23 September 2012

Tour of Yelagiri

It started out with a hunt for a new 400km route for the IISc brevets. When the route was chalked out as Bangalore-Yelagiri-Bangalore it was too tempting not to ride it. Mustafa, Alex, Nirmal and I decided to give it a try over the weekend. We had planned to start on Friday night, and reach Yelagiri base via the Chennai highway by dawn on Saturday. We hoped to get up to the top before it got too hot, rest all day and start back early on Sunday morning, to reach Bangalore by nightfall.

Yelagiri Road from base to top
The Road leading to Yelagiri

We started nearly an hour late from campus, owing to some random delays. We quickly made our way out of the city via Brigade Road. I observe that most of the morons of the city take to the roads around this time - you can tell by the reckless driving, the crazy honking, etc.

Electronics City bangalore Expressway at Night by Cycle
The Electronics City Elevated Expressway
Here's something to think about: There are three large Halogen lamps on each of the lamp posts. There's one every  50m or so on each side of the road. Assume each lamp to be at least 100W, running for 6 hours a day, how much energy is being spent/wasted ?

Once on Hosur Road we picked up speed, quickly covering the descent past Electronics City and Hosur. Other than a few stops to fix a niggling saddlebag issue we went non stop till Hosur, where we stopped for chai.Then went on towards Krishnagiri, with another stop at Shoolagiri. The descent is absolutely fantastic. The road is very wide, with an ample shoulder, and we were at Krishnagiri before dawn. In retrospect we should have been much faster, resting in the saddle rather than stopping so many times. We hit Karimangalam only after dawn - part of the reason for which was fatigue and lack of sleep. After finding an ATM (for the brevet control) we had breakfast and pushed on back towards Krishnagiri. 

Chennai Bangalore highway Krishnagiri to Vaniyambadi
The entire highway is treeless. They build wider roads so that you can go faster and then put up boards saying "Drive Slowly"

an open well by the road side
Saw a large open well where we stopped to cool off.
It quickly became very hot and sunny - and the sunglasses provided much needed respite from the glare of the highway. However, the stretch from Krishnagiri to Vaniyambadi proved to be too much. Extreme heat forced us to a very slow pace - with frequent stops for water and fluids. The road is mostly flat, so we still managed to average around 20 kmh. Only twice did we find some shade in which to relax - which we made full use of.By the time we reached the Yelagiri turnoff we were pretty much destroyed. We drank some coconuts and then dozed off under the trees for over an hour. After recovering somewhat we set off to the base of the hill - a village called Ponneri. There was just one place for food - and there was not place to sit. Mustafa and I managed to get in - Nirmal and Alex wanted to climb before food so they went on ahead. I wanted to eat since I had to have the energy to climb the 500m to the top. Mustafa was already suffering from the heat - he could barely eat. After lunch we started off and rested for about half an hour under a tree, before attacking the climb. I went slow - deciding to pace myself slowly up the hill. There are 14 hairpin bends on this climb, and the road climbs at a near constant rate. Each bend has the name of one poet (it was all in Tamil so I could not read any of it) About 3 km into the climb i realised that I had just half a bottle of water - I had forgotten to top up the other bottle. There are teams of monkeys in some stretches along the climb - one look at them is enough to explain the term 'monkey business'. They gave me suspicious looks, perhaps because of the way I was dressed - in sunglasses and helmet.

Rationing my water and resting after every other hairpin i made it to the top in a little over two hours, catching up with Mustafa just before the top. In retrospect, I should have carried more water, and locked the front suspension before climbing.

In the meantime, Alex and Nirmal had already found a place to stay. We were too exhausted to do anything else, so after a quick trip to the artificial lake we had dinner and turned in for the night,

Paniramic shot of forest and lake at the top of Yelagiri Hills
Yelagiri - At the top
We planned to start just after dawn - around 7.30. We ended up starting the descent at only at nine. Made it down by eleven - some delay due to Mustafa's troublesome bag holding us up. By the time we hit the highway it was past 11 and becoming very hot. Mustafa had decided to return by bus, so he went off towards Vaniyambadi and we headed to Kuppam.

Panoramic shot of one of the hairpin bends descending from Yelagiri
A panoramic shot of Yelarigi hill taken from a small road between Ponneri and the highway.
After the descent from Yelagiri
The next 30 km were hell. Incredible sun, hilly terrain, and very few trees made progress difficult. We kept taking frequent breaks for water, and more importantly shade.
Yelagiri to Kuppam
At most stops the locals would crowd around and ask questions about where we were coming from, where we were going,and why.  This being the "triple point" - where the borders of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh meet, we conversed in a mix of languages. Alex became a local attraction at each point, people trying to talk to him in english. Many times neither understood what the other was saying. A number of times we encountered Ganesha Idols (probably being taken for immersion) with scores of people beating tashas (drums) and playing other instruments.

At Kuppam we were too hot and tired - so we stopped for lunch at a nice place where we stuffed ourselves with rice, curd and delicious buttermilk. Afterward we took a short nap on his lawn under a tree, since it was too hot to go on. There was no power - we were told there was no power all day. Bangalore (and IISc in particular) should take note. These people were all working without even fans - in the middle of Andhra summer, while I am sure a number of people in Bangalore were sitting in air conditioned offices making useless comments on Facebook.

After exiting Kuppam we headed towards Betamangala. This stretch is very beautiful. The road climbs slowly and reaches a sort of plateau from where there is a fantastic view of the surrounding land. A number or (possibly rainfed) pools dot the landscape.
Climbing from Kuppam to Betamangala
This is also where we crossed back into Karnataka. Interestingly, the moment we passed the board marking the border, the roads became horrible. Both sides of the road had either farms or quarries. We encountered a few jeeps ferrying agricultural produce, bouncing along the rutted road. Sadly, the producers of the country are the ones who have to live with such roads, while Bangalore cannot stop making more flyovers and underpasses and signal free corridors so that the pub-hopping public in cars does not have to slow down.
By the time we reached Betamangala the sun had relented, and after a short snack of cucumbers and pineapples we headed off to Kolar.

This road is narrow, with sparse traffic and no lights. Just around dusk I got a flat. In the middle of nowhere, on an unlit road, at sunset. First flat in over 3000km.
Sunset - somewhere between Betamangala and Kolar
Sunset - Somewhere between Betamangala and Kolar

Long exposure night shot - fixing puncture
Fixing a flat on a lonely road - perfect setting for some long exposure photography.

We had all the tools, and instead of just changing the tube I thought it would be better to patch it and keep the spare for later. About half an hour or repair by torchlight, and we started off again, hitting Kolar at about eight. We needed water, and did not see any shops open. So we just took a chance and asked a person at a weigh-bridge. He took us next door to a small building (which turned out to be a bottling plant for some mineral water company!) and told us to fill up as much as we wanted. We thanked him and took off towards Hoskote.

The highway was fast, cool and uneventful, and we made good time to Hoskote (with a short dinner beak in between) and then on to Bangalore, reaching campus at about 12.30 AM. It turned out to be quite a tough ride, but thoroughly enjoyable.

If this becomes a brevet route, and you are riding, I can offer you the following advice:

0. Get lots of sleep in the days/ week before if you are starting at night.

1. It is all downhill till Krishnagiri. Make the most of this and the fact that it is cool and try not to stop more than two or three times. You can rest in the saddle. Even a small stop can waste a lot of time. Drink lots of water - it is surprisingly easy to get dehydrated at night. Try to get onto the Krishnagiri - Vaniyambadi stretch by dawn.

2. The climb will take about 2 hours. Climb as soon as you can - you can rest on the way and at the top.

3. The first 20k from the highway till Kuppam  is painful. Its ok to slow down - you can make up time later on the Kolar - Bangalore stretch. Kuppam to Betamangala has some bad stretches. Betamangala to Kolar is almost completely dark - make sure you have adequate lights.

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