Day 1 of the 3 day bike ride to the temples and valleys of western ghats, Karnataka.
After I wrote about the bike trip to Mysore some 2 years back , the benevolent road sirens continued their calling and I responded with the Black Beast mostly. Yet I could not write. It seems that my muse took off. The roads tempted, we en family used to load the Black beast and the Little beast was getting restless watching it return with mud of the places. The envy of the little one and the membership to the BAC – Bengaluru plotted and the trip of 1000 KM started on 3 July.
The plan was to cover the temple valleys of Western ghats – Indian Monsoon style. The lure of the roads, the appeal of the plan posted by Vinay meant all barriers needed to be removed. Beauty of the trip made muse return.
Our ride started from the assembly point at the Orion Mall and with the customary delay and a ritual of fire and coconut. The early morning freshness was welcome and we hit the roads towards Hassan. The single or double file ride formation alternated and my learning the ropes for group rides started. As the distance got covered and dawn broke, ride eased and speed increased. Lovely highway, green fields, tall coconut trees. The bikes sped west and the sun raced in the east. The sunrise from the rear view amist the green fields, darting birds arrested the heart, lungs skipped breathing. Tarmac black, sides wet brown, eyes all fresh and the soul was singing. Yet as the scenery rolled and the Avenger became happy I felt a gap. At first I thought it is my stomach craving but it felt more deeper than hunger. The longing was for the Wify dear on the pillion. I miss the slight tap to point out a colorful bird, the gentle squeeze to caution and just generally the presence. It could have been a shared experience of rolling scenery ,fabulous road and a fantastic group.And I was hungry too, perfect cue for the first pit stop at the Swati restaurant at Magadipalya.
March of the Avenger Brigade to the valley continued. As the hands got settled and the machine got used the elements, the mind started wandering. There is a need for discipline while riding in the group. There are signals to follow and to be propagated, gap between the bikes has to be right and proper, indicators used well and then keep the formation. Mind wants to break free to take in the scenery, feel the rush of the air, pause to listen to the bird chirps, catch the leaping calf. The four lane high way gave way to single divided highway and the twin file formation changed to single file. The life on the villages moved to closer to the highway. Mind was thinking if not for the group this trip would not have been possible. Just being free wastes the energy, discipline brings the focus. Not that solo does not have its pluses.The thought stream was interrupted by a gentle drizzle that threatened to become a down pour. The convoy stopped to slip on the rain gear. Geared up the ride resumed and as the rain drops thickened and became more urgent and frequent the terrain turned to Ghats. We were crossing Helibedu.
Falling rain, undulating curvy roads, puddles and lakes on the side made the ride heavenly, but increased the need for focus. Mountains and the mountain roads hold a charm that gladdens the heart. Occasional bejeweled bride in pink selling branded jewelry did break the hypnotic spell but soon I was ignoring her. The shoots sprouting from the paddy fields never fail to calm the nerves. It was then that I felt the collective throb of 14 engines pushing the machines , their riders and two pillion riders. The beat of all the machines seemed to match with one another, get reflected from the hills and find a reverberation in the heart. May be I imagined it, may be the focus and concentration needed to see through the falling drops, manage the bends and twists while looking out for signals amplified the awareness. It was as if me, little beast, whole group and the surrounding merged and beats were the binding force. This trance was broken by Athrey’s racing presence at the side asking us to take a u-turn. We had passed the right turn that would have taken us to the River Hemavati’s moola stala ( the origin of the river Hemavati). This turn set the path that was a surprise and a thrill.
Thrill – Calm
The road with its pot holes, pebbles, stones covered with copious mud from the rains made it much more like an off-road. It was tough managing the gears, speed, brakes while the traction to wheels was elusive. Slipping and sliding we navigated the gradient and distance. It was balancing act for speed and patience, focus and fear, break, clutch and accelerator. If a bike stalled getting moving needed skating skills. Slipping sliding the group managed to clear it and road flattened. Surprisingly there was only one fall from the group. Once clear view was pure and serene. Then the realization came: if the climb was such, what of decent ? How will we go down ?
The place is quite an experience, calm spiritual. Vinay said one does not go looking for roots of a rishi or a river. But we stumbled upon it with an adventure. The pond, the temple the scenery drew us in. This is the valley of temples and it forces one to think about self and the environment. This river feeds four districts in Karnataka and starts from these mountains in such a small pure way.
Luckily for us there was another route to Horanadu that was steeper but less slippery. The road was more of a sloop-y , rocky path that water uses to go down. The tiny gullies cut by the water in a rush, added thrill to the climb down.
Our ride on the normal ghats continued and we were racing the clock for lunch. Plan was to have temple food at Horanadu Annapoorneshwari temple and it closes at 2:30. In my rear view the length of the bike train seemed to shorten. In a while our lead, Ankit noticed too and we stopped. In the formation there are 2 leads, 2 sweeps and may be a marshal. The lead cuts the way and ensures that the formation can follow, the second lead stabilizes it and a lot depends on these two. The sweep is the last rider. Lead and the marshal look out for the formation and once they see the sweep they are at peace for the moment. In case, any rider has a problem and falls back the sweep stays back and the second sweep then takes over.
As we were navigating the steep precarious the hairpin bends, sweep diverted his attention for adjusting his bag and a sharp hairpin swallowed him. He had stopped and adjusted his bag just a while ago but it demanded more. While his attention was on it a steep hairpin bend came along. The warning board was of little use as it was placed just before the bend giving him no time. A hard brake made the bike slip, he hit his shin on crash guard and injured it. When he finally managed to stop the bike and it tipped over. Little further another free rider had to stop to refresh from drowsiness. This meant the formation broke. When the lead realized we all stopped for the rear to catch up losing some time and the lunch at the Horanadu temple.
We can set the protocols and backups for the safety yet finally the success depends on the people/riders. More one believes in them better the chances are. But the world has infinite possibilities and all our protocols are based on models that have limits. Air force says we need to back up the back up. I wonder how far back can we go ? All we can do is make sure the models and hence the protocols we build work mostly correct, most of the time. For the small number of times when a “black swan” event happens we need to fall back to faith on human resilience, common sense, group brotherhood and may be some prayer.
Eventually the group reformed and we reached the temple. This being the “Adi” masa ( starting month ) temple was decked up with flowers. All varieties , sizes , shapes, colours. Jasmine, Marigold even Orchids. So pretty. So transient. Here today – dazzling the viewer, making the temple fresh, pure serene yet gone tomorrow. We completed our shirtless “Darshan” as is the norm in the temples here abouts. As lunch is mandatory and “Khali peet Bhajan bhi nahi hota” we back tracked seven odd kms, picked a veg restaurant on kalsa road. Ate.
Post lunch we headed towards Kudremukha for the most scenic and mesmerizing ride. I could not find my wallet when we stopped to re fuel at the start of this segment. When we had stopped for the rain I had dropped it into the “claw”(bag) strapped to the pillion. Now I was looking for it fanatically, nearly in panic in vain. Finally decided to borrow from Giri and not hold up the group. A tiny niggling worry crept up the mind and posed the question what if. I brushed it aside running a reverse sequence of events till I could clearly remember that I did drop it in the bag. Little secure now started to have fun and feel the ride.We stopped on the bridge near the town my and battery went dead, the bike would not start. Again the brother hood came to rescue, Athrey, Shivaram and Kiran push started it. Soon we were at the check post to enter the reserve forest.
The route to Kudremukha is specially crafted by the sirens with care. Shiny, newly washed, smooth roads are a joy to ride. The scenery on both sides and half suspended clouds with wisps of fleeting fog makes it mythical. It is as if the sirens rolled out the road as the smooth tresses for the rider to curiously caress the curves and gently yet urgently glide over the undulations. Handle bar turns, rider leans, tires grip, shocks compress and release, heart steadies and the spirit soars. I remember trekking up these hill long long ago. Walked along the dry grasses and dense forest next to gurgling streams. About the Lobo house for the mid trek halts and the night next to the mini falls. That was another life time. We halted at the view point , took tons of photographs. I found the wallet in the bag. The battery problem seems not so significant. The place bound us in the spell and we lost track of the time. Apparently one needs to return from the forest in 1.5 hours. If not there is fine and we were late.
The ride back from Kudremukha started as the dusk was. We were too engrossed in the beauty. With the west gathering darkness from far, the machine gunned to life after a hefty shove from friends. I love the twilight rides and drives. Air is still, light is fading but enough to see, soft. The sky becomes dark blue, violet. Birds become quiet and start to sleep. It is a curtain that promises the blanket of night, of peace after a long hectic day. I started to think how much the day had unfolded for me. I was not even sure if I can manage the ride but now it seemed ok. The group was young, jumping. It looked as if others were buddies for ages while it was actually not so. I was the oldest but least skilled/experienced with the bike. It was big big learning and the advice was free flowing. How to adjust idling, how not to trust the authorized service stations, how to warm up with choke and then idle for 2 mins in the morning, additives for engine health and in general motoring gyan.
I was also thinking of how there was a veil between me and the group. I was not wanting to be stupid and a “noob” so little cautious. From the other side, could sense some formality from members. At the same time there was that instant reach out to assist when I misplaced the wallet and when the battery died. Lot of familiarity when Sivaram called me uncle. Like the twilight this was the border, the curtain that promised few new bonds, friendships and a guide to walk the future with this care free yet responsible group. At the check post few from the team reasoned with the guards and we rode out towards Shrengeri.
It was another first, night ride in the ghats. The formation cut through darkness with the brave lead making it safe for rest. He would get into the center and get oncoming vehicles to got left for the convoy to move. Few times oncoming cars blinded me and just the tiny spec of red tail light in front safely guided me. Was wondering how was the lead doing it ? Then there was the curvy road itself. What was so exhilarating in the evening was breath taking in another sense at night. Would it turn left ? Right ? Or just be ? Nature it seems can manifest in strangest way. With fourteen Avenger engines thumping along, mind fully engaged on road, I could still hear symphony of the night jungle. Crickets, night birds, hoots, rustle.
A couple of false turns, a u turn and a gentle fall later we stopped in front of the Kanyakumari Lodge. Our night halt place.
We checked in and a quick refresh, a calm temple Darshan of the Shringeri Sharadamma and a homely dinner at Maruti tiffin center closed the day. It was crash and then into a dreamless sleep. It was a day of firsts, of longing for familiar presence on the pillion, of misses , falls and introspection, meditation on the move and of find a place in the formation. If this was the day one how will be the day two and day three ?
P.S. All watermarked pictures by Sagar ( aka bond008/Sagar smith)