A cycle tour, unlike other types of touring, is more about the journey than destination. My daily notes for over 8-days are presented here in a chronological order. I have added some references and other information to what was earlier published on my Facebook page for my friends.
December 23, 2022 – Day Zero
After riding on five tours, I was keen on volunteeringfor the tour, and the organisers were kind enough to accommodate my request. I was equally keen on doing some riding. Hence, I chose to ride from Coimbatore to Madurai, from where the tour begins. It was the longest ride in more than a year. Despite a few challenges, it was relatively easy compared to what the riders on the tour are experienced in the next 7 days. Special thanks to Ganesh Kumar for agreeing to bring my luggage to Madurai!
I made it on time for the pre-tour briefing by Vaz and team. The briefing showcases the meticulous planning for the tour. The number of participants was at the highest this year and no stone was left unturned at planning stages.
December 24, 2022 – Day 1 – Madurai to Theni
The route was from Madurai to Theni with a detour to Vaigai Dam. We started with the customary team photo shoot,
….and I followed it with my newly discovered ritual of ‘selfie’…
It was a nondescript route, which in other words mean that we are not able to find anything significant. Then, there was Usilampatti, introduced to me in a wrong way in early 1990s – female infanticide and a lewd film song. Riders enjoyed taking a break at a shop selling Jigarthanda – one of the ‘World famous in Madurai’ items. I was assigned the second pit stop near Vaigai Dam and the 78K drive looked tiring, as I haven’t travelled that distance for over 9 months.
The riders reached the pit stop after getting roasted in the sun, which was only a warm-up for the next few days. Since it was a short ride for that day, my work got over rather too fast. The park next to the dam offered some majestic views of the dam, and on climbing to the top of the dam, the view of the reservoir was breath-taking.
We travelled through Andipatti, which once elected late MG Ramachandran (MGR) to the State Assembly in 1984, when he was hospitalised in the USA. It was quite surprising on his death anniversary, there was very little evidence of people remembering him.
December 25, 2022 – Day 2 – Meghamalai Loop Ride
It was a loop ride to Meghamalai and back to Theni. A trip to Meghamalai brought me memories of my long training run there for Comrades marathon in 2012. Unfortunately, I was assigned the pitstop at the base and was not required to go up the hills. The traffic to Meghamalai has considerably increased in the last decade. The road, which was in a tattered condition back then, has seen a significant upgrade. Despite not having any notable tourist attraction, it was surprising to see a huge crowd there.
The pit stop was located next to Then Palani Murugan temple – serves as a start point for many devotees to launch their pada yatra to Palani. Most riders enjoyed the ride up and down the hill, which served as an excellent preparation for their ride to Munnar, the following day.
December 26, 2022 – Day 3 – Theni to Munnar
The third day of the tour can easily be considered as the most challenging day for riders and organisers. The steep climbs leading to Bodimettu, and then to Munnar was a challenge to any rider.
Riders had a choice to start from either Theni or take a float to Bodimettu and start from there. Bodimettu is located at the border between Tamil Nadu and Kerala. An old building that once housed the customs office of erstwhile Travancore province still exists. I was not aware of its significance then. I later read that it was built in 1905 and was used as a border check-post until the nation-wide Goods and Service Tax came into force in 2017.
The pit stop assigned to me was located further ahead on the road to Munnar, overlooking the Anayirangal lake. I reached the spot at 11:30 AM and was there till 4:00 PM. The view of the lake and the tea estates and forests overlooking the lake was breath-taking. Over the 4 hours, the weather conditions changed many times, from bright sunshine to rains and back to sunshine. The constant change of visuals of a static landscape due to the change of day light was fascinating. Just standing and staring was a pleasure in itself.
We ended the day at Munnar. The dinner was a sumptuous Sadya – The hotel crew not only prepared it well but also served it very well to the delight of everyone.
December 27, 2022 – Day 4 – Munnar to Kumily
The day started with a magical view of the hills from the hotel balcony.
The first 4 Kms of the ride was through narrow roads. There was a temple festival in the little town of Anachal. Adding to the traffic congestion was the temple elephant royally taking a stroll through the crowded streets.
Riding or driving through Kerala roads can be a huge challenge for any outsiders. Narrow roads, rash driving, and adding to it, hilly terrain, made riding more complicated. It was a long journey to my assigned pit stop, which I reached after losing the way at least four times.
Saumyen appreciated the location for the presence of a beautiful tree, which he feels must be centuries old. My reason to feel good about the location was the availability of good ginger tea.
We ended the day at Kumily, which happens to be the native of one of the riders, Senthil Mohan. Buddy, as he is affectionately called, organised tickets for watching Kalari performance at Kadathanathan Kalari Centre. The arena was well designed for everyone to get a 360-degree view of the performers. As much as the Kalari performance, I enjoyed the unique commentary by Agil. When everyone rushed to get a picture with the performers, I chose to get one with him.
December 28, 2022 – Day 5 – Kumily to Adoor
I started the morning with a refreshing run at the Periyar National Park. I could run inside only for a couple of Kilometres before returning back to the chaotic roads.
The ride was through the rubber estates of Kerala. Every time I saw the boards indicating Kottayam, I was tempted to divert the Pit-stop vehicle towards it. Although Ms. Mary Roy is no more, I wanted to see the landscape that Arundathi Roy described so vividly in The God of Small Things. While the route was heading towards the opposite direction, the rubber estates did bring some memories of the book.
As we started descending to the plains, the route started becoming more familiar and predictable. From the bungalows of estate owners, we started seeing the bungalows of Gulf migrants. Our day ended at Adoor – a place that can be associated with the renowned film maker/thinker Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any indication of his presence in the town except for a road named after him.
December 29, 2022 – Day 6 – Adoor to Coutrallam
It was a short and sweet ride designed for everyone to reach the destination faster. There were two attractions at Coutrallam – 1. Parotta shop 2. The falls; and to add to it, we had the valedictory function in the evening. Neither the parottas nor the falls interest me. As such, I have consumed more parottas in the last 4 days than the entire year.
I was assigned the pitstop midway in a small village called Vellimala and as always, we stopped next to a tea shop. Looking at the communist party symbol outside the shop, I could not help but find out whether CPI or CPM interests them the most. My friend was not happy with my curiosity as he feared that it would be troublesome. I pacified him by saying that it is less controversial than finding whether they support Brazil or Argentina.
As we made our exit from Kerala, I made sure that I have the Kerala meals again, at a small hotel at Tenmala. The ride looked like a pleasure until they reached Tenkasi, where they were welcomed by a long traffic jam.
The felicitations in the evening was certainly a moment to rejoice together before departing back home with plenty of sweet memories.
December 30, 2022 – Day 7 – Coutrallam to Madurai
It was the last day of the Tour and the longest, in terms of distance. Many riders chose to opt out for other activities like visiting temples or taking a drive to Madurai directly. The remaining riders certainly showed a great determination to complete the tour.
At Rajapalayam, riders were felicitated with a grand reception at NA Annappa Raja Memorial Higher Secondary School. We were welcomed by a marching band and NCC cadets. The students took time out of their vacations to take part in the activity.
The best part of the route for the first 100K was the view of the hills on the western side. The route takes us through towns like Kadayanallur, Srivilliputtur or Rajapalayam – sadly, no time to explore the multitude of stories associated with these towns. On the day Pele passed away, I noticed that one of our pit stop vehicles carried the name ‘Black Pearl’ – a nice tribute to legendary football player with that name.
We slowly moved towards Madurai and reached safely before the sunset. The tour ends here… The memories live forever!
December 31, 2022 – Day 8
Actually, Day 8 doesn’t exist in the original tour. But, the hangover from the tour is not easy to get away from. So, I chose to ride back from Madurai to Coimbatore. In this mini-tour of mine, I don’t have the support of Chitra and Abhi, who did a stellar job of handling baggage throughout the tour. But, I have Ganesh, who kindly agreed to bring back my luggage as day zero.
A long ~12 hour ride was a great opportunity to recollect the previous 7 days, and even the previous 5 tours. It reminded of the efforts of many riders. Every pick-up truck resembled PT-1 and PT-2 and the wonderful mechanics. The Tempo travellers made me look out for Sachin in them.
When confused with routes, I was tempted to call out Vaz for guidance. There was no Venky to take photos for me to carry it in my memories.
When the going gets tough, the tough goes to the nearest tea stall, and there was no Ganesh Ram to give company there. In the last 40k, I started visualising Sameer leading me in front with Rajaram chasing me down on T-2. A solo ride to celebrate a wonderful tour. It was the most satisfying way to end the tour and the year.
beautifully written! It really captures the essence of the tour!
Beautiful narration Balaji. Almost like going through the tour again.
Brilliantly summed up, Balaji! I especially loved the snippets you added about the places we visited. So many trivia that we didn’t know about. Loved your company through the tour! Hope to meet you again in 2023.