Saturday, October 1, 2016

Wayanad - Riding into God's own country 01/10/1016

Place: Wayanad, Kerala

Distance: 700 km round trip
Type: Hill station, Waterfalls
Ideal for: Friends and family
Bikes: Avenger, Bullet, CBR, pulsar, Apache
Crew: 7 BTC members

While I was casually checking my Facebook feed, I noticed an event - Bike ride to Wayanad arranged by Bangalore Trekking Club (BTC). It had been 6 months since I bought my bike, but I never got any chance to put it on a long drive. This event seemed a good opportunity for me. Without a second thought, I registered for the event and also suggested my colleague - Vijay to join.
Best of the Beast
Winter is the best time to travel. if I have a choice, then I wish to take 3 months vacation during winter and travel to explore more places.

Unlike my usual trips, this time I accompanied BTC. (Remember BTC from my cycle ride to Turahalli?)
Finally, 8 people were confirmed to ride for the event. Travelling long distance as a pillion rider will always be difficult, so Vijay and I decided to take our own bikes.


Saturday morning: BTC declares a strict timing on the events they organise. Unfortunately, Vijay and I reached the assembly point almost half an hour late. The coordinator Amir Khan (no not the film star 😂) instructed us about the rules and high-levelled plan for next two days. I didn't even bother to run through the itineraries as I had been bored of planning the trips every time. It's fun to just enjoy the trip and just need not worry about planning.


Bangalore to Wayanad: The ride commenced at 7 am and the Mysore highway was crowded as expected. Still, we were great and tried to maintain good speed. After 50km we paused at Maddur Tiffanys for breakfast. After energising ourselves with tasty idli-vada and a hot cup of tea, we resumed our journey. We took another short break near Mysuru outer ring road.
A short break at Mysuru

We had almost covered half of the distance. From that point, the road appeared smooth and traffic free. The best part of the ride was crossing the Bandipur National Park. While it is safe for bikers to cross this stretch, we maintained biker's discipline and moved in a pack. Riding through the wild forest was a dream come true for me. The 0 km stretch is laid as a single lane smooth road with great twists and turns. But too many humps were unpleasant at sometimes. Be very careful while crossing this stretch as it's an accident-prone area. Stopping midway the forest is prohibited as you might be attacked by wild animals at any point of time. Unlike Ooty road, you won't find many wild animals on this stretch, not even a deer. I was expecting elephants :D. But no luck guys, Sorry !! After a peaceful ride of 20 km, we bid adieu to the forest and entered the Kerala state. We paused for a tea break near the forest exit gate. We had covered more than 300 km in the past 6 hours, none of us had any idea about the stay except the coordinator who in turn was dependent on directions by locals. I had no clue why for God's sake, he didn't use maps 😒 and we had to stop every 10 mins to confirm the route with locals.


The stay was in a hilly area, we had to go through a lot of twists and turns, the green tea plantations welcomed us as we gained the altitude. Another 30 km of anxious ride ended after reaching the homestay. Phew !! Finally :) 320 km of the ride took close to 8 hours to complete.



Ride through the hilly area's of Wayanad
Homestay: The homestay had really good ambience. The unique thing here was the skins of hunted animals on the wall including tiger's skin, bears skin, elephant's tusk, deer's antler, 15-foot long snake's skin. It was a new experience for me to see them in real.
Tiger's skin and elephant's teeth
Dead snake's skin
Bear's skin
After refreshing up we started for local sightseeing, I hopped on to Vijay's bike as I was too tired to ride plus thought to be economical on not wasting the fuel ;) After a good meal at a restaurant, we commenced towards Banasura Sagar dam. It was approximately 40 km from our stay. Ufff ! that sounded too much of distance. The entire route involved a lot of twist & turns also ups & downs. It was supposed to be fun riding this stretch but it felt like a pain in the ass as we were then tired. We saw the first view of the lake which looked like below pic.
Banasura Sagar Dam backwater.
For a moment we were awestruck with the view in front of us. I finally found the answer to the question why Kerala is called as God's own country?.
The view of the backwaters of the reservoir was mesmerizing. Probably it was the best view throughout the trip. The coordinator was hurrying up, as we have to reach the destination before the closing hours. I had one more look at the view and filled my eyes with this sight and with a heavy feeling of departing. Nearly half an hour later, we reached the entrance of the Banasura Sagar Reservoir.

There are two things to see here, first is the Banasuramala Meenmutty waterfalls and second is the reservoir. The entry to the falls closes early, so we decided to visit the falls first then to the reservoir.


Banasuramala Meenmutty Waterfalls: We biked another 3 km to reach Meenmutty waterfalls. Falls looked immense and beautiful. It's not a recommended place to get into the water as there's no proper place to balance and play in the water. A very short hike along the left side of the falls lead us closer to the falls. Standing close to the falls was indeed a pleasant experience which wiped away our tiredness. While we were enjoying the enchanting view of the falls, the coordinator started hurrying up again and instructed us to reach reservoir before closing hours. Finally, my patience broke and I started regretting the decision of joining a group especially with such an unplanned organizer. My concept of travel is to "Spend enough time at one place and enjoy instead of seeing lots of places in short time". Of course, if you miss anything you will have a reason to visit it again. Right ? ;)


Banasuramala Meenmutty Waterfalls
Standing close to Waterfalls
That makes up for a great selfie ;)
Damn view toilet :D :D 

Banasura Sagar Dam: We reached the reservoir. It is the second largest earth dam in Asia and largest in India. Also, one of the Asia's biggest reservoir. It was almost the sunset time, the sun ditched us and was hiding behind the big mountain, so we couldn't witness the sunset. The entire reservoir was filled up with water and the water line was visible till the horizon. There are small island structures in the centre which can be reached via boat. Water along with the cool breeze was chilling our breath which made a perfect evening. This one was the last destination for the day so we just relaxed near the dam gossiping and cracking jokes on the organizer. I made two good friends who entertained me throughout the trip.

Banasura Sagar Dam
Sun hiding behind mountains
The place is lit with the Sunray's shining through green grass
Banasura Sagar Dam
I could stare at this mesmerizing view all day.
 Well maintained place

We left the place as the environment was getting darker and we had to drive back another 40 km to reach homestay. Finally riding like a maniac, we reached the stay without any stops in between. We enjoyed another cup of tea after reaching homestay.


We had dinner in the homestay. The dinner was good, the food was delicious and had an authentic taste of Kerala culture. We covered choose 450 km today, it was hell lot of tiring and fun. Eyes blurred and dozed off, we fell to sleep in a couple of minutes.


Sunday Morning: Alarm rang at 7 am. We were all set and ready by 8 am. After breakfast, we took a group photo and started our ride. The plan was to visit the Edakkal caves, Kuruva island and reach Bangalore before 9 pm.


Group photo before starting back to Bangalore
These three guys kept me entertained. 

Flop shows: Edakkal caves was just 20 km from our stay and took hardly half an hour to reach the place. Unfortunately, the place was closed because of Gandhi Jayanti. It sounded weird as to why an attraction has to be closed on a govt holiday? Especially when more tourists are expected on such day. The security guard said we can visit the kuruvadweep is open and we can visit it instead. Kuruvadweep is 45 km from Edakkal caves and was expected to take around 2 hours to reach. I had put on the navigation and led the pack as the organizer was slow. Roads were curvy and smooth, the best thing about avenger is that because of its low seat height bending into the corner is easy. While I was enjoying all the curves by bending across the corners. Sadly, at some point of time, I leaned so much that my footrest touched the ground which gave me a little heart attack. I started riding carefully without doing any over shows. It's always better to wear a helmet and knee guard. We reached kuruvadweep at 12 pm, There was none around, we parked the bike and enquired at a shop nearby. Shopkeeper informed that the island is closed for a month because of the increased water level. WTF!! No one had an idea about this neither the homestay guy nor the security guard at Edakkal caves who informed us that kuruvadweep would be open. It pissed me off as we drove so far yet couldn't see any good place. We spend half an hour here eating snacks and chit chatting.
Lush green paddy field near Kuruva island
Photoshoot of my darling
Gals, Look at her !! she got better curves ;)

Riding back to Bangalore: We had no other destination to visit so we decided to head back to Bangalore without wasting much time. We maintained a very good speed, again crossing through national park was exciting. We stopped near Mysuru for a meal. By now my ass was burning because of riding continuously on the bike. We have another stop at the Maddur Tiffany's where we had a cup of tea. BTC has this tradition of having feedback session at the end of the trip. Since this trip was a disappointment for us everyone gave negative feedback especially about the coordinator. After some more discussion, everyone dispersed, I and Vijay rode together till we reached home.

Long road to home

I reached home back at 7 pm. It was one hell of a ride. Though the ride was good we couldn't visit any places at Wayanad. I want to go there again to spend a quality time with nature.

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Monday, September 5, 2016

Mahabaleshwar - Hidden gem of Western ghats | Day-2 05/09/2016

Places visited: Pratapgad Fort, Mapro Garden, Panchagani View point, Table Land.


This post is on the second day at Mahabaleshwar. If you haven't read the Day1 post, then I would strongly recommend you to read it before.

The previous day was amazing with enchanting viewpoints and waterfalls. Out of various attractions at Mahabaleshwar, Pratapgad fort was one of the must-visit places on the list. Today's plan was to visit Pratapgad fort and Panchagani, later return to home on boarding the bus.



Best of the beast: Pratapgad watchtower


Monday morning: We woke up early in the morning and were all set to step out by 8 am. The weather was chilling and bone freezing cool outside. We departed out from the hotel and headed for the breakfast. Since it was Monday, tourists were few and less crowded. In fact, the place looked better than the previous day. After having the delightful poha and a cup of hot tea, we headed to the bus stand in order to hire a cab for the day. The same driver who assisted us the previous day approached us. He demanded Rs. 2500 to cover Pratapgad and Panchagani as the distance is longer, bargaining for lower terms didn't work :( Finally, we had to agree on his demand and started to drive to Pratapgad.

Mahabaleshwar-Pratapgad: Pratapgad is 20 km from Mahabaleshwar and takes around 45 mins to reach. The road conditions are average with irregularities and minor potholes. This stretch of the drive is amazing with the view of the surrounded valley. The hills accompanied us throughout the journey. The road passes through plenty of twists & turns and ups & downs. It's a treat for people who love to drive through ghat sections. On the other hand, make sure you must have good driving skills if you wish to ride/drive this stretch.
Road to Pratapgad, few pot holes here and there
View on the way
Small seasonal waterfalls along side the road

Landing at Pratapgad/Pratapgarh: As soon as we landed down from the car,  a person approached and offered us the guide (govt appointed) for Rs. 300. We agree that this place is connected with history and interesting stories, but guide charge felt little expensive, so we denied the offer. As we moved further, another person (not govt appointed) approached who offered us the guide for just Rs. 200. We tried to bargain more but it didn't work, so we decided to explore the place on our own. Since it was a weekday the place was less crowded.
Entrance Arch to Pratapgad
Parking spot near the fort.

After two years of hard work the fort construction was completed in 1656. The fort was built mainly to defend the banks of Nira river, Koyna river and Par pass.
Each structure in the fort is designed uniquely keeping the defense in mind. The Battle of Pratapgad between Shivaji and Afzal Khan was fought at this fort.

Quick tip: Don't be a fool like us, hire a guide. Its worth it!

Let me divide the fort into three parts to help you understand the structure well.

The entrance: Unlike other forts, the primary thing we observed was the entrance. It was huge and curved to evade enemies break the entrance gate. The steps are actually greater in heights than normal, to prevent the army elephants to attack the fort. The soldiers /guards were supposed to watch over the entrance gate. If any enemies strike, they would pour hot oil through small openings over the door.
Entrance of the fort
Watchtower
Watchtower: After ascending a couple of steps, we reached a flat ground where there's a watchtower on the right and more steps to the left. The watchtower is the main attraction of this place. The orange flag flying high and bright represented the sensational victory of Shivaji Maharaj over Afzal Khan. The breathtaking views surrounded the forts. This fort is a combination of history and nature. The greenery and the cascading panoramic views left us speechless. 



Steps to the watchtower 
A Panoramic view of the watchtower
You can see the homes of the locals and temple in the background
Panoramic view from the watch tower

Bhavani temple and Shivaji Statue:
Further, we walked to visit the famous temple of goddess Bhavani. There were many shops here selling buttermilk and snacks. According to the statistics, there are around 25 families who still live in this fort since Shivaji's era.
At the top, a gigantic 17 feet tall bronze statue of Shivaji has been instilled. There is also a beautiful garden at this place where families can spend quality time with kids.
Steps to reach Bhavani temple
You will get the tastiest buttermilk here. Don't forget to try it.
Life-sized statue of Shivaji depicting the victory against Afzal Khan

It was getting late so we decided to go back. All of a sudden it started raining heavily and lasted for 15 minutes. We somehow reached back to the parking lot and boarded the cab. The next destination was Panchagani, 40 km further. We had a quick nap in the cab as we were tired.
On the way, we passed by Vanna lake. It is one of the must-visit places in Panchagani. We had to skip this as we were already running out of time. I saw Mapro garden was on the way, I had read a lot about this place hence considered to visit it.

Mapro Garden: Mapro Garden is a popular tourist spot in Mahabaleshwar and identified for massive strawberry production. As we entered the garden, it looked magical. A Wonderland!. The place is enriched with strawberry like structures everywhere. The operation has a chocolate factory, strawberry garden, Mapro outlet and a prominent cafeteria. A lot of families were here having a great time with their children. We strolled around exploring the place. Mapro products are available here for good discounts. We bought couple of products to help our thirsty taste buds. However, no strawberries were available as it was an offseason. This place is good to stop by for food and shopping mapro products.
Mapro garden entrance
These cars are decorated with Mapro brand and mostly used inside the campus
These cars are decorated with Mapro brand and mostly used inside the campus
A lot of such decorations in the shape of strawberry
Mapro garden
Mapro products being sold here at discounted price
Mapro products

We arrived at the Panchagani viewpoint. There's nothing much to explore here other than a mind-blowing view of the lake between the sprawling mountains. We spend some time here enjoying the breeze and beautiful view. We then paused at a restaurant to have lunch. The stay and food costs in Panchagani is much lesser as compared to overpriced details in Mahabaleshwar. That's one of the reason a lot of people like to stay in Panchagani rather than Mahabaleshwar. After a nice meal, we drove to our next and last destination for the day Plato point.


Venna Lake view 
A Closer look of Venna lake


Table land: As this place was not on my list, I perceived very little about this place until localites suggested us this spot. This place is formed naturally by the volcano. It is the 2nd longest mountain plateau in Asia which spreads across 5 km. As soon as we landed, some people offered us horse ride to explore this place as its a vast area to cover on the foot. Horse riding is the main attraction here but due to an accident (1 girl was killed as horse carriage fell off from table land) in May 2012, horse carts and horse riding was banned. Now it is partly allowed by the government since November 2012. You can enjoy a horse ride on Tableland but its pretty as expensive as 500 - 700/- per person.
Entrance to Table Land. No vehicles allowed beyond this point
They have good business tactics by giving a free ride to some distance and then forcing you to take the ride. We decided to walk as it was expensive and we didn't want to spend any more. There appeared to be a cave temple adjacent to this place, which is also a restaurant. The food was expensive but is a good place to relax and chat. Even though the scorching sun outside made us tired, the temperature at this cave was somewhat good. Felt like a natural AC was running. We treated ourselves a hot cup of tea. Exploring the entire table land would take hours together on foot, we decided to head back as it was getting late for us to catch a bus to home.
Venna Lake view from Table Land
5 km of land formed by Volcano
Many such restaurants to quench your thirst and hunger.
Way to the cave restaurant and temple.
Shiva statue installed within the Cave
Temperature at this place is very low, feels like a natural AC.
View of Venna Lake from TableLand
Panoramic view of Table land area.
Girl exploring table land on a horse
We returned back to the parking spot and the driver dropped us at the bus stand. Almost 15km from here, we had to travel to catch the bus. So, We managed to get a shared jeep to Wai. The roads are horrible in this stretch. It took nearly 30 mins to reach Wai. There are a lot of direct buses which runs between Wai and Satara. We got a govt bus in no time. We reached Satara at 6 pm. From there, we boarded a bus to Hubli, and then another bus from there to Ilkal. Another 15 hours journey in normal buses till we reached my native. I spent next two days at Ilkal and returned to Bangalore.
It was one hell of a trip I must say. The beauty of the place was worth all the pain we took to reach the place.
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