I could certainly trust them; they would have no idea what to do with anything they might take from the bike.

 
I’d finally made up my mind. I tucked all the loose stuff under the rain covers. It took quite a lot of time to position the camera. I used stones to make sure the entire trajectory was getting covered in the camera’s position. After positioning the camera, I went to bike to get the GoPro. I planned to have it in my hand to record a different perspective.

 
All set, I setup the camera, stepped across the guarding and counted down, like the camera would do. Five... four... three... two... one... I held the GoPro tight, and jumped! I felt the rush of the air. Like never before, the world was going up so fast. I was flying, or was I? Moments later, I heard the splash. Everything was brown. I could see the light from above. The water wasn’t so cold and just the perfect temperature. I must’ve gone down considerably well. I started kicking my feet and made it to the top in a few seconds. What a feeling. In the middle of the pond, the water all around, I was alive and kicking. I realized the clothes were heavy making it harder to stay at the top.

 
Just then, I remembered Go Pro. I put one hand out of the water and smiled at the camera pose for the recording. I was taken aback to find that the camera had turned off and there was water inside of the camera cover, which was supposed to prevent the camera from making contact with the water. I tried keeping it to above the water as I swam slowly to the shore. I kept constantly looking at the camera to ensure nobody was around fiddling with it. I was grinning with a big smile. I examined the GoPro while I climbed up the slope to the bike. I realized that the camera holder had actually broken some time back, which I’d never realized. End of the GoPro?



[ No caption ]


End of the GoPro?

 
I was thrilled with the jumping experience that I wanted to do it again. I looked around; there was still no one around. I decided to go for it again. I ran to the camera, hit the timer again, crossed over the guarding and there I was, flying again! Wow, I felt like staying in the water, but I was constantly bothered about the stuff being unattended on the bike. I swam back to the shore and prepared for a ride that was about to dry my clothes.



All dry in ten minutes


Enroute Hogenakkal

 
I reached Hogenakkal at about 3:30 PM. I’d skipped lunch and my tummy was grumbling. I went to a tea stall and had some tea and biscuits. I picked up a conversation with the chai wala and the people around. I was enquiring if there was any place where people wouldn’t bother me and I could hang around near the waters. Most of them pointed in the same direction, away from the falls, but very few were encouraging me to do it. I caught hold of one person who seemed to be pretty confident about it. He was local person. I asked him if he could help me to get to some unchartered location where there would be no one. He was hesitant at first, but later agreed after some coaxing.

 
He drove through small passages of the town and later into a relatively small road from where I could see the water body. Finally, he went into a location where there were thatched ferry  ferrying people across the river. I convinced the boatman to get the Ninja across the river. He was pretty fine doing it. I was extremely concerned about the fairing resting on the edge of the vessel while placing it. He reassured me that it would be fine and did the job pretty well. I had to trust the local person at that point with the camera and things. We just went off the shore for a couple of pictures with the bike and then came back, put everything on the bike and transported it across the river.



Getting the Ninja on the vessel.


The ultimate experience that I never thought would be possible.


My ROCKSTAR boatman.

 
I wasn’t expecting such things would happen even in my dreams. On the other side, the local person took me to a deserted spot. I told him that I wanted to camp in the location, but he asked me to forget such thoughts. It took some time convincing him after which he suggested that I should leave the place by 7 PM, since there were crocodiles in the area. He helped setup a camp fire while I setup the tent. He said that the camp fire would help in scaring away the animals that might approach. He also showed me the route to take to get across the river.



Camping neighborhoor


Looking around the camp site.

 
He once again warned me that I must leave by the time specified and left from there. I paid him some money for all the help, but he refused to take any picture with me and requested that I shouldn’t let others know that he’d helped me.



The moment that made it all worthy!

 
The place was calm and serene. The local person used the fuel from his bike to setup the camp fire and he left half a bottle for me to keep the fire up. I made myself comfortable in the tent and started my session of photography. Anticipating that I might take time to return, I’d loaded my bag with lots of food. I picked out a chips packet and that very moment I realized I had company.

 
Monkeys!

 
I came out and zipped the tent to seal the entrance to it. I poured a little fuel to keep the fire up and went around clicking pictures. I realized I had too much trouble with the monkeys trying to fiddle with the tent. I tried shooing them away, but they were responding with growls. I was now scared, with the feeling, “Hey, that’s my tent!” Did I enter the wrong territory?

 
Desperate for some action, I removed a stick from the burning fire. The monkeys reacted immediately to it. They flew away and the one thing they managed to grab was the Pepsi on my bike.



Setting the camp fire on the banks to shoo away animals.


Processing images before the sun went down and it was time to leave.

 
The sun had almost gone down by then, and I was getting scared of the crocodile warning. I was relatively close to the banks and so I started packing the stuff. It took a good 30 minutes to get everything loaded back on the saddle. I put out the camp fire with water and sand.

 
I followed the signs the local fellow had given me. The path was pretty difficult to climb with just the headlights. At times, the shadow gave a perspective of huge pot holes and I have to live with it. Wading through the woods, I was lost for a while. I had to leave the headlamps on and walk here and there to figure out if there was a path ahead. After 20 minutes or so, I found a piece of road. I followed his directions and kept myself to the road. After a while, the GPS was also assuring I was proceeding in the right direction.

 
I passed through celebrations in temples and road side parota stalls. I was getting tempted to stop by again, but I’d had enough road side food for the day. I reached the town and found a decent place to halt for the night.


What a day!

 


 
 

Ride Stats


Route: Munnar - Theni - Dindigul - Salem - Mecheri - Hogenakkal
Distance: 420 kms
Ride Time: 13 hrs
Trek Time: 2 hours


 

 

Day 6 - Wednesday, June 8

To the lost Fortress

Coming back from the camp site at Hogenakkal, I settled down in the room, had dinner and started blogging. There are quite a few things that happened after that. It was close to midnight when I completed the blog and processed the pictures. There was no 3G signal, therefore I could not publish the blog, which wasn’t something very surprising. I was very tempted to head to sleep, but I had actually hit the trump card for the day without even knowing it. Hogenakkal wasn’t ever in the plan, and now I was here doing things I thought were not possible to work out so quickly.

 
I’d avoided the falls area during the day, since there would be too many people in the area. I was thinking it would be a wild idea to venture out in the darkness. I grabbed a bag and just took my camera body with the wide angle lens. I took a little cash and let the wallet behind. In short, I was preparing just in case I got mugged.



The night sky

 
I saw a few locals wandering when I stepped out into the otherwise deserted street. Shops were shut and a few of them we in the process of cleaning up. I was easing into comfort seeing a few people here and there. I didn’t take the bike since it was only going to create more parking problems. The hike to the falls was pretty quick, about 15 minutes or so. Just outside the entry to the falls, a few women were sitting engrossed in their own round table conference least concerned about me fumbing around in the dark to reach the falls. I was glad to be ignored.

 
I could hear the flow of heavy water somewhere around. While I entered, I noticed that the passage was built in a way where the stream of water from the falls flowed under the passage. I spent a little time taking a couple of night shots in the fairly safe area. I used the Gorillapod on the wet railiings, and almost dropped the camera in the water once. I looked around just to find out if there was an extra pair of eyes watching me. When I was sure I was alone, I moved in to the main falls area. I’d not been to this place before and I had to take my chances on the navigation. I made it to a viewpoint from where I could see a portion of the falls. To my surprise, there were a few guys taking a dip at that time of the night.



The moment when my camera almost fell in the water. My heart skipped a beat.


Hogenakkal stream at night.


The stream on the other side.

 
I wasn’t very keen on sticking to this place any longer for two reasons. One, people had infested the spot. Two, there were so many manmade structures around the falls that made it look ugly. Of course, later I came to know that the place I’d been to was not the main falls, but a portion of it. I wasn’t feeling very comfortable going deeper since I knew that there are people sitting around the place and drinking in the dark. I safely came out the place and walked back to the room. On the way back, I was fascinated by the sky. Hogenakkal, being a dim lit place, posed a brilliant night sky.

 
I decided to take my bike and venture into the forest near the camp site. I had second thoughts about it, but then, I felt it was worth a shot. I could always return if I wasn’t feeling right about it.

 
Back on the road with the bike, I took it really slow without making too much fuss about riding through the town. The last thing I wanted was to wake up someone and grab their attention. Beyond the town, it was just darkness. Of course, the moon was pretty bright although it was just the crescent that I could see.

 
I found it hard to spot the place where I took the ride across the river. It was pretty prominent during the day, but finding it at night was a real challenge. Once I found it, the big challenge then was making up my mind to step in. I could see only the very small piece of land lit by the headlight. Everything else was completely dark. Generally, animals come by the water in the night. And, I chose this spot because it’s heavily commercial in the morning and the chances of animals is extremely low at night. I had to muster a lot of courage to head out like that in the dark. My intent was to get to the water body so that I could grab a few shots by the river.



On the river banks at midnight.


Enjoying the moon lit river banks.


Star gazing

 
I parked the bike as close to the river as I could. This spot especially was rocky unlike my camp site. Once I switched off the head lamps, my eyes slowly adapted to the moon light and suddenly everything seemed so bright. The moon and the clouds played hide and seek while a setup the camera. I loved the loneliness with the breeze on my face while I sat on the banks. I took my sweet own time to take the pictures and finally got back to the room.

 
I never intended to wake up early in the morning. With the wrist pain bothering me, I wanted to take ample rest and see how things were the next day. My decision to ride somewhere or back home was going to be based on that.

 
Someone rang the door bell. It was the room boy. He was asking me if I wanted coffee. In the first place, I hadn’t decided if I wanted to wake up. I checked the watch and the time was close to 10 AM. I asked him to bring it while I freshened up. My wrists were manageable and so I decided to head somewhere; towards Pondicherry. I packed the saddle by 10:45 AM and headed out of Hogenakkal.

 
I halted at Dharmapuri to check if I had any 3G reception. To my surprise, I did have a good reception. I parked my bike close to a lodge and published the previous day’s blog from the entrance.



Body coolant

 
Once done, I tanked up and moved out of the town. I knew it was going to be a hot sultry ride through not so great roads. On the way, I decided to stop by place, which was once a very powerful fortress and the centre of Arcot. The fortress stood witness to over eight hundred years of history. All that remains of its glorious past are the ruins. The place is called Senji. (a.k.a. Gingee)

 
I stopped every 50 kms to drink as much water as I could to fight the dehydration. I reached the fortress by 3:30 PM. I liked this place for the fact that, all that is there is just the remains, has historic values but no sentiments. For example, the remains of the temple don’t have any idols. All that is there is the temple tower and some of the inner structures. So, it’s perfectly fine to wear shoes inside.

 
I headed straight to the temple remains where there was hardly anyone. I requested the caretaker of the place to look after my saddlebag and the tent. The only expensive item in it was the GoPro, but that wasn’t working anymore too. I just took the camera bag and went around scouting the entire fortress.



The arena at the Fortress


The corridors


The passage
 
I wanted to climb up to the top, but the time for that ended by 3 PM. I was restricted to the lower parts of the fortress, which was still pretty good. I went back to the temple tower, which was my favourite due to the loneliness. I settled down in a nice spot and started processing my pictures right there.



I have no clue what this is, but it looks awesome!


Ariel roots




Some chamber in the Fortress




Light at the end of the tunnel.


The Courtyard


At 5 PM, the caretaker wanted to close the temple. I requested him for a few more minutes explaining to him that I had come from quite a far just for this peaceful feeling. He explained to me that there are complications doing that and requested me to sit out in the temple veranda as long as I wanted to. It sounded like a fair deal and I shifted my stuff outside.



The best place in the Fortress. A peaceful deserted temple remains.


Temple pond


Temple dome


The remains of the thousand pillar auditorium


Inside the temple somwhere




Rapid fire processing


Temple outdoors





At about sunset, I started packing my saddle again to head to Pondicherry. My wrist pain had started increasing by then. I unpacked the bags to get out the first aid and used a crepe bandage to hold my wrists a little tighter. This prevented more stress on my wrists.

 
I managed to reach Pondy roughly around 7 PM. I’d called a hotel and booked the room on my way. So, it was all ready when I arrived at the premises and all that I’d to do was check in.



Back on the highway towards Pondy


Entering Pondicherry


Crepe bandage - Damage control

Settling down in the room, I blogged for a while and headed out to have dinner. Pondy was once ruled by the French and the flavours still remain. I went in search of some French food and ended up in a posh hotel that served pretty good French food.



Some posh French restaurant


Smoked chicken - YUMMY!


Poulet [something] [something] - Edible

 
After the dinner, I went close to the beach for a short stroll before heading back .



Night life on the beach


The coastline


The coastline


A hotel nearby 


Ride Stats



Route: Hogenakkal - Dharmapuri - Uthangarai - Thiruvannamalai - Gingee - Pondicherry
Distance: 275 kms
Ride Time: 9 hrs
Trek Time: 2 hours 




 

Day 7 - Thursday, June 9

French connections

It’d been a long time since I’d been to the shores of the east coast. Although I’d been staying in Chennai, the last few weekends were spent somewhere or the other, and never on the beach. It was just the right time to get back! I wasn’t on time this morning. By the time I was out of bed, the sky was lit. Thirty minutes to 5 AM, I freshened up and got on the streets. I headed out of Pondy a little so that I could access the sandy beaches. The one in the city is rocky and is a different experience all together.

 
I drove out for about 10 kms before I could see the sea from the road. I went in search of a passage that could connect me to the sandy area and found one pretty close by. I was a little reluctant initially to get the Ninja inside, but I decided to go for it, since I could always get the help from fishermen if needed.

 
I made sure I got down from the bike and pushed it in with a little bit of engine power. This way, I could reduce more wheel spins thereby reducing the sand content getting in. It was getting a little difficult when I closed in near the sea, but I got it standing perfectly in a few minutes. Finally, when the bike was in position, I could not make it lean on the stand since the stand was going into the sand. I had to remove one of my shoes to support it and go and find a replacement. Someone someday had given up their footwear to the sea. It was lying on the shore nearby. I used it to prevent my shoe from any further damage.



Enjoing the sunrise on the beach shore


Listening to the sound of the waves

 
If you have ever sat on a sea shore, you would probably know how connecting the sound of the waves is. If you have never been there, you should go some time. It’s just worth it. I was lying down on the sand near my beautiful bike and spent about an hour, speechless! At some point, I felt the sun right on face, burning the skin. I was walking by the waters feeling the wind to forget the heat.

 
A few fishermen passed the place and they suddenly started digging the sand. A few minutes later, I could see only one foot of a guy. He was under the sand, right in the hole he’d dug. The rest of them were watching him, standing around him and telling him something. I locked the bike and went closer. The man submerged under the sand suddenly came out. He had a crab in the hand.

 
They were crab hunting.


I followed them to the next spot where the same guy repeated the act. They were friendly enough to let me tape the footage. Once the guy caught the crab, he broke a part of the crab’s left claw, and used it to pierce the right claw. I was telling that would be extremely painful for the poor thing, but he shot back saying that’s the way to keep them from biting. Well, I wasn’t buying that, but that’s how I guess it is.





Crab caught


The C.S.O. (Crab Special Ops) Lead  

I started getting the bike back from the shore. It was harder to push it up the slope than getting it to the shore. I went back the same way to wander a little in the city. I headed to the beach area. On the way, I spotted a couple of Karate girls riding behind their father. I was wondering which part of Pondy they were from. I’d love to avoid it.


The beach area in the city was picking up. People were relaxing, while more cars came in. The stretch had been closed for vehicle traffic, and all vehicles had to be parked on either ends. I found a safe parking space for the Ninja and took a stroll on the beach. I was feeling quite sultry since the sun was already up, penetrating the heat waves pretty well. I went as close to the rocks on the shore as possible to click a couple of pictures on the shore. A couple roughly in their late thirties was watching me while I was shooting the pictures.



Some nice guy statue near the beach


The city beach shore


Pondy's Marine Drive, if I may call it. 


When I stepped back to get on the platform, they came up and picked a conversation. They were appreciating my interest in photography and slowly tried finding more information on what I was doing. When I started asking about them, eventually I came to know they were trying to convince me into following a different religion. One way, I wasn’t really interested in it. Secondly, I wasn’t doing anything significant to what I am I right now. So converting me doesn’t help them in any way either. I had to slowly avoid the conversation and slip out of the place.



The couple who tried coverting me to a different religion


Responsibilty interchange.

 


I preferred getting back on my bike and roaming around the French colonies rather than getting stuck in the sun on the shore. I wandered around the colonies with no specific sense of direction. The planning of the French was quite obvious in the way the things were built; cube like buildings with perfect lines. Quite a few of the people around were not Indians. I believe they spend quite a lot of time every year here in the Ashram in Pondy.



The French Colony


Sign boards for every street in the French Colony.


Yet another French Colony 


I went around in search of food. I was getting towards more French stuff. Most of the good ones opened only by 11 AM and I wasn’t going to be waiting that long. After a search that never paid off, I returned back to the room. I ordered breakfast, packed up the stuff and left for home.


The most famous route to Chennai from Pondy runs very close to the East Coast that can be seen in quite a lot of places all through the way. It is called the East Coast Road. The road is just a two lane, but runs through very small villages and has pine and coconut trees on either side. When there is very less traffic, it’s the best bet for a driver.



The ECR scenic beachway


Trees covering the beachway on either sides 

I started when sun’s heat was at its peak. The road was free on a weekday and I had no problems keep up high speeds. I didn’t want to risk dehydration and therefore took quite a lot of breaks to recharge myself. The stretch of trees on either side provided ample shelter, unlike the four lane highways. I managed to take the bike inside with a little bit of patience. The trees being very close to each other, I had to tuck in the rear view mirrors to squeeze the Ninja through the small passage. I settled down there processing the images, for about an hour or so.


 
Taking shelter from the hot sun. Processing the pictures meanwhile. 


When the heat was manageable, I was back on the road passing through salt extraction areas and backwater crossings. I reached the famous place called Mahabalipuram, which is a heritage place similar to Gingee. I was about an hour from home when I crossed it. It was just 4 PM and so I decided to head straight to the service centre instead of home. My bike had taken enough stress in the last few days and I was completely uncomfortable riding it the same way. I’d been using quite a lot of chain lube that I’d run out of it by the time I reached Pondy the previous day.



Salt extraction area.


Now you know why it's called the beach way.


Enroute Chennai. 


Closing in towards the city, the traffic was getting unbearable. Having ridding in peaceful places for the past one week, this was contrasting to me. When I reached the service centre with the riding gear and the saddle completely loaded, everyone around started giving me those strange looks. Obviously people don’t drop by like that all the time. The best man, Jeeva who made this ride possible without any bike incidents came running outside to receive me. He’d helped me get the bike back on the road, when it failed to start right on the first day of the ride. But for him, I wouldn’t have made it this far.



Jeeva, the man! 


I explained to him every single thing that needed attention. I had a comfortable feeling after that. He assured me everything would be fixed soon and asked me to let the bike be around to be worked on. He then questioned how I was going to get home with all those stuff.


Auto! 


What a way to end the ride. I paid 150 bucks to get everything back home in one piece. I was feeling happy that the bike was getting all the attention it deserved and wouldn’t be taking more stress in the condition it was.



Auto rickshaw ride back home.


Alright, I'm back. But there's no one home. 


Back home, I got out of the house and rang the doorbell. There was no response. I rang it again, but nothing different happened. I had a strange feeling no one was home. I called Mom on her phone and she was happy to hear my voice after days. I asked her to come out and open the door. She responded, “I had no idea you were coming. I’m out and the gate keys are with me.” Well, it was my fault I didn’t keep her updated about my whereabouts. She then suggested, “You should try jumping over the compound wall and using your door keys to at least get in. You must be used to it by now.” That wasn’t the way I was imagining the getting back to home part, but still what she said was a possible solution. So there I was, breaking into my own house.

 
I locked the doors, dumped the stuff into my room and headed straight for the shower. With the cold water splashing right on my face, I closed my eyes and thought about what had happened in the last few days. I felt a sudden rush of blood. A roller coaster ride, the highways, mountains, mist, slush, jungles, meadows, architecture, people, beaches and most importantly, a strange feeling deep inside that I will never forget.


Ride Stats



Route: Pondicherry - Mahabalipuram - Chennai
Distance: 180 kms
Ride Time: 6 hrs

What next?

The ride is done. I need to get to the remaining part of my campaign. The mailers will be sent shortly. New posters based on the ride are ready for print. They will be stuck in quite a lot of places to gather votes.



 




 
 

Road to ST7 - Did I make it?

I think it was five or six years ago. We were in a vacation. I’d been thinking about something for a long time. I made up my mind and walked up to my Dad and told him I wanted a second hand superbike and I wanted to race. His face was blank. It still is. He is an orthopaedic surgeon and bikes weren’t a part of his life. He didn’t show off the shock when he heard those words from me. He took some time to digest it and then explained to me how risky it was to do such things. He offered me a choice. He agreed to buy the bike, but wanted me to give up the idea of racing. I gave it a thought back then, but the idea never materialized since I could never find a good second hand superbike for less than 3 lakhs and I was not interested in using so much of my Dad’s money to buy a superbike. I had no clue about the market at that time and all that I wanted was to move up from the Pulsar 150 that my Dad had bought for me while I was still at college.

I then found xBhp. I understood what I wanted was not racing, but traveling on bikes. I met new friends, bikers and people from the industry who have changed the way I’ve looked at bikes.
 

I waited until I earned my first buck. I started saving for whatever bigger bike I could get. A few years ago, I waited until the most hyped bike back then, the Pulsar 220, was launched. I saved up enough for the bike and bought it. That is the bike on which I learnt the discipline of riding and the joy of touring. I went to places I’d never imagined possible. I did trips that lasted for weeks. I became patient. I learnt it is patience that takes your farther, but not speed. Thanks to all my fellow riders, I learnt courage. In fact, a few of them are finalists riding in this contest.

 
Years passed, and I wanted to upgrade. I didn’t have the financial strength to buy one of the premium choices offered by the different companies that managed to bring in their flagship litre class bikes. I waited, saved up and finally managed to get my hands on the Ninja. The 250R kept me happy for a while, but I was still longing to feel the rush of a big bike. I still am.

 
I am glad I waited for it instead of making the choice when my father offered it. I’m happy I progressed slowly. I’m at a point, looking up with the craving. I know I will get there some day.

 
I took the Road to ST7. It was never on the map. I followed my mind and gave it my heart and soul. Here I stand in a point where the Road takes me no more. Cravings apart, whether I get my hands on the ST7 or not, the last seven days of my life was spent in solitude, with experiences that have taken place deep in my heart. No matter what pictures I captured, or what words I wrote. There are some things that stand unshared, and can never be. With that feeling dwelling deep inside, I’m sure I will be back on the road very soon!

 
Signing off,
Praveen Selvam

 
[End of the road; waiting for signal.]




 

 

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