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.
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.