Why you must trek in Kemmanagundi (even if you’re not the trekking types).

Our first view of Kemmanagundi.
Our first view of Kemmanagundi.

Remember my posts on Bhutan, in which I lamented my decision to trek to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery? Despite my earnest desire to go trekking more often since, my loathing for any activity that combines walking with breathlessness and increased heart rate overcame the enthusiasm.

View from near the Rose Garden.
View from near the Rose Garden.

And like all other times when life has made me eat my own words – especially when they involve ‘hate’, ‘don’t’ or ‘exercise’ – this time too, I had to down my loathing with a generous helping of humble sauce. Kemmanagundi is to be blamed for it. This popular-with-government-officials hill station of sorts in Chikkamangalur district cast its spell on a non-trekker like me as well. And my, what a spell it was – lush green hills as far as the eye can see, grassy pathways formed naturally over the hills, flowers in brilliant reds, pinks and blues, and a freshwater spring or two.

The trek to Z point, from where one can see the sun setting into the Arabian Sea.
The trek to Z point, from where one can see the sun setting into the Arabian Sea.

The trek isn’t for very long – at least, not if you take your vehicle up to the most accessible point. One can finish it in a couple of hours both ways. I ventured halfway out, and then decided against going any further because the path involved scaling down slippery patches of mountain and I had a big camera bag with me. (Let this be a lesson to everyone.) I am told, though, that the sun setting over the Arabian Sea makes for a magnificent sight.

Catching the sunset from regular terrain while the rest of them watch it disappear from Z point.
Catching the sunset from regular terrain while the rest of them watch it disappear from Z point.

The trek’s not the only attraction at Kemmanagundi – there are view points, water bodies, temples and more around the place. The most pleasurable bit, though, is the greenery and serenity that comes with it – winding mountain roads with an overarching canopy of giant trees swaying in the wind.

Blooms soaking up the mountain sun.
Blooms soaking up the mountain sun.
The local farmer's market in the compound of the jungle lodge we stayed at.
The local farmer’s market in the compound of the jungle lodge we stayed at.

And that sums up everything I have to say about the place – there wasn’t enough time to explore it more extensively, considering it was weekend trip with more time spent biking than exploring. I do say this, though – if a quiet getaway to connect with nature is your thing, Kemmanagundi is definitely a destination to consider.

The trees form natural filters, letting only wisps of sunlight through their canopy.
The trees form natural filters, letting only wisps of sunlight through their canopy.

Getting there: Drive down or bike it – it takes about 6 hours, with stops. The road closer to Kemmanagundi is quite bad, so that takes a chunk of time to get through. There are also overnight buses available. The nearest train station is Chikkamangalur and there are several trains that run every day.

Go if: You enjoy trekking, need some quiet time and want to feel one with nature.

P.S: There are plenty more pictures on my Instagram feed. Check them out to get a bigger picture of what the place is like.

Biking 101 or what riding to Masinagudi taught me.

The bike that bore my weight with machismo.

When was the last time you experienced a whole new dimension to travel? Something that was so starkly different that it opened up a world of alternative travel experiences? Mine was last weekend, when I went on my first ever biking trip as a pillion on a Bullet Machismo 500. The wind in my hair, the tarred road under my feet that dissolved into a motion blur as we picked up speed, the machine gun doog-doog-doog of the Bullet’s engine… I can confidently say that the pleasure of a biking road trip has no equal. The traffic is just background noise and your 9 to 5 becomes an alternate reality; nothing is of consequence any more. All that matters is the love affair between you and the road and the elements. It’s a liberating experience.

Of course, biking is not everyone’s cup of tea, especially if you’re going with people you don’t know. Experienced as well as novice riders will have a hundred things to say about it, a sore backside being a constant warning. But you’ll never know what works for you (or doesn’t) till you get on a bike and hit the road. The two days I spent riding into the wilderness taught me some very important life – and biking – lessons.

#1 Choose your riding club with care

Going with friends is great, but what works for riding clubs is that they’ve done this thing a hundred times before and are extremely organized. There are a few biking clubs in Bangalore, but the friend I rode with is a part of Bangalore Motorcycle Club, and it was a great first experience to go with them. The bikes travel in single file on the roads, flanked by a pilot – the biker that leads the group – and a sweep – the biker that rounds up the group and is always the last one riding. Hand signals are passed down like Chinese Whispers along the line and were damn fascinating to watch. Spare parts and a mechanic are mandatory, and there’s no place better than the middle of the jungle to help you understand how crucial they are.

Riding back to the resort after the jungle safari.

#2 Leave your hang-ups at home

Learn to let go and get friendly. Your riding group is going to be your on-road family, and it makes sense to establish a certain familiarity with them. If you’re riding pillion, make sure you know your rider because it’s the two of you on the bike and really, you’ll be bumping into his/her back a lot and that can get awkward with strangers. The BMC bikers I met were just as crazy and uncomplicated as the people I usually meet, so I had no problems bonding with them.

The advantage of riding with someone familiar: you get to do crazy things like take pictures of shadows on the road.

#3 Protect yourself against the elements

At the end of the trip, my face looked like it belonged to a Matrioshka doll – I had two spots of deep red on my cheeks and chin, thanks to the sun. But that’s also because I went without sunscreen lotion like a stud muffin. So, protection gear must include a comfortable helmet, an all-weather jacket, a scarf to cover your face, sunscreen lotion and a pair of good shades. Oh, and good shoes.

Riding jacket: check. Helmet: check. Shoes: check. Gloves: check. Sun glasses: check. Pillion: Oh wait, did she fall off somewhere?

#4 Biking is as basic as it gets

It’s not exactly about roughing it out, but it’s not like a car where you can carry your house and (your neighbour’s) with you. Biking trips teach you to be frugal with your packing. You don’t end up spending too much either – our ride was supposed to be to Bandipur, but things changed and we ended up in Masinagudi, at a resort with a gorgeous view of the Nilgiri hills. Because the bookings were last minute, we had four rooms between 17 of us. And we managed just fine.

Travelling light is key.

#5 Save your backside by shifting positions from time to time

Take turns at moving your legs, sitting straight, slouching and raising your backside off the seat over speed bumps. I gripped my friend’s shoulder at regular intervals to leverage my weight (I was numb at one point) and lift myself off the seat or slide forward a little. Oh, and definitely carry some meds with you if you suffer from motion sickness.

I call this the ‘Straight Leg’: bikers often use the bars in the front to stretch their legs over them or raise them over it.

#6 Biking knows no discrimination

Anyone can ride. There was a woman rider in our group and four women pillions, including me. Some of us didn’t know how to ride a geared bike. Some of the bikers had been with other biking clubs before. Some were new at long rides and some were seasoned trippers. Some were techies, some teachers, some from HR and marketing. All of them were bound together by one thing only: their love for biking.

En route Gopalswamy Betta.
En route Gopalswamy Betta.

I would recommend at least one biking trip for everyone at least once in their life. This was my practice ride before my two-week biking trip to Bhutan. And now that I’ve got a taste of this, I don’t want to let go of it.