It started with an email conversation at 8:00PM
"Aaj raat thora midnight drive karne ka man kar raha hai..."
(I wish I could go on a midnight drive tonight...)
It was Azmi. This was followed by a call around 10PM.
"I was thinking if we can visit Nandi Hills tomorrow early morning, its been a while now..."
"Don't talk to me about midnight drive and Nandi Hills together. With due respect to Nandi Hills, being only 70 odd kilometers from Bangalore, its hardly a drive..."
"Then what about Yercaud, the poor man's Ooty?"
"Ok, can go there, but then again, it will hardly be a drive, though its about 240kms away, the road's probably too good and it will hardly take 5hrs. Also, in this rain, what about Chikmangalur, it will be ideal time to check out the definition Malnad?"
After a bit of persuasion, Azmi agreed, "Umm... Ok!"
I got another call from him around 11PM, "There's a twist in tale, one of my friends is also interested in joining us. He has sold his bike away, and now only has a car. Catch - the car does not have a jack (tool to replace any tyre). If we get it from anyone, we'll go by car, else on two of our bikes. What say?"
This time, it was I who had to be convinced to opt for car instead of car. Assuming it was nearly impossible to get hold of a jack at midnight I agreed; I didn't know that I was in for a surprise.
12:15AM, I got a call from a happy sounding Azmi, "Well, get ready for a car trip, we've managed a jack!" Around 12:40AM, I heard a car pulling up below my house, it was Azmi. "Where's the owner of the car?", I asked. I was kind of circumspect about the new person joining the trip, how would he be, high headed or a goof or uninteresting? "Hi, this is Vivek Jha.", he was a colleague of Azmi, working with Azul Systems. As time went by, I was happy to realize that I was in good company, with people having, what we call, matching frequency [:)]
We filled up the tank to the brim and were away by 1AM, minus, well, enough cash in pocket - an outcome of a collection of lazy bones, lazy enough not to go on the other side of road for an ATM until there were no more ATMs in sight!
The Night Drive
As Vivek drove us out of Bangalore, he looked kind of happy. When asked, he gave me a small information - he was driving a car for the first time on a highway! Well, let me tell you, though I sincerely felt that he was a bit crude, he was very safe and did not take any chances while on the wheel. Came Nelamangala and I took over. This was the first time that I was driving a Ford Ikon (though I had driven a Ford before - my Mustang while I was in Roseville [:)]). His Flair had pretty good pickup, but lacked in headlight beam alignment. The following rain didn't help the cause either; thankfully, there was not much until we crossed Hassan. Looking at the road map, we were supposed to take a right for Mudegiri, about 4kms after Sakleshpur. But the pelting rain saw to it that we didn't get much help from any of the parked trucks in Sakleshpur. We had to depend upon the Kannada knowledge that we had; I could somehow read few of the characters put on one of the sign boards on road side and decided to take a deviation.
"If you think thats the right way to go, go ahead. Worst case it'll not be the shortest way; we have anyway come out to roam the country.", and we all laughed out aloud. That's called company! Going ahead, however, we could make out that it was indeed the way to go. Though single lane, the road quality was way better than what we had got between Hassan and Sakleshpur. After confirming that it was OK for the driver, the two passengers went snoozing for the next hour or so.
The rain gods had not left us since little beyond Hassan, and the blessings continued. It was around 6AM and we had already crossed Mudigere that the passengers came back to activity. A little rain break gave us enough time to get freshed up. Broad day light meant that it was time for a switch on wheels. And so was the time to get hold of Azmi's camera. The scene outside was was just... true Malnad, meaning 'Region of Heavy Rainfall'. The greenery and rain all around was just majestic, we could see step farming, small cascades and what not. Opps, one thing was missing - a place for having tindi (Kannada word for breakfast).
Idli for Tindi with Hot Tea, and some shopping
Finally, we found a small hotel at a junction (can't remember the name). In fact, there were quite a few hotels to choose from. We finally chose the one that looked cleanest of all. Warm Idli with Chutni and Sambhar was the need of hour and thats what we precisely got. Though not the best I've ever had, the platter came as a true blessing. Once done with breakfast, the next thing in mind was to get some protective gear against rain. We had already taken notes by observing the locals there and we wasted no time to adapt ourselves to the culture. We needed to take a right at this place; going straight would have led us to Dharmasthala through Charmadi Ghats.
The Overflowing River
Revitalized, we headed towards the first of our listed 'nice to see' places - Hornadu. As we crossed Kalasa, we stopped to ask for direction, and were informed that the road ahead was blcoked; the Tunga river was overflowing, engulfing the bridge 4kms before Hornadu. Not exactly the most encouraging news, never the less, none of us had seen actual flooding in South India. We continued ahead to get a glimpse of the 'invisible' bridge. We were indeed greeted with one, with Kudremukh range in the background. We went out in the rain like kinder garden kids, enthused to empty the camera's memory card with our snaps. "Look where I went, that's a bridge behind me, you know, it got submerged in the river..!" Our next destination was Kudremukh, and possibly the Hanumana Gundi Waterfalls.
We came back to Kalasa, and took a right turn on the road leading to Kudremukh. As we negotiated few corners, there was some pleasant surprise waiting for us. Amidst the coffee country, we were suddenly meandering through tea estates. We couldn't help but stopped there and just dashed into the plantation. It was not easy to drag ourselves out but then somehow we did it!
There was more rain to follow us, more in terms of its fury than beauty. As we approached the Kudremukh National Park check-post, we could see it closed. Upon inquiry, we found out that there was a landslide a couple of kilometers further and the road was non-motorable. Kudremukh was as far as 14kms! After coming back to Kalasa, we spent some time on deciding upon the next destination. We found out that the alternate route to Kudremukh was also blocked. It was going to be Kemmangundi, coming back to Mudigere and going beyond Chikmangalur town towards Baba Budhan Range.
Coming Back to Mudigere for Some Oota
There was another factor that we needed to take into consideration, we were short on fuel and we were short of cash. Not making it to Kudremukh meant that ATMs were still out of range. We decided to get fuel for the car and postpone our own refill till we reached Chikmangalur. There were few water pools that we had negotiated while going towards Kalasa. Now was the time to encash. The car went forward, dropped me and then backed off. It was time for a splash!
Once back inside car, it was time that I finally took the back seat, for some well deserved rest. It was however Azmi who had been driving for most of the time since morning. Once we reached Mudigere, we were in for some more pleasantries. This place was big enough to have ATMs and doable hotels for oota (luncheon) . In morning, we had actually bypassed the town while heading towards Kalasa from Sakleshpur; the way to Chikmangalur was through Mudigere town.
On the Way to Kemmangundi
The journey from Mudigere to Chikmangalur town was rather uneventful. We stopped over in the district HQ to get some chips and all essential potable water bottles. From this place, there were a couple of ways that we could have gone to Kemmangundi - via Baba Budhan Range (which passes in proximity to Mullayangiri (Karnataka's tallest peak) and Bababudhangiri), and the other being the highway to Tarikere (on Tumkur-Honnavar NH). The scenery was captive enough to make us miss the former route, something that we didn't bother about. This was the first time in the day that rain had stopped and we had some fairly clear sky. It was time to get out of the confines of car and wander around, sit on the road and get into the woods. We spent some time there before the rain gods caught up with us.
Kalahasti Falls is about 10kms before Kemmangundi, and offers some very safe bathing zone if one's interested in having some fun. It also hosts around five century old temple at the base of the falls. As we reached it, we could have got all wet without going into the falls, and no, it wasn't that spray typical to water falls. If you still can't get it, it was well, our good old companion, the rain [:D]. Time was again to take out protective gear that we bought in the morning. All the 10 bucks spent on that was put to proper use. It was nothing but a big sheet made out of recycled green colored plastic. Well, mine was blue in color, to be precise. This was one souvenir that we got back from this trip! We felt like those firangs; being given wierd looks by the passers by and the tourists alike. It was a different story that we were not complaining; we were rather enjoying that!
It was past 6PM that we entered Kemmangundi. This scenic hill-station, 55 km north of Chikmangalur, is situated on the Baba Budhan range at a height of 1,434 m. Not the best of the times to be there if you are looking forward to some breath taking views, coz everything was painted white and grey - the color of clouds. Positioned 8 km from Kemmangundi are the Hebbe Falls, where we could not go as it was getting a bit too dark. The original plan was to try finding an overnight shelter at the Horticulture Department's Inspection Bungalow. This plan was however disturbed by the presence of leeches, and too many of them. They were just everywhere, from steering wheel of car to our jeans, trying to get in through the tough fabric and guess what, succeeding in the feat! Azmi had to literally tear off one of them as it had taken position to make him weigh less by few grams of blood.
"Lets get out of here!"
"We have another situation, one of the back tyres seem to be flat!"
Way Back - the Jack comes to rescue
I checked out the spare one lying in the boot space and i could feel my palm sinking a long way in.
"It doesn't seem to hold enough air."
"Then lets get to the nearest puncture repair shop as quickly as possible."
I took over the wheels. Driving fast was out of question, with not so good roads and considerable mist. A couple of kilometers down and I realized that continuing any further on the flat tyre could have spelt doom on its life. We pulled over and then followed a perfect example of team work - Azmi got busy with the jack while I took care of taking out bolts off. Vivek was mercurial at showing us the 'mobile torch' and keeping the spare tyre out ready for replacement. We were off within 15minutes amidst total darkness and light drizzle! Once we reached plain lands, we luckily found a very good puncture repair shop. Irony remains that the spare tyre actually had just the right air pressure; it would make me think twice when I check for it the next time for any tyre by merely pressing it! Another irony, adjusting the headlight focus took more time and money though it was not done to 100% satisfaction. A Dosa dinner at Kaddur (again on Tumkur-Honnavar NH) and someone asked me, "What time are we expecting to get back?" "Around 3AM." "Ok, don't think you are going to mind if we sleep, will you?" "Feel Free!"
With a break in between, we reached the toll-gate for the completed sector of NH-4, in between Tumkur and Nelamangala. I offered the wheel to Vivek, and he was more than happy to take over! By the time Vivek dropped Azmi and then me at my doorsteps, it was around 2:30AM, still about 30 minutes ahead of expected schedule, thanks to no rain after Kaddur.
A little less than 800kms were done in a little over 25 hours. Selected moments of the trip can be found here. This was kind of a second such trip for me; had been to Coorg for the third time, this time with Arnab, a round trip of around 680kms in less than 23 hours of biking. I was not aware that the next trip following this one to Chikmangalur would again fall in same category - ~650kms done for a glimpse of Iruppu Falls in 16 hours with Abdulla.