Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Western Ghats


It was crunch time in Ooty. I needed to make a decision.  My options were to either continue South towards the Cardamom hills or head North and drop down towards the coast via the Western Ghats. I decided to take the R67 North which would bring me back into the subtropical forests of the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve.


A quick shot of the magnificent machine at the top and I was off. I had looked hard and long at the map and knew that it was going to be pretty much downhill all the way.  I was surprised to see so many horses roaming freely on the roads. It appears that they are used in season for racing and for giving rides for tourists. However their owners don’t feed them but leave them to fend for themselves on the local roads.


Once past the Sandynalla reservoir it was a relaxed ride past extensive tea plantations and deep conifer forests. The mists were so thick I could hardly see the road ahead and stopped to attach lights. Being next to a tea plantation I couldn’t resist stepping inside for a closer look. A guide jumped out with a book of tickets and was keen to show me around for a fee.  I turned back; ‘No no.. thanks for the invitation but just time.. bye!’ Back on the bike..


As I dropped down the temperate forests gave way to an altogether different world. I was treated to superb views and lush subtropical surroundings. It certainly felt good to be warm again.  Ooty had been so damp and grey.


At Gudular I took the R12 west to the junction at Nadugani where I sat, drank tea, and met the local madman. He was harmless enough. I continued on the R28 towards the Amarambalam Reserve Forest and the border with Kerala. Yay! I was as pleased as punch to reach Kerala. It may have taken a while but I did get there in the end.


Given that the day was wearing thin I liked the idea of stopping early to set up camp in the jungle. It was an exciting prospect in itself but was also worried that, once out of the Amarambalam wildlife sanctuary and back into ‘civilisation’, I would not find anywhere discrete to camp. However the steep slopes either side of the road meant that there were few good spots to be had. I thought I had finally found a suitable spot on a ridge. But then noted animal tracks.. possibly elephants and, of course, the ground was covered with huge ants.  I didn’t fancy being trampled or overrun in the night. I had to move on. The monkeys weren’t helping either.


Finally, and having dropped down beyond the boundaries of the park, I did find a place to camp. Not quite the panoramic view that I had hoped for.. but not bad. The tent is aways good.

I was  now close to the village of Muttikadavu and the Punnapuhza river approximately 100km from Ooty. It had been a great, mostly down hill, day.
Only another 75kms and I would be able to dip my toes in the Arabian Sea. But first I had my heart set on visiting the Krishna temple at Guruvayur.


Udhagamandalam (Ooty)



So.. and having escaped the attention of savage wild tigers or being trampled underfoot by charging elephants I left Mudumalai Park and climbed up through the clouds to find myself at the settlement of ‘OttaikalMandu‘ (Ooty).  But it looked a bit crap…

The Nilgiri hills form a low crescent stretching across the three states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. The popular tourist town of Udhagamandalam or ‘Ooty’, at an altitude of 2,240m, is just under 500m lower than Doddabetta; ‘the highest peak of South India’ which is just a few kilometres further to the South. The British, under the guise of the East India Company, took a liking to the area and its alpine like climate. They acquired possession of the land from the spoils of the defeated Tipu Sultan in 1799. Ootacamund, as the British renamed it, was joyfully described as the ‘Queen of the hill stations’ for its natural beauty and pleasant climate. It soon became fashionable as the perfect place to escape the stifling heat of the Indian plains. As the Summer residency for the governor of Madras, wealthy businessman and maharajas, ‘Ooty’ became a ‘little England’ and host to the games, sports and interests of the ruling elite.

Several features of this English aristocratic occupation still endure today in the form of boarding schools and horse racing. The main town encircles a large area devoted to equine sports including a race course. I took a walk across it past the blue striped grandstand and stables. But unbridled commercial development has robbed ‘snooty’ Ooty of much of its charm. It has become an ugly Indian tourist destination of quite frightening proportions.

I have cycled and visited some pretty awesome hill stations in India before and had hoped to find something.. somewhere special secreted high amongst the clouds.  But Ooty revealed itself to be nothing less than an oversubscribed high street of commercial opportunity. With the attraction of a weekend in Skegness and atmosphere similar to Luton on a cold wet day I knew that this really wasn’t my kind of place.  But, and to be fair, I gather that once off the beaten track the area has a lot to offer. But I wouldn’t find it.  A contact who had schooled locally sent me in the direction of the YWCA hostel for accommodation. This proved to be an oasis of calm and the perfect place to land my gear. A guy staying there was trying to arrange to go trekking into more remote parts of the Nilgiri hills. But this was proving difficult as such activities become translated by local companies into guided tours more suited for Indian holidaymakers. However, and given the over development and high population, I would be surprised to find anywhere outside of the national parks that could be regarded as ‘remote’ or unspoilt.


Over the course of my few days in Ooty I walked over much of it. I had hoped the nearby  boating lake would reveal another, more tranquil, side to Ooty. But rubbish is piled up on its shores and it is surrounded by hotels. One side of it is dominated by a dinosaur theme park. The ‘Tibetan market’ next to the botanical gardens caught my eye. This turned out to be a row of shop stalls selling cheap chinese toys and clothes. The town is an important centre for trade for the region with an extensive open market and wholesale auction at its centre. The proved to be the highlight of my stay and quite possibly Ooty’s best attraction. I love a good market and this one was huge!


In many respects the jewel in the crown of Ooty is its Udhagamandalam railway station and the terminus for the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. Part built with Swiss ingenuity the railway includes a rack and pinion system that allows it to traverse the steepest parts of its route towards the city of Coimbatore.  Built by the British in 1908 the railway gained its status as a World Heritage site in 2007.

I woke early and queued for about an hour to get a 15 rupee one way train ticket. But when I was within a few feet of the ticket counter the window shutter slammed shut. All the tickets had been sold. It was slightly frustrating as the queue had turned into a scrum as the train’s departure time approached. It was so unfair! But I returned for a later train having walked across town to get a phone data plan sorted and visited the market. I took the lunchtime train to Coonoor (used as a location for the film ‘A Passage to India’) where I had tea, visited a hindu temple, walked around the market and had a superb masala dosa close to the station.  It was all good fun.


Nanjangud to Bandipur.


Highway 212 runs directly South from Mysore towards Nanjangud also known as the ‘Varanasi of the South’. The road itself is pretty busy and a major route which carries traffic towards Karnataka state’s Southern borders with Kerala and Tamil Nadu. I didn’t fancy tackling it. Once again I chose to cycle cross country and worked my way South along rural tracks and past small villages. The weather was perfect; overcast and warm.


I had hoped to find a ferry  at Hejjige that would take me across the Kapila river without having to return west to the 212. But somehow lost my bearings and arrived close to the bridge that carries the highway over the river. It looked horrible. Lorries squeezed in and over the road bridge at breakneck speed. Thankfully the  ‘280 Year old bridge’ nearby still serves as a pedestrian and cycle path. I picked my way over that and east towards the town centre.

Nanjangud lies on the southern bank of the holy Kapila river. I was keen to visit the Hindu temple of Srikanteshwara situated at the eastern end of the city. Once past the railway station and street market stalls  I found the busy main drag along Bazaar Road. It was a colourful, vibrant and exciting place to visit.  The faded often crumbling facades of many older buildings and shops looked as if they had been untouched for many years. The imposing Srikanteshwara (Shiva) temple dominates the skyline at the Eastern end of Bazaar Road. It is the biggest Hindu temple in Karnataka and draws large numbers of devotees in the same manner as Varanasi on the Ganges. Bathing in the Kapila river close to the temple is an important connected ritual with curative properties.IMG_3761.jpgIMG_3764.jpgIMG_3771.jpg





I continued my ride South from Nanjangud and followed the back roads past fields of cotton towards the major crossroads at Gundlupete. The tracks were mostly good but sometimes a bit muddy. But with no great hurry and lovely countryside I was very happy to  slowly wind my way. The only great concern was how far I would get before nightfall. Would I have time to make Bandipur National Park? I knew that the road through the ‘Tiger reserve’is closed at night. So really I needed to camp or find a hotel. Nothing unusual..


I found a basic roadside hotel (and horrible meal) at Gundlupete approximately 15km from Bandipur Park. Route 67 into the park is fairly quiet. Most importantly I was able to cycle directly into the park and stopped for water at the park ranger centre. There were many signs warning of tigers and elephants along the road. Stopping and leaving vehicles was prohibited… as was photography or feeding animals.  But the only animals I saw whilst riding through the park were the chained elephants I had previously seen at the ranger centre. A warden in a car stopped for a little chat and to warn me about potential elephant trouble. At one point I stopped and gave some roadside litter pickers some biscuits. They had their work cut out to clear the stupid amount of rubbish dropped by passing visitors from their cars.

Crossing the border into the state of Tamil Nadu was as exciting as entering a new country.  But there was a problem at the border gate. An official stepped out and told me, in no uncertain terms, that I would not be able to cycle any further. He pointed to a large sign. Cycling in Mudumalai National Park is prohibited. I responded with some humour. So I was to cycle back through Bandipur Tiger reserve? I smiled. We smiled. He nodded in a friendly way. I cycled on into Mudumalai Park. Another park centre and junction then off down, down and down. The speed bumps were an almighty pain. But then began a slow climb (and walk) which wound up thirty six hairpin bends leading up into the clouds and the hill station of ‘snooty’ Ooty. It was wet, cold and more than a bit foggy.