Cruise to Coast – Cycling to Cauvery

“It seems like a bright day,” I think when I step out of the dormitory in Bhagamandala after getting ready for the cycling trip spanning a distance of 160kms over two days from where river Cauvery originates to a tiny village on the Karnataka – Kerala border called Jalsoor. The ride was to begin at 7am and the parking lot of the hotel is slowly getting thick with cyclists in their full gear – perky windcheaters in bright colors, padded cycling shorts, helmets, tiny backpacks with essentials for the road and so on.

The hanging bridge

Despite the previous night’s rather bumpy ride on a bus from Bangalore to Bhagamandala, I had slept well. My fault, since I did not confirm my participation after registration with a follow up mail to the organizers, who would have in turn allotted me proper seats, but that rather worked out in my favor. The last two seats weren’t filled up and I had them for myself that resulted in a good sleep, aided by ample leg room and all.

The spectrum of cyclists ranges from novices – some of them even first-timers (not me, for I have already put my knees and calves to test before) – to maven bikers who are quite regulars in the trips organized by the Bangalore based startup called cycling and more. This ride, one of their popular ones, promised to take the rider along some stunning scenery in the Western Ghats peppered with numerous little waterfalls by the side of the road and lush greenery amid untouched, virgin forests. Owing to its popularity, the same ride has been conducted four times in a row now and I only managed to find myself in the fourth installment.

By now, however, the unpredictable weather has brought with it thick dark clouds and it had started drizzling softly. We were handed out the day’s maps and instructions on how to proceed to the first day’s target – Bekal fort in Kasaragod. The ride would cover about 80kms on the first day and would have a lunch break at a middle point. The target was to reach Bekal around 3pm since the entry to the fort is proscribed after 6pm.

Armed with the knowledge that there are support vehicles following us with water, supplies and repair assistance in case of need, I tugged my windcheater closely and set out into the drizzle following the expert bikers who are by now fast disappearing from my sight. The route is fairly straightforward (although the roads, hardly) and it is not difficult to lose your way if you are super challenged with directions. The deceptive turns branching into a narrow road could attract your attention or the conspicuous forks could obscure your sense of direction. Either way, you are never far from a fellow cyclist or better, the support vehicles that tag along. Besides, the map also consists of emergency contacts.

As if to mirror the map’s promise the ride is mostly downhill and the road, extremely patchy and riddled with potholes. The ride is hardly an issue because the landscape is worth much more the hard slog that is pedaling. The roads are thickly canopied with the monsoon-laden trees and the effect it creates when mist swims through the trees is quite magical. Picturesque attains new meaning here.

I pedaled along, often breaking the ride to take pictures. This proves to be a bit of an effort since the drizzle threatens to spray my lens, soaking it with droplets obscuring my view. Also my multi-layered protection of two bags to keep my camera from getting wet worked against taking any shots that needed to be in the moment. Thus trundling my way through the odd 80kms on the first day, I reached Bekal fort when the sun was still blazing, blinding me and overexposing my images. Since I was one of the early riders to reach the destination, I waited out for the rest and watched the crepuscular charm of the fort until our bus takes us to our hotel rooms in Kasaragod town.

That evening, after beseeching my roommates for the first in line bathroom-space – not that they cared because they were nursing their tired calves, spread-eagled on the bed watching the yammering of news anchors on the television – I wash, change and set out in search of fodder for my famished stomach. Earlier, on my enquiries about suggestions for a restaurant that serves good seafood in the town, the middle aged gentleman at the front desk of my hotel was pessimistic of my options. “The fish that is caught here is shipped to other places and your options are limited,” he told me. Consequently, as if to assuage my concerns, he advised I might want to try The Metro restaurant.

The Bekal Fort
The Bekal Fort

I proceeded to enquire a few more locals whilst on my way to The Metro and the restaurant seems to be the unequivocal suggestion by many. It stands facing a KFC on the opposite side of the road but the crowd at its tables suggested that it might still be the favored dinner haunt for the locals. The waiter reels off an assortment of fish dishes in a variety of fish but I quickly settle for the fish biryani – for ease of settling on an option and also since I haven’t been introduced to the pleasures of this unique moopla dish.

The fish biryani came in a stout metal container with chunks of deliciously cooked fish, buried deep inside flavorful rice and splendid masala. Suffice to say, I ate until my stomach muscles couldn’t expand any longer and concluded the meal with a suleimani chai – black lemon tea. Thus having circumscribed my chances of eating any other fish dish, I dragged my feet back to my room and quickly slip into a deep sleep.

The next day’s insouciance was a result of the largely descending landscape. The roads are in good condition and though my knee (ligament sprain, my doctor friend had said, before warning that there is a good chance it might recur) threatens its dissent with signs of disapproval, I managed to reach the destination, Jalsoor and terminate the ride by the banks of the Payaswini river. A hearty dip in the shallow river that had strong currents to wash off the remains of the day was in order, which was followed by random snacking of curiously shaped fried food and binge drinking of spicy buttermilk and nameless sherbets.

As I sat taking notes, I noticed the riders slowly gathering, culminating their trips but the trip leader, Vikrant, would have a hard time dragging them to the bus. For they have quickly realized that the river is harmless and safe for flapping around, even if you are a non-swimmer. And then there are those who trained their camera at the hanging bridge, the water body, the flowers and suchlike. It is their day out and Vikrant’s calls can wait.

This appeared in The Hindu and can be accessed here.

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