Rudra Naik is a third year student of Engineering Design at IITM. A sports enthusiast, he is passionate about cycling, swimming and running. In the December of 2011, he undertook a tremendous 800 kilometre road trip on his cycle through Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Here is his account of the same.
The journey had been planned, though not very meticulously. A rough route had been charted out. Our bookings had been made only a day in advance. And the party that constituted a friend of mine, Ajay, and I, had no idea whether our cycles were going to be allowed to be taken as luggage on the bus to Ooty..
The cycles had been serviced, though, and we had spares with us. Other travellers at the the Koyambedu Bus Terminus had flocked over to us, asking curiously about our cycles. We waited, and hoped that the bus driver would allow us to take our cycles on the bus. Our whole trip depended on the driver’s sympathy to our cause.
The bus arrived at length.Plenty of confusion followed, with other drivers soliciting our business by offering to take our bikes for us. The driver of our bus finally broke his silence to say that there was no space in the luggage and that he couldn’t help. But we weren’t giving up so easily. Luggage space? That could definitely be adjusted. With my limited lexicon of the Tamil language, I somehow managed to persuade the driver to show me the space available. It seemed tight, but we could work with it. He hardly had time to protest before we were dismantling our bikes and loading them on the bus.
Back inside, it was with some relief that we reclined on the chairs. The bus was enroute to Ooty, cycles and all! The journey had begun.
The next morning: 9 a.m. We reached Ooty. We re-assembled our cycles on the road, attracting curious glances from the vicinity. The weather was cold, but we were more than equipped for it. Then, before long, we were on our bikes.
The first 2 km was totally uphill, with a steep climb. We were already panting by the time we reached the first peak. We stopped there, loaded our bottles with Electral, stuffed our ears with cotton, covered our mouths, put our goggles on, and then, the downhill ride.
Swooosh!! The bliss of cycling downhill. Averaging more than 40 kmph (and touching 55 every now and then) we left motor-vehicle drivers stunned. We stopped at Coonor, about 20 km away, in much less than 30 minutes. After an authentic south Indian breakfast, we started off again.
Once again, a downhill zoom. The joy of riding downhill was so much that we had so far ignored the beauty of the hills around us.
Then suddenly, the side of the road cleared. The view that we beheld was breathtaking.
Our first setback was in this leg of the journey. Ajay’s bike slipped from the edge of the road and he somehow managed to tear off the rear of his jacket, bruise his left ear and get a cut on the left temple. It’s difficult to picture how he’d have crashed, but when I saw him, blood was oozing from his temple onto his jacket. And his ear wasn’t a pretty sight to behold. It was a bad fall (if you’re still wondering how bad, imagine the energy of a 80 kg object moving at 40 kmph, being absorbed in just one impulse by the body. Ouch.) His vision after the fall was a bit blurry, so we slowed down.
The ride down to the foothills was a breeze. But it was just a temporary respite from what awaited us when we hit flat roads again: the sun beat down upon us, the road was bad, and it was very, very dusty.
Ajay’s cycle wheel had begun wobbling after the fall, so we stopped at every cycle or motor repair shop on the way, to no avail. None of them had any clue on how to work on the imported bikes. We had no other option,and kept pedalling along, towards Coimbatore.
The outskirts of Coimbatore was an unpleasant blur of sand, dust storms and traffic. We were also weary from the journey. We hadn’t had lunch, so we located a KFC, and rested there for a while. Then we found a place to stay, and began planning for the next day of the trip.
The crash of the previous day was nastier than it had seemed. Ajay’s hand had swollen up in the morning and his vision was still blurry. Cycling for another 5 days in that condition looked difficult. So we decided that he would go back to Chennai, and that I would keep going.
And so, at 7.30 in the morning, I began cycling solo towards my next destination, Ponnani.
The highway was awesome! It was mostly flat, and as I moved towards Palakkad, the scenery started improving as well. My excitement knew no bounds when I entered Kerala. In fact I began hooting when I crossed the checkpost, but quickly shut up – the truckers’ stares made me feel like a fool. I covered the 50 km to Palakkad in about 90 minutes. This was, by far, one of my fastest journeys. I stopped here to fill up my bottles and buy some dry fruits. Lunch at Ottapalam, and onward once more.
The ride after this point started getting tougher: bad, dusty roads, lots of slopes, hillocks and cattle! My motivation while going uphill was the downhill ride that follows it, so I was pretty frustrated when my downhill whizzes were interrupted by livestock. A wrong turn and garbled, incorrect directions that I got from locals added to the irritation. I finally called a friend and found that I was around 30 km away from his house (my destination): this was not a comforting fact to hear, given that the distances were hilly and it was 1 p.m. in the afternoon. But at 4 30 p.m., I reached his home, which I must say was one of the most beautiful houses I have seen.
The journey that day had been challenging, particularly the last 25 km. I had broken all my previous personal records that day: I covered 165 km, rode for a cumulative time of 6 hours and 30 minutes. My back ached from the weight of my backpack, but the satisfaction was enormous.
After a heavy breakfast in Ponnani, I headed towards Kochi. It was sultry, even in the morning. And the roads in the beginning weren’t exactly what you’d call expressways. Cramps from the day before slowly faded, though, as I warmed up.
The distance that was to be covered on day 3 was only 115 km, and I did not want to take up more than four and a half hours for this. The back-ache from yesterday hadn’t faded though, and it regained its ferocity after the first hour. I stopped 4 times in the first 80 km (which seemed twice as long!). The scorching sun compounded with fatigue were taking a toll. A Jeera soda on the way eased some of the pain, but the seller told me that Kochi was 100 km away! I knew he was incorrect, but it was already 11 in the morning and as temperatures soared, even 50 km looked like a challenge.
After another two hours or so, I reached the Varapuzha toll gates. It was almost 2 now, and I was totally drained out. I was a bit lost too and slightly disoriented, not knowing where to go, so I just stationed myself temporarily in shade somewhere nearby. I finished off whatever dates I was carrying along with me, and finally decided to use my GPS.
There are some moments in life when a feeling of accomplishment is rudely stolen from you by a harsh dose of reality. This was one of those moments: my GPS informed me that Kochi (which I had thought was a mere kilometre more to go) was 19 km away! I don’t know whom I directed my foul temper at: anything that went by was met with a muttered torrent of curses from me.
And then, the traffic. Let me assure you, if there is anything that can eclipse the haphazardness of the Chennai auto-drivers, it is the bus drivers of Kochi: twice they forced me onto the footpaths, and countless times they forced me to a screeching halt. Building up momentum on the cycle when you are exhausted is frustrating. I reached my destination worn out and frustrated: the rest, however, was in order.
My day of rest had charged me up, and the effects showed on the road. On the National Highway, miles flew. I made it to Allepey in barely two and a half hours. I reached the boat jetty, and was supposed to take a boat ride to Kottayam, from where I’d reach my destination in a kilometre or so. But the boat I planned to get on got cancelled, and the next boat wasn’t until next two hours. I did not have the patience for all that waiting, and so, decided to cycle instead.
So I cycled to Kumarkom, braving the bad roads. This stretch opened my eyes to some of the more awry aspects of Kerala. I stopped once to get directions from a lady walking by, and she ran away, feeling threatened. Somewhere in the next village, owing to network problems, again I had to stop for directions. I stopped a mother and a daughter, and the mother pushed her daughter away and rudely gestured to me to get lost. I had similar experiences with men as well, but somehow managed to make it to Kumarkom.
Kumarkom, and then Kottayam. By the time I reached, I was exhausted and, after all these days, totally tanned!
The house I stayed in at Kottayam, located beside paddy fields, had to be the most beautiful house I’ve seen! I had never seen anything else remotely similar. And so the day ended with almost 6 hrs of cycling; I had covered nearly 130 km.
I woke up early. Trivandrum was 170 km from here, but I secretly hoped to make it to all the way to Kanyakumari, if I reached Trivandrum before 12. From here I was to reach Changanacherry, and then get on to NH47. But wrong directions set me back: I travelled 20 extra kilometres to get back on the route, and the roads were full of uphill stretches. When I finally reached Kollam, having covered nearly 110 km, I was relieved.
Brunch at ‘Asian Cafe’: two parottas and horrible tea; and then I was back on the road. But it was 11 in the morning (not the best time to be on a cycle), and I had never faced stronger winds than these. Combined with constantly varying gradients, generally uphill, I was tired before I was within 40 km of Trivandrum. I halted at a coconut vendor’s shop, relaxed for a while, and then moved on.
The last part became even tougher, with the winds building up, and more uphill roads. I dreaded every downhill ride, because I knew that once the fun was over, it’d be followed by another long and tiring climb.
At three in the afternoon, I finally reached the city, found a lodge and crashed onto the bed the moment I was allotted my room.
So far, this day had taken the biggest toll on my health. My knees were feeling a bit strange by the time I had reached the lodge. I couldn’t stand for long without running out of breath, and was extremely drowsy. I had covered 190 km today, cycled for 8 hours and 30 min, and spent the largest amount of money today on electrolytes, water and food so far in the entire journey. I wasn’t mentally prepared for the following day’s journey. I even considered going to Chennai from here directly, but decided against it in the end.
The last day of the trip! I packed my bags, readied my cycle. It took me almost an hour to get out of the city. But once I was on the National highway, I managed to keep a constant pace. Reaching Kanyakumari was more peaceful than the previous day’s ride. Anything would be easier than the previous day’s ride, I kept telling myself. Once at Kanyakumari, I quickly toured the beach, and snapped a few pics.
My bus reservation back to Chennai was from Nagercoil, so after a quick lunch, I headed there. It was 20 km from Kanyakumari, and I was in no hurry, so I enjoyed the beautiful scenery along the roads on the way back.
As I waited at the bus stand, I couldn’t help but smile, looking at my cycle. It had been faithful to me all along the way. Not once did I have any problem because of it: No flat tires over the 800 km ride, nothing. What more could I ask for?
I took up the challenge of doing this because I wanted to prove to myself that I can. Just like a pilgrimage, it often made me question my motivation and incentive all along the route. It often pushed me to the brink of giving up, but I held on. And when I was back in Chennai without much damage to me (or any damage to my cycle) I knew I had succeeded. I will always cherish this journey. After all, I DID IT!
Rudra’s blog: http://myviewchar.blogspot.in/
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