Thursday, July 30, 2009

The wind on my face...

now has eco potential!

Gearing up for the rough ride

to work
Gearing up for battle

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Back with a ride

Approx distance: 500 km
Companions: Yes, my Blackberry :)
Target destination: Somewhere on the banks of Cauvery
Highlights: My come-back ride
Pictures taken: Some
Route: Home- Pondy (175km) - Chidambaram (230km) – Cauvery River (242km) - Neyveli – Tindivanam – Home (485km total).
The road that leads away from it all
The bigger picture:
Patience is a virtue, well almost. I have remained patient for this trip for well over two and half years since my last trip (Sep 2006). Thanks to all the travelogues on discussion forums, I had somehow held out until now. I got my Karizma in mid-April and had been counting the kms until the completion of the first service so that I don’t end up screwing the engine. But a forecast of better weather convinced me to don my ride gear and crank up the engine despite the ongoing Agni-Nakshatra.

I packed my bag on Saturday night and rehearsed its mounting position to ensure that I don’t get any last minute surprises at 4am in the morning. The undocking act on Sunday 4-30am was with surgical precision and I headed towards the East Coast Road in no time when the good ol’ memories came rushing back to me. The rusty tourer(me) was shaking off his blubber accumulated during the 3years of his hibernation.

I hoped to witness a spectacular sunrise along the coastal highway, but the cloud trail of cyclone Aila played spoilsport. I took this as a blessing in disguise and revved the engine to cover as much ground possible under cooler climes. The smell of wet mud ensured that all my senses got the entertainment. A Friday and Saturday night thunderstorm created a great weather for this Sunday ride. I reached Pondy by 8-30am and had breakfast at Le Café, facing the bay. Morning tea with eggs and toast answered my growling belly while the roaring waves ahead seemed like music to my ears. My bike got its fair share of Pondy’s finest yet cheaper petrol.
Morning Breakfast seaside -my helmet

I headed towards Chidambaram, through Cuddalore, and felt these places are merely modernized villages and not towns as we believe. The lack of industries probably contributed to this unsophisticated yet admirable lifestyle. I parked my bike, decided to get some blood circulating and headed to the famed Nataraja Temple. As always, I was impressed by the architecture and the grandeur while I turned a queasy eye away from the devotees who think it is their royal duty to litter every place.
Dipping spot in Natraj temple
The sun had escaped the shackles of Aila's treacherous grasp and was displaying the effects of its radiation on every living creature on this part of the planet. I gleefully gulped an overpriced Bovonto (India’s own cola like erstwhile Thumbs Up) just to spoil the protectionist plans of the governments in the land of the free- with my own 2 cents literally. I wanted this ride to be an Indianized version of my last ride (Sep 2006, Vstrom 650, Mississippi river) and headed towards South to meet Cauvery river. I followed a dirt track along the river for 3kms, parked my bike and walked to the southern bank of the river. I spent about 30min enjoying the breeze despite the tormenting sun and finished my guavas just as the chirping birds circulated over head for an easy snack.My favorite pedicure
I headed back home taking the short but boring road (NH 45) towards Chennai. I had my fair share of nut-case drivers in vehicles of all shapes and sizes. But, my 3year long abstinence had paid off in building a more confident and a patient rider. I rode into my parking lot with lesser body aches and greater authority – perhaps the break wasn’t bad after all.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Hanging My Boots...! for a while


My move EAST has forced me into Hanging My Boots. But, I will be back- even stronger, so while this blog hangs up its boots, please follow the continuity on my other blog

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sunrise from the top of Mt-Mitchel, North Carolina

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Sunrise Mt-Mitchel

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Living My High-School Geography Lessons

Approx distance: 500+ miles

Companions: None- as usual

Target destination: Somewhere on the banks of Mississippi

Highlights: My first long ride in the Wild West

Pictures taken: Several

Route: Chicago-Galena-Savannah. Covered the 3 states of Illinois-Iowa-Wisconsin

The bigger picture:

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After successfully completing GMAT and scoring 95%, I turned my attention towards biking. The daylight which lasted until 8pm during peak summer, started fading by 7pm in late August. So I had to act fast and plan one long ride before the year runs out of enough light and heat for a vulnerable biker. Gone are the days when I have to take a call between a road map and a bottle of water for space and weight reasons. But for this ride, I had two 45-litre Givi hard saddle bags, big enough to gobble up all my non-human belongings on this planet.

Thanks to Google Hybrid Maps, I was able to visualize the terrain that I will ride through and made appropriate preparations. As usual, I also checked the weather forecast and satellite pictures of cloud movements and confirmed a ‘dry’ ride. I also made a mistake of noting down just the max and min temperature, but not the speed with which the temperature rises and falls during the day. On the eve of the ride, I packed for the ride and went to sleep, anxious for the next dawn.

I was on the road at 5:30am and headed approximately towards Galena, Illinois for it rolling hills and bovine-grazing landscape. I put off a gas/petrol fill-up for the later as I had about 4bars out of 5 on my digital fuel gauge- accurate, but deceptive as I will learn for worse. I was happy that I am on my very first long ride in USA, half way across the earth from my home in India. The risk and sacrifice I made to be on the saddle of Suzuki VStrom 650 headed on this long ride are immeasurable.

I started feeling cold as the previous night low temperature had not risen high enough with the lack of direct sunlight. I was wearing my leather jacket, but the wind was sneaking in through the generous wrist band and causing mild hypothermia and numbness. I even stopped in a rest-area, clicked a couple of pics and even waved at a lone Harley rider. By then, I was nearly 50miles from start and riding through corn fields that stretched to eternity. I could hardly see any other human on the road or on the field working- it was a Sunday. But, I also noticed something else more important.

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My bike’s fuel gauge was showing just 2 bars and I didn’t expect to see any gas station for the next 30miles. 2 gallons of gas is enough to take me approximately 100miles, but we never know. I proceeded without much thought unmindful of this as I had seen several of them until about 10miles ago. But, the fuel gauge was showing an optimistic reading because of the generous splashing of fuel on the sensor as I was cruising at 110kmph. Soon, the fuel gauge read just 1 bar. I grew nervous and was working out risk management options- like stopping passing cars for help, approaching the farm house for reserve gas. But I was riding through a never-ending stretch of fields and barns with no sign of human activity. I immediately dropped the speed to 80kmph and ducked behind the windscreen to minimize aerodynamic drag and stretch that last gallon of gas. I knew that I will eventually find a gas station but the wait seemed longer on a motorcycle saddle doing 80. I passed several rural towns that had just 10 house and no shops or gas stations. I even thought of hitting the nearby freeway, but what if I get stranded on the freeway? I can’t even push my bike or walk there. I saw a sign board ‘Oregon 12miles’ and heaved a sigh of relief. I have seen several such board for different towns, but this board convinced me because the font was bold and capital- a sign of a bigger town. I don’t have to worry till my 1 last bar on fuel gauge starts blinking as in distress indicating 15miles worth of petrol range. But, within 2 miles, it started blinking. I grew nervous and was cursing myself for not staying at home and having a nice late morning sleep. Every 5seconds, I took a look at the gauge hoping that the red light doesn’t come up. I was scanning the horizon for that town Oregon. I was making good progress with the 10, 8…2mile sign boards. After all, I have just 2miles to push my bike- if that town had a gas station. I caught a glimpse of a McDonald’s Yellow-and-red arch and I knew I had made it. I totally forgot that I was feeling cold and that my legs were numb.

I set out again only after seeing petrol brim to the top of the tank, just like when you fill Pepsi in a glass. My next immediate concern was food/breakfast as it was nearly 8:00 am CST and stomach rats were in full play. The sun was shining and my cold concerns were gone and I just had to focus and enjoy my ride. I was sporting an eternal smile under the helmet as I was enjoying every bit of my first experience of a long lone motorcycle ride through an enigmatic country, waving at other riders and town folk. I also saw a private airstrip with a few gliders parked and ready a take off. I also saw a para-glider in the air running sorties around his corn field. I simply couldn’t stop and click pictures anywhere and everywhere, because there were several no-stopping zones and the shoulders were too small to stop safely. This is a major difference between India and USA because, I never worried about safely stopping, I could stop anywhere I wanted to and other motorists never bothered and swerved around me. But here, the motorists expect a separate lane and don’t try to drive around, because anyway they owned cars that cant turn or swerve around such obstacles. This led to a less number of good pictures in my collection and decided to fit a camera on my bike or helmet so that I don’t have to stop to take pictures. I could click even while I cruise- a good work-around for this problem.

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I rode through several quaint motorway towns that one sees in road trip Hollywood movies like ‘Smokey and the Bandit’. I took a break near a watch tower and plotted my next course of ride. In the map, I also saw the Great Scenic River Road that runs along side the banks of the Mississippi river and I was determined to spend some time on its banks and relax and meditate. Several years ago in my High School, my Geography teacher punished me for not drawing it correctly. If I meet her again, I will show her what R.Mississippi looks like from close quarters! But I will have to cross the town of Galena to reach the river banks. Galena is one of the prettiest towns I have ever come across in USA. I didn’t even think of such a town existing in the highly consumeristic culture that is prevalent in what is left of USA. The brick houses, majestic arches, lovely gardens, road side decorations, gravel roads, well-maintained shoulders were a treat to my tired eyes that didn’t have any recreation for nearly 8months. I slowly puttered through this place and headed towards the mighty river banks.

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At first sight, the mighty river was narrower that what I expected it to be. It was only as wide as a tributary of most Indian rivers. But there was plenty of water flowing through and I could hear the roar of water- unlike most Indian rivers that run dry and sport a parched look from the bridges. I sat in an observation bench facing the river and spent some time in solitude. I introspected about my activities for the last 1 year and the transformation that had taken place in my life- What I gained, what I lost-forever.

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I met an interesting person, Mr.Dipak, aged around 55. He had driven to the banks of Mississippi from Chicago on his Toyota Matrix just to realize his boyhood fantasy of seeing R.Mississippi- I was not alone. We had a simple conversation about some good roads nearby. We both shared the same curiosity for the mighty river and traveled 250+miles just to see it flow, in flesh and blood, as they say. Not many people will approve of it and only a few can genuinely understand such feelings.

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I was heading towards Savannah, IL about 35miles along the great river road. The vistas were simply stunning with its many forest reserves, mountain ridges and curvaceous roads that were shaped due to Mississippi’s flows. I simply rode to enjoy the view and smell the fragrances that are only to be found in water-rich areas. The feeling I got was ethereal and eternal as though I reached immortality and penance. I was smirking at the cars with their climate-controlled interiors for they miss and destroy what Mother Nature unfolds to every traveler along its river banks and water ways.

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Along the way to Savannah, I saw several Harley groups having their weekend ride. Most of them were without helmets and they rode in formation. Most of them were 30+ and had that bad guy look written all over their attire. They rode much faster than the speed limit and I had to pull over several times to let them pass without their cordon being broken. Most of them thanked by waving or saluting me inspite of me not riding their own kinda bike. Savannah is a hang-out town with its many cafes along its two main roads. All the roadside parking was taken over by Harley groups and they were having the time of their life. It looked like the weekend Harley get-togethers were the only notable event in this town. It has a railway station for freight-handling and an old iron bridge across Mississippi to cross into Iowa State. I just stopped for a quick meal and headed back towards home after a challenging and satisfying ride in a very long time.

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Detroit Auto Show 2007

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I went to Detroit Auto Show 2007 along with my friend Madhan and his cousin in a Honda Accord. The weather God gave us a bad time with an ice storm that sent many cars ploughing into the nearby fields at a scary 80mph. Madhan, an expert driver, worked the gearbox and delicately piloted his car on the 2- 3inch thick ice covering the highway and safely took us to Detroit. I caught a glimpse of a tunnel leading to Canada and was worried whether Madhan would drive me into Canada and trouble as I was not even carrying my passport. But I felt relieved when I saw the show venue and the crowd.

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My first reaction on seeing the venue- overcrowded. It was more like a hangout than a place for auto-enthusiasts. Madhan and I discussed about several cars, design and features that we liked. I was really surprised to hear that his opinion was same as that of mine in 99% of the cases. A 1-day trip to Detroit meant that we could only spend a few seconds with each car and had to keep an eye on the watch. This was also my first trip crossing a time zone on road. Chicago is on CST, whereas Detroit follows EST and is 1hour ahead.

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I got up close and personal with Lamborghini Murcielago and accompanying models ;), Ferrari 599 Fiorana, Maybach 6.2, Rolls Royce 100Ex, Aston Martin Roadster,

The trip back home was dismissed fast by Madhan who drove at 85mph and brought me home safe. Thanks Schumacher!

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Intl Motorcycle Show 2007- Chicago

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I ve ogled at this and wondered the proportion of this bike and that the Italians had done a marvellous job, again !

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When i first read about Paul Stradt ed from the Ducatisti, I didn't even take a good look at the pics. But when I saw this yesterday, up close- I was flattered ! No words can describe about this bikes beauty. Just imagine, just imagine riding this to a bar/bike park filled with guyz and their plasticky Suzoo-Hondu-Kwakers-Yammies...and just one blip of the throttle will re-ascertain the supremacy of the 70s in a stylish way without a drop of blood !

I was singing praises of this for about 24h

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Italian- but not as beautiful as the above- I meant the bike!

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Finally, something from across the pond. Harley Sportster in a black scheme. nicknamed the Nightster. Why cant Bajaj Pulsar be called the Darkster?

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Life has come full circle- back home ! I spent about 25min in this bikes company. I am planning to call up RE and blast them for not selling this in India. I learnt this model is a KIT-bike, not sure whether this kit is made in India/USA.
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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

My ride!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

License to ride

Today, I passed my motorcycle riding test with flying colors!
I didn't think that the test will be a challenge, but I was in for a surprise. Rustiness apart, the testing course was in itself quite small and I had a Honda Cruiser to ride. I stayed in 1st gear throughout the test and did use my right leg like an off-road rider to get my bike to turn sharp, remember it was a cruiser. Quite powerful, but nowhere as agile as my pulsie. My braking and manuevering skill, sharpened in the Nilgiris, helped me a lot.
I found the 'snaking' and 'dodging' test to be challenging and I used my experience to impress the examiner- a lady of 50 golden years. She said, "You did well, you've passed"- I was ecstatic.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

First Step

Today, I cleared the initial step in acquiring a driving license in USA by clearing a written test and obtained THE INSTRUCTION PERMIT.

Hopefully, I will soon get the covetted 'M' Classified driving license that will let me loose on any production machine on this planet. But this was not without the usual hiccups. Last weekend, I got the scare of my life. But more on this later.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Chicago Auto Show 2006

Chicago Auto Show 2006 took place at McCormik Place, Chicago Downtown between Feb 10 and 19, 2006. Please follow the link to view some 150-odd pictures. Please dont forget to leave your comments back in my blog.

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Monday, December 26, 2005

Some more pics from Gingee Fort ride

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Farewell, my friend.

After 28000km, 3.5 years, 20 services, weekly washes, countless rides, mountain peaks, densest forests, greenest fields, exciting roads, beautiful pictures and pleasant memories came a day when I had to part company with my beloved friend.

I worked hard for well over a year to prove something to myself and to the world. In the end, I achieved it and got my bike as a reward. I had to wait 6 long months for my bike to be conceived and delivered to me. The wait was mixed with curiosity, excitement, frustration and even depression, but it was worth every second. It was one ‘pleasant’ summer evening that I got my first chance to swing a leg over my friend’s saddle. A crowd of onlookers had gathered to watch the spectacle of ‘the kid and his new toy’ and I went straight at the kickstarter and immediately stalled it. I repeated the same process a couple of times before my new found freedom revved it engine and idled steadily. That day was also the farewell to my another bike [a 1986 Suzuki AX100] which made way to accommodate its next generation.

The bonding between my bike and myself was intense. We were not a rider and his motorcycle, but a warrior and his stead. We talked to each other, understood each other’s likes, dislikes, whims and fancies. Several bikers have names for their bikes and consider them equal to their babies, but I considered my bike as a part of myself, an extension of my body. One doesn’t give separate names to a part of his body. We fitted each other like a hand and a used leather glove. I felt the pain of a scratch, a ding or a bump more on my bike than on myself.

As the responsibilities and rewards of my cubicled life grew upon me, the time I spent with my bike kept dwindling. But biking was a pleasant excuse to break away from it all. A weekend ride to a peaceful place, with the wind on my face, away from the hustle and bustle of a metropolis would invigorate and recharge my senses. I loved planning for longer trips but never got to execute one. Parental restriction and offspring obedience, if that can be called bad, became the regular ‘vetoer’ of all plans. I loved to explore interior Tamil Nadu, Northern Kerala, hilly Karnataka all by myself. I even had some secret plans for North East India. May be, someday, I will get a chance to do all these because I didn’t just dream about them, but fantasized about them. Somehow, I did not have any fascination for Khardung La and Marsimik La.

[Refer my blog for some of my travelogues]

When my bike was not playing the tourer, it served as a workhorse. It took all the rigours of the city commuting in its stride. It has even carried many septagenarians in comfort.

The year 2005 separated me from several wonderful people, some of whom I may never meet again. Some went to the different ‘corners’ of this spherical world; while a few, out of this world. My bike was my only consolation and it was ever ready to respond to my call for a ride. It never let me down, never.

The birth of 2006 had some changes to my immediate life, the changes that could potentially part company of my bike. Then I did something unexpected, posted an advertisement for my bike. There were many forthcoming buyers, not surprising as they were in commensurate with the condition of the bike. But I chose to hand it over to a person with whom my bike will feel at ease, where it will have a comfortable life.

On a Friday the 13th, I started my bike for one last time with a gentle kick and it purred to life and settled in an idle. I passed my bike to its new owner who was gleaming with joy at his new acquisition. My entire family watched and waved good bye to my friend as I stood helpless falling in line with practicality. As the bike revved with its signature exhaust note and moved away from me, I stood without blinking an eyelid lest I should miss a frame in the last shot. The new owner waved goodbye to me with the joy of a ‘just married’ couple.

My eyes followed the bike’s every movement till it rode into the horizon in the East and was visible no more. I turned away with a heavy step, without a tear in my eye and packed my bags to head West in an iron bird that would carry me to the Land of the Free. But the pleasant memories of my bike will reside in me for eternity.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Conquering Forts and Dams

As I pushed my bike out of the garage this Saturday morning, I looked at the sky - circumspect, after a hatrick of weekend washouts; courtesy: a ravaging Northeast monsoon. Whenever I took the bike out during the past few Saturdays, the rain would come down heavily on me. I had slept for a few hours and had dreary red eyes, but this was my riding day.

The ride out of Chennai, heading towards NH45 is nothing to write about except for the ubiquitous presence of noisy and flashy cars. The sun was yet to rise and I had to rely on my 35W halogen to find a good riding line amidst innumerable potholes. I heaved a sigh of relief after going past the ‘NH 45’ post. The road splits into a 6lanes of smooth tarmac. I could stretch my legs and enjoy a quaint sunrise over a cuppa Tea. [Sorry, I made up the last one]

The traffic on NH45 is very light and runs past Ford’s Chennai facility and the upcoming BMW assembly plant. I guess BMW will Indianise their Bangled 1,2,3..7 series in the bylanes of Chennai. Ford has planted lots of trees in their campus that kept their upcoming cars away from the prying eyes of moto-photo-enthusiast and their lenses.

My bike, a Classis 150cc Pulsar, has gathered lots of rust of late, but it surprised me, as always, during the ride with its mile-munching abilities emitting a low growl sound track. The 50 and 100km mark on the trip-meter was dismissed in no time, with a ‘duck-crossing’ livening up the otherwise insipid ride. The NH45 connects to the NH66 through a small village road with a train crossing that helped me with a saddle-break.

If the NH45 is a tolled 6/4 laner, the NH66 is a single-laned beauty. The scenery is stunning with its rocky cliffs and road-abutting water tanks. The 30km ride to Gingee fort was best spent in cornering hard and fast. The pilgrims heading for Thiruvannamalai contribute to the traffic, as expected zip past in their hired Qualises/Innovas. [Depending on which Gen you belong to, but basically they are the same -> loud honking + loud music + overloading + over speeding= biker’s nightmare]
The locals are very helpful with directions and so please thank them for even small favours. I did have a pre-conceived notion about Gingee fort- a moderately built and over-hyped place that passes off as a tourist destination. But I was proved wrong, the fort is truly magnificent and it symbolises victory and power. It has got separate swimming pool, gymnasium, marriage hall, gardens, cannons and pathways. It was like going back 500years in time without actually leaving the present. The trek up to the top is truly arduous in the form of step granite steps. The fort is actually on top of a granite hillock and had been a safe-haven for many a ruler. There is no history of any ruler being defeated in battle while staying in this fort. How can someone climb that flight of steps and fight in the battle without succumbing to exhaustion?

I had planned to ride till Sathanur dam, a further 65km away. I was running out of time and I had to be back home by 6pm in Chennai or face the wrath of the city-motorist armed with his array of honks and high beams. There are lots of trees lined along the NH66 that should keep this route wide open to a biker even during peak summer. The proximity to Banglore also throws up lots of cars with Soft-Pros nut look alike at the wheel. They are no better than a tourist cab driver, probably they are venting their pent up anger from the cubicled environment.
For the spiritually inclined, there are the temples of Thiruvannamalai and Ramana Maharishi Ashram. The later is famous for the ‘Who Am I?’ quote.
The road to the Sathanur dam is only as wide as an Ambassador car. The rural scenery with quaint country side hoses and cattle set up an idyllic environment that needs to be enjoyed by puttering through and not a high speed rip, which in any case is impossible due to the rain-ravaged roads. The children wave and smile at you, the women look at you as if you were an astronaut. The men folk, well, don’t do much anyway and just stare.
Thanks to the monsoon, the water in Sathanur dam stood at 110ft, held in place with just an iron gate and dam walls. It is scary to be on the wrong side of the dam, the potential energy can rip apart everything in 50km vicinity. The attached crocodile farm has some mighty reptiles but photography of any form is strictly not allowed.

The ride was a tough one, having to cover 450km in one day and to spend time in the fort and dam. I had to keep a strict eye on my watch. A shower on the way did help in cooling the temperature and gave an earthly-fragrance, but didn’t dent my travel time. As usual, the tougher the ride, the more pleasant is the experience.

Generally, I don’t like mentioning numbers like km, time, speed etc in my trip log, but for the benefit of future riders.

[5:45am] Start [0km]
[7:45am] Tindivanam [120km]
[8:45-10am] Gingee fort [150km]
[11:00am] Thiruvannamalai [195km]
[12:20-1:20pm] Sathanur Dam [230km]
[5:45pm] Chennai [435km]
[6:00pm] Home [455km]

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Greenery, North of Chennai

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Monday, August 29, 2005

The drag-race with a train

Lack of permission for longer trips meant Sunday morning blasts along the roads [that pass of as highways in India? Not anymore] that lead of Chennai [and its traffic, though better tham most Indian cities].
On Aug 28, I headed towards 'nowhere' on NH-5 for that relaxation that I sorely miss due to the lack of long-distance trips. The start was delayed by some early morning Sunday shopping for my mother. That meant the sun was ready to bathe me in its rays all through the ride [not a pleasant one that].
The NH5 is a part of the ambitious Golden Quadrilaeral project intended to uplift the infrastructure in the country along the lines of China. There were several new bridges being constructed that lead to this road. I must say this isn't a shoddy peice of work, if not for the lorries and trucks being stationed along the shoulders of this road. The entire stretch of road has 'dividers', 4 lanes and service lanes. I even remember seeing 100Kph speed limit in several sections [How many times have you seen this?].
While my odo turned to 100, I decided to turn at the next U-turn and head back home. I stopped for a break under a tree shade [a rare one on this highway] and took a bite of the bun I was carrying. I saw a train at a distance heading towards Chennai and recollected seeing a railway track running parallel to the NH5.
As I started on my ride, I caught up with the train running parallel to the road and decided to maintain a 'synchro' ride with it. The train and my bike were doing 60Kph[I m not a member of that club!], and I could see some passengers [kids, and kids at heart] waving at me. Then the train accelerated to 80kph, and I immediately followed suit and caught up with it. With one eye on the train and one eye on the road, riding was not exactly easy but very satisfying. This drag went on till 90kph and I was not giving up the race. I very much doubt whether anyone would have realised this 'race', but I did. Then as a matter of fact, with the train's handling as though 'on rails' went on to cross 100Kph while some unexpected traffic and diversion forced me to relinquish the lead to the train.
I guess the train with X000Bhp[not a bike group again] won over my humble 12Bhp friend, but not without a fight.

The rest of the way home was not even 10% exciting as that.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The climb just got better

A diary of most of my bike rides, in approximate sequence.

Sub Title: The climb just got better
Approx distance: 300km
Companions: 'Senti' Dhamodharan
Target Destination: Valparai mist and the bridge on Mystic River
Highlights: Hitting the mountain mist and exploring the evergreen jungle
Pics taken: Yes
Route: Coimbatore- Pollachi- Valparai - Aliyar Dam- Pollachi- Coimbatore

The bigger picture:

I had several ideas in my mind after a brief sojourn in Trivandrum and headed to Coimbatore to enjoy a long weekend. Having already pocketed my first salary, finance was no longer a priority but time and bike was. But on that fine weekend I had everything.

On a Saturday morning, I headed to L&T Coimbatore bypass for a speed run of my bike when I caught a glimpse of Nilgiris and was very anxious to relish the curves for lunch. I curtailed my speed run and headed home with a plan in mind. My mother did not accept Nilgiris as the destination but agreed to Valparai. I always had a liking for dense rain forest with ever green trees, but never rode to Valparai before. This was a blessing in disguise as I also found company in 'Senti' Dhamodharan. I also had the services of Nikon FM 10 camera and good photographic knowledge in my brain. Photography and Motorcycling is a deadly combination and has a tendency to induce many a human to roam free and find nirvana. They have a magic to recreate thoughts and facts with more accuracy than verbose trip logs like mine.

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An afternoon start from Coimbatore in warm weather is a first for my biking, as also is the heavy baggage for the overnight stay. Senti riding pillion was a very easy thing as he hardly weighed more than 50kg and thereby did not adversely affect the power-to-weight ratio of my bike. I hit the L&T bypass for the second time in a day to catch the Coimbatore-Pollachi highway. The 50km ride to Pollachi was very sunny and the crosswinds were very severe and I had to hold on tight to the handle and cover the road in a straight line, lest I should be staring at the under carriage of many an intercity bus that hurtle at demonic speeds while belting local rap songs. I felt this was to cajole the passengers into sleep and lessen their fright of speed.

A diversion on the highway to relay a piece of railway track meant that I needed to take a village road- full of potholes and mud. This also curved through some quaint little houses with children waving to all the vehicles passing through their house. They were very happy that all vehicles are paying them a visit. Infact, I could not believe that I had to take a passage through rice fields with absolutely no sign of a road. Infact the group of children at every road intersection served as the direction post as they waved at vehicles towards the route we need to take. We finally rejoined the highway, surpassing the railway crossing, but I will never forget this diversion I took.

We strolled into a hotel in Pollachi to calm ourselves with a cuppa tea and the time was about 3:30pm. We need to cover nearly 60 more km and through very steep climbs and beset with 40 hairpin bends. The weather was sunny till that point of time, but the threat of rains en route to Valparai could not be ruled out. We started from Pollachi heading towards Aliyar dam and Valparai through Indira Gandi Wildlife Sanctuary. We did not make a single stop till we reached the forest check post well past Aliyar Dam. Our experience in long distance biking helped us in planning the average speed to be maintained. After the routine questions at the check post, it was Valparai all the way without any scheduled stops.

The road surface may not be very smooth for high speed cornering, but offers ample views of the mountains and greenery. The route is beset with 40 hairpin bends and snakes through some small villages. There were several unnamed water falls caused due to heavy rains in the region. This is the highest rainfall region in South India, comparable to Cherrapunji. Anyone could trek to one of those zillion water falls and name it after their name, just like David Livingstone and Henry Stanley, but the only downside is that the waterfall or its name might not last long, as there is no exclusivity of either.

A hydro-electric power station is present in Kadambarai village. This is an epitome of Engineering as the water is brought to that place through tunnels dug through huge boulders and mountain. Some special permission from higher authority is required for visiting that place, but not very difficult for students representing some educational institutions. Much easier for Engg students of PSG Tech, the best in that part of the country. We did not have much time to pay a visit back to our Electrical Engineering days and headed straight towards Valparai.

It was after 20 hairpins, the forest gives way to tea plantations. I hate tea plantations as they are mere plantations, man-made and they erode the natural resources of the region even though it gives a secure future for the locals. Most tourists raise a 'Wow..!' on seeing tea plantations, but I see lost tracts of forests, vegetation, wild animals, medicinal herbs and nutrients of soil. We catch a glimpse of dark clouds appearing from the western side of the mountains- kerala state. We had light for about 1 hour, but we need to hurry to reach Valparai and escape the rains.

There were several temporary water channels running across the road and emanating a smell of pure earth- blissful after being used to air-conditioned environments. As we kept counting 25, 26, 27, the clouds were getting darker with every passing minute and my bike was puttering slowly up the climbs. This could be due to the two-up riding in the steep ghat road and leaner oxygen levels as we went past '1800m ASL' board. My bike was a silent spectator all through the journey as I treated my company with Senti more important than my bike. But my bike is just like me, happy to lend an ear to the ongoing activities while doing its own job.

The road re-entered into forest territory with huge green trees and sounds of birds chirping. The road runs near a water fall that seemed to be permanent from the name boards of adjoining locality, everything was named as 'Waterfall'- bus stop, hospital, tea shop, what not. I was very particular on not stopping for pictures near that place as it will affect our progress.

I came across a small timid dog-like creature on the road side grass. I realized that it was a small deer and there were several of them of the same species grazing peacefully. How many places on earth can such a sight take place? The light had faded in this place as a huge mountain covered the rays even when the time was about 5pm. We came across a fork in the road without any signboard and a wrong turn will mean several kms of wasted journey. Luckily our guess worked out correctly as we entered Valparai town 10km later. We confidently stopped for some pictures for the first time as we could spot some places of shelter in case of heavy rains too. I was very happy and had a look of satisfaction written on my face.

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We looked for accommodation in the nearby hotels and finally found one with my mother's help over phone. We quickly left the excess baggage in the hotel room and headed straight for some temples in the area. This is quaint little hill station without any tourist attraction like parks and boating facilities. This is essentially a nature lover's paradise. A few pictures and temples later, we returned back to our hotel and relaxed for a while. We later went out for dinner, some shopping and hanging out in the town, but the streets were deserted and people generally looked like early sleepers. I also parked my bike under a shade and generously tipped the watchman, enough for tea, but insufficient for booze. The plan was to go to Venkateshwara temple run by Parry Agro early next morning.
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An early morning bath left me cold and a drizzle outside made me feel sad, but we had our right of way as everything cleared up. The early morning mist helped us in several scintillating pictures. The entire route to temple was picturesque as it lies 25km away from the main road in one of the by lanes. There were not many people to give directions and a lost way meant getting really lost. A strange thing is that there are several check posts run by tea plantations. The people passing through these places must sign a register along with the vehicles number but need not pay any toll. But the people who man these booths did not know about directions either. Further, these plantations are situated right in the middle of prime leopard and elephant territory and I was wary of any movement in the background and all my photography stops were taken only after a thorough examination of the place. This may seem funny, but the mood will be different when you are the only hapless creature in a 10km radius exposed to all the elements in a bike with minimal self-protection and tree-climbing skills.
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The temple is a very divine place, located on hill where photography and private vehicles are not allowed. There is a rose garden and a children's play area. It is the exclusivity of the place that strikes the most. First of all, there was pin-drop silence, broken only by the chirp of a wild bird or the chant of mantra by the priest. The humid air early in the morning and the waft of freshness in the breeze were inviting for a pious prayer session. I could only imagine that the entire planet was as beautiful as this just a couple of centuries ago, before Homo sapiens proliferated and captured every nook and corner of the planet.

I wanted to explore a bridge on the route to the temple that we visited a couple of years earlier. We did not know the exact location of the bridge, but it could be instantly recognized with a gushing river beneath. It is made of steel bars with a tar topping and had an ancient look and attracted me a lot. We parked the bike near the bridge and walked to the gushing water. That was something I wanted to do the last time I crossed the bridge, but the raging monsoon rains forced me into my van then. But this day, I am the boss. I did whatever I wanted to do the last time I visited Valparai- Photography, biking, visiting the bridge, Venkateshwara temple and what not? We reluctantly walked back to our bike and started on a return journey back to home in Coimbatore, not before several photography stops and the exciting downhill bike ride.

We hit flat ground at 10:30am and ventured along the road that lead into Aliyar dam catchment area. We went to the edge of the water and decided to take a couple of pictures with the bike in water. We ran out of film to picturise some great shots and did some biking in the water. Only a video camera could have captured the scene in all its excitement as the water splashed on all sides as I rode on the lake. After realizing that all good things must come to an end, I scaled a huge rock on the water's edge and sunk myself into reflection on the journey and the next likely journey that I may take to that place-any place with all this kind of enjoyment.
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We covered the 75km ride back home with minimal stops and breaks. I dropped Senti in his room and hurried to develop the pictures I shot. I simply could not wait to see the pictures. I went home and had a lip-smacking biriyani and a siesta, with the little aches surfacing in my muscles and rendering me with a deep sleep.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

All for want of permission !

My plan for a biking holiday in the leeward side of the Western Ghats hangs on knife-edge as the required permission from 'Higher Authority' [read Mother] seems to be 'Rejected'. Can any of you give me a plan that can help me secure the necessary permits to head on my biking holiday?

Successful ideas will get a free ride on my bike or a great cuppa cold coffee for free*

* The overall cost must not be more than that of a litre of petrol, Chennai.

Got some company, finally !

A diary of most of my bike rides, in approximate sequence.

Sub Title: Got some company
Approx distance: 200km
Companions: 'Senti' Dhamodharan
Target Destination: Conoor, Kothagiri and Catherine Falls
Highlights: Time, Distance, Speed and Sunlight approximation.
Pics taken: yes, but only available on paper
Route: Coimbatore- Mettupalayam- Conoor- Kothagiri- Mettupalayam -Coimbatore

The bigger picture:

A brief chat with 'Senti' Dhamodharan during one of the lab classes exposed each others passion for touring on motorbikes and we vowed to ride as much as possible during weekends.

I worked out a plan while riding on my way to college and gave some final touches to it 5 min before the start of the day's classes. That day, I had just the morning first hour alone, what a way to begin the weekend? I revved my bike out of the parking lot and to load the camera with film. The film made its first appearance only from this trip onwards. Also, some snacks and bottled water. In no time, my bike was eating up road faster than ever and targeting the Nilgiris.

A lunch break at Mettupalayam ensured that I caught up with my fellow biker on his riding skills and his previous experience of riding. We headed towards 'Black Thunder' theme park and started clicking photographs. I was happy that I could show-off to my 'lesser' friends who are unaware of the joys of motorcycle touring. I was making more stops for taking pictures than I expected. The beauty of the route was so magnificient and panaromic that my camera could hardly capture 10% of it.

I had someone with whom I could share mt thoughts on the pictursque locales and the ride. This was a pleasant departure from singing to myself or basking in the silence during the rides. My whim is to videograph myself during the ride and add a background voice to it, like 'Lonely Planet' or BBC Documentaries.

We reached Conoor later than expected, courtesy the innumerable photography stops en route. We crossed the Nilgiri Mountain Railway track and towards Sims Park. We spent quality time chatting about the ride and the ones which we could potentially take in the future. Later, we did repent for wasting time by chatting and not make the best use of the sun and light for better things.

We took the Conoor to Kothagiri connecting road as we felt that heading through the same route would be boring. This road had lot of potholes and irregularities for about 5km. We could hardly manage 30kmph. But after a small town with a football field, the road had a hair-pin bend. The road that opened up for us was very smooth and fine, with hardly any traffic. The descent was also very gradual that we could literally rip the bike and enjoy the smooth curves that it offered. We even took a picture of myself lying on the road and bike standing guard. The road was so clean that one could eat out of it. This piece of road proves that 'As the going gets rough, the rough gets going'. I would rate this road in my all time top #10 beautiful roads.

We entered Kothagiri town with almost no sign of tourist traffic or hotels. This is more of a tea-market town than a tourist destination like Ooty or even Conoor. A gentleman gave directions to 'Catherine Falls' which he said is 'really very good'. We headed in the direction only to find a very narrow road- Wide enough for two bikes to cross each other. The road meandered through a little village and then through some lush green tea plantations. There were no walls on the side to protect the road users, so high-speed biking is a strict no no. The road has a mix of ascents and descents that leads to the falls. The steepness is very high, infact I had to hold my brakes tight to descend in many places. Also, first gear 6000rpm only helped me in some climbs. We finally reached the dead-end of the road, and we could ride no more. There was no sign of water falls and a gardener directed us into a tea-plantation. The route lead us to some water gushing sound, and we headed to the source of the sound.

A concrete shelter designed like a pagoda welcomed us to the highest point on the route and threw at us a scintillating scenery. About 200m away from us a majestic falls cascades down the slopes of Nilgiris onto the plateau below. It falls from so high into the base of the mountain that we could not see where the water ends up. The height of the falls would be approximately 600m, before the water hits the bottom most of it gets evaporated and becomes mist. Unfortunately, the falls in present on the opposite hill from where we were standing and could not get to the water without doing a superman or spiderman job, but the view in the setting sun was pleasant and captivating.

We then headed to Kodanad View point based on directions by another gentleman. But,realised that it is located far away than expected and the setting sun did not motivate me either. I took a U-turn and headed towards Mettupalayam [Nilgiris- Base]. I almost forgot that highways become demonaic when the sun goes down and hence mentally adjusted myself to cover the maximum distance before the light fades. A chilling breeze forced me into my jacket and I headed downhill taking the curves and corners with precision, aided by traffic-free roads. The road does not have walls protecting the outer periphery of the road and hence utmost caution has to be followed while negotiating curves and bankings.

We finally touched the plains by 6:30pm and had nearly 50km to cover. The roads comprised of several irregularities and poor embankments and hence the maximum speed possible on a bike is 60kmph. There was no divider and hence the four-wheeler traffic showed scanty road discipline and had high-beam during most of the route. I had seere problems in tackling the menace of light beams and narrow uneven road. I had to take the left end of the road for most part of the ride back home.

Fortunately, I reached home safely after dropping my friend in his home.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Straightening hairpins

A diary of most of my bike rides, in approximate sequence.

Sub Title: Straightening hairpins
Approx distance: 170km
Companions: none
Target Destination: Aliyar dam and hairpins on Valparai Ghat road.
Highlights: Pushing the limits of mountain riding
Pics taken: no
Route: Coimbatore- Pollachi- Aliyar Dam- Valparai road

The bigger picture:

Just one night after the Conoor ride, I was bored again. As the time approached noon, the thought of the earlier day's ride forced me to don the helmet and swing a leg over the saddle.This time in the direction opposite to Nilgiris- the Anamalai.

My bike dismissed 50km ride to Pollachi in one clear motion inspite of the mid-day sun. A strong wind was the only dampener as my bike kept swaying from side to side. I took the bull by its horns and subdued it. A tea break later, I headed through the densely forested Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary. I didn't spot anything 'wild', everything was natural and nothing was out of place in such a serene environment- dense evergreen trees, shrubs, mountains in the back drop, water puddles, fresh air, sound of tweeting birds, In short pleasure for the eyes, ears, nose and skin [nothing for the tongue though].

I rode past Aliyar dam and to the manned forest checkpost. The guards opened the checkpost with not a word exchanged. Probably, they could not mistake a helmeted, jacketed and gloved biker for a poacher. That was more like a grand prix GO light. In no time, I was climbing higher and higher through steep mountain ghat road. A board warned me 'No petrol station till Valparai -30km', but I need not worry with a 18litre petrol tank good for 1000km pit-stopless cruise, if not for a better seat comfort and shock absorber.

I took the first of the hairpins at 60kmph and came out a happy rider. My bike had astonishing levels of grip in the dry, far from the days of Ind Suzuki AX100, that I could literally bend down and touch the ground and carry on without even ruffling my hair. Then I moved on from strength to strength as I used the high-revving power delivery of my Pulsar150 to the maximum as I accelerated in the short straights to hit the next hairpin with a good entry speed and try to maintain an equally high exit speed [remember, I am on an uphill climb]. This way I counted upto 13.

I stopped for a break to enjoy the high-risen view from one of the hairpins. The view comprises of the lake created by Aliyar Dam and the surrounding water channels that feed and drain from the dam. I also caught a glimpse of a very unique road sign board that said 'Boulder drop zone- Watch your head'. I instantly ran for my helmet and kissed it and wore it like a knight and kept on my ascent 14, 15...

I could not stop imagining the downhill speeds and thrills I can manage and decided to turn back. It was pure road-scratching by a bike and rider combo which cannot be told apart. For, the 16 hairpins on a downhill ride produced some excellent cornering manoevers on the brink of ecstacy and disaster. With every count down, I exited with a smile on my face. The bike screamed feedback to the rider, who acknowledged by pushing it further. All that was achieved without any fuss or wrong inputs, just gentle and smooth handiwork of the throttle and brakes working in symphony.

When I reached ground zero, I looked back at the mountains and patted my bike on the tank and said 'Let's do it again'. Then headed home with a non-stop 80km ride.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

My touring style acquires new wings

A diary of most of my bike rides, in approximate sequence.

Sub title: My touring style acquires new wings
Approx distance: 160km
Target destination: Aliyar dam somewhere on Valparai highway.
Companions: None
Highlights: My first ride braving the elements and out in the open.
Pictures Taken: No
Route: Coimbatore- Pollachi- AliyarDam

The bigger picture:

My bike got a royal crown in its body colour and was christened as the Bike-King and it was time to foray into its home territory to ascertain its dominance and mellow other fakes. A semester exam could not stop my flauting of a new touring windscreen, that is to prevent drizzles and breeze getting to the rider.

For nearly 2 years I had been dreaming about hitting Aliyar dam during a rainy season and enjoy the scenery soaked in water and mist. But I dont like the idea of getting fully wet in the rain with water penetrating into every area considered impregnable. Early morning start was the best way to start a ride, preceeded by some workouts and coffee. I studied the gathering of the storm clouds and was upset over the rains due. But decided to go ahead with the trip.
As I filled up petrol, a couple of rain drops landed on my visor. I headed out to the highway only to notice the rains stop. But the dense grey rain clouds beautifully masked the early moring sun rays and lent a pleasant climate for me to enjoy. Infact, I considered turning back as the clouds threatened me, but I cruised on.
A break-fast at Pollachi fueled more desire to complete my ride's mission. The road to Valparai snaked through Indira Gandi Wildlife Sanctuary. The mist offered only limited vision on a narrow road. It only added to my adventure. Perhaps, I may not find enough words in my lifetime to descibe the locale. The smell of wet mud and water droplets from the trees kept me going. Suddenly, I spotted a gigantic capsized boat lying near the road shoulders. This only confirmed the vicinity of the dam. I could see 'Aliyar' written in some unknown font sized 10, in metres. It was written on the grassy slopes of the dam using flowering plants. I could hear the roar of water rushing out of the dam's gigantic steel gates onto the open fields nearby.

I parked my bike and entered the dam complex- I was their first visitor for the day. I could see the majestic dam walls higher than what I expected. I ran towards the innumerable steps that led to top of the dam. I felt breathless as the never ending stairs kept increasing in steepness. But I could not stop for a rest, as my curiosity would have killed me. Instead I slowed down my pace till I hit the top step. Then something unfurled in front of me.
The view will go down as one of the memorable panoramas of my biking adventure. I could see the lake stretch to eternity, only to be bounded by sky-high mountains. I had to turn myself 90 degrees on either side to capture the view, it was so stretched. The lake had several lines of water caused due to circular boats called coracles. The village folk on the opposite bank use these to cross the lake each day to the bus stop near the dam. A round trip on the periphery of the lake would be about 20km. It only stirred up my imagination to own a boat and lazily cruise in the water. I took a deep breathe to acclimatize myself to the suroundings filled with nature's best scents. For a brief instance, the morning sun made a brief appearance through the mountains and lightened up the lake area like a photographer's flash. But I owned no camera and could only store the images in my mind's eye. I sat on the dam wall facing the mountains and lake and started to meditate. All the pains of travel relieved in one moment of bliss.
A quick glance at my watch, only forced me to head towards my bike and home. The ride through the National Park was pictursque as the roads passes through some dense vegetation and plantations. A tea break on the way recharged lost concentration and refreshed me to carry out a non-stop ride to home, books and exams.

25000 clicks under my belt

A very important milestone of my biking adventures happened during a commute to work. My odo changed from 24xxx to 25xxx. It must be a personal milestone to be celebrated with a night out followed by a party. But I celebrated in true biker's sense. I got my serviced and pampered with some replacements that will make life a lot more smoother for my bike. It looks shining new, if not for a Honda Activa shoulder-rubbing incident.

The acceleration has improved, so does the throttle response. A new accelerator cable has made it very smooth for my right wrist with a perceptible loss of feedback.

A long ride is very essential to celebrate this little milestone and I can already think of mountains, mist, lakes, rivers and tarmac to be part of the celebration party.