Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Aroma of Nilgiris - The memories

Its been almost a year since I went on the longest ride of my life - The Aroma of Nilgiris ride from Bandipur to Ooty. A mega ride of 80kms and 4560 ft altitude gain on the first day to Ooty and a 94km ride on the second day for the return. The 14 extra kms were kept aside for the expert ride to Doddabetta, a popular tourist spot within Ooty.

Phew. Thinking back to that event, I can say with certainty that it was one good decision I took to not sit in the side lines and wait until I was super fit or acquainted with long rides. It set the pace for many things to follow :-)

The ride was conducted on the 26th of January 2013. It was a saturday. The ride was conducted by Cycling and More. A bus was arranged to transport the riders overnight from Bangalore and a truck followed, carrying our bikes with it. At the pickup point, we met several enthusiastic and interesting people who came from various backgrounds,professions and age groups. We had short introductions between ourselves and were getting all excited about the ride as experienced riders confirmed that the route was difficult but doable and thoroughly enjoyable.

Soon we were on our way, and the stories narrated by Brian, Mike and Srinivasan were what made everyone in the bus sit up for a long time. Brian was an aged person and so was Srinivasan at 70 years, with lots of long rides under their belts. While Brian was a jovial person cracking jokes and narrating funny incidents, Srinivasan who sat next to me was very quiet and only on enquiring revealed the vast distance he has covered on the pedals. He was a regular long distance office commuter on bicycles and for him mountains, valleys and highways were alike. I felt like a toddler among these great men. The regular riders were all flocking to them. But Mike, he was the star. Mike was originally from Germany and he had been in India for a long time now as part of his job. On being prodded with questions, he revealed how he started off as a newbie in France and soon conquered many peaks of the Alps (on road bikes) before arriving in India. The list of places he conquered made us all roll our eyes. The pro was among us. It gave us immense pleasure and pride to have a guy like him with us. He never hesitated to share tips and crack jokes :D

Mike n Sallu
 Next day at seven in the morning, we were dropped off at the Tamilnadu border ,where the Mudumalai forest started. Breakfast was served and our bikes and gears were set out for us to get started. With great energy, we all set off through the wide open roads that cut through the green forests. Experimenting with gears and trying to compete with each other, our group consisting of Salahudeen(Sallu), Tinu and me were roaring through the forest.

People who have been to the Nilgiris, especially on motorcycles know how immersing the route is. I would not be able to narrate the experience of the ride, after all this time. But I still remember every moment like it happened yesterday. The initial energy turned to slow pace once the 35 kms long steep slope started after Gudalur. I made teams with many other riders who were slogging it out to get warmed up. The going was slow, but everyone was high in spirits.
Not many stopped for rest and we kept on going, climbing bends and slopes, one after the other. Sallu, being an expert rider was soon coasting ahead of us and we let him go. Sweat beads turned to sweat streams and jackets and woollen clothes were stuffed inside. The hot sun came up after a while, and we started feeling the real sting. Every ten minutes, someone would mention the remaining distance, with optimistic estimates.This went for what seemed like an infinity. Me and Tinu stopped a couple of times, to refill water or stockpile Perk from village shops. Two fully geared men(both bearded at the time), asking to empty the jar of Perks into their bags attracted a lot of amusement and people came to us shooting a lot of amusing questions.

The climb continued for some more time until the lunch break, which was thankfully a very big relief, with a roadside waterfall and all :D After a heavy lunch, we were stuck by a moment of laziness and when the support van rolled by, the devil got into us and we got into it. After a five minute drive, we realized that the climb was over. Overcome with regret, we got off soon at the next stop point and then rode with vengeance.

Ooty at 5 PM welcomed us with the chill and dimming light. We had our stay arranged at the YWCA and traversing the Ooty town was a special feeling after all the puffing and panting in the hot sun. YWCA accommodations were perfect and cheap. We roamed around the town a bit to grab some local food and retired early to rest our sore bodies. The cold was biting and we never knew when sleep hit us. We had the jovial company of Siva and Om, who shared our room.

Early morning risers were few and they went off to conquer the Doddabetta while we rested ourselves more, having a relaxed breakfast. That was when I got a call my mother when she came to know that I had cycled to Ooty, thanks to my brother :) I had a some explaining to do for not informing, taking risks, etc etc. Soon, the pros were back, and we were all in super high spirits to start the return ride.

After fixing brakes and clicking some photos, we started off. The return was more relaxed as we knew what lie ahead. The ride was fun, with us often stopping for lots of photographs, some shopping and racing each other downhill. I for one was in vengeance mode, using my fully body weight for momentum to gain maximum speed downhill. I must have hurtled myself through some of those hair pin curves at nearly 50kmph screaming out emphatically for those in the way to make way, until I realized I was probably taking it too far and slowed down later.

Rest of the ride was very enjoyable and it was not until Gudalur that we had to climb up slopes again, albeit smaller ones. It was here that a couple of us took some bad falls and one broke his arm. Even I had a freak fall at this point, much to the amusement of the onlookers. I dusted myself up and slowly rode up the remaining trail, which was getting tough as now I was near my physical limits, having tested them a lot in a short span of time. Motivated by the water and chocolates offered by many passing by cars, I rode through to the end point, to be cheered by the good fellows who were there already. The sun was scorching. The body was broken. But the heart and mind were in Cloud Nine. It was such a special achievement :-)

 But Mike, the bloody genius had finished both the directions 6 hours ahead of anyone else. We could only sit jaw dropped on hearing that :D

A special mention required for the kids in each and every village on the way who greeted us, ran behind us and asked all sort of questions, sometimes in Tamil or some testing their knowledge of English.

I tried to answer as many of them as possible, and the fun helped me relax in the extenuating ride. Some questions were tough like "Why would you want to cycle all the way from Bangalore to Ooty? Can't you catch a bus or something?" or the regular "How much does this cycle cost? I heard it costs 40000. Why waste it on a bicycle?" or "Anna, are you famous? Do you appear in TV? Will I also come in TV?" Such innocence and energy. I marked in my mind to come back another time just to spend time with these kids :-) A random thumbs up from other gangs, travellers always raised our spirits whenever it ebbed. A gang of Bullet riders who gave us a riding salute when we were traversing some tough areas, filled up my motivation tanks for more than a day. Thanks Bros!!!

In those two days, in the sweet scent of Eucalyptus trees, the cold breeze, the chilled crystal clear springs, the countless packets of Perk, the warm beds, the hot asphalt, the paining joints and muscles, the pungent sweat, the euphoria and bliss on the faces of my comrades - I smelt the real Aroma of the Nilgiris. It was a life changing experience I would probably remember forever. A 160kms cycle ride with full support for two days - INR 4000. A bunch load of experiences, lessons and friends gained in two days - Priceless.

Adios Amigos :-)


  1. Wow..Vivek Seriously What an Amazing Journey it must have been..I can sense it.. :)
    Kudos to all you guys.. :D

    1. thanks Harsha.. It was indeed a life transforming event :D

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by. I am glad you enjoyed :-)

  3. I really liked your blog and have nominated you for the Liebster Award. You can visit the link to complete the procedure.

    1. Wow, thank you Divya. I am honoured. I shall be ready with the response in a day :-)

  4. Good one Vivek and congrats on the Liebster award. You must have some stamina to even attempt such rides. Keep going!