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Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Great Wayanad Escapade

How will you say no to a cycling ride which spans 3 states, one national tiger reserve, one trip to a cave high in the mountains and a chance of bathing in a pristine waterfall?

The answer is simple! You don’t !

So there we went again. ‘Cycling and more’ (  took us across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala to see and enjoy some of the places which one will get hardly a time to visit. As more and more people take foreign vacations, I wonder how sad it is that they miss out on what India has to offer.

This is what ‘Cycling and more’  had to say in their mail, exhorting enthusiastic cyclists to join them on a Magical Mystical tour of Wayanad.

Three States, Three National parks , Two days, 150 kms and loads of fun. Just another chance to be one with Nature. This November, join CAM for a momentous ride through an enchanting route along Bandipur, Madumulai and Waynad.

Ok ! It is 3 National parks. One just one big one, spanning across 3 states.  Then there was Edakkal caves & Soochipara Falls!

Ever heard of that one? I never had.

Wikipedia had to say this about Edakkal caves

Edakkal Caves are two natural caves at a remote location at Edakkal, 25 km from Kalpetta in the Wayanad district of Kerala in India's Western Ghats. They lie 1,200 metres above sea level on Ambukutty Mala, beside an ancient trade route connecting the high mountains of Mysore to the ports of the Malabar coast. Inside the caves are pictorial writings believed to be dating to at least 5000 BC, from the Neolithic man, indicating the presence of a prehistoric civilization or settlement in this region.[1] The Stone Age carvings of Edakkal are rare and are the only known examples from south India

And Soochipara falls!

Nestled amongst tea estates a thundering waterfall that can knock your head off.  And what does the Internet have to say about Soochipara falls?

Thus spoke Wikipedia!

Soochipara Falls also known as Sentinel Rock Waterfalls is a spectacular three-tiered waterfalls in Vellarimala, Wayanad, surrounded by Deciduous, Wet Evergreen and Tropical Montane (Shola) forests. Locally referred to as Soochipara ("Soochi" meaning "Needle" and "Para" meaning "Rock"), the 15-20 minute drive from Meppadi to Sentinel Rock Waterfalls offers scenic views of some of the best tea estates in Wayanad. The Sentinel Rock Waterfalls is 200 metres (656 feet) and offers a cliff face that is ideal for rock climbing. Once people reach the parking area, they have to pass through a security check at the entrance where they make sure you don't carry any plastic. It takes 10-15 minutes walk to the water falls and water flow is less during summer, which makes it easy to reach the rocks where water falls.

Where will I be without the ‘Cut / Paste’ facility. Best thing since sliced bread!  Incidentally , if you really think about it, sliced bread is not a great thing at all. But I am digressing.

On a cold Friday night, we packed our cycles into a truck and in the relative comfort of deluxe luxury bus, left the cold and dreary Bangalore town and soon sped past Mysore into a very cold and dreary little town called Gundulupet. Folks at Gundulupet may not like their neat little town to be called ‘cold and dreary’ but then to a city slicker that is what it was.

After refreshing ourselves at the wee hours (04.30 Hrs), we rode to the Tamil Nadu Border where we unloaded our cycles., checked the breaks, limbered up and generally showed our cycling skills to each other. The temperature was 13 degrees centigrade.

At the start - Day 1

This was the first time we really got to see our riding mates and get introduced.

After getting our ride instructions and more importantly our share of carbs in the form iddlis and vadas, which we washed down with Sambaar, we were on soon on our way through the lush forests – also a Tiger reserve. Early morning the jungle cats all had retired. Monkeys hung around on the winding roads, expecting scraps. There were peacocks and peahens. Some one saw a wild Bison. I rode on.  Got a call from my wife. Watch out for tigers, she said. It appears she had gone through this forest along with her parents when she was a lil kid. She may or may not have seen a tiger. So there!

A Peacock in Bandipur Forest Reserve

I looked around, there were plenty of posters and road signs all instructing me to be silent and watchful. All of them had a picture of a tiger. Maybe this is what she had seen. A picture of a tiger!

Soon we exited the forests and reached Gudalur town. It was a busy place, crammed with Autos, trucks, mini vans and buses. There we turned towards Sultan Bathery.

This is what Wikipedia has to say about Sultan Bathery.

Sultan Bathery - is a mid-sized town in Wayanad district of Kerala, India. It derives its present name from Tipu Sultan of Mysore who used the abandoned Jain temple here and used it as his Battery here in the 18th century, hence the name Sultan's Bathery. This town was part of Kidanganadu Village, which got its name because the presence of the Kidangans the tribes. It is also believed that this town was earlier known as "Ganapathivattom", owing to the Ganapati Temple situated in the heart of the town. Later, it came to be known as Sultan Bathery, the Malayalam version of its name. It is also known as Sultan's Bathery of Wayanad district. Though the fort does not remain any more, the place is worth the visit for the famous Jain Temple. The place was previously known by the name of Sulthan's Bathery. The town is the largest town in Wayanad District. The largest being the Taluk headquarters of Sultan Bathery .It lies on the Kozhikode - Kollegal National Highway (NH 212) 98 km from Kozhikode town. It is 115 kilometers from Mysore and about 100 kilometers from Ooty (Udagamandalam). It is also connected with Nilambur. The people primarily depend on agriculture for a living. Sulthan Bathery is situated at about 930 metres above mean sea level. One can find beautiful folded hills across the horizon. The climate is pleasant throughout the year. The town has the National Highway 212 passing through it. The town is the centre of tourism in Wayanad District. It has become a very popular destination among tourists from India's software valley of Bangalore.

Aha! That explains it. The last line says it all.                         

The road was absolutely beautiful. Tea gardens abounded. Greenery was lush.

By now sun started blazing away and the temperature rose to the 30s.  We really sweated it out. The climbs were torturous and the descends were enthralling. Finally huffed and puffed into Sultan’s Bathery where we checked  into a hotel. Decent place! Clean rooms!

Aching bones and muscles. The team co-ordinator is in no mood to relax. After a heart pounding 6 hour 70 KM ride, he wanted us to ride to Edakkal caves. He spoke with passion. About prehistoric men and their paintings. I was unmoved. I never even had taken a second glance at the Mona Lisa at Louvre. 

Lets ride he said with a finality and so we did. I am glad I did.

Steep hills greeted us and a 3 KM descend that just looked un-climbable if we are to come back. I would rather be buried with the prehistoric chappies I thought.

8 KMs into the ride, the support vehicle overtakes and stops. The Driver has that knowing look. He cranks the doors open. I meekly haul up my bike and climb into the truck. The road  twists, turns and deteriorates . 

A host of riders were waiting patiently by the road side. They wave the support vehicle down. I have company. We soon reach the foothills of Edakkal Caves.

I was not prepared for what came next.  The time was 15.30 Hrs. The gates to the caves close at 16.00 Hrs.  We had 30 minutes to haul our ass across a steep hill and climb 1 KM to the ticket counter.  From the ticket counter another 1 KM to the caves.

Whoa !

We decided to go for it. I wheezed like an Asthmatic in the throes of dying and lugged my overweight, out-of-shape, tub of lard, that I call ‘my body’.  The climbs were steep and my knees were like jelly.

Some riders reached the counter faster. They had bought tickets and waited patiently for me to catch up. The guards were co-operative. They let us in. More steps to climb. Folks were coming down in droves and we had to claw our way up through narrow ledges.

Don’t look back someone said. So, I just had to look.

Should never have. The steep rock face and the distance to the ground below almost gave me a heart attack. Nevertheless coaxed by my friends, I climbed and went past Cave 1 into the summit i.e. Cave 2, where the paintings were.

There were no paintings. The prehistoric guys did not paint. They carved. I don’t blame them. The nearest town is around 14 Kms away. Every time they needed supplies, they had to go there and I was told that the public transport those days were not so good. So, here we were. We looked at the carvings and jostled among the crowd to see what the carvings were all about. Could not appreciate anything!  Well, The ancients had tried hard and like an unimpressed art critic I decided to look for something better.

Rock Carvings by Pre-historic Man at Edakkal

At Edakkal Caves - A pre-historic Man in need of a shave

The mountains offered some breath taking views.

Next time I want to see some work of art, I will look at the poop my dog makes.

So we took photographs.  Then we laboriously climbed down. Which, fortunately, was easy! 

All this cycling has made my legs stronger. We clamoured down. The support vehicle was waiting. We limbered into it and whooshed back into our hotel.

No more Mojo left for a ride back to base

I had three stiff ones and dinner at the hotel with beef and chicken.  The less adventurous trooped down into a Vegetarian hotel for dinner.

Next day – Day 2

We start riding at around 6.30 AM towards Soochipara. We take the route less taken. It takes us through quaint villages and roads with very little traffic.

Places like Chulliyode, Ambalavayal, Thommatuchal, Vaduvanchal and Meppadi. The atmosphere was quite Christmassy (if I can use such a word) and the Churches (there were a lot of them) were decorated and looked splendid.

At Vaduvanchal we had breakfast. Set Dosas! Very Good. I hogged ! So did every other rider.

Except for a small stretch of mud road, the roads were good. There were a few killer climbs. I killed the climbs by meekly surrendering! I got down and pushed the bike over most of them.

The views from Meppadi and the route to Soochipara were stunning. 

The road steadily deteriorated as we approached Soochipara falls. By around 12.30 PM I made it to the parking zone were the ride ended. But my woes were far from over.

After handing over the bike, I was told that I have to walk down around 1.5 Km to Soochipara Falls.  Then climb back. 

Déjà Vu all over again!

As someone once said – ‘if you gotta go, then you gotta go’. And go I did.  I had to purchase a ticket to see the falls.

The walk was not very difficult. It was good. The Water fall was very impressive. Though on the smaller side, there was good amount of water and it was quite noisy. A boisterous crowd was splashing around.

Tried reaching the base of the falls. It was rocky. It was slippery. So I beat a hasty retreat, didn’t want to break any bones. Besides I have to climb back to the parking zone - into the bus!

What else to add. We came, we saw, we conked out - in the bus!

Late Lunch at Sultan Bathery and we breezed into Bangalore by 10 PM and I was home by 11.00.

Wonderful !

Article Contributed by Sabari Thampi -Arowana Consulting 

Photos Courtesy – CAM riders Sushruta and Sunil Raghavan

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