Around the forest, alighting hilltops: An unforgettable bullet ride
When I was invited for a Royal Enfield motorbike expedition, the first memory that struck me was a journey that I undertook some years ago on a friend’s petrol-thirsty bullet. It was a tormenting experience with the bike having starting troubles. Once it turned off, it was difficult to start again. The ampere had to be adjusted every time; otherwise, it will kick you back. Once it started, however, it was a great and smooth riding experience _ the vehicle will take you along. In an effort to cut the cost on fuel consumption, I restricted myself to 100 cc bikes afterwards and riding a bullet turned out to be a rare indulgence.
Years later, I was getting an opportunity for a bullet expedition along with 50 other members on 21 bullets starting from the searing terrain of Palakkad. After covering the dense woods of Tamil Nadu and the scenic Munnar valley, the trip would culminate in Palakkad again traversing through Kothamangalam and Thrissur.
The trip, organized by Prince Motors, Palakkad, had participants from different walks of life. When I checked Google Maps, I was thrilled to see the places the expedition would cover _ from the western side of the Sahya Mountains to the eastern side through Palakkad Gap, and then back to Palakkad again through western side of the mountains. The mere thought of this journey covering the forest areas of Chinnar, Marayur, Munnar, Idukki, Periyar, Nelliyampathy, Sholayar, Aliyar and Peechi gave me goose bumps.
With the thumping sounds of dozens of Bullets, we began our journey from the Vadakkumthara temple in Palakkad on April 22. With Anoop’s pilot vehicle in the front and a mini lorry carrying necessary spare parts, stepney spare tyres and lunch in the back we started on an exciting trip. A van with the facility to accommodate active riders in case they fall ill also had four additional riders in it. The motorcade was paused in front of the Prince Motors showroom and after a small pooja, we resumed the journey aiming Kozhinjampara for a tender coconut break. But by the time we reached there the sun was already up and we were slightly behind the schedule.
With the freshness and energy given by the tender coconut water we continued the journey. Barring an encounter with an over-speeding private bus headed to Palani en route that narrowly escaped collision with a vehicle coming from the opposite in a bid to overtake a car, the journey went smoothly. We stopped at Udumalpet since two members had to visit the mosque. From there the journey was towards the right through the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. A little ahead of the check post, a tyre of Rohit’s vehicle got punctured. We waited there till the mini lorry carrying motor parts arrived.
The forestland was parched with reddened soil and withered grass. There was no shade to escape from the scorching sun, as the trees stood there without any leaves. Fellow rider Pawan, an income tax officer by profession, took out sweet ripen country mangoes from the side bag of his bike. We found some solace in the sweetness of the mangoes. By the time the mini lorry came and the tyre was repaired, we were terribly hungry. However, since we are instructed not to have food in the forest, we decided to come out and eat.
As we reached Marayoor through Rajamala, crossing the Chinnar check posts in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, our mind and body had become cooler. When we reached Munnar passing through the sugarcane farms of Marayur, dusk had already settled in. Munnar festival was on in full swing and seeing the bullet brigade people starting looking at usfascinatedly. Ron, a German citizen came forward to click some photographs. He said he too had once undertaken a journey on a bullet during a previous visit to India.
Our accommodation was arranged in Suryanelli, around 25 km from Munnar. With night slowly blanketing the tea plantations along the way, the red light emanating from the tail lamps of the bikes lightened up the way. While riding on the S-bends, the view from the rear was mind-blowing like that of a flight of bird flocks in the sky. It was about 8 pm when we reached Suryanelli town. From there, we had to travel a few metres off the road through a path laden with round pebbles to reach the resort. Balancing the bike on those stones was a difficult task.
After a quick refresh, we all gathered around the campfire and had dinner. The night started getting colder. Around the campfire we sang and danced till late night. Anoop sang a song from a musical album he made kicking off the singing spree while twin brothers Satheesh and Gireesh showcased unparalleled dancing performance. However, it was Narayanettan, who stole the limelight with his folk songs.
While everyone shared his experiences of the journey so far, Rohit complained that the ride was too slow. He couldn’t be blamed for he was a professional biker. Narayanettan, on the other hand complained in lighter vain that it was difficult to catch up with Augustine, a zubedar with the Indian Army. It is true that Augustine would have loved to zoom past in his ‘Thunderbird’ had there been no restriction with regard to overtaking the pilot vehicle! Augustine is not only a rider but also an avid stamp and coin collector. Contrary to Augustine, Pawan is a gentle rider. He keeps a controlled speed and rides smoothly, but at times when you least expect it, he overtakes everyone too!
Inspite of the age, it was their passion for riding and travel that kept 51-year-old Parameswaran and 71-year-old Raveendranath young and lively.
The chattering and performances around the campfire went on till late night.
The next day morning we realized how the ravishing beauty of the hillocks was concealed by the darkness of the previous night. The resort was situated in an incredibly beautiful location facing the lush green and picturesque mountains and valleys outlined by tea plantations.
After breakfast we started our journey. The destination was the Top Station, around40 km from there through Mattuppetti and Ecopoint. We saw plenty of tourists enjoying the speed boat ride at Mattuppetti dam and the pedal boat ride at Ecopoint. There was rush for horse riding and other entertainment events. The entry fee at Top Station was Rs 15. The view of mountains from the fog-clad valley was breath-taking. The atmosphere was so bewitching that the bullet riding got ecstatic. We had our lunch from Top Station.
The next destination was Thekkadi passing through Munnar. While waiting for other riders to join en route, we came across a biker on his Harley Davidson at Munnar. Every one of us started looking at the bike and the biker with a lot of admiration. Rohit even had photographs clicked along with the biker.
We reached Kumili around 8 pm and stayed there that night. Next morning we planned to go for a boat ride in Thekkadi Lake, but since the water was so low and there was long queue for the ticket, we gave up.
From Thekkadi we decided to return via Neryamangalam, Kothamangalam and Perumbavoor. At around 10 am, we started from Kumili and around seven km into our journey we encountered another bullet brigade coming in the opposite direction. Unlike ours’ those bullets were more stylish. Some had their silencers altered to produce a unique sound; some were adorned with oxen horns; some others were in multi colors and some had their back seat removed. Most of the riders were youngsters too. Having exchanged pleasantries we decided to go for a combined biking to Ottakathalamedu.
Passing through the steep and zigzagging road, we finally reached the top point and started talking to each other to understand better. From painters to soldiers, many in the other group were youngsters and from Kottayam. Our Palakkad group had 22 bikes while the Kottayam team had 16. Together we were about 100 bikers in 38 bullets and the connecting links were the same _ bullet and passion for travel! After spending some good time in the company of each other we bid farewell and parted ways.
Aimed at Trissur, we resumed our journey. According to the plan, we would cover Kuttikkanam and Painav, and would travel through the forest areas of Neryamangalam before reaching Kothamangalam, Perumbavoor, Angamaly and finally Thrissur. Until Kothamangalam, we were riding in slow pace owing to the curvy roads in the mountains. However, once we landed the straight roads of Kothamangalam, the riding gained momentum and we reached Perumbavoor at 6.30 pm. Riding bike on the national highway turned out more difficult than mountain biking.
By 10 pm we reached Palakkad. Having come back safe and sound, Anoop looked so relieved. Everyone wanted to know when the next trip is going to be. I felt like having got my long-lost lover back and already started nursing the idea of owning a bullet.
(Translated by Renitha Raveendran)