A full tank fuel and some oil change and we were off to Alleppey mid morning. The plan was to cover a good amount of distance because we had to reach Vagamon for the night. We rode with minimal breaks and at a pretty good speed (whatever the road allowed). We were at a very unusual climate. We had crossed the east coast where monsoon was approaching and we were just in time before the downpour started and on the west coast where the monsoon was coming to a close. The weather was warm and in the heavy riding jacket. While riding it was just right but during stops it got pretty humid and sweaty inside. The plan was to go to Alleppey and chill in the back waters and then head uphill to Vagamon a small quiet hill station.
The heavy traffic while entering Alleppey ate up quite of our time. By the time we reached the backwaters it was already 2:30pm. The only way we could spend more time was if we decided to stay there for a night. Running on a tight schedule that wasn’t an option hence we had a quick light lunch and made our way towards Vagamon which was another 100kms. Google maps said the journey would take 3hrs but we knew it’d take way longer than that based on our speed. Both our phones had died and the power banks had run out of juice too. Every few kilometers we stopped to ask direction so as not to go on the wrong route. Being from the hills myself I know that everything in town closes really quickly hence we had to reach there before everyone went home.
After a lot of asking directions, we were on a single road that lead only to Vagamon. It was already dark when we started climbing uphill. The milestone said 10kms but boy o boy that 10 kms took a mighty lot of time. We rode and rode and the road just wouldn’t finish. It was pitch black and the hills were winding. Our only guiding light was the headlamp which wasn’t that powerful either. It got really foggy after a point and then it started to drizzle. I was just fearing that if the weather continued to the next day we wouldn’t be able to para glide. Something I was really looking forward to, being up in the air. After a point my ears popped pressurizing itself to the height. Finally around 8pm we reached Vagamon. A small town which looked like the whole town was on that one street. Tourist season hadn’t started yet hence we knew we could bargain on the stay. We found a pretty good lodging which was recently renovated. After a heavy bargaining (~60%) we settled in for the night. Everything was closed by then so dinner was a few packets of biscuits and water.
I woke up the next morning to see it was bright and sunny. The cool breeze in the air and the warm sun took me back to Darjeeling. I knew winter was near. Far away in the sky, dark clouds were building. In the hills you really don’t know what to expect. It’ll be bright and sunny one moment and a few minutes later it’ll start raining. Keeping our fingers crossed we went towards the paragliding place. The locals called it ‘Suicide Point’… and we were going to run off that cliff. The take off point is heavily restricted as in people are not allowed to go as and when they wish. One needs to take a ticket to enter and during monsoons it’s closed because of frequent lightning strikes. We enter the area on really broken and narrow roads but it was beautiful. Small meadows and hills all around. You could play roll down the meadow on the grass and not get hurt one bit. The Fly Vagamon guys arrived and we two were the only ones paragliding that day. The season had just started and there was only one other person who had done it a few days prior to us.
Ratty was the first one to take of as he was lighter than me and since it was morning the thermal (The heat from the earth that makes the parachute rise) was pretty low. Next I went. Strapped myself and took off. It was a few short steps before the parachute filled with air and we were air bound. The view was beautiful from up there. The meadows, the
hills and the plains far away. We stayed in the air finding thermals to take us higher and places with less thermal to bring us down. After a while the instructor said let’s do some maneuvers. I was game. We found a good spot in the sky and he started spinning. We spun and spun and spun. We were almost horizontal to the ground. The parachute being the centre point of the spin and us being on the end of it was quite an experience. The centrifugal force acting on us was pretty high. The straps we were attached to were pulled quite a bit and I feared if it ripped I’d go flying out. One hand gripped the selfie stick (like it’d help) and the other one on the harness on my shoulders. The spinning stopped after a while and we stabilized. Woo, It was only later when I looked at the video from the ground I realized with the spinning we had descended quite a bit too. A few minutes later we landed. It was quite an experience. I said to myself that one day I’ll learn how to paraglide and be up in the air on my own.
The weather turned sour and on our way down the hill it started to rain. We continued despite the rain on a different route towards the plains, heading towards Thrissur where we planned to spend the night. When we reached Thrissur it was already dark and late. Found ourselves a pretty cheap lodge, a quick dinner and then crashed for the night.
Early next morning we saddled up and rode towards Mangalore. Mangalore is around 300 kms and we had hoped to make it to Mangalore by mid evening, maximum late evening. Little did I know it was to be the worst day of all the riding days! As soon as we let the lodge we got a flat tire. By the time we finished changing the tire and all, it was already 10am. We did minimum stops and tried riding at a steady pace. The Nilgiris is beautiful with its up and downs, hills and valleys but the road wasn’t. The road was in pathetic condition. Potholes everywhere, drivers especially the bus and truck drivers were driving at breakneck speed and to top it off, the road was a little wider than two busses. We rode all day. Just rode and rode and rode applying break and clutch like it was no one’s business. The clutch on my bike being pretty hard took a toll on my hands. It hurt quite badly after a while. From ass breaks I now had to stop for finger breaks. I was really exhausted when we reached a point 80kms from Mangalore. The road had gone from bad to worse. A can of Red Bull and we were off again on the graveled, uneven broken road. I really wanted to get out of Kerala and enter Karnataka. After a few hours of riding we reached Karnataka border. Oh how sweet that board that said Welcome To Karnataka’ looked. We entered Karnataka and the road hadn’t improved yet. But 2 kms inside Karnataka and that broken road suddenly turned to a six lane highway. I was elated. It was already past 10pm at night. Everything was closed but managed to find a lodge for the night and got ourselves some dinner and crashed dead tired.
Early next morning when I woke up I couldn’t close my hands to make a fist. I just couldn’t. It took a while before I could close them. Sprayed a good amount of Volini and wore gloves. It was just a confirmation of how bad the previous day was. So much so that even two weeks after returning home, I tried closing my left hand to make a fist in half sleep but couldn’t. I had to assist it with my right hand before I fell back asleep. As I type this story 2.5 months later I can feel a mild pain in my left middle finger when I press it. Roads in Karnataka are very smooth and going to Gokarna was very very smooth as compared to the day before. 6 lane highways, even the hills were smooth and roads well maintained. On our way to Gokarna we stopped at Malpe for a bit and also at Udupi. I’d never been to Udupi but I had to make a stop there. For the simple fact that a little more than 31 yrs ago, the bike I was riding rode out of some showroom there and hit the streets and now I had just completed ~2500kms on this single journey. I don’t know why, but I felt quiet overwhelmed.
We reached Gokarna and went to the most famous place in Gokarna (Om beach) and booked ourselves a cottage in the most famous place (Namaste Café). We had the whole afternoon to spend. We lazed around, went to town, strolled along the beach and did a short hike. Most of our adventure sports were over. Now it was time to start chilling. It was only getting better. It was Gokarna that day and Goa the next. Next day we lazily woke up and slowly packed and checked out 1 minute before checkout time and went to Goa. Since it was Dussera holidays a lot of people were expected to come to Goa. After a friend made a few calls and helped us find a place to stay we started doing you know what…. Chilling. The pressure of waking up early and riding all day had momentarily stopped. Good food and cheap alcohol was the only thing on our minds. And that’s what we did. Ate, drank and merried. Unfortunately Ratty had to fly back home because of an emergency back home but luckily another friend, Monil had come to Goa so I had someone to ride back home. The plan was to ride through the Western Ghats and via Hubli go to Hampi to spend a few days there. Monil came the day after we arrived and now we had one more person to chill with. It was then that it struck me. Monil was the first familiar face we’d be seeing after we left Murgi in Chennai some two weeks ago.
Ratty flew home two days later and now Monil and I made our way up the Western Ghats towards Hampi. Unfortunately we were caught in the last few showers of the monsoon. We were drenched throughout the journey towards Hampi. We checked the weather forcast and concluded that the whole of northern Karnataka was expecting heavy rain. The plan to
go to Hampi was cancelled. We decided to head back to Bangalore via Hubli. The whole ride through the Western Ghats was beautiful. It was foggy, barely visible nice bends on the road but the only problem was we were soaking wet. And we rode that way all the way to Hubli. While entering Hubli, the bike started to cough a bit. I was expecting the same issue as when we first started but since we already reached our lodge and parked the bike I decided to tackle it only the next morning, with a faint false hope that I’d fix itself through the night. And fix itself it did not.
The ride next morning back home was to be 415 kms. The longest we would be doing for the entire trip. Lucky the road was a national highway and in impeccable condition. But luck didn’t favor us. Less than a km from the lodge the bike started coughing. I started to play around with the air fuel ratio but it didn’t help. We stopped the bike beside the highway and I opened the whole carburetor. Opened every part of it and cleaned it. If it didn’t work, the problem was either with water getting mixed with the fuel or the air filter. Either of which I didn’t have an alternative. I didn’t have an extra air filter nor did I have a clue as to how I would empty 21 liters from the tank. Even after cleaning the carb the problem didn’t stop. Some more tinkering with the air fuel ratio and the bike got a little better. There was a bit of coughing but I had no other choice other than ride it. And ride we did…. 320kms with the bike coughing. Around 80kms from Bangalore the coughing increased a wee bit, nothing that couldn’t be neglected. But me being a wise ass tinkered with the ratio a bit and then gone.. the engine stopped. And for the next hour or so, I was back trying to get it to start. A good bullet Samaritan stopped and tried helping but couldn’t. And in the whole situation I turn around and see Monil standing casually and filming me. I got furious but didn’t know what to say coz there was nothing he could have done to make the situation better. Later the bike somehow managed to start and I rode nonstop back to Bangalore. It started raining and we were drenched yet again. We entered Bangalore via Yeshwantpur and were welcomed by the Bangalore traffic which I had so happily forgotten for all those days. First thing we did as soon as we entered Bangalore was to go to Meghnas Biryani for a nice warm plate of the best biryani in the world. Due to the rains everyone was taking shelter but not us. Monil and me walked in and walked out without a care in the world. After staying soaked in the rain for two days, we were immune to getting wet in the rain for two minutes. After a sumptuous meal we went our respective ways and called it a night.
Next morning I woke up with a happy sad feeling. Not having to ride made me both happy and sad. Happy, well it was time my body got some rest, sad because this adventure was now over.
This is what the journey looks like on video.