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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Yelagiri Hills Bikers' day out

Yelagiri (250 kms from Chennai, 180kms from Bangalore, off Chennai-Vellore-Bangalore highway) was on my wish list for some time and when a bike trip to Yelagiri was planned more than a month in advance by CTC, I instantly registered. It was executed with utmost professionalism last month (Nov 22, 23) though heavy rains did play spoilsport. There were more than 80 registrants, of which 62 people had reconfirmed their participation the previous day. 3 cars and 30 bikes were expected to join this trip. (Which is almost like a rally and makes great photo feature) However heavy rains during Friday night and Saturday morning discouraged many participants and more than half didn’t turn up. Probably they felt it risky to drive in rain or were instructed by their family members not to venture out.

I reached the meeting point at the assigned time of 4.45 AM, expecting a huge gathering of bikes. To my surprise there were none. For a moment I thought everyone were punctual and they might have left on time and I may have to speed and catch up with them. But the Hyundai Verna that was parked there looked familiar (Selva’s car) and few people sitting under the bus shelter made me have second thoughts. I slowed down and when I looked back Bala was waving me to come back. Few more bikes joined in little later but the downpour made everyone think if we should proceed or abort. After some thoughts and hesitation we started, met some more participants at Guindy, another round of discussions on to go or not to go, went further ahead and assembled in Poonamalai. It was around 8 AM now. Rain didn’t seem to ease, but there was hope that it may either calm down soon or 50 kms from city it may not be raining at all. While the city roads were water logged, the Golden Quadrilateral was better equipped to deal with water. But riding a bike in rain is more risky than driving a car and risk factor seem to supersede the fun and adventure part of it. We came close to calling off the trip couple of times, but with half of Chennai knowing that CTC is going on a bike trip, going back home and telling “we came back fearing rains” was just not an option. No better alternatives could be worked out and by taking calculated risks, organizers finally decided on a GO.

The group of 28, in 9 bikes and 3 cars, thus started off towards Yelagiri. Vinodha (Akka as she is fondly called by others) lead the way, ensuring that no biker speeds ahead while Selva swept from behind, ensuring that no one is left behind. A very moderate speed of 60-70 kmph was maintained. Sun was nowhere to be seen and even at 11 AM the cloudy sky gave an impression as if it is just 7 in the morning. Rain gave us company most of the time, but its intensity was significantly low and was manageable. Scenery along the highway was photogenic, specially, the clouds forming a ring around the mountain peaks. But I couldn’t risk my camera to water borne infections, hence entire day 1 I hardly took any snaps.

There’re clear signboards on the highway indicating exit for Yelagiri- keep watching for it once you cross Katpadi. Arun and Anala who came from Bangalore joined us here, taking the total to 30. Nearly 14 hairpin bends on the uphill drive made the final stretch was exciting and different from monotonous highway drive. We moved very slow and finally reached our base camp (some 5 kms from Yelagiri town, I guess it is a village named Puttur) by about 3.30 PM. (That’s more than normal time, but can be attributed to rains, need for staying together as a group etc. My earlier experiences: Chennai-Bangalore-by bike, Jan 2006: 7 hours (5.30 AM to 12.30PM), -by car, June 2008, 5 hours (1 AM to 6 AM)). Trek to Swami malai was the original plan for Day 1, but was abandoned as we reached late. A small trek into the woods, from 4 PM to 8 PM kept us busy for rest of the evening.

My backpack was supposed to be waterproof, but clothes inside got wet- I guess water seeped in through the zip area which consists cloth material and can allow decent amount of water in, if we travel for several hours in heavy rains. We went back into the city for dinner and came back. This was my first 2 day trek and had with me my recently bought sleeping mat. But didn’t have clear idea where and how we’ll be spending the night. Organizers identified an unused building in the village which was good enough for us to spread our mats and sleep. So there was no need to set up tents. There are several ‘house-turned- guest houses/cottages/hotels’ in Yelagiri city where visitors can stay for few hundred rupees a day.

Day 2 luckily didn’t start with the rain. It was cloudy in the morning but turned sunny soon. By 8.30 AM everyone were ready to leave, after having morning refreshments and bread, jam for breakfast. Didn’t know that some Jam makers have started selling jam in toothpaste like packets-just squeeze and jam will come out- no need to struggle with a spoon to get the jam out from the cup. Nice and convenient innovation, though that jam is more diluted and expensive.

From YelagiriBikeTrip
We drove to another part of the village to start our day 2 trek, which involved a descend to a temple downhill and back. There was no need to carry entire backpack, hence it was a rather easy walk, though return uphill journey commanded few stops. Jalagamparai waterfalls exists near the temple where devotees and others can refresh. Trekked uphill on the same trail and took some rest on a big rock. The hitherto sunny sky started turning cloudy and we were about to leave the rock and return to base, rain gods poured down on us heavily, re-drenching the clothes and shoes which had dried properly by now. Rain sustained for rest of the day, in varying intensities, with few gaps. Lunch at Elagiri city, the same restaurant where we’d dinner last night and departure to Chennai. Nearly 5.30 Pm when we started return journey. Of the bikes broke down on the way as water entered inside. It took several dozens of kicks to expel the water and get the engine running again. Reached home by midnight.

The trip did cost around 1k directly in expenses and another 1.5 k as a business continuity investment- servicing the bike, buying spares as a backup (Clutch cable, accelerator cable, headlight lamp, spark plug, chain connector, a spare tube and a footpump). My bike didn’t give any trouble during the 500 kms ride and is fairly experienced in long rides now- It has done Chennai-Bangalore, Chennai-Pondy, Hyderabad-Bidar, Hyderabad-Parigi (a village 100 kms from Hyd). Regular servicing, courtesy Castrol BikeZone and Bajaj Service have kept it ever ready for rides.

From YelagiriBikeTrip
Other than trekking there isn’t much you can do at Yelagiri, popular primarily because it is a hill station. Punganur Lake and few temples are another tourist attractions I believe. Recently paragliding was introduced in Yelagiri by Yelagiri Adventure Sports Association(YASA). But after the inaugural paragliding festival during September this year, there isn’t much news of this. Out guide told us that Paragliding basic training costs Rs 15000 for one week- not everyone can afford that amount of money and time. Simpler and economic versions of adventure sports could have been good to start off with.

Honey and jackfruits were on sale by the roadside. I was tempted to buy a jackfruit but the burden of carrying it all the way to Chennai made me decide against it.

8 comments :

Mohan said...

Every weekend you seem to be on one or the other outdoor activity. Good going. Let me put a question this way - Is there any plan in and around Chennai and Bangalore that you haven't visited?

A suggestion - Don't buy the honey people sell on road side. Usually, they make a jaggery juice which looks similar to honey. I was fooled by them once.. Just be cautious when you are tempted to buy next time. I have no complaints about the jack fruit though!

Mohan said...

typo again - the question should have been 'Is there any place in and around Chennai and Bangalore that you haven't visited?'

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Mohan,

Yes, there are several places I've not visited yet- May sound odd, but I've not been to Nandi hills yet. Bheemeshwari, Meke Daatu, Nagarahole reserve forest.. the wishlist goes endless

I am no big fan of honey. Thanks for the alert.

Anonymous said...

hi shrinidhi...we are planning on a bike trip to yelagiri from chennai for 2 days...which time we need to start from here?is paragliding available to all?any interesting location in yelagiri to spend 2 days?

vicranth said...

pls suggest some good places around chennai...preferable going by bike...for 2 days(friday and saturday)....

Shrinidhi Hande said...

You can start anytime. 250 kms (from Chennai) should take 5 hours with couple of breaks and at modest speed of say 80 kmph. Road is really good. 5 or 6 AM will be ideal. Paragliding is not for all. I understand one will have to undergo a training of a week or so, so that can be ruled out. There are many hotels/guest houses-not sure which one is good. Try camping, if you can. Yes, you can spend 2 days at leisure (reach by Saturday afternoon, and start back by Sunday evening)

Vicranth
I am not that expert in this- Pondichery, backwater near Pondy, Auroville, Alambara fort, Mahabalipuram etc are ideal destinations. You can try any of the hills in AP (Nagala, Nagari, Tada etc :100-120 kms) if trekking and overnight camping excites you. Talakona, Yelagiri, Parvathamalai etc come in 250 kms range, if that is comfortable with you. Hope this helps

Anonymous said...

Hi Shrinidhi,

Very nice blog and perfect information for Yelagiri Hills Bike ride. Me and my wife are planning to visit Yelagiri (Kinetic HOnda trip). Was just wondering if the ride is safe? Did you guys switch off the engine downhill?
Thanks,
Rao

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Rao,

Yes, we switched off engine downhill.

I don't see any reason why ride won't be safe, unless your vehicle is not in good condition or if you're not a confident rider.

Ride safe and have nice time