36 hair pins
Ooty, Queen of the hills. A lovely hill station to visit and a terrific road to get there. Through Bandipur and Madumalai forests and in to the hills. A route that every biker would look forward to.
But then I had recently moved to riding a huge beast, Airavat. In the rainy season, where there was news of road closures and diversions, water logging etc., I was not very sure. On top of that taking the beast over 36 hair pin bends, that would be a task. Not only going up, coming down is always a greater challenge.
I did my best at influencing the group to take the longer route, via Salem and Avinashi. To be fair this route had very good roads almost all the way, there was no news of road closures and there is good food to be had too.
This particular day we set off as usual a little late-ish, but then, what’s the point of a fun boys trip if you have to keep to a schedule eh?!
However my buddies had the 36 hair pin bends on their mind too, and they did not want to miss those. I agree, riding on hills and through bends and curves is actually a lot of fun.
We had Joe, the boss of bikes, backing us up in his car. Having someone like that around just fills every rider with confidence. You know he has your back. You are able to focus much more on just enjoying the ride.
We stopped in Mysore for breakfast, a nice classic south Indian place. We filled our bellies up with some good old idli-dosas.
The next leg of the journey was really interesting. Soon after we left Mysore (traveling via Gundlupete) the roads were closed due to the rains and we were diverted. The diversion took us through some farms, down extremely narrow routes. This was my first long ride on my big bike. On my first ride itself I had to go down narrow mud tracks, with waterlogged farms on both sides. At some points of the route, it was barely wide enough for the bike to go through. The backup car was diverted to another route, taking away the peace of mind that I had. With some relief we reached the main road finally and we hadn’t really gotten very far, after an hour we found ourselves still near Gundlupete. It took us a few minutes to get our bearings and regroup.
From here it was a reasonable ride through the forest, there was the occasional rainfall that just helped us feel refreshed. Luckily it did not rain down on us too much to impede the ride. One of our number, Badri, had decided to do the journey on his scooter. Just for kicks. We were riding with so many breaks that the scooter had no problems keeping up with the superbikes.
Finally the ascent started, 36 hairpin bends to go. If you have been to Ooty you will know that the very first couple of hairpins on the ascent are quite sharp. It was with some trepidation that I took on the bends. I knew the theory of it but doing it in practice was something else altogether. However I made it through the hairpins unscathed. There were points on the curves where it seemed the silencers would touch the ground but they did not. We took a break around 20 hairpins in to the drive.
Soon, we were in Ooty. This one was a proper boys trip, so we had a small hotel booked, it was more like a big bungalow with multiple bedrooms and a kitchen. We were the only occupants which made it perfect for a loud and full-on party. Lights, beer, music and conversation.
The next day we visited a tea estate nearby. It was an exquisitely beautiful estate. The estate managers bungalow was amazingly picturesque. We decided to ride out to a helipad, located on top of highest hill in the estate. At the helipad we encountered a herd of about 10 Gaurs. I had never seen a herd of Gaur up so close. They were a majestic sight, if a little scary, if they decided to charge there was no way out in the small lanes of the tea estate.
We then enjoyed the views and the wind on the helipad. The estate manager had a Kawasaki KLE at his place. I rode that up to the helipad. The bike handles so well, makes you feel you can conquer any terrain.
We waited on the helipad till sunset which was very pretty. The downside was that you had to find the way back to the managers bungalow with low light and no direction boards. Luckily for us the manager’s kids had decided to ride along on the bikes. It was only thanks to them that we were able to get back to the place.
The next day was the ride back home. The group decided that we should ride back by the 36 hairpins again. Well, you know, bikers!
The cops of course had another idea, they had blocked access to the return route, deeming it too steep and wet. But then, Joe was from Ooty and knew the back-lanes, so we decided to find a route which would take us across the blockade and on to the hairpin highway, entering it around hairpin no. 35 or so, if I recall correct. It was the perfect plan except for one thing, in the rain of the previous few days the roads had been turned to muck. Once again an ordeal to go through on my first long ride. This one really made me sweat, there was no way you could put your foot down anywhere in the muck and the road was hardly visible. You absolutely cannot brake in this scenario and neither can you accelerate, just keep a steady throttle and keep going.
The rest of the way home, once we hit the hairpin highway, was just a pleasant ride with no more adventures. The big pain was the weekend traffic returning to Bangalore, it was completely choc-a-bloc. With a big bike, this kind of bumper to bumper traffic is a serious pain in the butt, literally and figuratively.
One nice memorable experience was in Mandya. I was waiting at the signal and there was a little kid there admiring the bike. I asked him if he wanted a ride, he jumped at the chance and hopped on. I am sure it gave him something to speak to his buddies about.
All in all it was a super fine ride and a fantastic way to get my trepidations dealt with.