Indianomics
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Mumbai to Kerala on Himalayan and Dominar – Part 1

Kerala Ride to the god's own country
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I always wanted to go to Kerala on a bike and never thought I will ever do it, though I still wished I could. I had created many plans for a ride but was always quick enough to drop it. It always seemed like a distant dream that I felt I lacked enough guts to achieve. The last year has been challenging one for me in many ways, and my current situation only accentuates the impossibility of me undertaking such a ride.

My friend and a fellow wolf from Throttle Gun Wolves, Tyjo decided to go on a solo trip to Kerala on his Dominar. It was a quick decision on his part, and he was leaving on the third day, from the day he informed me. I decided to join him in his plan and make a lemonade of the lemons life threw at me. More the merrier!

Is there a video of this ride?

Yes, there is one you can watch. Head over to Indianomics TV channel on YouTube. Also, do not forget to subscribe to the channel so that YouTube can inform you of my next video.

There is another video of our pictures from the ride, which I had compiled and posted on the Indianomics YouTube channel if you would like to see some of these photos.

Preparing for the ride to Kerala

The next day both Himalayan and Dominar visited the service center and the day after I pimped up my Yeti. The typical, aux lights, a rear strobe light, and a phone holder with UBS charging port. I also got an SMK Twister helmet, replacing my aging LS2, and included a Bluetooth headset so that I can be in touch with my 3-year-old daughter and listen to the maps aunty barking directions.

Route from Mumbai to Kerala

Both Tyjo Thomas and I had different destinations – I wanted to go to Alleppey, my hometown and Tyjo wanted to go up to Kanyakumari. However, we always doubted if his family in Chalakudy will let him go there. Tyjo ended up touring places around Chalakudy, including the famous Athirapally waterfalls.

Our rides – motor bikes

Tyjo Thomas owns a Bajaj Dominar 400 that he got some months ago. Dominar 400, based on the KTM390, heavily modified for cursing comfort and mild on-road manners by Bajaj. It is a bike that has potential to challenge Royal Enfield’s rule in this 350+ CC segment.

I own a Royal Enfield Himalayan. If you are regular here, then I am sure you will know about it. I call the Himalayan as Yeti, and there are tons of things I have already spoken about my bike.

Riding rules

We were clear on a few things before the ride started.

  1. We will not be riding in the night, though start as early as possible in the mornings.
  2. Do approximately 600 to 650 kilometers a day at the max, which ensured we are not too tired and have enough flexibility to take longer breaks.
  3. Ride consistent speeds averaging around 80-90 KMPH
  4. Spend money on only absolute necessity.

PS: We did break one law though, by riding on the Mumbai Pune expressway.

Capturing the beauty

We met another wolf Nikhil Deshmukh who helped arrange for two SJCAMs on loan, for us to record our trip, which was a huge favor that he did for us – for you can see in the video, we managed to capture a few clips that left us in awe. After the ride, my daughter has seen these videos again and again, and I love it every time it throws a smile on her face.

  • Two SJCAMs – thanks to Nikhil
  • One Sunco Cam – thanks to Shiv, though I could not use it as a backup camera throughout my trip due to a faulty memory card
  • My beloved iPhone 6s, Lumia 950XL

Prepping our bikes

Given that this is the longest ride I have done, it was imperative that I take Yeti to the service center for a thorough check-up. I was close to my 4th service anyways, so decided to go ahead and do it as well. Royal Enfield’s Pooja Motors service center immediately prioritized my servicing request, since the ride was just two days away.

Likewise, Tyjo also got his Dominar serviced the previous day. Given his tight work schedule, he did not have the liberty to get things done as I did.

After the servicing was done, armed with a new magneto coil replaced voluntarily by the SC, I took the bike to pimp it up a bit the next day. I needed fog lamps installed on Yeti, just in case we need to ride in the dark. My focus was to ensure that I am not distracting the drivers/riders from the opposite side, but make sure I am visible enough.

Thankfully, I got a fog lamp and led white light combination (which I had secretly wished) because the store did not have two fog lamp units readily available. I also upgraded my helmet to an SMK Twister (with a Bluetooth headset) from my existing LS2 (I lost my brand new SOL Infiniti a few months ago in an impossible way) and got a knee guard, something I never had before. I will shortly write up a review of my brand new helmet and how much it helped me during this ride.

Bluetooth headset served two purposes; one, since we relied on maps massively, it was easy to ignore looking into the screen all the time to check if we need to change direction. And two, it helped me be in touch with my daughter without removing my helmet.

What we packed?

Tyjo had got a tail bag, and I got my Wildcraft trekking bag, and a backpack. Both of us carried sleeping bags as we had anticipated sleeping in places that would cost us almost nothing. Even though, we never used them as we managed to find places to stay within our affordable reach.

We carried underwears for seven days and enough tee-shirts, jeans, and shorts to last us three days. We knew we had the opportunity to wash them once we reach our respective destinations.

Both bikes did not have saddle stays, and hence no saddle bags. I packed my backpack with essentials I would need, including my laptop and a backup phone. Based on Tyjo’s experience, we also picked up two dozen of Snikkers for quick bite if required (ended up sharing and eating it with families)

And for the bikes?

For the bikes, I had carried an entire set of Allen key, screwdrivers, and spanners. Tyjo did likewise, though he got his set of Allen keys from Nikhil. We also got a breakdown rope in bright orange from Nikhil, just in case we face some difficulty.

Tyjo also carried a chain spray, and both of us used it. I inadvertently forgot to take RE Chain spray can I had at home. They say at every 500 kms, we should spray the chain and clean it, which we did. I did face issues with the Himalayan, but that will be an individual article, the link you will find here in future.

Day one – Mumbai to Hubbali (Hubli)

We set to ride early in the morning from our respective places at 5.30 am. The bad patches towards Panvel, and the traffic + chaos it caused delayed us a lot. We also did something spectacular though, something we should not have done. We took the Mumbai Pune Expressway after Lonavala. I know, we should not have. Primarily due to map directions (forgot to switch off tolls) and then neither of us ever rode to Pune on a bike before.

Breakfast

We stopped at Pune for a healthy Puneri meal. TGW Wolf Nikhil Deshmukh rode down to meet us and hand over two SJCAMs. Very crucial for our trip, we guessed. As the video shows, it sure was a brilliant idea.

I did carry cam from my friend Shiv, a Sunoco. However, it was my backup in case the SJCAM lost steam or if Nikhil could not manage it for me. After having our breakfast and a quick camera set on Yeti, we were ready to ride. Tyjo forgot to get 3M tape for his helmet mount (again, something that Nikhil got for him), and hence we decided to proceed hoping to buy one at Hubbali.

We rode towards Hubli via Kolhapur. After the initial hiccup in the traffic at Pune, we were soon riding the empty roads. The best section this side of our route was the Satara Ghats. The three-lane ghat roads were super comfortable with traffic, and I could almost corner my Yeti with my knees almost touching the tarmac.

Unfortunately, for a reason unknown, the SJCAM stopped working after I took the first corner – and hence, could not see how I took the rest of them.

Lunch at Jai Hind

We were on time as per our route plan and reached Kolhapur around 1.30 pm and stopped for lunch. And here is where we encountered one of our exceptional hospitality experience in this whole trip at the hotel named Jai Hind, which is off the highway.

Honestly, we were tired. And, yes I forgot to do a lot of things – like asking the guy his name or taking a picture. We were too focused on riding and getting to our destination for the day in time.

As soon as we entered the hotel, this guy (must be around 45, sports an orange beard) escorts us to a place where we can keep all our unmounted luggage. He directs us to the washroom, then to the handwashing area and then asks us to take a breath and think of what we want to eat.

This guy goes about suggesting what is the best that he can offer considering we are riders. He hints on little rice and more of vegetables and egg. We stick to the later, as rice tends to make us sleepy in our routine lives.

Food was nothing to write home about and was average at best. However, the best was yet to come. Tyjo candidly asked if we can rest on our backs on the chairs – and immediately the answer; sleep till evening if you so wish.

The masala tea story

With our backs on the chair and looking up at the ceiling, Tyjo wonders if we should drink tea. I inquire about it. This guy (I seriously am feeling sad not to have asked his name) is quick to say that you will not get the tea as we get in Mumbai.

I prod him for masala tea, instead. Or ginger tea. Of course, they do not serve it there. Not one of the regular requests in this part of the country. After a while of resting when we were about to make our move (oh yes, we forgot about the tea) is when the tea comes in.

And yes, it is masala tea with ginger! We could not believe it, and that brew was fantastic. From expecting a plain tea to forgetting all about it, and then to have this guy deliver what we hoped for – that never was available at first place. The bill was a total of Rs. 260/- for a service that was close to a 7-star treatment for us in pure Hindi!

Do not have words to explain. I will leave it at that. 

Stay at Hubbali

We moved ahead towards Hubli. The roads were pretty neat, and we could make it to Hubli in time as per our schedule. 6.30 pm, touch the city. Looking for the place turned out to be tricky, as Maps kept redirecting us. And finally, we made it to  Kutchi Bhavan.

Thanks to my friend Jiggu whom I met after 13 long years, we had room to put our heads down. Jignesh also helped us get 3M tapes from Hubli market, and played host to an excellent dinner along with his wife, Darshana. It was my first time meeting her, perhaps not the best impression I could cast!

Day two – Hubbali to Wayanad

Next day, we left early in the morning at 6.00 am, instead of planned 4.30 am! Here on, unfortunately, we did stick to this routine and made it worse. More about that in the text about coming days. The exit was easy from Hubli, and soon we were doing 120 kmph on the empty stretches of highway. Around 8.30 am, we stopped to fill our bellies.

The breakfast cheat

On this ride to Kerala, we forgot we were in Karnataka till we asked for the bill for our meal. Breakfast at a roadside shop next to the second toll booth on our way ended up paying Rs. 280. A meal that should not have cost us more than 100 rupees at a premium. We paid less for an excellent service plus lunch at Kolhapur the previous day. The shopkeeper realized that we weren’t from here, and may have thought that we were riding expensive bikes (well, in a way) so why not ask for the money he wished?

Our mistake? Yes, a big one at that. We did not ask for the price of what we were ordering – so the shopkeeper was free to quote whatever he felt (80 rupees for two liters of bottled water). This place is not a proper hotel, and I am talking about just a roadside shanty shop.

When in Karnataka, always ask for the price first. We decided not to engage in a war of words in a place we did not know the local language to speak. It was not that much worth a risk, given that the area was mostly empty.

Lunch at a Sisidi!

We stopped for lunch at Cafe Coffee Day outlet near a petrol bunk, and that is when I checked my WhatsApp which left a jolt. We need to make it to the entrance of Bandipur National Park before 6 pm. The entry time was not part of our plan – and something that we should not have missed! Darn, if we knew, we would have been a bit less relaxed.

Again, thanks to Nikhil who was informed by Rahil, as he had passed through the area couple of days ago – else we will not be let through the forest area. Suddenly, there was a panic, and we were drifting through plans of what to do in case we don’t make it.

The best option to consider, was to divert to Ooty, though this will mean we will be riding through the mountain in pitch dark. Also, an expensive proposition.

However, soon I realized that we can still make the entrance and we were calculating the estimated time to reach Wayanad as beyond 7 pm, and hence confusing it with entry time at Bandipur which we can approach one and half hour prior.

Bandipur National Park

We gunned the bikes given that the roads and highways were smooth in Karnataka, and were relatively empty. Hardly we faced any traffic on N.H. 48 or other diversions we undertook. We made it to the entry gate to Bandipur National Park by 5.30 pm!!! Hallelujah.

A sigh of relief, both of us stopped to switch on our cameras so we can capture the ride through the jungle. It is in the evenings that elephant herds move across the roads. In the night, the numbers shoot up like crazy, and it is practically impossible to drive or ride through. Let alone; you encounter their wilder side.

It is fascinating to ride through the jungle, with smooth roads. Speed breakers help you slow down. No, not for animals to make you their easy dinner (or play toy if its an elephant), but to stop you from killing them.

As we progressed through, I was lucky enough to miss an elephant crossing by a whisker. I mean like if there was a  2-3 seconds delay and I would have hit an elephant or vice versa. You can see in the video, how close I was! That was perhaps my first encounter with wild animals in the jungle. Of course, I have seen and touched and ridden atop an elephant, all of them were domesticated. So this did send chills down my spine for a few minutes.

Entering the lustfully green Wayanad

In a little while, we knew we were in Kerala – as it started raining heavily (pun intended). From then on, it is a drenched ride! While in the middle of the forest, it started raining. We stopped at the end of the woods, completely drenched, to get our hands on a hot glass of Kerala tea and wait for the storm to pass. It also played its part in delaying us further, as we could not speed up in the twitchy roads (ghats) of Wayand. With no luck on our hopes, we started riding towards my friend Dijosh’s house in Wayanad.

By the time we reached our destination, it was already 7.30 in the evening. It took us another 30-40 mins to unload the bags and remove our safety jackets and knee guards. A hot bath helped refresh us a lot, and the steamy dinner just added to our delight.

Day three – ride to our final destinations in Kerala

I cannot thank Dijosh and his family enough for taking care of us like we are kids. Dijosh and I have been good friends since 2005, and our families know each other well. Tyjo and I ate to our heart’s content the homemade delicacies that both of us always yearned!

The dinner and the early morning breakfast were a feast. The morning meal reveals a ritual unknown to both of us (I am brought up in Kerala, Tyjo is a born Malayali) of eating Puttum Kadalayum with the fabulous Kerala Papadom. I never imagined it before and will ensure I do it every time I am eating Puttum Kadalayum. Loved it that much!

Dijosh and his father escorted us through Wayanad in his brand new Skoda Rapid and visited the Pookode lake. Since we left at 7.30 am, the access gate to the lake was not open yet. We roamed around the roads on the lake bank and turned around to move from Wayanad. Got our luggage from the car, and off we went, saying our goodbyes to our wonderful hosts!

Thamarasherry Churam, Wayanad Dist., Kerala

The moment of madness was to ride via the Thamarasherry Choram – the nine hairpin scenic beauty. During the plan for this ride, Tyjo made it clear that we travel through Wayanad to enter Kerala. Unaware of the extravaganza, our experience at the Churam was wholly impressive. Tyjo had his fill of the beauty of Wayanad, and it is pretty evident from his expression captured with the camera. Hear it in the video posted above. It was perhaps our best ride experience in Kerala.

Wayanad is beautiful, and if you ever get a chance, do visit. Ride from Wayanad to Alleppey was about 300 kms; however, the dangerous condition of roads and the disobedient traffic made it difficult for us to travel. We struggled through Mallapuram and the outskirts of Calicut (Kozhikode) to ride through.

60KMPH Limits

Kerala has the stricter speed limit implementation with speed cameras installed across many of the highway spots. They take a picture of you speeding and courier you a ticket at home. I would not know it anytime soon if the authorities decided to send me one as well, as this takes typically anywhere between one to four months.

We did exceed limits, however not by much. With 5th gear engaged at 60kmph on my RE Himalayan, I could not continuously ride at that speed. It caused unwanted (because I was exhausted) vibrations, which are standard.

Especially after Tyjo and I parted ways, I tried to keep it between 65 and 70 kmph. And at times when I overtake vehicles (many cars too are driven at 60-70 most of the times), I touch 80 kmph. I saw a couple of manned speed guns while doing those speeds but no one stopped me (well, through our entire ride no one stopped us!).

Here is hoping that the guys behind the screens have ignored my peevishly exceeded speed limits.

The traditional Kerala Sadhya for lunch

By noon, we stopped for lunch somewhere in the Thrissur district. It is hard to spot a restaurant that was operating in this area – which did surprise us. The rare one’s we was too crowded for us. Also, the fact that we had to decide whether or not to unload our bags from the bikes mattered in the decision. So hungry as hell, we decided to chance upon the next available place that sold food.

Thus we reached a small, roadside hotel. Eating excellent food, both I and Tyjo were having a blast enjoying the traditional recipes. Tyjo preferred to gorge on the beef dishes, which he missed since the beef ban in Maharashtra. I stuck to my vegetarian stuff – the famous Kerala Sadhya.

The food was delicious, and cheap, as we only spent Rs. 120 for a fulfilling lunch.

The ruined surprise!

My parents and family back in Kerala did not know I was coming! Yes, I did successfully hide that fact. Up until Thrissur, that is. I called up my aunt (dad’s younger sister) to let her know that I was coming and asked her to reach home as well. While I did tell her that it was a surprise, but I guess she didn’t get the right memo. My short-tempered father received me with his anger later!!!

Riding ahead and parting ways

Tyjo and I parted our ways at Thrissur bypass for our respective destinations. We stopped, bid adieu to each other with the promise that we will be in touch soon. Tyjo had already gulped the fact that his family in Chalakuddy is not going to let him ride further south to Varkala and Kanyakumari given the limited time he will be spending with them.

Solo ride to Alleppey

There on, I was riding solo, perhaps the longest solo ride I ever did. Riding through Ernakulam and Aluva was a nightmare due to traffic. The metro seems to have made the traffic situation worse, though I saw little traffic aggression at the lights. Almost everyone was halting before the white line. No cramming of cars and bikes into any space available – it is a departure from what we see in Mumbai-Thane belt. Roads in this part of Kerala are clean and pothole free and enjoyable otherwise.

Soon, I was in familiar territory. I was riding through Aroor and Chertala, the roads that I have seen growing up. I did not need a map through this route, but the continued rain had drained me a lot. Exhausted, I took a break after Pathirapally to tank up and make a few calls.

Reaching my hometown!

As I approach my home, which is just five kms away, I face one of the worst traffic on this route. Cars and trucks hardly moved, and this when I decided to use my Himalayan’s off-road abilities. Riding through knee-deep, filled-with-mud potholes on the side of the road to get rid of the traffic and rush home.

Finally, I reached the place where I grew up, the place that is still living in the 20th century. I passed by my alma mater, Leo XIII H.S.S. and suddenly the fond memories of childhood flashed through, occasionally interrupted by the speed bumps and potholes.

Sure enough, my father was waiting for me – wondering where I was and why I decided to ride a bike all the way to Alleppey. Of course, for family, safety and security of their kids are paramount. Of course, the most substantial portion of the older generation will never understand this stupidity (for them, at least).

Finally, I was home!

Further reading

The write up to the return leg is in the works, so is the ride experience on Himalayan and Dominar. Be sure to visit again in a week’s time to see more of our adventurous ride to Kerala.

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