Day 3 was one of the most awaited days of TFN. Though mentally , it didn’t feel that tough. Overall we were going to do a distance of 87 km that seemed a little trivial compared to day1 and Day 2.Day started early in the morning. I got ready before the rest of my roommates woke up so. So got ready and went to the kitchen to have more than my fair share of the morning’s offerings. Last night it was the egg curry and morning it was the omelettes, the idli, chutney. Man I am beginning to love cycling tours. In any case, my excesses will be matched by the junta who subsist on protein shakes. So got ready and got out with my bunch of buddies riding in the jungle. All of us were stopped at the main road folks were being dispatched in groups of 5 to ride on the main highway passing through the forest. We had a 10 minute photo session with patrolman Gagan, and a few of us petered into the road. After about 10 minutes or so, shilpa started lagging behind us. I slowed down to stay back with her but I must have moved ahead. Santosh (tour direcor) told me about the lone lady tailing me. So I decided to move together with Shilpa till we scaled the next peak. There was a good chance that the twosome of us would look like a large group to a predator. Possibly would deter a predator looking to use the twosome of us as food for a couple of weeks.
Along the way we heard that someone had spotted a leopard. Tough luck for us, it wasn’t one of us. After cycling for some distance with Shilpa , Priya caught up with us, so I decided to leave Shilpa with this group and pedalled forth. Caught up with Yogesh, Manju at the border with Mudumalai, where the river crosses under the road. While we were spending time in the company of our ancestors, Shilpa caught up. From this point on I rode with Prem Sagar, who kept a constant effort of educating me about every bird species we saw on the way. Unfortunately, my lack of birding skills means I’ve forgotten the names, though remember one with a long tail on the upper banks of the river. Eventually we crossed the forest and reached a tea shop a few km before Gudalur where a lady was waiting for us iwith instructions on getting to the tribal school (for which one of the riders, Sudarshan had raised cash). I now remembered this guy as one I had met in a ride around Sarjapur Road, and realized he was an avid runner. My gut feeling told me that the runners would easily ride ( I used to and still consider running extremely difficult – May be I am not professional about it but find it difficult to run more than a few km at a time consistently so have a lot of respect for all the marathoners and ultra-marathoners).
So we reached the town of Gudalur. Supreet followed a small boy to the school and I followed him. The descent was quite steep and I was just wondering how the return journey would be like.
The trip to the school itself was one of the highlights to the school. The kids were very lively, some lively songs and dance, I do hope someday they grow up to be successful people, making a difference in this world. I quite recall many of us giving speeches about verticals and “spaces”, wondered if the kids understood anything.
Prem Sagar’s blog on this day covers the school trip very well, with a couple of videos to boot. Here is a link to it.
After the trip, we headed back to the main road, via a shortcut suggested by the principal. And while it probably was short, it was , well ,steep. I went out along with Shankar Jayaraman and Ragahavendra, the two of them were pedalling ahead and I was struggling in the slope. Suddenly an auto came from the opposite side, and I had to dismount, and I caught sight of Shankar J’s front wheel just coming off slightly. Decided enough was enough and walked the bike. I looked back down, and was amazed at the slope. Unfortunately nobody took any pictures. SJ followed too. I
The 3 of us reached the top, and I and SJ pretty much kept pace with Raghu who was on his bike. We reached SS1 after a while, and then realized that we are already on the Ooty road.(Was kind of an anticlimax,as I expected a steeper slope- in any case, after what we just came through, any slope could have not deterred us). From SS1 onwards I was pretty much alone but enjoyed the scenery thoroughly, with eucalyptus plantations and clicked a lizard on the way , and tried to capture a video of a malabar squirrel squeaking, captured the sound but the video was not clear.
Above: Photo of a lizard(?) basking on the side of the road
Above: Photo on the way up, before the Eucalyptus plantations
After SS2, at Naduvattam, my bike broke down , the rear hub cracked and my rear wheel was just basically came off , almost. Thankfully the station was 1/2 a km behind and the service jeep was near . My 2nd encounter with Jasvipul and company (Had caught him the previous day, when he had offered me handpump water) . Saravanan (the mechanic) said the bike could not be fixed, and I got to try out a BSA Kruge. Was a little apprehensive about trying a roadbike, took it and started, I increased the rear gears since the slope was easy, and when the time came to downshift, was quite confused not to find a 2nd lever. Just went back and caught the jeep coming up. Again Jas to the rescue. Apres la, went on , and must have caught up with Yogesh, Amit Mukherjee, Pramod , Visnhu at Ayyappa enterprises, the roadside tea stall. For the rest of the journey , I had a very relaxed ride, thanks to the roadbike. I could feel the complete lack of effort compared to my heavily armoured BTWin Triban Trail.There was some lake before we reached the town of Ooty. I expected Ooty to be really dirty but didn’t find it so. We all trudged into the YWCA for a heroes welcome, there was a welcoming party clapping on the final uphill into the entrance.
Turned out there was no warm water in the evening and so a bath was out of the question. And in the cold, somehow you don’t smell the stink I guess. We had some sandwich and tea after arrival, the place was beautifully decked up for a Christmas party. The manager informed us that the different hotels have their parties on different days.
Given that the day after was a rest day, there was a lot of spirits on offer from fellow members. One of them had got a single malt, and I ended up being the caretaker of it for the rest of the evening. The place was quite cold and the liquor warmth was quite welcome. The group of middle aged drunkards ( me included) were having a spirited discussion . And as with all such discucssions, I forget the topic, but remember that it was a high spirited discussion. While all of us were taking things in the right spirit, there was a talk by a pastor who had specifically for the party. No, he was not addressing the group in high spirits but there was a much bigger group of the devout and the respectful guests who had gathered around a bonfire-to-be in chairs specifically kept for the ocassion. While the pastor was talking about the festive spirit of Christmas, one gentleman from our group went on to demonstrate how to make a cocktail from vodka, and unfortunately might have drowned some part of the devout sermon. We were being frequently prodded by some of our less “spirited” friends to keep our levels of excitement (and more importantly decibel levels) down but I guess its kinda tough to come down when you are high. Finally when the pastor was talking about the holy spirit, somebody loudly drank to the holy spirit, me and my kindhost quitely slinked off down to the entrance, and I was clutching the single malt for dear life. Badri and company had come back with some warm fried Bajji’s. Nice accompaniment to the single malt. Once the excitement had died down, we came back, after observing that nobody was evicted. The rest of the night was largely peaceful . I noticed that more than half the bottle of single malt was empty, and I don’t remember too many people drinking it. My host affirmed that I had taken a lion’s share, though I was surprised I had drunk so much and was still in my senses. All this spirit meant that I went to sleep early , heard some noise outside but didn’t want to come from my bed. Had put on multiple layers of clothing and was feeling quite content in the bed. Tomorrow was rest day , and had decided to hang on to the local guide , Prem Sagar.