We didn’t know how much more distance was left to reach Yellapur. It was getting dark and cold. The light just went out so quickly as we were in the forests and winter evening are always short. The roads were the most discouraging part, but we didn’t expect anything better. It would have been better if it wasn’t rolling terrain. It had already been 110kms for the day, first day after all, but my first day ever of riding self-supported with load. Was it a mistake skipping the Dandeli stay and trying to complete two days’ quota in one? As we were about to take one more break we saw the main road, and the sign board too. Yellapur – 4kms!
When I was ten years old, I took my first ever cycling trip. I remember struggling to finish a 25km ride, it took more close to 5 hours to complete. And here I was, a decade later, attempting a 1000+kms self-supported cycling tour across the Western Ghats of Karnataka. This was a dream for me from the time I started cycling. This was on my mind when I was doing the Manali – Leh ride itself. Finally, after pondering about the route for nearly 6 months, I finally decided the route. Dharwad to Madikeri it was, entirely through the ghats. Never did we plan to enter the plains.
But that’s how I wanted it to be. And we had started pretty well too. Day one went very well. Just a brief bit of plains starting off from Dharwad and we were inside the dense forests of Dandeli very early, which prompted us to push towards Yellapur that day itself. Now that we had an extra day which we saved, we planned to head to Sathoddi falls, the prettiest waterfall I’ve ever seen. (Un)Luckily it was 25km downhill till the falls, though we enjoyed it, we were thinking about coming back up more often. Sleeping inside the cool, crystal clear water of the falls made me forget all the pain we had yesterday. The backwaters we see on the way to Sathodi must be one of the prettiest too. It was like a huge mirror lying on the ground!
Uttara Kannada is a less explored district in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. Though places are well known, it never gets too crowded. And there is plenty of opportunity to explore. There are innumerable waterfalls in this place! Wildlife too is so much more; we spotted many Langurs and Malabar Squirrels on the way! Though this was a pretty laid back ride, we had to keep going. Heard about couple of new waterfalls nearby but we had to stick to the plan. Magod falls was next on the list. The huge two tier waterfall didn’t disappoint us at all. Many locals told that there isn’t much water but it was more than enough to visit.
On the way to Magod, we stopped by a Govt School in a small village called Nandolli. We planned to visit schools to bring about awareness regarding the importance of cycling in the future, preserving the Ghats and its precious resources. I spoke to around 110 kids. All were very interested about my bike more than what I was speaking. But they were all responsive and looked like they understood what I told them about. The teachers were also very optimistic and told us that they will promote cycling too. 40 out of 110 kids ride a cycle to school, which is a big number! The kids’ reaction to the whole thing was very humbling. Our very small try to make the world a better place. All their smiles and goodbyes can never be forgotten! :)
Magod to Sirsi
Ride from Magod to Sirsi was beautiful. There was a 15km stretch inside thick forests where we didn’t see a single soul. That was pretty much the case in the entire district. Dense forests, small villages, very few people around, just the way we liked it to be! Our accommodation in Sirsi was arranged by my friend whose parents lived there. That is something which I can never forget. We were treated like heroes, fed plentiful delicious local food, given everything we required. We had just about done 350kms by then and had plenty more to go!
The rest of the ride to Shimoga was through the rolling terrain. It gets irritating to ride but not too taxing on the body. The forest eased and opens up to the country side and plantations. Stage one was over before we knew. We had cycled 450kms in a week and I was counting backwards already. Only 10 more days to go!
Shimoga to Dharmasthala!
Stage II from Shimoga to Dharmasthala was for me the best part of the ride. I had carefully chosen the route as to cover all my favourite places. I’d been dreaming on cycling the Shimoga to Thirthalli route ever since I passed through it last year. Riding next to the Gajnur Dam backwaters inside dense forest was as wonderful as I expected it to be. Thirthalli is a beautiful place. We were welcomed by a gorgeous sun set on the banks of Tunga! I was especially looking forward to spending the night in Mr.Sheshadri Dixit Sir’s house. If you don’t know about him yet, you have to read this. He cycled 50000 kms across many countries in the Sub Continent from 1968 to 1971. His story still inspires me in many ways! Even there, we were pampered so much with lots of delicious food and all the care we could get. They had prepared Jamoon for us! The legend himself took time of his busy schedule and spoke to us. I really enjoyed when he spoke about not many people understanding the hardships of touring on a cycle. I must say what we were doing was just a warm up ride compared to what he did! Next day morning was the best moment of the ride. It didn’t come when we saw the most beautiful place or completed a certain distance. It happened when Sheshadri Sir’s daughters gifted us a box of Cadbury Celebrations. It was such an awesome gesture! For me, this was the essence of touring. It is not just about the beautiful places we cover. It's the pampering from our hosts, the smiles we bring on those children and the village folk, the shout outs we get, the curious questions we are asked, the food, the people, the culture we see and the love we experience that make this journey special!
That day supposed to be our first test of climbing on the tour. Kundadri climb was awaiting us enroute Agumbe. The climb was just 4kms but it was insanely steep. With all the luggage on the cycle, it was super hard. If I stopped, I couldn’t start again as my front wheel kept on lifting up due to the incline. The scorching afternoon heat didn’t help us either. Finally, after many many breaks, we reached the top. We could see the Savehaklu backwaters far away, Narasimha Parvatha too on the other side towards Agumbe where we were headed. We decided to stay on top till the evening and the chocolates ended up as our lunch :)
Agumbe side of Western Ghats must be the least explored part of western ghats in Karnataka. Due to Naxal problems, not many opportunities were there to trek around. I love the town, it has just one road. We were staying in Doddamane, the famous Malgudi Days house. We met a couple from Bangalore who offered to take us to Kundadri again for the sunrise in their car. Getting up at 5.30 after a long day was difficult. So Vishwa dropped out but I was very lucky to witness a superb rise. I always felt Sunrise is better than sunset in Agumbe. Last year too on Narasimha Parvatha we were lucky to get ‘sunrise above the clouds’! That day was supposed to be tough. We were climbing the big ‘Agumbe Ghat’ from the Coast side. We first went down the ghat, enjoyed the downhill like crazy because I knew coming back was going to be kicking ass. We were on our way to Koodlu Theertha falls. It is very secluded and has very bad roads but as usual, it was time for another bath after a long time! I absolutely loved it as we were the only ones around. Crossing the river too was a super experience. Climbing the big ghat was very hyped up. People told us it is very difficult. It is indeed full of hairpin bends but guess what, both of us did the entire climb without a break! May be because we were thinking it was way harder but people coming on vehicles were going crazy seeing us cycle on that route!!
The next day was also going to be long. But I was very excited as we were entering Kudremukh National Park. I love the place. The day was long and hard. We entered the park pretty late so we had to hurry up. It was very late in the night when we reached the Kudremukh trek start point. We were riding in pitch dark, creepy sounding forests with the help of a full moon which gave us insane silhouette effect of the mountains around. We reached K’mukh at 9 in the night. Our host was Jinendra, the guy who drives the jeep till the trekking point of the peak. After a tiring previous day we were feeling very lazy the next day, we had a buffer day but we wanted to go as far as possible. We decided to stop 20 kms before Kottigehara as we found a super place to camp for the night. There is a 2000 acre tea and coffee estate in Kelagur near Kalasa. They have a small tea point, just next to a stream so we found it to be perfect! We slept outside their small shelter, in freezing cold but a super experience. Many nearby villagers who work in the estate welcomed us to their homes saying it was too cold sleeping outside, great gestures again, but we were more than happy with the place. I had a -10 sleeping bag anyway! ;) But I must say that was the coldest night I’ve spent in Southern India.
Descending across Charmadi Ghat!
Next day we were going down all the way. After just 5kms of uphill, we started our descent to Dharmasthala, 50kms down the great Charmadi Ghat. The views were fabulous, the road was newly laid and we were going crazy. I hit 60kmph speed. We were ripping!
We were joined by Narsimha from Dharmasthala for the last leg till Madikeri. The ride to Subrahmanya was uneventful until the last few kilometres until we could see great views of my favourite mountain, Kumara Parvatha. We were essentially taking a big round of Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary in stage III. Bisle Ghat was on my mind all through the ride. It was 50kms of uphill ride till Somwarpet. I was very particular about riding here in spite of very bad road conditions and height gain because this part is still not very popular. The road I must say was non-existent but the incline was very manageable for most part. There was a series of uphills as we finished Bisle and the landscape opened up. The road was absolutely deserted entire day and we simply loved it.
The mark of 1000 kms!
Next day we touched the 1000km mark on the way to Madikeri from Kundhalli, a small village where we stayed close to Malhalli falls. Vishwa was very satisfied about reaching this number. 1000 is not a small number and it did feel very satisfying about doing that distance self-supported. For me, I had already got everything and more of what I expected from this ride. Everything went as planned and we got to see so much more than what we had planned. We finished of the ride in the best possible fashion by going to Mandalpatti and enjoying its splendid views and returning to Madikeri. We finished with 1067kms. 17 unforgettable days through my beloved Malnad. I didn’t realize the magnitude of what we had done on the tour as I had already started thinking about my rock climbing trip to Badami the very next day. But after spending a month back here in Bangalore, I realise that we indeed cycled so much!
It might look too formal but it is my duty to name and thank everybody who helped me make this thing happen. Bangalore Ascenders first for giving me an opportunity to organise for them, Sachin from Pedals and Wheels for providing me Panniers and Rack for free, My friends Muggy and Aditya for helping with getting accommodation in their towns, Sheshadri Dixit sir for their help, Girish in MandalPatti and Bee Tee homestay near Kundhalli for charging us so much more lesser than their usual price and finally my riding partner Vishwa for all the help and support throughout the ride.
It was a great experience for me to plan and execute my dream ride. I have so much more respect now for all those people who tour on a cycle, especially all the Himalayan tourers who ride more distance than us in great altitudes. With this, I think you know my next plan. ;) Himalayan self-supported tour. Till then, Happy Cycling :)
The Crew: Sharath Vishnu, Vishwa &, Narsimha