Bangalore to Coorg

I recently went on a solo bicycle trip from Bangalore to Coorg. This post is an account of the experience. I’ve divided it into sections for reading convenience. Some of them maybe a bit too detailed for non-cyclists. These have been marked with an asterisk and lay readers can choose to skip them.

Background and motivation
Route, Duration, Terrain, Weather*
Equipment and gear*
Physical preparation and impact on body*
Food
Scenery and People
Mistakes and learnings
Summing up/Danke!


Background and motivation

The bicycle trip was part of a longer solo backpacking trip through the Western Ghats. I could divide the trip into three phases. The first two of these (Bombay-Panjim and Panjim-Bangalore) were covered mostly by a combination of trains and buses while the last one was on a bicycle with return by bus.

If you were to look at it in God mode, the Western Ghats, especially during the monsoon, is like a fine tapestry in green separating the western coast and the Deccan Plateau.

For mortals traversing this land, the effect on the eyes is therapeutic and at serendipitous spots, dare I say, even hypnotic. At these latter kind of places, all you’d want to do is stand on the ground, smell the earth, touch the leaves and spend as much time absorbing all the sensory stimuli in as is possible. To use a metaphor, you’d want to do long-exposure photography for your soul.

As is pretty obvious, such whimsical wandering is difficult if you are using public transport. On the other hand, motorised personal transport, though under your total control, is not well suited to the start-stop-start nature of such journeys. So when I reached Bangalore, I decided that the next stage would be on a bicycle.

I had been cycling regularly in Delhi since February and had been planning to go for long distance rides for a while now. This seemed as good an opportunity to start as any. The superb weather was another major factor in quickly precipitating this decision.


Route, Duration, Terrain, Weather*

The Bangalore to Madikeri (district headquarter of Kodagu district) route is pretty straight-forward. Once you get on NH-275 there is not much you need to do but move. I stuck to this except for a short detour to avoid Mysore’s traffic.

Bangalore to Madikeri route. (Ignore Google’s estimated time)

I began from Indiranagar on the afternoon of Wednesday, 17th August and reached Madikeri on the afternoon of Saturday, 20th August. To break it down:

17 Aug
3:30 pm — Indiranagar
|
60 km
|
7:30 pm — Ramanagara†

— — —

18 Aug
7:30 am — Ramanagara
|
50 km
|
11:00 am — Mandya
12:30 pm — Mandya
|
30 km
|
2:30 pm — Srirangapatna
5:00 pm — Srirangapatna
|
20 km
|
7:30 pm — Yelavala†

— — —

19 Aug

8:00 am — Yelavala
|
35 km
|
10:30 am — Hunsur
11:30 am — Hunsur
|
40 km
|
5:00 — Kushalnagar†

— — —

20 Aug

9:30 am — Kushalnagar
|
30 km
|
2:00 pm — Madikeri†

† — denotes night halt in the town

— — —

Once you exit Bangalore, the terrain for most part stays mildly topsy-turvy. The last stretch of around 15 km before Madikeri with increasingy steeper inclines is the toughest. However, once you reach Madikeri, it’s all downhill from there and you’d really enjoy it. I rode about 5 km downhill from the city centre to reach my homestay. And that made all the upward climb worthwhile.

The weather was pleasant for most of the trip. It became sunny and hot on the third day but not enough that I couldn’t ride it out after a brief nap. Fortunately, rain did not play truant at any point in the trip.


Equipment and gear*

Since the cycling part of the larger trip was completely unplanned, most of the key equipment was rented (from Cycling Boutique. Luru folks, do check this place out!). I was also lucky to stumble on a Decathlon store as I was exiting Bangalore. I used this fortuitous opportunity to buy some gear, which I’d been too thrifty to rent earlier.

  1. Cycle : Fuji Traverse 1.9 (20.5" wheel, flat handle bar, black/blue coloured). Rented @ ₹ 400/day
  2. Helmet : some standard one rented @ ₹ 50/day
  3. Saddle bag : some standard one rented @ ₹ 25/ day
  4. Back Light : came with the bicycle
  5. Bottle cage : came with the bicycle
  6. UV glasses : Yellow coloured Arenberg Cat 1 sunglasses
  7. Neck warmer : Black/Blue coloured 300 Cycling Neck Warmer
  8. Arm sleeves : Btwin Arm Warmers 500
  9. Gloves : Btwin 300 Cycling Gloves
  10. Shorts : 300 Bibless cycling shorts
    (Not the best quality. I’d have preferred using the higher quality ones that I have back in Delhi but I had to optimise for cost as well)
  11. T-shirt : Steppe 100 chocolate coloured half-sleeved t-shirts. 
    (These are not really the standard cycling t-shirts. But I had used them earlier and found them very comfortable, especially when sweating.)
  12. Bag : Bendly foldable outdoor 30 L purple rucksack
Fuji Traverse 1.9

Physical preparation and impact on body*

I had not done any specific physical preparation for the tour. The two weeks prior to the beginning had been spent mostly hiking around places in Western Ghats.

My general physical condition would be above average. Back in Delhi, I used to cycle ~50 km on at least one day in a week. So I was comfortable with the idea of pedalling continuously for middling distances.

I slept 7 hours at night on average for each of the 3 nights. I took a break every 15 km or so while cycling to stretch my arms, legs and back.

A few things I noticed with my body:

  1. Tanning : I did not use the arm sleeves on the first two days and that led to considerable tanning. I feared I’d get badly sun-burnt and hence covered up for the last 2 days. It was as well since the 3rd day was the sunniest.
  2. Numbness in arms : cycling long distances on flat handle bars is not advisable and I learnt why. Luckily, I did not suffer numbness as seriously as I’d read about on internet forums. I had to stop at places to stretch my arms.
  3. Soreness : This had become a serious issue by the third day. Two parts of the body most severely affected were my thighs and my back. It did take a few days for this to go away but at no point became serious enough to disrupt the journey. I reduced the activity level gradually after reaching Madikeri (went hiking) and hence may have prevented affects associated with sudden withdrawal.
  4. Fatigue : I was able to maintain my energy levels for the first two days. However, on the third day, which was also the hottest, I had to take a number of stops. I remember taking a half hour nap at a temple somewhere on the highway. I was also feeling slightly feverish on this day. As a result, I ended my day earlier than usual on reaching Kushalnagar, which is around 30 km from Madikeri. A bit of rest at night was enough to take me to the destination the next day.

Food

As you can very well imagine, cycling 8 to 10 hours in a day requires substantial expenditure of calories. I had to increase my diet to keep up with the requirement. Also, as much as I had the urge to try out fancy new dishes on the way, I had to keep them in control to optimise for calories and time.

My daily routine would be two major meals in a day interspersed with snacky mini-meals. I kept a few bars of chocolates handy to get a carbohydrate boost from time to time. I also consumed copious amounts of packaged water as well as coconut water wherever I could find the latter (which wasn’t that difficult in Karnataka).

The morning meal was usually some form of chicken curry with Malabari parota while the evening meal was inadvertently always chicken Biryani. Snacks included some form of local bakery item like puffs or Dil-pasand.

Chicken curry with Malabari parota at Hunsur (left) and Dil-pasand at Kushalnagar (right)
A man splitting coconut shells after I drank the water inside en-route to Kushalnagar

A gentleman I met in Kushalnagar was kind enough to offer me especially brewed black tea. He ran a business of processing and selling coffee beans.

Black tea (left). Mr Karim showing me coffee beans processed at his establishment (right).

Hours of cycling had left me deliriously craving for carbs rich cheesy pasta. I finally had my fill at Vivanta in Coorg.

Chicken pasta at Vivanta, Coorg

Scenery and People

One of my regrets from the trip would be that I spent too much time absorbing and too little time documenting. As a result, I have few photographs to show for all the effort. However, I’d still have it that they explain themselves to you than me wasting words on them in this section.
(All images shot on my iPhone 5S)

A fully geared cyclist passing through rustic surroundings would be conspicuous and draw curious looks. This was true for me almost throughout the trip. At a number of places, motorists and bikers slowed down to chit-chat with me about the trip. Random strangers would suddenly smile and give me a thumbs up. Children returning from school would want to high-five me. Some of those on cycle tried to race me. A lot of folks went out of their way in helping me with directions or stuff.

Almost everyone I met was very encouraging and I’m really pleased that that was the case. It really helped get over any anxiety that I may have had in travelling alone over such a long distance.
(Everyone but the bell boy at my lodge in Yelavala. You insolent punk!)

Once in a while, you’d encounter milestones in Devanagari. Almost all of them were crossed out or painted over. Linguistic chauvinism, perhaps.
50 shades of green ?
Daulat Darya Palace — Tipu Sultan’s summer palace is now a museum (left). Gombuz — the cenotaph of Tipu’s family (right). Both are in Srirangapatna.
Sangam — the two streams of Kaveri split by Srirangapatna meet here. (Yes, the city is technically an island)
Slow day, sir ?
Ah, grass!
Day vs Night
Country road.
View from my room’s window in Madikeri.

Mistakes and Learnings

  1. I feel I should have documented the trip better — noted down landmarks, taken more pictures, recorded names of people. 
    On reflection, the trip has left me with a very deep question that is relevant for life in general, especially so in our modern information age.

    How do we balance making memories versus capturing them ?
    Do we depend on our fallible minds to keep producing ever more embellished or faded facsimiles ? Or do we permanently capture as many moments as vividly as we can using gadgets even if doing so may rob the original moment off some of its romance?
  2. Now, coming to the more practical aspects of my learnings. I should have prepared better for the trip physically. I was lucky enough not to suffer any injury but I did fail in achieving my original aim of a round trip owing to fatigue. I feel I could have paced myself better with better fitness saving time for the possible return journey.
  3. I also realised the need for more discipline. Simple things like waking up early, stretching properly at the end of the day, avoiding sugary foods etc. This is something where improvement will help me in all aspects of my life.
  4. Carrying a bag on my back proved to be a bad decision. Ordinarily, touring cycles are fitted with pannier racks for saddling bags so that the weight falls on the cycle rather than the rider. Since, I was using a rented bicycle, this was not possible to get added. I was also over-confident in assessing my own ability at carrying luggage. There were two main consequences of this — I suffered from soreness in my back and I got slowed down. It also affected the manoeuvrability of my upper body.

Summing up/Danke!

This was my first long distance cycle ride and I really enjoyed it inspite or because of all the ups and downs. If you’ve reached this point, I hope you enjoyed reading my account of it as much.

I would consider this post a success if it inspires you to:

  1. Take up cycling or
  2. Spend more time outdoors or
  3. Be more spontaneous on your travels or
  4. Explore Karnataka

I would like to thank my friend Anshul for helping me out with a lot of technical details and in planning the trip. A huge shoutout to the good folks at Cycling Boutique, Bangalore. You guys are champs!

And lots of good food to my buddies Anirudh and Ashutosh who joined me in Coorg for a completely madcap weekend.

Also, Karnataka, you rock and you are my new favourite state in India!

Fin.