Monday, October 17, 2005

2005-10-08: The 'Puncture' trip

“Veer tum bade chalo, dheer tum badhe chalo
Samne pahaad ho, ya singh ki dahaad ho…”

This classic was the poem for the three musketeers. These three were – Abdulla, Rishi and Milind or ARM! This was the first ever bike trip for A, while the first night drive for M. As for R, it was his first solo riding trip. Yes, these guys were going on their individual bikes, no one wanted to miss out a kilometer by being a pillion for this time!

Destination – Marvanthe, to be traversed in two steps, Bangalore to Mysore and then Mysore to Marvanthe (via Hunsur, Kushalnagar, Madikeri & Manglore). To come back to Bangalore via Mangalore, Sakleshpur, Hassan & Nelmangala (NH-48). Return expected to Bangalore - around 2am on Monday.

Saturday, 3pm – For a change, NOTHING started well. My faith in the INSAT pictures shown in ‘The Hindu’ was completely shattered! Instead of a pin point stop, the entire sky went wickedly dark! Not more than 3 kms of the imposing 1000+ kms, all the sky wanted to come down on us; suddenly, we found ourselves in Bagalkot, amidst knee deep water which didn’t look to recede back. With very heavy rain and me drenched, it got only worse when I lost A & M. they were moving ahead of me; it was decided that if we get separated, we’ll all stop over after 20kms. 2kms before the newly coming up ‘Wonder Land’, I stopped. When I called them up, all I could make out was that they were behind me, and both were thankfully together. Just as I messaged them updating my location, there came a bus and my cell took a quick shower, or rather swim! Wanted to call them from a land line, so went ahead till Wonder Land deviation. To my dismay, my cell had already taken a toll by this time and my phone book was not readable. All seemed vague… till I saw a black Fiero with a familiar face under the helmet; It was A. soon M also came by and we were together again. Only one tragedy had stuck them, M had lost his headlight! After an uneventful journey, we finally reached the Mysore Palace at around 8pm.

What a view it was! Last year, when I and Mukesh had come to capture the lighting, we were ahead by one day; the lighting had started only the next day onwards. Asking a nearby shop-owner, we came to know that the Palace will be lit till 10:30pm that night. This meant that we had ample time to shoot it from around as well as from atop Chamundi Hills (about 10-12 kms from palace). Then came the mistake of the trip – we went ahead on a shopping spree, 3 identical pair of socks were purchased and were made to exchange places with our wet ones. 8:55pm, just as I took aim of the Palace, the lights went off!

“How come the lights went off, some technical problem?”
“No sir, they are switched on only till 9pm, today they have put it down 5 minutes early…”
“But we were told that it stays on till 10:30pm!”
“That’s not correct, its there only till 9”

It was all over for us, at least, for my camera! Another inspiration of returning to Mysore Dassera next year… We went in the Palace premises at a time when everyone inside seemed to go in the opposite direction – OUT. Good for us, the photos were much neater than they would have otherwise.

11:30pm. After a full meal and a trial at M’s headlight (in vain, as even though we had purchased the bulb, we didn’t have equipment to fit it on the new pulsar assembly L). We started off towards Kushalnagar, (hoping that we would find a mechanic shop open, but again didn’t succeed till next day morning). Reaching Hunsur was a pain. The last time I had traversed this road about 2 years back (with Shiv), it was really good, I had done 70kms in flat 55 minutes. And… this WAS the SAME road, untouched by the PWD. It was very difficult to find it first, and when we actually found the ‘remains’, it was difficult to traverse. Fog further marred our speed. We did a mere 20kms/hr average for the 2 hours on road after Mysore. Better this to come! I suddenly realized that the road had become narrow. “Oh God! It has gone so bad that it has got shrunk too!” The most foolish thought to get into a moderately experienced biker! I could not recognize the road. Then, a bus over took us, written on its hind side was “Kannur”, a place in Kerela, south of Madikeri. Just as I really started getting suspicious, wonder happened. We were asked to stop at a check-post.

“Where are you going at the middle of night?”
“Then what are you doing on this way?”

Gosh!! We were indeed lost!

“Ok, no harm done, you can take the next right, and continue for 5kms. You’ll hit the Mysore-Kushalnagar road.”
“Thanks a lot sir!!”

For the first time in my night travel history, I had got lost without suspecting it much!
Finally, we were back on track, and reached Kushalnagar at 4am. Just as we crossed Nisargadhama, A stopped suddenly, “Check my rear tyre!” “Confirmed, lets go back to Kushalnagar…” For the first time in A’s bike history, any of its tyres had got punctured. With not a single repair shop open, we decided to call it a err… day!

10am. We were at a repair shop. When we came out, A had a new tube for his rear tyre, and M had a new headlight. After some time, we were gazing at the amazing statues of Lord Buddha and his disciples at Namdyoling Tibetan Monastery. A quick brunch after that and we were off towards Harangi Dam. Though a bit late as we had come after the monsoons got over, the dam was still a splendid sight!

3:30pm and we were off to Kuke Subramanya. Yes. Our plans had been modified by the morning break in Kushalnagar. Instead of continuing towards Marvanthe, we headed for Kuke, an important Hindu religious shrine on the foothills of Bisle Ghat. On the way, we passed through some very scenic and unique spots. E.g. the overhead canal bridge -- carrying water from Harangi Dam towards Mysore. After negotiating some very bad roads (which had become an intrinsic part of our trip), we reached the Bisle Ghat entrance. Its closed after 6pm for the entire night due to animal movement. We were lucky! We marginally made it, at 6:15pm.

That was one of the most enjoyable stretches of the entire trip. Light drizzle and those amazing, spectacular clouds!! Oh, it still gives me those shivers… The Ghat constituted of some wicked hairpin bends, and very thin roads. So thin that at few places, the over grown grass on either side of road were cris-crossing each other. As those 28kms of Ghat came to an end, we reached a junction which said, “Kuke, 4kms” towards right.

8:15pm. After taking our dinner, we went to the temple and had a darshan. Strangely enough, we didn’t get the prasadam; “Counter has been closed for the day!”

9.00pm. All three were ready to start the last leg of our trip. All this while, we were traveling away from Bangalore. It was time that we headed back. But again, not so easily… “Hey, you have a flat tyre!” Victim – A again!! Not once in 1 and half years, and twice in a day! It was his rear tyre again. 2 hours of ordeal in finding a repair shop and getting things back, and we finally were on our way back journey.

Those 20kms of non-existent road till Gudili didn’t bother us much, as we knew that once on NH-48, we would sail through. Gudili came and Gudili went. All we got was a glimpse of good road. As soon as we entered the all famous Shiradi Ghats, it was a familiar picture. Once again, NO ROADS!! And no road it was till the next 40kms, i.e. till we reached Sakleshpur. Once there, it was the NH-48 we had heard of – smooth as silk. Fog yet again saw to it that we didn’t go beyond 60kmph. Result – an amazing mileage by my bike. Rarely has it given me more than 50kmpl on highways!

If you think the story’s over, then you are fooled J. 5am, and it was my time to get a feel of ‘puncture’ fever. “Not in nearly 3 years, and now today at this point of time. Exchanging bikes with M (owing to his feather-light built), we continued till we found a 24-hour repair shop. Some drama it was, to persuade the guy to wake up and attend to our cause!! 1 more hour down the drain and we were back on road. Only this time, THERE WAS NO PUNCTURE!! The tube was still intact. It was indeed, just a fever…

Just as we entered Bangalore, finally at 9:15am (instead of 4am), A’s bike refused to start after he had put it off (I was on call). 5 minutes (after a small wire came to our rescue to by-pass the ignition switch) and we finally headed towards our homes. That was the last piece in the big cake of adventure called our ‘Puncture’ trip!! A and I managed to resume office the same day while M took a much deserved FTO.

Photos are now at myphotoalbum.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

2005-10-01: Biking in Pondicherry

My phone rang late at night; 0413-XXXXXXX was the number flashing on my cell. "Somewhere in Tamil Nadu, must be a wrong number..." As I pressed the green button on my cell and put the cell near my ears, a very familiar voice was on the other side. "Hey!! I'm here in Pondy, and you are coming here to visit me, and coming this weekend!!" It was Arnab. One trip together to Patna Rifle Shooting Competition with our parents had brought us together... that was more than 21 years back; we were still in nursery at that time!

It was already 10:30PM, and being a Friday night, it was impossible to get a bus ticket that late. Gloomy skies had already truncated any plans of riding down those ~300kms to Pondy on Bike :(. To add to it, few of my friends were coming down from Hyderabad to see me next morning... I had already given them commitment and could not turn it down now - they would have already be half way to Bangalore by now.

"I would try to start tomorrow some time, shall confirm the time before I leave." "Fine, BUT, you ARE coming!" "Ok baba, done!" It was more than two years that we had met last (in Kolhapur). That was the end of Friday.

Saturday morning, and I was done with the Hyderabad commitment by 12:15PM. By the time I reached back home, it was already 2:05PM, thanks to the EPIC, COLOSSAL etc etc traffic jam situation all over the city... Just managed to get the second last seat in a 3PM PSTC Volvo. After stuffing my bag with minimum clothes, my Camera (how can I leave it behind!!) and the Nike Cap that I had bought for Arnab while I was at Roseville. My roomie Amit volunteered to drop me to the Bus Stand. Thanks to his skillful driving, we meandered through a dead stop traffic and reached the bus JIT (yes, Just In Time!) at 3PM.

21:08PM and I was standing in front of JIPMER. After some 5 minutes, Arnab came in on his security guard's bicycle! Once we finished our dinner, it was shopping time!! With a total of 4kms of length covered within the next 50 minutes on foot and then 1.5 kms on his 'bike', we were grinning ear to ear! We had our scalp with us. One more thing to be said here... Arnab, though thinner than me, is still very fit; its not easy to tow a 90+ kgs guy on an Atlas Goldline!
As our 'gup' session finally took a break at 3AM, it was time to get some well deserved rest for what lied ahead on the next day for us.

11:45AM. After having a moderate breakfast and hunting around for my return ticket to Bangalore for a good hour, we were about to start for the Pondy Beach. We also had with us Dhur Jyoti, the roomie of Arnab at his guest house. It was time to burn some fat with us mounting these three rickety but functional 'definition' bikes - Atlas Goldline with 'Semi rickshaw tyres for extra life' at a modest rental of INR2.00 per hour. No deposits, but Arnab had to surrender his Company ID Card for that.

12:15PM. We were trying to beat the heat of a hot Pondy Sun at the beach, if you can call it a beach... mostly studded with huge boulders with a pinch of sand right in the middle of the shoreline stretch. To our ill luck, the Aurobindo Ashram nearby was closed for afternoon cleaning up. After gulping down a Choco-vanilla ice-cream cone each, we were off towards Auroville Beach, about 7kms on the Chennai bound Eastern Express Road. By the time we reached the Beach junction, we learnt that the Auroville 'city' was another 8kms from there.
All of us knew that even if we somehow managed to reach the city on our bikes, we would definitely not be able to make it back to Pondy bike rental shop... After all, riding a bike after a gap of nearly six years, and that too for such a humbling distance was no joke for us!

We had our lunch in a hut Restaurant near by Auroville Beach. The restaurant owner was kind enough to assure us that we could leave our bikes locked there, and that we will be safe there.

After negotiating with the auto rickshaw for INR 70 for dropping us to the city, we reached our destination around 3:30PM. To our disappointment, the main attraction of Auroville, the MaatriMandir - the temple for all, above all religions preaching humanity and nothing else was not accessible. The entry closes at 12:45PM on Sundays (and not at 4:30PM, like on other days of week). We went around the Information Center, and then took a mini tour of various means of them producing renewable energy. The video shown at the IC about the upcoming of Auroville was also very captivating! After grabbing Soda Lime at the cafeteria there, we started back towards the Beach.

Its one of the best beaches that I've seen in India, with pretty 'surfable' waves coming in every now and then. There were a couple of guys trying to put the waves to the exact use! Just one glitch here, not all of the beach was accessible to us, there seemed to be a restricted area right in the middle on the beach length. I was really disappointed for not able to traverse the entire length of the beach, from one end to the other. More so because we knew that it was already too late to get an entry in the Aurobindo Ashram back in Pondy (it closes at 6:15PM) as it was already 5:30PM. By the time we came back to the restaurant and started back after a cup of tea, it was nearly 6 o'clock. And this was not the end of it... Dhur's front 'Semi rickshaw tyres for extra life' gave in. Later in the puncture repair shop, it was revealed that the culprit was not one but two repairs, overlapping on each other. So in went the third layer of vulcanized rubber and we were back on track after a delay of 20 minutes. We came back to the Pondy Beach and spent some time there. The entire stretch was very well lit, with some special work around the statue of MG; wondering whether it’s always like that or because of that day being his birthday. The atmosphere was very well like a fair there.

Clicking through the place, we were finally back at the bike shop. A supreme figure of INR 48 was levied on us as the rental for our 3 bikes... After a moderate dinner, we were back at Arnab's guesthouse. Sanity returned as I took bath; the Pondy weather had taken its toll on me... being in Bangalore for six years has indeed made my body not as tough as it used to be earlier... 10:27PM, and the bus was on time at JIPMER. Morning 4:37 AM, and I was taking the morning walk from the Silk Board Jn to my house in Koramangala in Bangalore... It came and went past very quickly, but the Pondy experience was worth every bit of it!