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Category — Travel

TfN: 20 Things I Didn’t Know About Tour of Nilgiris

Less than a week to the start of TfN and I’m all excited. It’s time to start blogging TfN 🙂
To prep for the trip I’ve been reading up on TfN, Cycling and Places we’re passing through on the tour. So, that’s what I’m going to be blogging about over the next few days. Starting with my list of 20 things I Didn’t Know About TfN. How many of these do you know?

  1. The first TfN in 2008 was just a few friends who got together and decided to combine their passion for cycling with a mission.
  2. The Supermarket chain Nilgiris was the first – title and main Sponsor in 2008.
  3. The most number participants on a tour was in 2010 with 100 riders.
  4. 2009 had the most number of women riders – 12!
  5. Oldest Rider on TfN in the last four years was Peter Clarance Smith [aged 60 in 2009]
  6. In 2010 Rishi Nair (8 years) became the youngest rider on tour ever.
  7. The maximum kilometers ever done in a day across events is 180km in  2011 on Day 3 from Hasan to Medikeri.
  8. The furthest any rider has come to join TfN is  USA.
  9. The most competitive section in  2011 was Day 5 – The Climb on the CS was Category 1, with some heat and humidity 🙂
  10. Most expensive bike ever at TfN was a  Pinarello Dogma ridden by Rajesh Nair.
  11. The coolest cycles ever at TfN are Venky’s Fixie (2011), George’s  Moulton (2008), Mark Anderson’s Bike (2011)
  12. The most difficult cycle to cycle on TfN ever was a full suspension Hero Octane in 2008.

8 Things You Should Know About TfN 2012

  1. You get to ride on the NICE expressway. Cyclists are not allowed on NICE road during rest of the year. 😀
  2. Three states are covered on the route –  Karnataka,  Kerala, Tamil Nadu
  3. The tour also goes through three National Parks  – Bandipur National Park, Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary and Nagarhole National Park.
  4. An average day’s ride at TFN ranges between 100 and 180kms.
  5. 70% of the tour is non competitive. There are separate categories for Men and Women.
  6. The most competitive section this year will be on Day 6 – The day involves a lot of climbs,  and the CS is at the end with some 30 more km to climb to reach home.
  7. The results of each competitive section are announced at EOD and the accumulated time for the 6 days is summarized at the end of the tour.
  8. The leader for each day of the tour gets a Blue jersey that can be worn by the cyclist the next day.

How many of these did you know?

I’m looking forward to TfN and I’m all butterflies. It’s going to be a fun ten days in the mountains. 🙂

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December 12, 2012   6 Comments

I’m an Official Blogger at TfN 2012 :)

It all started with Chenthil, like a lot of things do 🙂

Che cycles and I find it amazing to see him come back all exhilarated. He cycles maybe a maximum of 50 km, that’s 50 km! It should be tiring with all the undulations and bad roads, it should be exhausting with legs groaning but he seems invigorated. To me its a paradox. I’ve been into sports all my life so I understand the exhilaration he feels, I’ve felt it too. But now well over 30 do I really want to do that to myself?

Then last year Che went along with TfN as official photographer. The conversations we had over the 8 days of tour were, simply put ‘wierd’. He talked about carbon frames, fixies, bonking and more. And he came back gushing! For days after he wouldn’t stop talking about the scenic routes, the curves and climbs, the riders and their endurance, their ages, the cycles, the food,… Oh! I can go on 🙂

My curiosity piqued, I wanted to know more about why people push themselves. Its a high no doubt but what makes people want that high, why do people want to cycle up a mountain, why do people want to cycle?

I wanted to experience TfN, see the high with my own eyes. So this year when Che started talking about TfN 2012 I asked if I could travel along and blog about it. The guys at TfN graciously said yes. I’m going to TfN this year and I’m not cycling it! Yay! 😀

Ok, I’m all set to travel but what do I know about cycling? Last I cycled was in school, agreed it was the coolest bike with both front and back shock absorbers and a boy’s cycle at that, still back then I was 16 and in my prime 😛 A few years back I thought to try it again and borrowed a friends cycle. Day 1 saw me cycle across the city in one gear fearing for my life and Day 2 had me throwing in the spade at the Windsor Manor climb. So what do I know about cycling?

Being an official blogger isn’t easy, you have to do justice to the event. When its a sport, its tougher. You have to cover so much. I needed a voice, a story. I’ve been wondering about this for a while now. I read up on cycling, TfN, articles about TfN, cyclists blogs,… and still I don’t seem to know it. Ah, don’t mistake, I know about it just don’t know know it, you know. Its the experiential that missing.

That’s my voice – my story. I’m an outsider and my story’s from this side of the fence as I watch TfN 2012 unfold. Along the journey I hope to learn more about cycles, touring, TfN, cycling terminology, what cyclists eat, what makes them tick and much more.

Hope you join me as I watch them ride | suffer | brag 🙂

8 days of TfN through three states and national parks this years starts December 16th. Sadly its full. But this year the TfN guys have a special – Entrée. So if you can’t/didn’t make it to the full tour you can join us for a 3 nights 2 days ride through the Nilgiris. You can know more and register here.

Video Courtesy – Venky | Video Shot by – Chenthil (ChePhoto)

October 11, 2012   No Comments

Two Weeks on the Wedding Road

The last two weeks have been fun, I travelled, met some very interesting people and just had a ball. We photographed two weddings at two corners of India and each was so different.

We started our journey with a quick trip to Kovilpatti my ‘sasural’ or as I see it my second home. From there on to Tuticorin for Hemanth and Mala’s wedding. Theirs was a simple wedding yet ‘hat ke’ or different. Hemanth and Mala added a little bit of themselves to the wedding process and I was glad to be a part of it.

It was a simple ‘nadar’ wedding where an elder gives a little speech and blessing followed by the boy tying the ‘magalsutra’ (its the Indian equivalent of a ring) or thread signifying marriage around the girls neck. There are some more speeches and the wedding’s complete. Hemanth and Mala added to the ritual by having a fusion wedding the day before with a bridal march to choreographed music and a theme. That was a nice twist to it all!

From hot seaside Tuticorin we rushed to freezing cold Jaipur for another wedding. This one was on a grand scale in palaces and heritage resorts. North Indian weddings are long affaires that go on for three to fours days. They are a riot of color and ritual. I don’t know if I’d like to be the bride in all of that but I definitely enjoyed watching it all through my viewfinder.

After almost four years I picked up a camera again and saw the world through a viewfinder. I hadn’t realized just how much I had missed photography in the last few years. Telling a story with pictures the way I see it unfold is cathartic. It gives you a voice beyond words, and I love hiding behind my camera and seeing the world unfold in front of me.

Its been a great two weeks filled with so many things I love – travel, people, places, rituals. I realized I enjoy weddings, they say so much about people and our culture. This year is a year of experimentation for me. I want to try out as many new things as I can and find myself in it all.

Of course all this travel also meant that I didn’t have internet connectivity everywhere so I’ve missed putting up a few blog posts. I hope to make up for this in the next couple of days.

Here’s a quick photo journey of the last two weeks… [These’s are Che’s pics, I hope to put up mine soon :D]

Its been a great two weeks travelling across India, meeting friends and seeing places after years. I’d gone to Jaipur last 5 years ago and so much has changed! This year has started of so well, can’t wait for the adventures to unveil through the year!

February 14, 2012   4 Comments

My Pick of the Week: Kolkata :)

I’ve been to Calcutta a few years ago and I loved the city even though mustard oil doesn’t suit my tummy 😀 Che’s first ever wedding video collage reminded me so much of the place. This one’s for you Calcutta 🙂

November 25, 2011   1 Comment

The Rann of Kutch – A Photo Tribute

A friend who is planning a trip to the Rann called the other day and the call took me down memory lane. My experience of the Rann or Land of White Souls ranks second to only the Himalayas. The Rann is an experience you will never forget, its leaves you with a feeling of accomplishment and yet humbles you with the power of nature and just much you are the mercy of it.

I did do a write-up after the ride and you can read it here but the photo service I used back then has disappeared, so here are a few photos.
If you want to read up on the Rann you can read about it here on Wikipedia.

The Rann is so vast and sees such extreme temperatures that if a local is lost in it, no search is done. They are just considered lost and the locals call those lost in the Rann white souls. The Greater Rann borders Pakistan and the Indian Army here cannot patrol the border all the time. The patrol method is to walk the border on camels in the early morn and if footprints are seen, a search is set-up to check who crossed the border at night. (This I heard from locals but ofcourse there was no way for me to verify it but having seen the Rann I believe them.)

Sunset at Tikar


Salt Pans in the Rann

Salt Pans that Look like a Mirage

The Real Wild Ass and Other Asses

Boats used when the Rann Floods

Riding in the Rann

The Rann, Musafir and Me

The Rann, Musafir and Me

A Chakara - the local transport

Local Fauna in Rann

The Line-up

Line-up with a Chakara

The Land in the Rann

The Land and Modern Art

Me and the Rann

Salt Pans in the Small Rann

Salt Pans

Small Rann

The Rann from Varnu

Varnu and the Small Rann

Sunrise at Kala Dungar

The Greater Rann from Kala Dungar

India Bridge in Greater Rann separating India and Pakistan

The Dattatreya Temple on Kala Dungar

Arrow Straight Road between Kala Dungar and Bhuj for about 100km

170 km for the first time

November 15, 2011   7 Comments

Isolated and faraway Ladakh is no longer a final frontier

This week has been a bit crazy. There’s been a product launch in the BookBuzzr family. (Check out fReado to win books or even a Kindle while playing games) And we travelled Monday night to Kovilpatti. I’m skipping nostalgia this week for fresh experiences but I do have a guest – meet Santosh, an old friend and traveller who loves to explore the unknown and unseen.

The isolated and faraway Ladakh is no longer a final frontier for adventure travellers.

I remember when biker buddies Satya and Omi set out on a 45 day expedition from Bangalore to Leh in 1996(their second or third) – I went to the railway station to see them off. The sense of an adventure like that those days gave me goose bumps. It remained a dream in me until I set out to do the same in 2002. By then itself things had changed. Satya and Omi’s stories of riding out into the vast mountains, high roads and passes made no sense at all. There was black tarmac roads built, new passes were opened, signboards, guesthouses; home stays along the road, made this a very doable ride. One, no longer needed big bikes to conquer the road that was counted among the ‘Top 10 in the world’. Life had changed – there were more people riding/driving/flying into once forbidden land of Ladakh. But the sense of an adventure to Ladakh was still exotic when I made my first trip.

2010 – Today, I am sitting in Leh. I am annoyed at the way things have developed here. Facebook, Orkut, Mr. Aamir Khan and the various commercials, which includes a Maggi noodle ad in Ladakh, has changed the character of this faraway land. Four lane highways, a tunnel to tame the Rohtang pass, a proposed rail connection from Manali, road connections into Zanskar from all sides, will continue to make Leh, the Manali/Shimla of Ladakh. Hotels and guesthouses are built by the dozens every season, new restos crop up every season and newer businesses find their way into Leh – massage parlors, tattoo artists and many more.

Frooti tetrapacks are found in some of the remotest villages.

What remained a destination for the adventurous of travellers has been decimated to a destination for the package tourist – the kind who wants to carry their kitchen with them. Thanx to corporatized tour companies like Makemytrip. As I walked into my favorite guesthouse Oriental – I was surprised to see the change in genre of travellers. As I sat at the open area by the kitchen, I hear a tourist who yells out from the window of his room “areh there is no hot water in the room”. Staff replies “ it takes a while for the solar heater to warm up the water”. Our man says “then get me a bucket of hot water”. No thank you’s, no please’s in the whole conversation. Then another white shirt, Bermuda shorts clad tourist walks into the kitchen. Same question “hot water”. Followed by another who complains of not having EPABX (intercom) or he would have yelled from the intercom itself. What hell, I thought.

As I walk into the town – I was shocked to see the change in landscape of the town. New buildings, new shops, new restos, and many more new’s – I have not dared to walk back to town again. Leh has lost its charm.

There are other stories to be heard. Oriental owner rattles – it is difficult with all the high impact tourists coming this way. Leh runs on diesel generator power, the whole town I mean – all the geysers, lights, TV’s, water heaters, water pumps all of it. Some of them like Oriental have solar powered water heating systems and basic lighting running alternatively. The makemytrip types don’t see the point or value the scarcity of resources. They stand below hot showers emptying the overhead tanks, insist on keeping the generator ON all night, and turn a blind eye on conserving. I guess the problem is awareness.

Now there is a problem in a larger scale. So far Ladakh has been seeing independent travellers. These independent travellers have been scattering their monies into the many restos, guesthouses, taxis, and other local setups. There was a split and all involved locally were happy and earned their share. Then comes the corporate tour operators; charter flights arrive, hotels are mass booked with obscene discounts bringing in the ‘every minute packaged’ tourists. This ‘every minute packaged’ starts at the hotel and ends at the hotel. Every meal every snack is planned at the hotel. On local tours – packed food from the hotel is carried along. Instead of smaller vehicles big buses are used to ferry the packaged.

Now this is what might happen, serious travellers avoid the touristy places. We have seen what has become of the Ooty’s and the Manali’s of the world. So the smaller businesses who depend on tourism suffer cos the ‘every minute packaged’ cant afford to explore the offerings of the town. They are tied into their packages. The serious travellers who scattered their monies are no longer there. The taxis don’t have much business cos the ‘every minute packaged’ are ferried in big buses. Guesthouses, hotels, have to scale up to have TV, intercom, geysers, and god knows what to satisfy the high impact tourists, thereby they getting into a debt game. I have not even spoken about the trash and solid waste management.

Where does it stop or where does it begin?

When Ladakh opened to tourism – year 1974 – 500 travellers braved the journey to visit Ladakh. This season when the corporate tour operators floated their Ladakh packages – one single company got in 10000 tourists, they want to bring 50000 tourists next year. Where is it headed – no answer to the question, but we have seen what has happened to the popular hill stations of the India. Aren’t they in a mess?

Few tips to make ur trip in Ladakh low impact –

1. Pick a local Ladakhi operator or a conscious travel company
2. Make an effort to share ur money into local hands
3. Avoid an ‘every minute packaged’ tour. They are cheap but they don’t give a local experience, they just make the bigger hotels, operators and themselves richer and fleece the smaller fellows
4. Value and conserve the local resources – use buckets instead of showers – simple things like that
5. People in Ladakh are a wonderful lot – they are peaceful and welcoming – pls treat them well or we will loose the innocence of a breed of happy simple people
6. Pls don’t trash the place – avoid things like mineral water bottles. Carry ur own bottles which can be refilled at local places. There are spots in town where one can fill in filtered water. This is an effort to cut down trash by locals
7. Pls be more aware – I am sure u don’t want to be counted among the ‘every minute packaged’ tourists.

One doesn’t have to have a reason to travel – it’s as simple as getting out there to take it within! Propagating the same message for over a decade, Santosh has traversed turbulent rivers, worked with an NGO, built solar fences & initiated an outdoor gear store and meandered through most of India. For those who know him better, he’s just stirred something within them…
After leading inspiring ventures like
Getoffurass, Photographyonthemove & Getofftraveler, there’s only one nonchalant reaction from him- “It’s been an interesting journey so far”!

Photo Credit: Anukaran Singh

August 5, 2010   2 Comments

Leh Jayenge – The way it all started…

A few years ago I got a chance to experience India; I quit my job and travelled for 8 months. When I finally did get home-sick and came back I had so much to say that I didn’t know where to start so, I never did get down to writing about it. But then recently at the GetOff Traveller Meet one of the speakers – Charu, a traveller writer – got me thinking about my journey as stories. That helped get over the overwhelm I was feeling; it seemed a lot easier to write stories.

It’s also been a while since I travelled for a stretch of time and these cloudy monsoon days in Bangalore tempt you into reminiscing. So here are stories from my travels and experiences across India as I relive my journey. 🙂

Disclaimer – This might seem very detailed and boring 😀 You’ve been warned…

The way it all started…

The itch to take-off and travel started years ago when I went on my first solo ride and got a first-hand taste of India. I was hooked; I started looking for ways to travel without having to take leave from work, which of course meant that I would have no job and money became the big question.

In the course of time circumstances and situations changed and I realized that maybe seeing all of India would be asking for too much, however the drive to see the country of my birth was still strong. Some friends and I started to plan to do the biker pilgrimage – Ladakh in 2006, slowly the route formed and lists followed. But this was not to be that easy, slowly but steadily friends started dropping out until soon there was just Ajay, who was a close friend and me left. About the same time I started to feel very unsatisfied with my work and my life that revolved round my work; I wanted a break. I decided to go on a saving spree for 5-6 months then quit work and travel as much as I would in the money saved, the day I ran out I would return home.

So then Ajay and I started planning for that, as after Ladakh he would return home and I would move on. But this was not to be either and Ajay had to drop out too. By now I had done quite a bit of planning and more importantly dreaming, and this wasn’t a dream I was ready to let go. I decided to go for it anyway, even if alone. Friends were appalled and advised against going solo, swayed by the persistent attempts I started to look for others going to Ladakh too, some seemed to fit my timelines and dates but maybe I was destined to this myself and all just fell through. When the last friend dropped out three weeks before we were scheduled to leave I had had enough. I was going and going alone.

It was when I was on my way to book tickets that I dropped in to Sam’s store ‘Get Off UR Ass’ and he told me of some friends going to Lahaul and Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh. Sam suggested starting off with them and then just heading on to Ladakh, he pushed me into at least calling up and checking. So, that was what I did, I called up Prashanth and soon found myself booking my ticket for Delhi on the 14th, a week earlier than planned. I would now be doing Lahaul and Spiti valley with friends from RTMC (Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Club) the Bangalore Bullet club I was a part of.

Now I just had two weeks to go before I left, loads to do, lots to buy and sort out and I was also scheduled to travel to Hyderabad for a week to spend time with Pallavi who was friend and travel partner from work before she left for U.S. I just about managed it all I guess, though I did leave a long list of to-do’s with Mom and friends and before I knew it, it was the 14th.

The 14th saw me running pillar to post getting the bike packed and loaded on the train, some legal matters sorted, packing all I thought I needed, getting briefed on bike and picking spares from mech, shopping for last minute stuff…

With all this happening I couldn’t believe I made it to the station in time for the train…

July 26, 2010   2 Comments

Chau Chau Kang Nilda: Spitian Folklore

This is a story of Chau Chau Kang Nilda the peak behind Langza village. Chau Chau means little girl or princess, Kang is a snow-capped mountain, Ni or Nima means sun and Da or Dawa means moon. So this is the princess mountain on which the sun & moon shine.

Langza village and C C K Nilda in Background

This story starts years ago. Langza village gets its water from this mountain’s stream so every summer someone was sent to check the stream and remove any obstacles. They also had to watch over the stream through the season.
One day Landup was sent to check the stream. Landup was a lazy man & rather enjoyed playing his lute. So off he went to the base of the mountain. After he had checked the stream he sat down by it to play his lute and was soon lost in its music.

After finishing his piece he opened his eyes to find a beautiful woman standing before him. She stared at him transfixed and slowly said. ‘Landup I love your music would you play for me again.’
Landup couldn’t say no to such an ethereal beauty so he started to play again.

The beauty told him after he finished that she was the Chau Chau Kang Nilda fairy & she would like him to come often and play. Landup agreed and left at the end of the day. From then on he kept trying to get the job to check the stream. Over the season they fell in love and continued to see each other during the summers that followed.

It was during the winter a few years later that a drunk Landup was lazing about. His wife saw this and reminded him of some work he had to do. Drunken Landup got upset and shouted back that he rather be with the Chau Chau Kang Nilda fairy who didn’t ask him to work. To this his wife asked him to stop dreaming but by then Landup had passed out.
In the morning Landup woke up covered in boils & pain. He then remembered what had happened the night before & also remembered that the fairy had asked him never to mention her.

Now he was really worried, the boils marred his handsomeness & he tried everything through winter to be rid of them. But nothing worked.

As soon as summer came & he was no longer house bound he ran to the stream. He played his lute, called out, cried & even screamed but the fairy didn’t come. He never saw her again. And every time he went near the mountain the weather turned nasty & he had to turn back.

Chau Chau Khang Nilda in a bad mood

Even today when a man tries climbing up Chau Chau Kang Nilda the weather turns nasty. It is said the fairy is still nursing her broken heart and will not let any man come near her.

Story – I first read this story in Spiti Through Legend And Lore by Kishore Thukral and then heard variations from locals in Spiti.

July 19, 2010   3 Comments

ChandraTal: Travel Tips for Planning a Trip

The other day while talking to a friend about ChandraTaal, I thought of doing a quick tips piece for people planning to go there; so, here are a few things to keep in mind…

If you want to read up on it, check out these links…
Couldn’t find a good map but did find Anand’s write-up on his trek and a basic map.
Spitian Folklore on ChandraTal

Things to keep in mind when planning…

1. Start early from Manali to ensure that you have a lot of time and that you don’t get stuck on top on Rothang Pass. (Rothang is the honeymoon spot for North India and trust me, here traffic jams can last hours).

Turn-off to ChandraTal

2. There are two trekking routes to go to the lake. One starts at Kumzum La and the other at Batal. The Kumzum La route is shorter but more challenging; I recommend doing this stretch when going to the lake and only in good weather. The Batal route is a gentle rolling climb and a nice walk on return. ChandraTaal is about 14 km from Batal. If the roads have been cleared, you can take a jeep for the first 12 km.

3. You can hire a jeep in Manali to take you to Batal and trek from there. On return the jeep can pick you up at Batal too. If you are doing the Kumzum La route, ask the jeep to drop you off at Kumzum La.

4. If you think you need a guide, you can hire one at Manali.

5. Medicine for altitude sickness – If you are doing a quick trip I recommend using Diamox. Start taking it as soon as you arrive in Manali or at least a day before you start the climb. Diamox will help with acclimatising but it makes you want to pee very often so you may want to take it in the morning after breakfast 🙂
Two pods of garlic everyday will also help with AMS. Be careful not to over eat on the garlic as it can also cause ulcers.

6. If you are going in peak season you may find tents there that locals pitch to provide accommodation and food to travellers. However, this is a chance to take and I recommend taking your own gear.

7. Carry good and warm camping gear. You could even hire this in Delhi or Manali. You will need –

a. thick sleeping mat (make sure your mat is of good quality else the cold seeps in)
b. high altitude sleeping bag
c. tent with wind and rain cover

You will need all the insulation you can get; make sure it’s all high altitude stuff and in good condition.

Water-crossing on the way

8. Carry warm clothes. Layering is the trick. Wear thermals, then tee and jeans and follow that up with a warm and wind-proof jacket. Gloves will be a requirement along with head gear. Carry extra pairs of socks, wet feet can kill your trip and you will most definitely get your feet wet.

9. Carry your food with you. If you are lucky you may find a food tent but if not… Carry maggi, and ready food packs if you have a stove. Else carry chocolates, biscuits, cheese, dry fruits, jam sachets, etc… They make for some nice picnic food.

These guys froze at night

10. Don’t set camp near the water; it’s tempting to do that but it gets freezing at night. It’s colder near the water and you are more exposed to wind.

11. While sleeping keep your bags inside tent at the four corners to add weight. There will be strong winds and the tent could do with extra stability.

12. Keep your shoes inside the tent so they’ll stay warm and to keep the smell away carry plastic bags to put shoes in.

Have you been to ChandraTaal, what was your experience? Do you have recommendations for other travellers? Please feel free to add your tips and experiences in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

July 12, 2010   10 Comments