When it comes to untrammeled freedom, ardent bikers are often the first to live and swear by it. We, my Royal Enfield Standard 350 Bullet and I, have been enjoying this freedom since we started riding together. After moving around a lot as a pair, we badly wanted to test our socialising skills. It was this inspiration which made us jump up and join the ride—Freedom Ride 2014 “a Misty Ride of Munnar”— organised by Bullet Cavaliers, a Bulleteers group formed by like-minded riders in Kottayam.
The two-day trip promised a ride through the less-travelled roads of Western Ghats falling in the state’s share and off-roading through tea plantations and reserve forests.
Jan 25—the ride begins
We rushed, all geared up, to Iype Abraham’s Bullet garage, Riders Hut, the HQ of the Bullet Cavaliers in Manarcad, which was also the starting point of the ride. By the time we reached Riders Hut, there were enough bikes assembled to make it look like a carnival of bikers. With models ranging from 76 Standard 350 to Classic Desert Storm 500 lined up, the parade—of 23 Bullets and their riders—almost represented the entire Royal Enfield fleet.
Till now, riding was a meditation for us. A group ride could take us off this balance, and I had no clue if we would love the change or not. Unwittingly, I was committing the original sin—fearing the unknown.
However, as the ride was flagged off, my monkey mind withdrew, from these fears, into the beats of the machines. I, literally, had no clue when we passed Manarcad Martha Mariam Cathedral, circled Kottayam city, crossed Ettumanoor town and headed towards Pala, our first pit stop. We ended up in a spiritual zone hitherto unknown to us.
As the rush and other traits of city hurried out and the distance between the riders increased, things started falling in place. The trance broke, and I started missing something—the mist. The winter had long retreated though we were a good two months away from the summer. Little we knew that it was to remain the same till evening.
After having breakfast from Pala, we began our journey to Vagamon, a place 1,100m above sea level bordering Kottayam and Idukki.
It was decided that the UCEs would lead the way and the cast-iron hearts would follow. To ask the new machines and their young riders to forget about their fifth gear was embarrassing, as was to ask the grey-heads riding old Bullets to rev up their machines. The solution—Akhil Namboothiri would lead the pack hitting the bare minimum he needed for fifth gear on his Classic 500 and rest would follow him and Iype would guard the back—to see none of the oldies were left behind.
We started climbing the road, which looked like it was competing with the roller coaster rides, connecting one hill to the other. The twists, turns and the road condition started doing something good, it brought down the distance between the riders and we resembled a serpent in undulating motion. Sharp turns came in with unpleasant surprises like potholes, no-roads and more dangerous totally disfigured roads with big loose gravels waiting to slip off under our weight. The post-monsoon season had hit the area bad—the hue of the topography was grey with spills of green here and there.
It was the same even in Vagamon, the only difference was that the breeze passing by was now cooler and refreshing - all thanks to pine valley, lake and catchment areas.
The BC recovery and service van, which was following us, had refreshments stored for us. After enjoying buns, bananas and unlimited supply of water we hit the road again. The next destination was Calvary Mount in Kattapana.
Calvary Mount—a risky ride to rapture
At the foot of the Calvary Mount we stood scratching the ‘helmets’ and looking at each other. Taking the machines up was a demanding task. Do not get fooled by the steep yet fully cemented road up, for it would reduce to two, tire-width, strips with loose stones and mud on each sides after the first turn. Riding it with the precision of a tight rope artist, we reached the top and realized that our hard work was worth it. The view was mesmerizing.
Lying in between a series of hills was the Idukki reservoir, like a belle enjoying her siesta. When, touched by the cold fingers of the wind, she twisted and turned in her bed, her giggles splashing glitters around, which blinded us, voyeurs, perched on top of the hill.
Standing there, I felt as if I am standing on a beach counting the waves. The hills around looked like green waves and the different hues gave the entire scene a motion blur. After being repeatedly reminded by Iype about the totally toppled schedule, we began our climb down. The next place on card was another hilly area, Chathurangapara.
Chathurangapara: Where the winds talk
Chathurangapara is one of the last hills before the valley begins. The place offers a mixed view of Kerala hills on the west and valleys of Tamil Nadu towards the eastern side. The place acquires importance not just for its picturesque frontier between hills and valley, but for its wind power flux also. Standing below the wind turbines reminded me how humble a being we are. The sun walked out in rather haste, yet giving us some picture-postcard moments to treasure. As the pack began the onward journey, we thought about being there alone…
Munnar: A mystic drinking tea
The next stop was our day’s last—Munnar. Our night stay was arranged at the Kannan Devan Guest House in the town and we were a good 50km away from there. The night ride to Munnar was an awesome one, which made us regret missing our lone trips at Chathurangapara.
The formation was back, and the night heightened the beauty of it. The Munnar-Kumily Road was a replica of the Vagamon road—minus the deadly trenches, plus the unbearable cold. Upon nearing Munnar, we bypassed the town and took a road through a tea plantation to reach our night stay. The tea plantation road (it is still a debating point amongst the riders whether there was a road or not) was a tiring one with all the rocks and pits.
The mercury dipped well enough at Munnar to spice up our campfire. By the time we had our dinner and dispersed, it was way beyond midnight. With darkness and cold, crept in the fear of missing the main event of Day 2 —the Republic Day flag hoisting. The fear was not totally out of place, only a few could witness the flag hoisting ceremony, which was held in front of the Guest House at 9am.
Marayoor—a ride to Stone Age
Day 2 of our ride began with Nobert Dileep, Forest Range Officer at Devikulam, showing the flag to us. A visit to the Stone-Age dolmens at Marayoor and an off-roading through the reserve forests there were the big events of the day.
Just as we rode out of the Munnar city, my rear brake jammed for a second time. This time it was Rajan, our mechanic, who came for our rescue. He had no other option but to leave it totally loose as we didn’t have spares to fix it up—thus we began our free ride.
Historians believe that the dolmens found at the Murugan Hills here are of the Megalithic era. An Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) study of the stone structures here dates it of 5,000 years old. Many of the dolmens won’t see another survey because lack of proper maintenance and anti-social activities in the area have destroyed many of these historical structures completely. Similar dolmens are found in Kanthallur, Keezhanthur, Karayur and Kottakudi—which along with Marayoor formed Anjunadu.
Further from there lies the reserve forest, where awaited our off-road thrill. Though experienced rally riders in our pack latter wrote it off as not-as-demanding-as-expected off-roading, others amongst us felt that it was the best part of the entire trip—though we never could hit the second gear.
The off-roading became even more challenging for both of us, as we were running with zero back brake. Five kilometres through the forest, but to enjoy the vastness of the vegetation and its beauty we had to take breaks from grinding our teeth rather than riding.
From there we rode back to Munnar via Kundala Dam. After refreshing ourselves with tea from Kannan Devan Geust House we started our trip back to Kottayam or our busy self via Adimali–Thodupuzha–Pala.
Back home, after two days and 450 kms, while narrating the ride story to my little ones in their beds, I was weighing our lone crusades with the group rides: I knew someone else was doing the same down in my garage.