For the monsoon chaser, the game has but one rule. Seek out the rain before it finds you. The biting cold of the monsoon is your sole guide in this journey. Listen out for the distinct rhythm that rain reserves for each place - up in the mountains, it’s a slanting rain searching the plains and the coasts to romp around; down in the valleys, it’s a dreamy rain fluttering on the winds with its eyes set on the mountains. The seeker knows it’s best to travel light - ready to open one’s arms when the rain rushes in to embrace.
This time, the spot chosen for the monsoon chase uphill was the Valparai-Sholayar-Athirappally route - lined by the Western Ghats and cutting through forests. The thumb rule while on a monsoon hunt is to stick to the basics. So out went the otherwise constant travel companion – Canon D 1000; the pocket-sized mobile phone wrapped in plastic looked more practical. Bullet Classic, my travel buddy, got a top up shot of engine oil the previous night, a fresh coat of grease on the chain and nitrogen fillings for the tyres. All set. The ride was 360 km long with plenty of hairpin curves. The goal was to get back to Palakkad the same day.
At 7.30 in the morning, a light drizzle greeted me as I started out. A pair of T-shirt and shorts and the vehicle documents were strapped on to my back, wrapped in a raincoat. Past the BPL road, and around 10 minutes into the half-an-hour drive from Kohinjampara to Pollachi, the rain caught up with me, asking me to brace up for a day drenched in the monsoon rain. From Elappully, the bike sped on to Ramassery. Breakfast beckoned.
Ramassery Idli Veedu
A veritable local delicacy, the Ramassery Idli is a cross between dosa and idli made using a batter prepared in earthen pots. I first chanced across the eponymous Ramassery Idli Veedu while passing through the town some years back. I had then presumed that idlis had turned into some kind of new age offering in temples in that part of the world. At the homely eatery, I had Iearned that the idli recipe was originally a find of the enterprising lady chefs in the previous generation. On this second visit, I found my way to the Idli Veedu without much difficulty. Almost everything remained as I remembered it – piping hot idlis that looked more like dosas, chutney and gun powder. Of course, it will not make it to the UNESCO Heritage Food list. But then, a steamy platter of Ramassery Idlis on a rainy day is nothing short of a treat. Breakfast done, I rode back the two odd kilometres to get back on the Pollachi road.
The rain fell hard against the helmet, blurring out much of what lay on the road. Past Govindapuram, the road entered Tamil Nadu. I took a right turn before Pollachi and was welcomed by a sunlit road leading to Valparai. The warmth and the sunshine after the rain-soaked morning felt like a dear old memory that descends on you unawares. The Bullet waded smoothly through the light traffic. The rain gave not the slightest inkling this time before pouring down heavily like a lover’s endless grouse. I pulled up the bike to capture the Aliyar dam veiled in rain and mist on camera.
Waterfalls and Tea
Two and half hours into the ride, I pulled up at Waterfalls, a scenic stopover ahead of Valparai. It was still raining. The black tea from the tiny shop tucked into a corner of the neatly trimmed tea plantations was more than welcome. Whoever said that tea gets better with altitude was right!
The ride from Waterfalls to Valparai was quiet; the road draped in mist and set in the monochrome of tea plantations. The only other color that floated onto this fabric of misty green was that of the frothing streams that crisscrossed the plantations. Mountain goats dotted the steep curves of the hills. Never before had I seen a monsoon more romantic.
It was past 1 pm when I reached Valparai. For the records, Valparai has no sightseeing spots. If hills, mist, and monsoon enchant you, you have it at its best. After lunch and an hour of rest, I started out on the Sholayar-Chalakkudy forest road, the rain close on my heels.
Riding in the rain in the rainforest
It was fun to keep riding as rain wiped almost everything out of sight. The jacket was drenched, the cold winds piercing right through it as the bike sped on. 45 minutes on, I was at the Kerala border and collected an entry ticket. The road kept growing narrower. I pulled over on spotting a tea shop where several bikers had stopped for a break. The black tea helped set the trail ablaze again. And then, off on a two-hour ride through the deep jungle.
The headlamps of on-coming vehicles kept the headiness of the ride from getting to me. There was also a game of hide and seek at hand with the bamboo stems that lay dillydallying across the road. About 45 minutes into the ride, I could see the Sholayar Dam. I stopped to get a better view of the dam shrouded in mist. Malakkappara and Puliyilappara lay ahead; past Vazhachal, I could get to the Charppa-Athirappaly road.
The forest route was dotted with signboards warning of animal trails. The one-and-a-half hour ride gifted wild delights – the boundless greenery, the swollen streams, the smell of fresh elephant dung in the air that signaled the presence of the mammoth in the vicinity. At 6 pm - nine hours after the ride started - I was at the Vazhachal penstock pipe. I had bid adieu to the world that shields not from the rain. Back at Palakkad after the 14-hour ride, I took a hot shower to ease the cramps. Savoring the memories of the monsoon chase, I lay down to think of the next. Outside, in the light of the neon lamps, I could see a family walking in the rain, huddled together under an umbrella.