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A ride to remember

Every bend in the road throws up a fresh perspective on a bike trip through Kerala

travel Updated: May 29, 2010 15:48 IST

At a random moment somewhere between Munnar and Thekkady, I took my helmet off and let the cool mountain wind run through my hair. The bike pulsated on the inviting road ahead. I responded to the invitation, giving the throttle a mild twist. Before we left on the trip, we had crafted a plan. It was simple -- we would have no plan.
The plan served us well.

Day 1: Fort Cochin -- Were it all started
We arrived at Fort Cochin with a rucksack, some cash and a vague idea of where to find a bike on rent. We instantly took a fancy to Fort Cochin, with its numerous hippie hangouts and a laid back atmosphere. We found a bike and a comfortable home stay to pass the night. That evening, we ate at one of the beachside shacks. After a relaxed meal, we sat quietly facing each other, mildly overwhelmed by the anticipation of where the roads would lead us.

Day 2: Fort Cochin to Munnar
All our apprehensions melted away the moment we stepped on the road the next morning. Our first destination was the mountain town of Munnar, home to tea gardens. A green carpet spread out before us as we rode into the town. Unfortunately, an unwelcomed cold shower followed us too. Riding away from the rain, we made it to the tea museum just in time to catch up with the guide and the rest of the group. Here, we learnt that our morning tea was an oxidised form of green tea and is empty of antioxidants. We memorised the tea testing process, bought some tea leaves and felt tempted to correct a foreigner who asked for "one chai and one tea" at the museum's tea stall.
The rain played spoilsport, so we retired to our hotel room quite early. Early the next morning, we walked to the neatly manicured tea gardens to see the dwarf tea plants that we were told could live for more than 100 years.
As we stood amidst the tea gardens overlooking the Munnar River, we realised that the Neelakurinji flower, known to bloom once in 12 years, was quietly sleeping around us in these very hills. Unfortunately, this was not the chosen year.

Day 3: Munnar to Thekkady
A few hours later, we were back on the road, driving through the Western Ghats. We headed to Thekkady, a small town leading to the Periyar wildlife sanctuary.
We were tempted to stop at a spice garden to sample some authentic local food, but we were short on time. We rode into the town of Thekkady just as the sun was beginning to set, and headed to a famous tourist stay.
The Coffee House didn't seem like a conventional hotel -- it was a multi-storied deco building that looked like it belonged in Rajasthan.
However, once we stepped inside, we warmed to the place. We walked into a dimly lit restaurant that led to an open spice garden overlooking the Periyar wildlife sanctuary. Tree houses flank the two corners of the restaurant with more rooms inside the building. We couldn't find a room at the stay, but we visited the restaurant and loved it.
Later, we rode to the lake inside the wildlife sanctuary. The lake used to have boating facilities till last year. It was discontinued after many tourists drowned in a boating accident.
We spotted many wild animals on the other end of the lake. We were keen to go for a jungle safari. We stumbled across a unique night safari and instantly signed up for it. The safari was at an ungodly hour in the morning, but we were game.
We stood in the periphery of the jungle at one in the morning, sleep deprived, armed with torches and carrying plastic sheets to protect us from the chance rain.
There was a German family in the group, and two guides to take us inside. The walk was uneventful, except for when some wild sambhar barked and broke the spell of the night. We walked through the open field to the water pond to see some wild boars drinking from it; later, we stepped into the sparse jungle.
Since I had expected to run into wild animals, I was disappointed with the safari. The disappointment was accentuated on seeing the headlights of cars from the adjoining highway piercing the dark jungle.
Sweaty and exhausted, we caught up with our sleep till mid-morning. After a sumptuous breakfast at the Coffee House, we made plans for the next leg of the journey.
We were now going to ride to the beach town of Varkala that commanded a view of the Arabian Sea.
We readied ourselves to say goodbye to the Ghats and proceed on the next leg of the journey. Going forward, the roads would become more bare and the sun would beat down on us. But we were excited. Kerala was turning out to be a biker's paradise. With its varied topography, each bend in the road was giving us a fresh, unanticipated perspective.

Day 4: Thekkady to Varkala
Varkala was a good 200 km from Thekkady, and the road gently sloped down from the mountains to the plains at sea level. The tree cover shrank and the sun was unkind. With no traffic to slow us down, we drove easy and reached Varkala after dark, and headed straight to the Varkala cliff.
At first, you may not notice the lively party scene on the cliff. It is only when you enter from either ends of the kilometre-long cliff that you'd come face to face with the small hippie village that rests on this cliff and overlooks the Arabian Sea. When you turn around and face the inky darkness -- which is the sea -- you'll notice thousands of lights twinkling in the horizon. These are the fishing boats looking for the next day's catch. Some exotic varieties of fish are displayed outside the many restaurants that line the sidewalks of the street.
We wound up at one of the popular bamboo houses and agreed to pay a sky high rent -- driven up by the peak season. Varkala is living the bygone glory days of Goa. It was discovered by foreigners, and they continue to flock to it in large groups. Hence, you will find a truly multi-ethnic population on the cliff.

Day 5, 6 and 7: Varkala
Our stay in Varkala lasted three days, giving us enough time to recuperate from the previous days on the road. We relaxed over long breakfasts; had leisurely Ayurvedic oil massages; acquired a tan; watched the sun dissolve in the horizon; tried out the local dishes spiked with coconut; shopped; bargained and eventually, ran out of money.
Undoubtedly, for many others like us, the narrow riff served as the apogee, the highlight of the long arduous journey that we had undertaken. You do not start your journey at Varkala; you end it here. We could go no further. We would now be turning back to head to Fort Cochin to return the rented bike and go home.

Day 8: Varkala to Alleppey
On our last day, we were back on our bikes early in the morning. Our destination was Fort Cochin from where we had started our journey. But we decided to stop over at Alleppey for a short tour of the backwaters.
The traffic along the beach road was a tad chaotic. It got worse as we were entered Alleppey a few hours later. The roads were choked with buses, scooters, cars and autorickshaws. Switching from one lane to another, involuntarily jumping lights, and muttering curses, we managed to reach the tourist information centre. Our guidebook recommended taking the boat from here, which we did, and in minutes we steered right into the canals, leaving behind all the bedlam.

The traffic noise mellowed down and the hours melted away as we sat in the boat and watched the greenery go by. The boat creaked its way through various water channels and passed by island villages.

First Published: May 29, 2010 15:48 IST