The playground

Remembered this conversation I had with a kid last year in September and thought I will share it with you.

Francis Lobo and I had cycled from Coonoor to Masinagudi via Kalhatty ghat. At Masinagudi, we split and he went to Gudalur while I returned to Ooty. On my way back, I stopped for a break at a teashop in Masinagudi.

While sipping hot tea, I struck a conversation with the hotel owner’s kid.

Me: Do you play games?

Kid: Yes, a lot.

Me: Nice! Which game do you play the most?

Kid: Cricket

Me: Really? Where do you play cricket?

Kid: In my fathers mobile phone!!!

US diaries-7: Epilogue

Am returning to India on July 11th.

Yes, I am excited to be back home and look forward to playing with my kid. But there is a tinge of sadness too. I had a great time here. Easily, it was one of the best trips of my life. I visited a lot of places and made a few friends too. Will miss them all. I will especially miss the wonderful national parks of US and those mammoth landscapes!

This post is a quick reflection on my trip in Twitter style. Few words. A photo or two, thats it.

My 3 favorite photos of the trip:

1. Tule elk shot at Limantour wilderness area

Tule Elk (Cervus elaphus nannodes)

2. Antelope canyon

Antelope Canyon

3. Tufa’s of Monolake

Tufa's @ Monolake after sunset!

Places visited and a one line description of each

  • Point Reyes (Limantour, Drakes beach, Bear Valley, Tomales point, lighthouse, Muddy hollow): An amazing place with a great diversity and a great place for birders.
  • Bryce canyon: Amazing hoodoos that can inspire your soul and a clear night sky that can transcend you to Neverland.
  • Grand canyon south rim: A geologists dream. Huge. Did I just say huge?
  • Antelope canyon: An awesome awesome awesome place to be in when the crowd is less.
  • Monument valley: An interesting place at the right time of the day.
  • Horseshoe bend: Sitting at its edge can pack you off to eternal bliss’dom.
  • Colarado river gorge: Unnoticed beauty with extremely inspiring rock formations.
  • Marin Headlands: A cyclists dream route.
  • Golden gate: Shot to death several years ago by photographers.
  • Yosemite (Toulemne meadows, Le Vining, etc): Wonderful. A big big bang bang wonderful. Did I say wonderful?
  • Monolake and its Tufa’s: A wonderful and ever-ongoing love story between a certain Mr Calcium and one Miss Carbonate.
  • Convict lake: Be there at 5.45 am.
  • Alcatraz prison: I went to the once most dreaded jail in the world and came back! Alive!

Most memorable moments
– Cycling in Marin in pitch dark of the night. Taking a detour on Conzelman road and photographing Golden Gate in pitch dark from an isolated area.
– Walking up the Sunset point in Bryce Canyon and being wowed by its beauty.
– First morning in Point Reyes HI hostel. Waking up early and seeing through the large window. Chilly morning. Rain drops. Dreamy mood!
– Driving through Toulemne meadows in Yosemite early in the morning.
– Driving through Point Reyes, esp the Pierce point ranch early in the morning.
– Being so close to a bear in Yosemite.

3 most admired things in US
– US national parks
– ownership of assigned tasks

Random thoughts from the trip
– Absolutely love Galen Rowell’s adventure photography and his go-light-on-gear attitude. A huge Galen fan now!
– David duChemin. I knew him before, but got hooked to his photography during this trip.
– Tenting is fun.
– Night photography is way too much fun.
– VR/IS/SR can never kill a tripod.
– US has as many problems as India does.
– US media is worse than Headlines Today in India.
– We Indians respect white folk more than we do our own folk. The spillover effect of a British raj!
– When you are in trouble, do nothing. Just wait until your head is clear. Most likely, the issue would clear by itself.
– Ghana deserved to win the game. Suarez snatched a goal and got away with a penalty. A sure goal != a chance for a goal.

Additions to my equipment during the trip
– Gitzo 3541LS tripod and Arca Swiss Z1 monoball head
– Nikon TC17E II
– Singh Ray 3 stop soft GND filter
– B+W Kaesemann polarizer
– Canon S90 pocket camera
– Eureka Nxt 2 man tent

Books purchased
– Mountain light by Galen Rowell
– Picture this: How pictures work by Molly Bang
– Photography and the art of seeing by Freeman Patterson

US diaries-5: Lost in the dark

Last weekend, I visited the Marin headlands area.

Golden Gate in the night

My plans were simple

  • reach Marin before sunset and click pictures of the Golden Gate bridge at the twilight hour
  • stay in Marin Headlands hostel for the night
  • to reach Point Bonita before sunrise and click pictures of the lighthouse / Golden Gate

But, my planning ended there. I had not thought about transport, food, maps, directions,… blah blah. The minimalistic planning either made for a great trip or screwed things up depending on how you view it.

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Cycling in Wayanad – Day 2

Please read day 1 report here.

Day two

I was in Neverland… land of dreams! I was cycling through terrain that looked like Machu Pichu. Just then the alarm rang. 5 am. Duh.. all that was a dream? Time to wake up!

Quickly, Yoann, Sharath and I got ready and were raring to go! Day 2 of CAM rides have always been fun for me. 6.15 am, said the clock. We walked to the parking lot and picked our cycles… though getting them out took quite a bit of time.

We quickly had a cup of tea, had a look at the map for the day and off we went. Cycling! All of us. More thana 35 riders!!!

The route:

Kalpetta (0 Km) -> Vythiri (12 Km) -> Chundale (19Km) -> Meppadi (30 Km) -> Soojipaara (45Km)

It was a peaceful misty morning that made our ride a pleasant one. I rode with Vishy, Sathish, Yoann and a few others.

I even took a few single handed snaps without stopping… like the ones below. Not a good idea with a heavy DSLR in one hand and the handlebar in other. This was one of those rides when I took quite a few snaps. Also, I now am more comfortable carrying a heavy DSLR with me on a ride. I just sling it on my shoulders. But I think a compact camera will help more to get those simple shots. The DSLR can help when the route is really scenic.

Most of us rode fast and reached the breakfast point at Vythiri pretty quickly. IVC for breakfast and then tea. We were now ready to tackle the rest of the day.


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The next point was Chundale and we had to lookout for a church where we had to turn right. It was mostly uphill and it made a good warm up ride. Upto Chundale, the ride was usual stuff on a road with quite a lot of traffic.All that changed after I crossed Chundale. Lovely teascapes, rolling mountains, trees all around and complimented well by the early morning breeze! Riding was so much fun here!

Somewhere near Chundale, we had stopped at a tea estate for a few snaps. The place was really beautiful.

All along we had people staring at us as if we had landed from Mars. The fascination for a multi-geared cycle is still very much there in many parts of the country. More so with kids, but with elderly folk too. Adding to it was my jazzy white jersy and a skin tight ‘chaddi’.

By the time we reached Meppadi, we were pretty thirsty and a lime soda helped us a bit. My Malayalam proved to be helpful here as I was among the very few of us 35 riders who could speak a bit of it. The energy drink that Harsha handed out to me (is that called oris?) was pretty good too.

The last few km’s of the ride was amazingly fantastic.

Downhill and uphill. Again. And again. And fresh air. Silence except for the calls of birds. Red whiskered bulbuls and common mynas thronged the place. The sun seemed to have a fight with the trees and their shadows  to show its head. We had a ball of a time riding there!

I stopped at a few places to click a few snaps, but they were not to my liking as it was well past 10 and the sun was a bit harsh. I told myself to return on another day pretty early in the morning and get a few good clicks. Or maybe get those GND and CNP filters soon.

As I rode along the tea estates, I realized how much these tea estates have changed the landscape.  I am not a fan of tea-scapes, no matter how beautiful they are. Having grown up in Ooty, I have actual developed a distaste for tea estates. Too much of anything is bad. It certainly applies to these tea estates that cover every inch of land. Some of them really look good for the camera like the one on the right here, but am not sure how good they are for the environment.

That discussion is OT (out of topic) anyways!

We reached Soochipara after a steep downhill descent and a sudden abrupt ascent towards the left. Many of the riders missed this, just went ahead fast and had to ride all the way back.. uphill… cursing their luck!

The last 2 Km’s of Soochipara were tough. Uphill.  Steep. Very steep!

But I did it. Without getting off the saddle! I just kept telling myself to not even think of dismounting. The last 200 metres were very steep.. I went onto grannies 1×1. Finally, when I reached the top, I was relieved! Sathish, Vishwas and a few others had already reached there.

Sathish and I went to the water fall. The hike was long. 2 Km I would guess. But not as tough as Meenmutty.

Once there, we couldn’t resist the water and jumped in right away. Those 45 minutes beneath the falling water was heavenly pleasure. Place was limited if you wanted to be right beneath the falling water, but then since we had gone early, Sathish and I were able to spend quite a bit of time there. Just lying there. Getting the body massaged for free! Like I already said, little pleasures of life like these are unmatched!!!

At around 12, we went back.

One sore point there was…. the toilet! Though the Kerala tourism dept charged 20 bucks for adults and 25 for the camera, they had failed to even build a basic toilet. A tarpaulin sheet wrapped across 4 posts made a makeshift toilet. Common for all. And it had holes in it. The door was made of another sheet that had more holes on it. Not a good thing to discover once you are inside there. Especially when you could hear few girls trying to figure out where the sole toilet in the freaking whole place was…. eeeks!! I just discovered what a bad idea it was to have not gone through some sort of singing class during my childhood days!! Thought of taking a picture of the place.. but quickly decided against it as I would have easily qualified for a Freudian psychotic disease had I done it.

I am sure that many of the riders cursed their excessive butter milk / lime soda drinking binge when they discovered the toilet. I only hope the tourism dept takes care of it… soon.

By 2.30, we left Soochipara and started for Sulthan Bathery. Lunch was arranged at Kalpaka hotel. I had 3 parottas and dal fry. Then, we resumed our journey back to Bangalore.There was so much of traffic on the way back that I thought we would be stuck there forever. But somehow things improved and we scurried home. But before we did that, we managed to spot an old friend of ours. Elephas Maximus!

Wayanad Elephant

We didn’t stop for dinner. By around 11.00 we were in Hockey stadium again. I quickly assembled my bike, bid good bye to riders and rode back home.

I was tired, but not down. 2 days very well spent. Thank you Harsha, Vikrant, Anees, Manohar, Mohan and other volunteers!

And thank you Yoann, Saurabh, Sharath, Vishy, Sathish, Arijit and others for riding with me and being excellent companions!

Its going to be a long time (3 months) before I ride my bicycle again and I will surely miss it. I am traveling to US on work. Maybe, I will rent out a cycle there and ride there! Praying!

Keep cycling!!

PS: More pictures from the ride here.

Read Anand’s version of the trip here.

Cycling & trekking in Wayanad – Day 1

Rolling mountains that make a perfect backdrop, tea estates that drape the landscape, greenery that soothes your eye, water falls that bring Mother Earth’s purity to the fore and roads that are pothole free!!

A cyclists dream!!! That’s Wayanad!!!

The ride was arranged by CAM, a group I have now become a fan of. This was my 3rd ride with them, the first two being to Coorg and Kudremukh. Their cost is reasonable and they are very good at organizing a cycling (and more, actually) event.  More than anything, they are good friends too. As soon as I came to know that they were organizing their 6th event in Wayanad, I jumped in. Also, I managed to convince a few colleagues (Saurabh and Yoann, a French expat) and a friend, Sharath to ride with me.

Day minus 23

On Mar 18, I received an email from CAM about their next ride. After having missed Agumbe and Mandalpatti rides, I was not going to miss this one. I registered immediately and forwarded the email to Yoann, Saurabh and Sharath. They did too! Also, I came to know that Sathish, Vishy, Vishwas and quite a few others would be riding too.

Day zero (April 9)

As usual, ground zero was the Hockey stadium@ Shanthi nagar. All of us 35+ riders gathered there, exchanged a few hello’s and our riding experiences in the last few days, quickly dismantled our bikes, packed them into boxes and loaded them into a truck. Then we hopped onto the SRS bus. The time was 12.00 AM.

Day one (April 10)

Day 1 began a bit too early for me. I woke up around 5 am in the bus and then struggled to sleep thereafter. It was a misty morning and tree after tree passed us…

We had a long wait at the checkpost before entering Kerala from Karnataka. We also ran into issues with the checkpost staff as our truck had a lot of boxes with cycles in them. But Harsha and Vikrant quickly sorted all issues out and we headed towards our rented rooms in Sulthan Bathery.


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After quickly freshening up, we slipped into our riding clothes, had a simple IVC (idly, vada, coffee) breakfast and headed off to assemble our bikes. The only grumble I have is… by the time we were done with all this, it was 10.45. And it was hot!!! I wished CAM had arranged for cycle racks instead of the dismantling / assembling stuff. (apart from the delay in starts on day 1, I am absolutely satisfied with CAM and would recommend them to everyone and anyone. IMHO, though there are a few things that can be improved, they are the best cycle related travel folks in Bangalore today).

The route for the day was:

Sulthan Bathery (0 Km) -> Pattuvayal (19 Km) -> Ambalamoola (24 Km) -> Kayyonni (35 Km) -> Meenmutty falls (45 Km, lunch stop) -> Meppadi (63 Km) -> Kalpetta (75 Km)

The sun was beating hard on us. Yoann and I were riding together (Sharath and Saurabh rode in another group ) and were stopping frequently for water, electral and stuff. The heat got to us, nevertheless,  it was fun riding. I was riding after a month almost and I loved being on the saddle again!

We stopped at a few places for tea, banana, water and the like. And of course, a click!

With Pattuvayal nearing, we were at now entering Tamil Nadu. At this point, you need to turn right almost 120 degrees. You miss this and you will go riding into Tamil Nadu.  We took the turn and rode back into God’s own country. It was slightly uphill now. Yoann looked very tired, but managed to keep going. Arjit rode with me for some time and he appeared to be riding strongly. I was surprised to know his age. (of course, I will not disclose it here). The sun in all its fury made us feel like we were bicycling up a steep mountain.  My shirt was soaked with sweat. Carrying a DSLR camera on my shoulders certainly didn’t appear to be a sane idea.

But the countryside was beautiful! Very calm, peaceful and slow! And green! I just loved it!!! Thoughts of setting up a 2nd home in such a place crossed my mind several times.

There were a couple of small but beautiful churches that crossed us. These reminded me of my Gudalur days as a kid, staying with my aunt, who worked there as a Tahsildar.That is also probably one reason why I can manage a decent conversation in Malayalam.

All through the ride, I kept asking the locals for directions.

“Chettaa, Kayyonni ivada irunnu ethara dooram ariyo?” (Elder bro, how far is Kayyonni from here?)

“Koreya dooram aanu”. (quite a distance)

Ah! No one gave us the right answer. Some said 2 Kms when actually it was 10 away. Some said a bit too far. Some said long time away. Distance is never measured in kms in these parts I guess. Also, most locals had never heard of Meenmutty falls. That goes well with my theory that people underestimate their own local neighborhoods and never visit them, while paying huge sums to visit similar places elsewhere.

Okay. At Kayyonni, we stopped at a small tea shop, had tea / lime soda / etc. And asked for direction. 2Kms away, said the guy. I told our folks to assume that to be more like 12 Kms! I actually was right. Meenmutty was 10Km away from the place!!

The landscape on the last few Kms to Meenmutty was amazing. Tea estates and mountains romancing each other! Yoann appeared to be okay, thought it was his first long ride and he was cycling after a long, long time. And then, there was Sathish with me, who is an amazingly strong rider in a thin frame. He was the only guy who rode upto Mandalpatti peak during the last CAM ride I think. This time, he was wearing a black full sleeve jersey, which I guess would have cooked him alive had he stayed in the sun for few more hours.

We reached Meenmutty around 2pm given our late start.

There was a small shop there. We ransacked the place.

Drank tons of butter milk (Felt so good drinking it. Little things in life sometimes make us so happy!), lime soda, coke, bananas, etc. Also, soon, the CAM arranged lunch came.

We had a quick lunch at the home behind the shop. (The lady let us use their place. The water from their well was amazingly cold, refreshing and sweet in taste). I should say, the lunch was… hmm.. yummy! Even Yoann liked it a lot. Well done CAM!

By now, we had ridden 45 Km in scorching heat. Many were tired. The next plan was to do an off-road trail, reach the gate of Meenmutty and then trek down to the water fall…. 2km in all.

Many were tired and opted to stay back or cycle 30Km to the destination at Kalpetta. Sathish, Yoann, few others and I decided to hit the water fall.

We had a ball of a time! The roads were, well, non-existent and made for an amazing ride uphill / downhill. Also, the trek down to the fall was an amazing thing. At certain places, there was support in the form of a rope to hold onto for support. But most other places, we were on our own, looking down at a steep descent. It was fun!

The Meenmutty water fall is the largest fall in Wayanad, 2nd largest in Kerala and has a height of 300m. But water was just trickling by.  I was told that many estates that had sprung up upstream had dammed the water and had brought down the intensity of the fall. A pity! But we managed to get into the water and have fun!

Lots of fun indeed!! So much that we got delayed! The time was 5 already.

And our steep climb awaited us! Puffing and panting, Sathish, Yoann and I made our way back with few other riders to the small shop where Vikrant and few other volunteers patiently waited on us.

We had a quick cup of tea. Then began our last leg of the day. 30 Km cycling towards Kalpetta. This time, it was easy with the sun down @ 5.45pm.  But it got dark pretty soon and we were riding on dark roads without lights. A pretty risky thing. But we managed it by riding slow. By around 7, I reached Chandragiri inn at Kalpetta. A very nice hotel for such a place! CAM really did a nice job in finding this hotel. Yoann, Sharath and I were room mates.

After a hot water bath followed by a chilling cold water bath (strange?), I was ready for dinner. We wanted non-veg. So we skipped the CAM arranged dinner and went to a hotel called Woodlands and ordered for Malabar fish curry, chicken curry, curd rice and Basmati white rice!  We waited, waited and waited some more. No signs of the food arriving. I just lost my patience and told him in broken malayalam that if the food didn’t turn up in 2 minutes, we would leave the place.

The food came in 5 mins. My hunger stricken stomach was overjoyed at seeing the food. I was still angry with the delay. Sharath was more angry than I was! But once we started eating the food, all our anger flew away!

The food was mind blowingly awesome!!! In all these years, I had never tasted such good fish and chicken curry!!! If you happen to be in Kalpetta, DO NOT MISS WOODLANDS FOOD!! Period!

Once dinner was done, we were too tired to do anything else but sleep! And we promptly did that after setting our alarm at 5am.

75Kms only, but the sun made us feel it was a 150km ride. Also the trek to the fall and bathing there also added to the effort. After a day full of hard labor, sleep was easy to come by! We slept peacefully!

Day 2 awaited us. 45Km of cycling. A trek down to yet another water fall. And then back to Bangalore. Of course, that will have to be a new post given the length of this one already!

Cycling in Neilgherries

Cycling in Neilgherries (old British spelling for Nilgiris) is fun.

The hills and curvy roads amidst lush green landscapes is so much fun for cycling… throw in a blanket of fog and rain, you have an even more interesting setup.

I had travelled to Nilgiris in Sept (18-26). This post is about my cycling experience there.

The initial plan was to cycle at least 300Km in Nilgiris, but I fell awfully short of it and cycled just 103 Kms in all those days. Since I was there for birding, photography and a ton of other things, I could manage only 4 rides.

  1. Havelock road trail (8Km)
  2. Woodhouse – Doddabetta trail (28Km)
  3. Kulishola – Marlimund lake trail (14Km)
  4. Coonoor – Ooty – Kalhatty ghat – Masinagudi trail (53Km)

The details follow!

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