10-Feb-2006

Tripping on Bikes - 2

Another trip, another post.

The previous trip had been confirmed a week or so in advance. This one almost did not happen. It was cancelled once due to personal reasons, and then almost got cancelled because of the threat of rain. Time was when the sound of heavy rain falling outside the window was a clear invitation to take our cycles or mopeds out and ride through the neighbourhood, getting thoroughly drenched. But much water has flowed under the bridge since then. Now the thought of rain on our trip is not a happy one if only because there is no hot water, fresh clothes, or dry socks waiting at the end of it. Hence it was nine-thirty pm on a wet thursday that we - Pradeep and I - finally decided to pack our bags and head out the next morning. Bangalore was wet, and rain was very likely. But going had become inevitable. The sudden catches of memories from prevous rides were haunting. Especially since, after the generous NE monsoon, the entire region would be covered with that beautiful green of paddy fields and of the overgrown trees of the ghats. Probably Pradeep felt the same too.

An small digression here. While discussing the rain issue, we had explored the option of going by car. It wouldn't be as much fun as biking, but at least we would be safe from the rain. Now, it is accepted wisdom that travelling by car is safer than travelling on bikes. We now found out that this need not be always so. Two people were uncomfortable with us going by car - Pradeep's mother and sister. All our trips so far had been by bike and they were happier at the thought of us speeding through the countryside on bikes rather than on cars. We had come back without a scratch from each of them! We all feel more comfortable with familiar things and a known devil is better etc. All the same, it was amusing. Only we knew the various incidents over the various trips.

Day 1, Nov 4

I was wide awake at around four in the morning for no particular reason. More than an hour to fill in, which I spent posting on my blog. Then a bath and the usual quick byes to the kid and wife before I was off. For a change, Pradeep was all set by the time I reached his house. We were short of a watch - mine was at home with a broken strap, he doesn't wear one. A call to his sister resulted in a watch being dug out. It had stopped at 1:30 am/pm - many days ago it looked like. We took it anyway. We'd try to find batteries for it in Tumkur. We'd hoped to rope in the brothers Anand and Sunil again, but Anand was away in Spain on work. Without him it would be difficult for Sunil to get the required clearances to join us.

Since it was a holiday (Ramzan) we were able to get out of the city quickly. Soon we decided that we would aim for Jog Falls. We were hoping that the authorities would've releasesd water from the dam after all that rain over the last month or so, and that we could catch the falls in their full glory. The route would be Tumkur - Gubbi - Tiptur - Arsikere - Kadur - Birur - Terikere - Bhadravati - Shimoga. Lunch at Shimoga and then on to Thirthahalli for the night.

We filled some petrol into the bike and it felt good to get going. As we made out way through the outskirts, we could see people busily travelling to work - some walking, some waiting for buses, all hurrying along. And here we were merrily biking. Pradeep remarked on this. Thus we bounce along each of us, hitting reality every now and then. I had hit it the previous day at the mechanic's garage while getting the engine oil changed. A young boy was at the garage, not more than sixteen or seventeen. It was Ramzan eve. He spoke hindi and I guessed he was muslim. And there he was at eight thirty the night before Ramzan working on my bike. And while I was there a man of around fifty years came along with a pretty run down TVS moped. The chain had fallen from the sprocket. Why still use such an old vehicle?

We got on to the Tumkur toll road which is still the same - smooth and easy to drive on. Since it was november, the sun was mild and and the cool air was refreshing. At around eight, we pulled over at a Kamat restaurant that we'd failed to spot last time, for breakfast. Idlis and vadas and two kesaribhaths - one as an appetiser and one for the road. Washed down by coffeee of course.

We were in Tumkur by ten and looking out for watch-repair shops. We found one quickly. Pradeep walked over to the shop. It was staffed entirely by women, who were forthwith treated by Pradeep to an puzzling exhibition of contortionism. He reached the shop and felt in his trouser pocket for his watch. It wasn't there and he had forgotten where he had put it. He was wearing the rain-proof jacket and it had many pouches and pockets. Add to that the pockets on his shirt and trousers. The watch had originally been in his trouser pocket, but he had shifted it elsewhere sometime later without himself being aware of it. Probably at the restaurant. Now he stood at the entrance of the shop, the only potential customer, without a clue as to where the watch was. He proceeded to check all the pouches and pockets, and as I've mentioned, there were a few of them, not all of them easily reachable. Layers of clothing had to be reached under and around and opened. The young ladies in the shop had nothing else to distract them and they gave him their undivided attention. He finally found the watch. He later told me that he got a feeling they found it funny. Can't think why.

We put in calls home from a nearby phone booth before taking off again. Pradeep took over at Arsikere and continued upto Shimoga. This time he did not take over quite so gingerly as during previous trips. And his driving seemed to have turned the corner. No crowded town street, no pothole, no collapsed road could faze him. He took them all coolly. I stopped worrying about the road and relaxed. Till an incident on the second day.

The road was good thus far except for the Birur - Terikere stretch which was quite bad restricting us to a slowish crawl. It is mystifying - this variance in the road quality within short distances. This, for instance, is a highway, so I suppose the same authority is responsible for the entire stretch. Maybe it is due to different contractors executing different streches. Sometimes the road is good for long distances, but suddenly deteriorates for the space of a few feet - maybe they ran out of materials. We stopped for tea at this place in Kadur.


Shimoga was in sight by three in the afternoon and lunch shortly after that. Thirthahalli next. There was a dam project at Varahi nearby which would be good to visit (thought Pradeep). We checked the route from the hotel owner who seemed a bit unsure and guided us to the nearby bus-stand. Pradeep got hold of a bus driver there, and pointing at a road asked him if it went to Thirthahalli. The bus-driver replied in the affirmative but seemed to favour another road (going in the opposite direction incidentally) and reeled out the names of all the stops on it. A bit confused, Pradeep asked him 'Then where does the first road go?' 'It goes to Thirthalli too, but directly unlike the other one', was the reply from the bus-driver. A bit mixed-up in the mind surely.

Pradeep was handling the steering and doing fine, so I just sat back and soaked up the view. We're going quite fast and the wind makes a whistling sound if the helmet visor is raised a bit. The air is so clean it really doesn't matter if the visor is up or down. The main reason we keep it down is to avoid those pesky flying insects. On one of our previous trips, Pradeep got hit in the eye just as we approached his old college. We naturally stopped for tea at his old joint, Pradeep with tears in his eyes due to the insect-hit. The owner must've thought he was taking the visit extremely emotionally. So, we go on with the visor down mostly. The road comes at us as if out of a tunnel with the trees on either side forming the walls. And it keeps going on and on like that. Narrow in the distance, broadening as it meets us. A paddy field is suddenly illuminated by the sun.

It was too far to the dam and it was already around four. We'd visit it the next day. On to Thirthahalli. As we left Shimoga, the scenery became suffused with green, as we'd imagined. Various hues of green everywhere, not a trace of dry earth. Like this:



On the way, we came across a construction site where they were building a new canal. The area was to be submerged once the water was let in. Here is what the whole thing looked like.

The whole site would have looked heroic a hundred or two years ago, man pitting his will against nature and all that. But not so much now. A bystander came across, seeing us clicking away. After the preliminaries which usually consist of 'Where are you coming from? Are you here just for fun? Where are you going to? How much mileage does the bike give?', Pradeep asked him about the big politician from this area, a well-known person. "To be fair, he has done things for this region. True, he has taken money, but then everyone does. Politicians take money, we too take money. That's how it is." Money being the euphemism for bribes and corruption. The new heroism. What exactly has he done for the region? This dam, is the reply. Very unlikely.

After an hour or so we stopped at this roadside hotel.

A beaming lady, who was in the family way, served us tea. A group of three men sat at the next table, apparently just enjoying a nice tea and talk. All of them had questions for us. "Are you from Bangalore, I heard you got lots of rainfall there, Are you here just for fun? Where are your going?" We asked them about the rain here. Only the beetlenut crops were affected according to them, but overall they were fine with the rain.

We reached Thirthahalli at around six thirty in the evening. Nagarjuna, the Telugu film star, and his crew had reached there before us. They were shooting at Kasaravalli village nearby. So the first hotel we checked, newly constructed and with a unhindered view of the town bus-stand and the weather-beaten buses, was full. Another, a little further down did have a double room. Nagarjuna's crew were booked here too, as we realized sitting in our room. The sound of feminine voices and laughter was unmistakable and Pradeep who was facing the door noticed females in various states of dishabille running hither and thither in the corridor. Extras, those essential elements of south Indian film song and dance sequences? Probably. The room was nice and cosy, there was a TV with cable, and a clean toilet.

Dinner was at seven in a darkly lit restaurant down what looked like main street. It had cubicles for the retiring kind and for those who wanted to indulge in a leisurely sip without distractions. We took the option. It had been a good day of riding, equally split between the two of us, and we were in good spirits. Soon the jokes were falling freely in our cubicle - Pradeep usually has a bagful of them. Loud conversation between a group of friends was taking place in the neigbouring cubicle. Sudden lulls in the conversions occurred now and then, to be replaced by sudden bleating and mooing sounds accompanied by cries of "Sheep!", "Goat!", "Buffalo!". They must have had some reason for this behaviour. Later there was much cursing in colourful language at some person who was not among those present. All perfectly normal and hardly the stuff to cause eyebrows to rise. The food was oily mainly. By the time we returned to our room it was eleven. We talked for some more time before saying good-night. I was asleep in three minutes having slept so little the previous night. Pradeep, he told me next day, had more difficulty drifting off.

Day 2, Nov 5

The next day morning I was up first, around six. Nothing to do. I finished my stuff and waited for Pradeep to wake up and get ready. At breakfast downstairs, a family consisting of three young ladies and their parents, no doubt part of Nagarjuna's entourage was also there. Interesting life people in the film industry led I thought - they got to travel to these out of way places, probably often. Breakfast over, we fill in some petrol and headed out to the dam.

The route would be Kaimara, Yadoor, Varahi. The dam - called Mani dam - was at Varahi. The roads were good for a while.

Soon the roads turned nasty, worse than anything so far. They were more like ruins of bygone roads than anything laid in living memory. On top of it, the rear shock absorber was a bit too tight. We were destined to have a bad case of pain-in-the-backside the second half of the day and the next. I mean really bad. Some of the worst riding in our trips I think. A faint glimpse of the road here:


And me, hiding my face from the paparazzi:

We reached the Mani dam at around ten. The dam was full. The strongish breeze raised mini waves and one could almost imagine it as the sea not a dam. The security guards at the entrance refused to let us in. No photos even. As we stood reading the details about the dam written on a board, the guards came down and told us that an LTTE threat to blow up some the KRS dam in Mysore as the reason for not letting us through. Security at all dams had been tightened. Also, the naxalites. One of them pointed out an area on the other side of the dam where he said naxalites were present. What do they do, we asked. They just stay with the villagers and help them and fight for them against the rich landlords, one of them replied. He was a temporary worker employed by a private firm, the other was a police constable. The former was especially bitter - his house was submerged by the dam, and his salary now was just two thousand rupees. Some people nearby could not even move out of the island created by the dam waters. In other places, water was being hoarded by the landlords. They also told us of contracts for big sums of money for lighting the dam. None of the bulbs worked. All this while they got paid a pittance. And they had to face unfair treatment at the hands of the engineers. One engineer had insisted on his relatives being allowed past the gates, saying the dam had recouped its cost by now and even if it were to be blown away it would not be a big loss. As the police constable said, maybe, but a few towns downstream would be submerged. The amount of water stored was huge. They also told us of how some persons who are now big businessmen started small at this very dam. And now there's no looking back for them. 'Money chases the rich man'. We don't know how much of what they said is true. But they surely had more sympathy for the naxalites than for the authorities. It was hard not to feel pity for them.

Some snaps from nearby:



One the way back we stoped to click some snaps of this lonely temple, and other things:

An old cowherd, and his cows checking out the A350:


We stopped for tea at a roadside house-cum-hotel in Yadur, formerly a boom town when the dam was being built, now as charming as any other village. The owner of this hotel who told us of the boom, here:


He keeps a trough of fresh water outside for the cows. A board warns people not to wash their feet or hands in it. And he serves nice idlies. He suggested we aim for lunch at a temple which was about half-way on the way back.

The route was to be Mastikatte - Hulikal Ghat - Balebare Temple - Hosangadi - Thirthahalli.

Lunch would be served at one. Not a bad idea. Though we tought we would be early, the hostile road conditions - Hulikal Ghat was a torture - meant that we were there just in time for things. The puja had started, and lunch would follow immediately. We had to remove our shoes and leave them by the roadside about which I had a few qualms. Without them, we were done for. No way we could change gears with bare feet. Still, there was no other option. Not that there was a serious risk of anyone taking them. All the people were here to visit the temple themselves. They came by car, on private and government buses. The lunch was very hot and very good. Some kids were seated next to us during lunch. By the time we'd finished, I knew how much the kid on my right ate at home, that he did not like curds, and other details. And he was not even talking to me, but to the kid sitting next to him. Kids don't have secrets. Later during the drive, thinking of the incident, I thought if there is a God and it had a smile, children have to be what the smile looks like. And when I say smile, I mean the most sunny, loving, all-encompassing smile ever. Like they say in the US, go figure.

We decided to visit Hosangadi - where the power generation station is. That was a mistake. The devilish roads and we were not even allowed to enter the gates due to security reasons. But we did get to click some snaps:



Then this mini waterfall by the road side.


We returned to our room in Thirthahalli, picked up our stuff and checked out. Jog Falls called . The route: Humcha - Rippanpet - Anandapura - Sagara - Jog Falls.

Pradeep took over the handle at Humcha. The roads had improved and he got into the groove quickly. We got some heavy company momentarily on one stretch of road, shown here:
Nearing Sagar Pradeep suffered one lapse of concentration which shook both of us. We were steady at around 70 kmph when I saw a turn which was almost a semi-circle. By now I'd relaxed and wasn't too bothered about how we would make it. When I see a curve I usually try to judge if I need to slow down or have some fun by turning the accelerator up a bit. If there are no vehicles coming from the other direction, if the road is good, if I'm not already going too fast, I generally increase the speed, and an inclination of the bike and its riders while taking the curve does it nicely and feels good. If not, I apply the front brake a few times or both the brakes if I'm going too fast, thus slowing down a bit before the curve starts. Sometimes, reducing the accelerator completely does the trick - the A350 then falls silent except for a subdued beat of the engine which is like a faint hint suggesting that the bike is just biding its time before it breaks out into a powerful roar again. An enjoyable sound - and I realise that I have grown to like the bike a lot.

Soon the curve was nearer and still no response from Pradeep. Now, a silent urgent question in my mind : would he take it properly? We are already in the curve and still no response from him! On the outer side of the curve is a drop - how deep we didn't know and it didn't even matter if we were to go into it. I grab his shoulders, yelling "Slower!". By now, we are going straight at the opposite side of the road - rather like a tangent drawn to the curve from the direction we came from. Then we stop. Luckily no buses or trucks or anything coming from the opposite direction. Narrow escape! Now, it became clear how different people think. While the thing was happening I had been thinking of how he was going to take the curve, whether we would make it and all that. Pradeep apparently was thinking "What is on the other side of the road?". He had by now decided that we would go down anyway and was worried more on where we would land. Once before too this had happened. Both of us were on the ground - my right glove had been completely scraped off by the fall. We had sustained a bit of damage to the bike. I was looking at a bus behind us , thinking, "Wow, thank god that bus was a bit far away". Pradeep was thinking "The headlight is broken". The leg guard was bent and touching the engine block, but he was thinking of the headlight.

As we continued, the milestones seemed to play games with us. Sometimes a place which was 48 km away, became 40 km within a few hundred yards. I guessed that the second distance was as the crow flies, since no road existed anyway. At one point, 45 km became 48 km within a few feet. Pradeep suggested that the crow circled a bit near the first signboard.

Some snaps from the approach road to Jog:




We reached Jog Falls at around six in the evening. We were in for some disappointment. Very little water had been released from the dam and the falls were anaemic. There were some people who had walked down the 300 m to the foot of the falls and were taking photographs. It had become dark and we wondered how they would find their way back. We later saw the three men - all in knickers and banians - looking weary. Pradeep thought they had lost their pants below in the dark.

We got back on our bikes around half past six. Three roads lead out of the area. None of them was labelled. There were no lights anywhere. So much for attracting tourists. We chose one road and had gone about five kilometres before we had doubts - that was not the route we came by. We turned back meaning to ask someone. We did not find anyone till we'd almost returned to the dam. Two students whom we had passed earlier, leaning against a rail, talking, far from anywhere. They didn't fit here. It looked as if they were living hereabouts. Probably doing their project. They gave us directions. But it was still a different route than the one we'd taken coming here. Kargal - Sagara - Shimoga.

We were in Shimoga by ten. We found a hotel, dumped out stuff and headed out for dinner. Trip over.

Day 3, Nov 6

Today it would be our first day's journey in reverse - Shimoga - Bhadravati - Terikere - Birur - Kadur - Banavara - Arasikere - Tiptur - Gubbi - Tumkur - Bangalore. The Indian Express kept us company for breakfast. Then we hit the road. The road upto Terikere was good. Then it was chinese torture till Kadur. Pradeep took over at Kadur.

The nether regions of our bodies were by now showing signs of great wear and tear. One hour of continuous back-seat riding was all we cold handle, but we went for two hours at a time. One needed the support of the driver's shoulders to even get off the bike. That shock absorber! Pradeep was not enjoying his driving much, as far as I could tell. The previous day's incident had tensed him up. He was finding it increasingly difficult to change to the lower gears in time to stop.

We lunched at the Kamat restaurant near Tumkur and were in Bangalore by three. The traffic was slow-moving. Still, we made it to Pradeep's house by four or so. I was home by five. My son had already forgotten me. Well, almost. Looking down from the first floor as I took off my shoes below, he was telling my wife 'some uncle' had come.

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