Wednesday, July 22, 2009

No poor man's Ooty this ....

On Thursday I get a call from my friend Alton asking me if I wanted to join his friends and him on a weekend trip to Yercaud. Initially the guys in Blore had planned to go by bus & join the guys coming in from Madras at Salem. Lady Fate however kindly intervened. Yamaha had sent me a mail regarding their Photo Contest on Thursday & Alton and I had already done a photoshoot session of my R15 with his amazing Nikon coolpix P 90 the previous weekend and we had planned on doing another photoshoot later. With Yamaha’s contest everything seemed to fall into place. The only thing to be done was research – climate (riding in the rains wouldve been a strict no - no) & directions.

After weeks of postponing I finally go & get myself the DSG Nero & in the process second glances from everyone all the way to office. Time for more research. Surprisingly there wasn’t too much on the net about travelling to Yercaud from Bangalore. Which was a good sign for us as we wanted a nice chilled out weekend far far away from the maddening crowd.

Being the big planners that we are, the original plan we hatch is to make it to Salem by 7:30 AM so we leave Silk Board at 4:30 AM. 3 of us are travelling from Bangalore on bikes – Alton on his P180, Adi on his Avenger 200 & me on my R15. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined the amount of traffic on the highway at that god forsaken hour. We rode for an hour before stopping for petrol and realising that we had just done around 60 kms in an hour. The sun was just starting to make its way up and that made for a good background for our first (of many) round(s) of photos. Post break our speeds improved once the sun made its presence felt & traffic (mostly lorries) thinned out. The L & T stretch was freaking awesome, the best road I have ever ridden on in my life. A couple of long stops for pictures ensured that we would not reach Salem at the designated time. Blame the really scenic settings.

Pictures do not do this setting justice
We were blessed with a light drizzle that didn’t hamper our progress much but everyones pair of jeans were a bit soggy as a result of it which was a bit irritating.
Reach Salem and find a small place that gives us tasty south Indian breakfast (around 200 kms on the clock by now) and get quite a few glances cause 1) people can see we have driven down from Blore & 2) we are the only ones wearing helmets in Salem. The way people ride on the roads there is quite crazy and was the most dangerous section of our trip. We hit the 4 roads junction and soon we are enjoying Yercaud’s 20 hairpin bends with mile wide smiles on our faces.
Huge bamboo shoots on the way up to Yercaud
Word of caution - anyone doing this stretch needs to be careful of the monkeys that might decide to dash across the road. We ended up seeing more monkeys lazying around on the side of the road than people while on our way up. More photoshoots (courtesy even more scenic settings) and we finally set foot in Yercaud only by 10:30 AM (roughly 230 kms).
The first thing we noticed was the climate which was absolutely heavenly. There was a chill in the air, not cold enough to have your teeth chatter but a very very pleasant chill. After dropping our stuff at the room & freshening up we headed to Pagoda Point which offered a really great view of the valley & spent some time there.
The view from Pagoda Point
Mandatory photo session completed we pushed back to Yercaud & went to Hotel Shevaroys for lunch. A combination of an irritated customer at the next table (poor guy got his drink after 25 mins with no sign of the food) & the waiter not coming to take our order even after 10 minutes of sitting there meant that we marched out and had a tasty south Indian lunch next door at Hotel Malar. We wanted to buy some stuff from Yercaud and on asking the locals we found that only coffee / figs / pepper would be available and that too at an estate 14 kms away. We were amazed at the lovely narrow winding roads with estates on both sides with the only real scare of the trip coming when a bus from the opposite side came charging in and just missed the bike in front of us by the faintest of whiskers.

While on the way there we saw a signboard to the Servarayan temple & decided to see the temple. Just as we were reaching there the cloud cover enveloped the mountain to such an extent that visibility was down to less than 10 feet. We couldn’t even see each other despite putting on our headlights on high beam (thank goodness we were not half way up or something when this happened). As they say every cloud has a silver lining (pun unintended), in this case – brilliant photography. There was a ferris wheel & merry go round which coupled with the ridiculously thick cloud cover made for a really spooky experience. I wouldn’t have been surprised if an axe wielding psychopath wouldve charged at us from the blanket of whiteness with murder on his mind. Or even Javier Bardem from No Country For Old Men.... Im not joking. The temple is actually a cave temple & apparently locals believe that the deity protects the neighbouring villages.
More like a scene out of HBO's show Carnivale

Guess Who ?
Soon the clouds cleared and we were laughing at how spooked we were by what appeared to by an ordinary playground and we were off biking to the above mentioned estate where it turned out that nothing was available. Wanting to avoid riding after sunset we headed back to our hotel and sat down and did what we wanted to do - relax. By then it had become really cold with a chilly breeze that made everyone want to go grab a blanket and throw it around themselves. Decided that an early dinner was the best option for our tired bodies and we went back to Hotel Shevaroys (I know, I know, some people just don’t learn). Decent food though expensive. Sleep that night was, as expected, heavenly.

We were out for a stroll followed by a late breakfast / early lunch and set out for a walk around Yercaud’s lake.
Yercaud's focal point - its lake
It wasnt too long ago that boating in a lake was a big thrill for me also. Looks like Ive outgrown it before I knew it.
Boating in the lake
More pictures and we decided to leave early to avoid the evening weekend rush into Bangalore. The temperature today was higher than on saturday & it was a bit sunny by lunch time. We left Yercaud by 12 with rather fond memories of a totally unspoilt, in fact virgin mini hill station that was the perfect antidote for living in Bangalore.

Ghat roads - heaven on earth
The ride down to Salem through the ghats was again brilliant with hardly any traffic & fortunately had a Sumo in front on me who was honking at all the turns and ensuring that no vehicles were waiting for us on our side of the road ready to send us to the grim reaper. With the sun out we had a glorious time riding back as the highway was empty and this made the ride a hoot as we shot past whatever little traffice was there. I am one who cribs about the nature of roads in our cities but the highway was a dream come true & I'll shut my mouth for now. From the outskirts of Salem to Bangalore we encountered not one pothole, speedbreaker or roadblock. I was in 6th gear with the throttle fully open for quite a long time though the cross winds ensured I could only do a max of 130 kmph. More stops for pictures and we were back in Bangalore by 5 oclock. Which meant being back to potholes, people crossing the road without looking, speedbreakers, people riding on the wrong side of the road & then cutting across traffic without signalling and everything else. I had half a mind to turn and ride back to Yercaud…...

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