OK. So it was 26th January. Generally, this date signifies celebrating our Republic Day with tiny tricolor on our shirts and remembering the awesome army parade we used to watch on DD. But today, this also meant that we were in the 5th week of this crazy journey, having covered more than 4000km through the Western Coast & Ghats on our bike, ready to leave the highest point of South India (Doddabetta, Ooty) to enter God’s Own Country (Kerala).
Plus, since it actually was the Republic Day, we managed to get a couple of tricolors for our bike from the traffic police. They were more than happy to help two silly looking guys on a bullet loaded with luggage and UP’s number plate.
The route on which we decided to ride that day and, perhaps, reach Thrissur, the cultural capital of Kerala, was Ooty -> Coonoor -> Coimbatore -> Palakkad -> Thrissur. A list of vaguely familiar names, from the old curriculum books, and we were good to go.
We came to know aboutCoonoor from fellow travelers in Hampi. They described it as a beautiful and peaceful alternative to the otherwise spoilt & bustling city of Ooty. They were not wrong. Only, the town was a little too peaceful.
As we had just left the crowds of Ooty, this place seemed eerily empty to us. Haunted if you will. The road that enters from Ooty, has nothing but huge bungalows and farmhouses on both sides. All empty. It was 11am in the morning and there was no one, with the exception of 2 or 3 hawkers or Chai stalls, on a stretch of about 4km through that town. Ee-fucking-ride. Do they take 26 January parade so seriously? This was until we reached the bus stand area where we finally saw humans again.
No, jokes apart, Coonoor is a beautiful town, and if you take your peaceful getaways a little too seriously, this is the place for you. The road coming from Ooty (its just 24km from Ooty) is a well maintained one and offers beautiful views of colorful villages and tea gardens.
We had our breakfast at Coonoor bus stand and left for Coimbatore.
This patch was a nasty one. Coimbatore is around 75km from Coonoor and the first 40km are a continuous descent from South’s Highest mountains. Plus there is a lot of traffic, as this road carries all the Ooty traffic from coming from Tamil Nadu side.
Once we reached flat ground, the Sun was so hard we couldn’t believe it was Republic Day. Plus the road thereafter is boring. The only thing that kept me happy was my two little tricolors.
Reaching Coimbatore, (a big city basically), was so nostalgic that we decided to treat ourselves with something that we would remember the rest of our lives. Plus it was the Republic Day, it had to be big. So, even after DKs multiple requests to get back to my senses and not get emotions the better of me, I did not change my mind. I had decided it. I wanted to have a pizza.
As much dramatic as it sounds, never had I loved a Pizza more than that day. Plus, as best as I can recall, it was also the only time we spent a couple of hours in an AC room. Be grateful people, for what you have. Because Republic Day comes once a year.
Even though we had initially decided to take some rest at the divine Pizza Hut, sitting there and doing nothing didn’t seem to make much sense. So we got moving again. What a terrible decision that was.
We were new to Tamil Nadu, and not everybody knows that Sun is on steroids here. It was so hot I could see myself getting redder and blacker by the minute. Even the tricolor had fallen by now, so I wasn’t getting any help from anywhere. The only thing that kept us alive was the confusion between whether to melt or burn or evaporate.
And then there was this awesome road. A dusty track basically, with only one lane working. (The other lane was in better condition and less dusty. But the authorities thought it would be a good idea to get it closed for maintenance). So, bad was this road, that as soon as we entered Kerala, where we were welcomed with a six-lane highway, we were literally screaming on the road with joy.
Once on the highway, we realized that we were in a very pretty setting actually. There were paddy fields on both sides of the road stretching far out till they met gigantic rock mountains. We were basically in the Palaghat gap.
The first thing we visited there was Palakkad Fort. It is a small fort, with an even smaller working jail inside its premises, and lawns super well shaded with grandpa trees. In short, a perfect one-hour stop for those looking for a break from riding in the sun. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Next was Kalpathy temple. The temple was a normal one but I had read somewhere that streets around this are amazing for street photography. These 2 main streets, somehow, is inhabited only by the senior (very senior citizens) which gives them a very peculiar characteristic. You can’t resist but walk and talk with the people here.
We left Palakkad in haste. It was almost dark now, and Thrissur was still 70km away. We were banking on the highway that had brought us here to continue in the same glory. We were so naive.
So this time, it was Kerela’s turn to close down the better-looking side of the highway for maintenance (or perhaps, the road on the other side is always greener er…better). And no ordinary traffic ran on our side of the road. It was like a mega exodus from Kerala. And people are not very cheerful at this time of the day, even if its Republic Day, and we were being pounced at by the cars coming at us. It was a hard ride. We feared for our lives. So much so, that we took a halt at the Kuthiran Sree Dharmasastha Temple to pray to God to save us from our plight….only to get coins thrown at us by bypassing commuters. (this was a thing at this temple. all the bypassers threw coins, multiple coins at the temple. An old aged temple volunteer collected all these coins with a swipe of his super cool magnetic stick…in the middle of the road…during the night.
Finally, with divine intervention, we reached Thrissur safely at around 9pm, on Republic Day.