Chennai to Ooty – Post experience!

Riding a distance of 650 KMs and scaling a height of 2000 meters from MSL to reach Ooty by bicycle was always going to be a challenge – especially considering we are ‘part time’ cyclists carrying 20 KG baggage on our bicycles! So, we were quite prepared to accept defeat and the 3 of us set forth in the early hours of 22-Dec-2012 seeking to find how far we could progress. We made plans considering that we would encounter ghat roads and steep climbs only during the final stretch at Ooty and prepared for smooth sailing for first 4 days – hoping to have lots of fun. The first stretch was smooth indeed and we passed territories in Kancheepuram, Katpadi and Vellore - eating, snacking and sleeping along the way. After a well-deserved rest for riding 170 KMs on day-1, we set off towards Kolar Gold Fields in Karnataka in the early hours of day-2. The plan was to cross a small territory in Andhra Pradesh and the language of people we encountered was a perfect blend of Tamil, Telugu and Kannada! By the time we had break-fast, we had already been pedaling uphill for 3 hours and were faced with the reality of scaling the Venkatagiri Kota hill. None of us was ready to continue pedaling uphill at that point and so, we changed our route to head towards Dharmapuri – with plans of crossing over to Karnataka at Hogenekkal. We had no clue at this point that an even steeper hill by name ‘Madhesan Malai’ lay on our route beyond Hogenekkal! Anyway, we reached Dharmapuri to rest for the night and enjoyed a joy-ride towards Hogenekkal next morning. It was an absolute slope towards the Hogenekkal falls and we skidded our way at high speeds.. thoroughly enjoying the fall in altitude after 2 days of riding towards elevations.

Once at Hogenekkal, we crossed over the river by parisal (small boat), took a bath in the mountain streams and enquired about the way ahead. We were told categorically that there was no way we would be able to scale Madhesanwaran Malai on bicycles – considering 20 hair-pin bends, terrible worn-out roads and elephant infested ‘Veerappan’ forests on the way. We instantly gave up our plans of riding and sourced a Jeep to carry us ahead. The Jeep journey had it’s own shares of fun to offer – including interactions with people who claimed to be relatives and friends of sandal wood smuggler Veerapan and their version of Veerappan’s encounter with the police. After 45 KMs of travelling on the luggage area of the jeep along with the bicycles, we stretched our legs and got ready for downhill ride from Madhesanwaran Malai – but were faced with another hill and steep bends on the road after lunch! We had no option now.. if we looked around for another jeep, we would be killing the spirit of this bicycle ride and started pedaling in the lowest gears. After a few minutes, we gave up pedaling started walking by pushing our bikes along. Even this mode was tough to sustain and we took regular rests hoping we would scale this hill soon. We asked people about the distance to be covered and they responded in Kannada – which we did not understand. At one point, we saw some local woodcutters walking along a path that looked like a short-cut to reach the top.. we decided to follow them pushing our cycles with hopes of scaling the hill quickly. Midway through the climb, the difficulty of pushing cycles in this walking track and climbing up hill made one of us remark ‘is this a leisure trip or a NCC camp??’.

We soon got over the frustration and found ourselves at the top of hill with a wonderful slope downhill ahead. After a quick photo session, we set forth with hopes of reaching some village/town before it got too dark.. The ride was absolutely wonderful and the slope seemed to be continuing for ever and ever. Finally, we rested at a shop at the foothill and made inquiries about where we could find a place to sleep for the night. We were told the nearest such town was about 3 hours ride (45 KMs) away and the sun was beginning to disappear behind the mountains. The forest around the road looked dense and the air was heavy with silence..
so, we quickly hurried on to our bikes to cover the 45 KMs. The start was ‘eventful’ as we hit the first puncture of our trip. As we settled around the bike to replace the tube with light from bicycle head-lights, a motorbike speeded by with it’s rider shouting ‘do not stop here.. this area is full of elephants’. We had not stopped by choice(!).. we hurried with our repair and resumed riding. The road was full of elevations and slopes. We were forced to dismount and push the bikes on elevations.. with the fear of attack from elephants or other wild animals looming. The only subject of discussion for the next 3 hours was around how we should react if we encountered an elephant! By around 9 PM, we reached the town of Kollegal (Karnataka) and found a hotel to sleep for the night. The next morning, we headed towards Gundulpet which is the foothill of Ooty in the Karnataka side. We celebrated the achievement by checking into a luxury resort and enjoying good dinner. By this time, our companion by Car – Sriram – arrived with his Ford Figo carrying our heavy winter clothing and other stuff for use at Ooty.
As we sat in our room planning the ride for the next day, one of us expressed doubts about being able to pedal up-hill even with all luggage offloaded into the car. So, we made some enquiries for options to carry one bike uphill – and were told categorically that there is no way we would get permission to ride from Gundulpet to Ooty on bicycles – with the number of wild elephants and Leapords spotted on the way. We had to beat retreat and quickly organized for a jeep to carry us uphill – along with our bikes. We arrived at Ooty with the muted satisfaction of having reached the peak afterall – but with help from Jeeps along the tough stretches. Ragav and Siva packed their bikes by TVS parcel service to Chennai, while I contemplated riding solo downhill from Ooty and into Coimbatore city.
It was going to be a 100 KM ride and I braced myself for the challenge. I was warned about riding alone with potential problems thrown up in the conversation. My only thought was, ‘if I encountered problems, I would also encounter solutions..’. It was another wonderful chilling ride till Mettupalayam crossing Wellington and Coonoor – right in the middle of lush green mountain scenery. Beyond Mettupalayam, I choose quiet country routes across agriculture fields and dead quiet villages – riding tight into the city of Coimbatore – feasting on free pongal distributed in a temple on the way and some tender coconut water. As I parked and locked the bicycle at my uncle’s house in Coimbatore, a sense of satisfaction struck.. finally, after 5 days of endurance, thrill and fun along the way, the trip was formally closed. Check it out our galleries for more photos!!!

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