March 20, 2011

Coastal Circuit - Unplugged...!!

My longest bike trip was a solo ride of 5 days covering a distance of  more than 1500 kms through the western ghats and then along the coast of Karnataka. A lot of planning had gone into this big trip and I had all things(routes, accommodation etc) taken care of. On the D-day I left Bengaluru at half past seven(delayed by 2hours) in the morning and cruised on the lovely tarmac of NH-4 till Tumkur. From then on it was the NH-206 all the way till Honnavar. The single roads after Tumkur  were not so great compared to NH-4 but the landscaping made up or it. It was lush green all the way with very less traffic.

My frequent breaks in between were either at the Coffee days or the Kamats or in the middle of nowhere. During one such break next to a coconut grove, I had this good hearted stranger who called me inside his premises and offered me coconut water. Some strangers are seriously God send. He spoke to me a lot about himself, his land and his plantations. After bidding him goodbye I hit the road and vroomed towards Shimoga and further ahead to Sagar. After a quick lunch break at Shimoga, I was zipping away happily into the heart of western ghats. A beautiful winding road through the lush green forest with numerous streams and waterfalls took me past Sagar and then into the pothole filled ghats. From Sagar a 2km detour takes you to the world famous Jog Falls. As the sun set I crossed the ghat section and reached Honnavar. A right turn from this T-junction and I had Arabian sea on my left, the western ghats on my right, pitch darkness all around me and flashing headlights from opposite side. The roads were bad in patches and with no lights it was a bit scary and slow ride on NH-17. After a couple of stops to enquire about the direction to Gokarna, I at last got on to the deviation from the highway that would take me to the temple town. Gokarna is in fact 10kms off the NH-17 and a narrow, single and well tarred road took me deeper into darkness and loneliness. With very few people in the vicinity, there weren't much options for me, but to keep going on the same road.

The coconut man

Through the western ghats

After reaching Gokarna, I was in for further adventure as my accommodation was at Namaste Cafe on Om Beach, which is a further 6kms from Gokarna. A curvy road through the top of a hill with absolutely no living beings around and only the pulsar's roar for company made the ride quite a thriller. After a certain distance I could hear more roars, and definitely those were not of the engines. I was on top of a hill and the roar was of the sea. I could sense that I was riding very close to the sea and heard the waves rolling up to the shores; but what I saw was only pitch darkness. As I rode further with the Arabian beauty I saw the signage for OM beach and Namaste Cafe. The road ended at the entrance of Namaste Cafe. It was 8.30 in the night and I had rode for 13 hours and 525 Kms before reaching Om Beach in Gokarna.

Om Beach

Om Beach

Namaste Cafe is quite popular with travellers heading to Gokarna. Its a lovely beach cafe right on the Om Beach with a lot of shacks and rooms. The whole place has been carved out on a rock that leads down to the beach. An apt place for wanderers like me. However, there are numerous other shacks on OM beach. Gokarna is best known as a hippie's hangout and I wasn't surprised when I found so many scantily clad foreign nationals roaming around. Gokarna is also known to be home to the Halakki tribals, who go about doing their daily work in their traditional attire.

My trails

Gokarna boasts of five beautiful beaches of which a couple of them are completely secluded. After a tasty continental breakfast, I ventured out exploring the OM beach and Kudle beach. OM beach resembles the Hindu symbol OM and therefore gets the name. However only a helicopter view would give an exact OM symbol for the beach. Also the sea has taken away a lot of sand and rock and resemblance to the symbol has become more faint off late. The beach looked placid with a lot of rocks emerging from the waters, few cows roaming around, a couple of fishermen, a few bikinis, a gang of Buddhist monks and a couple of nomads. The beach has rocks jutting out from the waters in many places and these were definitely the best sunset view points. I walked the whole stretch of the beach towards south and found a few more shacks and restaurants. At one point the sea has encroached into the land and has formed a beautiful little lagoon. With absolutely nothing else to do, I chatted up with a few firangis, played in the waters and then headed back. Its in fact the best getaway for the lazy hearted.

Rocks on Om Beach

Beautiful lagoon next to Om Beach

From OM beach I trekked over the hills further north to Kudle beach. With not much signages, I was quite confused about the route and so was this beautiful lonely stranger, Freja from Sweden. We then trekked all the way together and ended up taking the wrong route. After a lot of treasure hunt we were back on the right track and walked up to the more tourist filled Kudle beach. Comparitively, Kudle beach was less rocky and had more family crowd than OM. Being on a beach is always incomplete without a bottle of beer and I entered a shack to get hold of one while Freja headed to the beach for a sun bath. Beer, Beach and Bikinis- now that is one cocktail which has no substitute. After her sun bath we had a beer chat w.r.t the best destinations in India, Swedish history and Gokarna. A lazy walk back and we were back in our respective dens.

Kudle beach

Kudle Beach

Freja Forslund on Om Beach

Sunset at Om

A splash and a dip in the waters of OM and some spectacular sunset views made the evening a memorable one. Frolicking in the waters all alone does seem quite odd for the onlookers but for a nomad like me, there is no better way to solitude. I climbed up a few rocks to have a few photo shoots of the setting sun and then it was time to sit on the beach, count the waves and stare at the horizon in absolute Nirvana. Life couldn't be more peaceful. A blissful day came to end with a wonderful dinner, a pleasant song in the back ground, the waves crashing on to the rocks in the foreground and a bottle of thirst quenching beer.

Kudle beach as seen from the top of the hills

Sunset at Kudle beach

The dawn breaks and I headed to Gokarna town with a ride over the hills. On my way I had this expansive valley next to me with he Kudle beach way down and the whole landscape looked like a smiley :). That was indeed a spectacular view. My first destination for the day was Murudeshwar, famous for its Shiva statue and temple. Cruising past the fishing hamlets of honnavar and kumta, I reached Murudeshwar in the hot and humid climate. The gopuram or the entry gate at the temple is a stunner, standing tall with carvings which are so intricate. Even more stunning was the massive statue of Lord Shiva which can be seen even from the national highway. The statue which is more than 120 feet tall is the second tallest Shiva statue in the world and is beautifully created just next to the sea. The Lord sitting besides the Arabian sea, towering over his devotees and blessing them is a sight to watch. After the temple darshan, it was time for fun and frolic. Murudeshwar beach has a lot of water sport options and one of them is water scooters which I had always wanted to ride. Hopped onto on one and off I went deep into the sea, with water gushing all over me. At one point I could see land far off and it was just the blue sea all around me. That was one hell of an adrenaline rush and its a must for all the adventure lovers.

Murudeshwar Temple

Murudeshwar beach

After a quick bite at the sea facing Naveen restaurant, I was out of Murudeshwar and through the dusty small town of Bhatkal, I headed further south on NH-17 to Ottinene sunset view point. A small dirt track off the highway led me to the viewpoint. I was awestruck at the breathtaking scenery and surprisingly the place looked deserted. Situated on a high plateau, it gives a mind blowing view of Baindoor beach way down and also of the beautiful river (I don't know her name) disembarking itself into the Arabian Sea. I had a wonderful feel of peace and serenity gazing at the picturesque landscape.  This beautiful view is famous for sunsets, however I was too early for the same.

Ottinene view point
A further 20kms from Ottinene and I was at Maravanthe. This is in fact a spectacular and rare scenery where national highway has the roaring Arabian Sea on one side and the serene Souparnika river on the other. The road  actually separates these two water bodies. A few kiosks is all what the neat and clean Maravanthe beach can boast of. A few photo shoots of the mesmerising view of the horizon made me realise that both the sun and the sea were deeply in love.

Maravanthe beach

From the abode of Lord Shiva I moved towards the abode of Lord Krishna. Udupi is supposedly where masala dosas trace back their roots to. Also famous for the renowned  Krishna temple, I rode further south to this temple town. A quick homage at the temple and I was off to Malpe beach. A westward ride of 8kms from Udupi took me to this local beach which had a lot of localites frolicking in the waters. This beach is also the entry point to St.Marys Island which is a boat's ride from here. I however decided to skip that and headed all the way back to Gokarna. With the setting sun for company, that was indeed a long, tiring and butt-breaking ride.

Malpe beach

After a good sleep and a much needed rest the previous night, the fourth day of my odyssey started with a visit to the Gokarna temple and the beach situated next to it. The beach looked quite dirty and had a lot of dogs and cows roaming around. A narrow winding route across the hills to the south of the beach leads to the Kudlee beach.  As far as the saying goes all pilgrims must have a dip in the sea before entering the temple. A crowded narrow street with small shops displaying religious paraphernalia all around lead me to the Mahabaleshwar temple. After taking the Lord's blessing I returned back to Namaste cafe.

Gokarna beach

After a  heavy continental breakfast, both Freja and myself walked down to the south of OM beach towards the hills. A half an hour trek over the hills lead us to the secluded and serene Half moon beach. The trek through the hills is a fabulous one with the rocks and sea giving company all the way through. On turning back to check the the route that had been taken, I was witness to some breathtaking scenery. Om beach looked stunning from the hills and the view of the expansive Arabian sea was a visual treat. Enroute we also saw this lone coconut tree jutting itself out from a hill with the sea in the background. The turquoise blue sea and the dark green hills made the landscape a photographers delight. Half moon beach is the ideal place for beach lovers in search of solitude. No shacks, no tourists and absolute serenity. However there were 2 bikini babes at this lovely beach before we arrived. The only thing that you can do here is to count the waves and go crab chasing. The beach is quite small and gets its name from the fact that it has the shape of a half moon. A must visit for all the people travelling to Gokarna. Do not miss this beautiful beach and the wonderful trek. A narrow path further  south of Half moon leads to Paradise beach. Due to the downpour the previous night, we were advised not to trek to this beach as the rocks could be quite slippery. That was quite disappointing and we trekked back to Om. With no road connectivity to Half moon beach and Paradise beach, the only options to reach them are either by trek or by boats. At OM beach there are boatmen who take you to both these beaches.

Half moon beach
Enroute half moon beach

Enroute Half moon beach

Om beach as seen from the hills
The last destination on this expedition was Karwar, the last major town on NH-17 before entering GOA. Freja was supposed to leave for Cochin the same night and we rode all the way from OM beach to Karwar on my super bike ( Freja wanted to know if owned a super bike. I gave her a wry smile and said that mine was definitely not a super bike, at least for everyone other than me. Its time for an R1, I suppose...!!). A gentle shower greeted us as we began our smooth ride to the port town of Karwar. We first went past the Karwar town and crossed Kali bridge. This bridge which is almost a kilometer long gives a panoramic view of the the beautiful sea. The Sadashivgad view point situated immediately after the bridge gives a mesmerising view of the sunset and also of the ferocious Kali river disgorging into the sensuous Arabian sea. A sight that left me awestruck. We also saw Devbagh island and Kurumbgad island far off in the sea, amidst the rays of the evening sun. 

Kali river bridge

Freja and RND

The Tagore beach in Karwar gets its name from the fact that Rabindrnath Tagore was quite impressed by this beach and had written his first play sitting on its shores. The sky looked quite colourful and the beach was swarming with evening walkers and kids all around. We had a quiet evening on the beach with vada pavs,pani puris and the setting sun. After bidding good-bye to Freja at the Karwar railway station, I returned back to Namaste Cafe.

Tagore beach
The final leg of my odyssey was from Gokarna to Bengaluru. This was the worst part of my travel as it was the most tedious and tiresome one of the lot ( At least thats what my heart said). Left Gokarna at  6.30 am and the same winding route through the western ghats and national highways 206 and 4 took me to Bengaluru. Reached home by 7.30pm.

Amidst all these exciting destinations I did miss out on a few of them:

1. Paradise beach (5th beach in Gokarna)
2. St.Marys island (off Malpe beach)
3. Netrani island- famous for snorkelling and scuba diving (off Murudeshwar)
4. Devbagh and Kurumbgad islands ( off Karwar)
5. GOA (kissed the border and came back) 

All these misses will definitely make me plan a bigger travel in the near future.

A blissful travel along the coast of Karnataka with the gorgeous Arabian sea, weird hippies, friendly tribals, lovely strangers (coconut man and Freja), adventurous treks, secluded beaches, amazing sunets and solitude moments came to an end with a bucketful of memories which keeps coming back to me like the tides of he sea.

Signing Note: The best odyssey till date...!!

Route: Bengaluru- Tumkur- Shimoga- Honnavar- Kumta- Gokarna- OM beach

              Bengaluru to Gokarna- 525kms
              Gokarna to Murudeshwar- 77 kms
              Murudeshwar to Ottinene- 35 kms
              Ottinene to Maravanthe- 20 kms
              Maravanthe to Udupi- 55 kms   
              Udupi to Malpe- 8kms
              Gokarna to Karwar- 57 kms

March 15, 2011

High and Dry...!!

Can anyone guess the place?? I dont think anyone can imagine Jog Falls like this. Jog Falls turned out to be Joke Falls when I visited the place post the monsoon season. There was hardly any water and the four falls namely Raja, Rani, Rocket and Roarer made me leave the place disappointed. The best time to visit Jog Falls is during the monsoons when the water gushes through the boulders with great force.

Signing Note: The biggest travel disappointment...!!

Route- Bengaluru- Tumkur- Shimoga- Sagar- Jog Falls 
Distance- 385 Kms

March 9, 2011

Chugging All the Way...!!

Not everyday do you travel on a train to just enjoy the ride. However there are certain train journeys that you  must take just to soak in the beauty of the experience. One amongst them is the ride from Mettupalayam (near Coimbatore) to Udhagamandalam aka Ootacamund aka Ooty. The lovely blue Nilgiri Passenger chugs all the way from Mettupalayam to Coonoor and further up to Ooty and then back to Mettupalayam. Unfortunately I had the opportunity to take the journey only half way from Ooty till Coonoor.

I had heard about this lovely train ride from a lot of people who have recommended the train instead of the road. No doubts that the hair pin bends would give an adrenalin rush for any driver/rider, but a ride on the rails all through the blue mountains would definitely be a different experience. This joy ride covers a stretch of 20 kms over a time period of one and a half hours.

As the rustic train pulled up we all jumped in searching for a window seat like school kids. A window seat surely does make a lot of sense as you get a better view of the stunning landscape. The train chugged along slowly going past the green tea gardens, the tall pine trees, the numerous vegetable cultivations, serene lakes, colourful churches, picturesque hamlets and mountains covered up in mist.

Smoking away through the small tunnels, the train had its brief stops at stations like Wellington, Lovedale, Ketti etc. Excited like a bunch of school children on an excursion, we got down at every single station on the way and jumped in when the whistle blew.

With the extraordinary landscape spreading out, the place looked like a master piece of Michelangelo or Rembrandt. The rail lines by the British holds good even today and some places and stations still have an Anglicised feel. Our wonderful journey disembarked at Coonoor and then it was a lazy drive in a bus all the way up to Ooty.

The cool breeze, the bright sunshine and the pleasant temperature only added on to the lovely ride that will remain etched in my memory forever. This is a must ride for every traveller visiting the blue mountains and for me its the complete ride from Ooty till Mettupalayam the next time am in Nilgiris.

Signing Note: A ride that will chug along in my memories...!!

Route- Ootacamund- Lovedale- Ketti- Aruvankad- Wellington- Coonoor
Distance- 20kms

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