I can imagine how frustrating the current situation might be for an avid motorcyclist. Coronavirus has affected several countries around the world and the motorcycling fraternity in many of these countries would be raring to ride out at the slightest easing of restrictions.
Out here, for a good part of three months, I did not even look at the motorcycle. I stayed home, stayed put, stayed safe. Come June, with the lockdown lifted, I did roll the bike out. It needed a battery replacement, which got done. And on 16th June, we quietly accomplished 4 years of being together through thick and thin. To celebrate the occasion, I went for a quick highway run with my cousin, who also owns a four year old BS3 Himalayan. The short ride, gave us a chance to reflect on two things-
1. How much we had missed not riding
2. We were really among the last of the breed, with our BS3 Himalayans. With the success of the EFI Himalayan in the last couple of years you don’t see many of the older ones about. I felt lucky to have this simple forerunner of a machine. And it felt great to have it running so smooth and true four years on.
However, aside from this small outing, for most of the Lockdown, I consoled myself browsing through some of my favourite reads on the shelf.
Looking through them brought back nice memories of my own rides and good times with the bikes I’ve owned and ridden.
Here’s hoping that the world overcomes this crisis soon, and we find ourselves back on our machines, rolling happily into the new millennium.
A couple of months ago, my cousin and I discovered a great little trail off Shoolagiri, no more than 40 Kms from my doorstep. A small stretch of forest (Samanav Forest) before Shoolagiri, offers an unmarked trail leading to a little rivulet. Keep a lookout for this on the left when returning to Bangalore, a few klicks after the MacDonalds at Shoolagiri. If you are on a Himalayan, you are bound to have a good time!
I had been raring to take the newbie (Himalayan) out of the city and last weekend presented that opportunity. Three of us ‘weekend enthu cutlets‘ from the workplace decided to do our usual Sunday breakfast run. As the engine is still running in, I was keen to choose a slow, scenic route. A Facebook post by one of the bikers about a route to Jawalagiri Reserve Forest on the outskirts of Bangalore, had caught my attention- the road promised to be a divine little sojourn through a beautiful forest. WhatsApp invites were sent out, but as is often the case, everyone dropped out at the last minute, and we ended up like we always do- three messieurs always ready to ride.
An early morning start, and we were cruising down Hosur road by 5:30 am, for a quick run till the outskirts of Hosur. We turned off on the ring road circling Hosur- and at that point Google Mausi tells us it would be an hour till Jawalagiri village. Now if you want to ever do this circuit, be advised, the first one hour or so from Bangalore can get extremely boring- all we had was a four lane ring road, which dissolved into a two lane blacktop with bits of uneven tarmac. This is a fairly urbanised stretch with lots of factories on either side of the road. Some 30 minutes on this road and I was really beginning to not enjoy the scenery- here’s a biscuit factory, oh there’s a cement factory, there’s one that makes spare parts- in short, too many factories…and it was boring. We seemed to be cruising through the heartland of small scale manufacturing. And it was plain BORING! This wasn’t great, I told myself- not the best route for a breakfast ride!
And where was breakfast?? It was getting on to 7am, and I was hungry. We seemed to have left even the semi decent joints behind in Hosur. We reached Thally, a nondescript village with two cross-roads that seemed to signal the end of factories. We weren’t keen to stop here- and a passerby told us you could get a cup of tea further ahead. Now, part of the reason we had chosen this route was that we were under the impression that this same route leads to Hoggenakkal falls-a popular waterfall at a distance of 150 odd km from Bangalore. This route wasn’t the regular route to Hogennakkal however, and none of us knew how exactly one connects to the falls from Thally or Jawalagiri. The FB post photos seemed a bit hazy now- and we continued with some trepidation.
I was in the lead, and in the last stretch up to Thally, I had been riding fast, mainly because I wanted to not have to look at those dreadful factories around. I continued in the same manner past Thally, not expecting much. A few miles out of Thally, and the road changed. I was past a beautiful spot before I could see it- there was a lake, I noticed Deepak slowing down, but I was too focussed on the bend up ahead. I come around the bend and there’s a forest! Really? Where did those factories go? So from here on till Jawalagiri village, the road becomes more bearable. We stop at a village tea stall- and a lil birdie alights on OP’s bike. It’s a sparrow. Now, I haven’t seen many sparrows in the city- all you see are those nasty pigeons- with their nasty shite all over the place.
Further on, the road brightens up. We enter Jawalagiri forest. And inspite of a cloudy morning, the sight lifts us up. We stop for photos- I take the Himalayan into a field as the country opens up- more photos. This is turning out like one of our regular rides- not too bad, I think.
We are now headed towards Anchetty- from where, we are told, we can connect towards Hogennakkal. The road narrows down, and we pass through another village. We seem to be in rolling country now- and we are climbing-I see hills in the distance. Past the village, the road turns, and suddenly we come upon a gorgeous vista.
We are now in beautiful hinterland and we are not sure if we are headed in the right direction. It doesn’t matter- we are three mates, lost on a Sunday ride. Photo opportunities in this lovely, dale-ish country abound and we don’t miss them. This is what Sunday mornings should be about, I tell myself, take your moto, take your mates and get lost in the process of discovering the lie of the land. I have forgotten all about breakfast.
I can see that the others are loving this too. We are in the heart of motorcycling country. There’s nary a cart on the road-and at this hour in the morning, there’s not many souls about. There are three motorcycles traversing through gorgeous landscape. Perfect.
On almost every ride, you often come across what one would call ‘the spot’. It’s that definitive place you discover, one that captures the ride’s memory for days to come. On this ride, ‘the spot’ was a hidden gem. And it was somewhere midway between Jawalagiri and Anchetty. Go figure.
We finished the ride at Anchetty- had delicious dosa for breakfast and piping hot tea brewed in a copper vessel, before calling it a day. A minor fall on the way and a bent handlebar on my newbie, was the only lowdown on what was a brilliant ride and route. I was glad Shadowfax finally went in for a gallop, and what lovely woodlands it was able to roam!
1. Round up your mates
2. Start your engines
3. Head for the nearest patch of woods
4. Grab some idly-vada and great coffee on the way
5. Banter with mates on whose bike is better
6. Watch out for elephants en-route
8. Consult Google Mausi for directions in the woods
9. Ride home in time for ‘Real’ Breakfast. 🙂
Sometimes, the best rides are the ones which have never been planned. The young blood in office had been clamouring for a ride. Now, as is the case with young blood anywhere- they lead glamorous lives. Folks in office are no different. Saturday nights are spent partying till late and Sunday mornings in mournful stupor about the impending Monday work blues. So it was a pleasant surprise when the youngest ones turned up on the dot, at 4:00 am, and had to wait for us older paunches to roll in-a full 10 minutes later. The route had been decided vaguely the night before. Google Mausi had shown us this:
This was a good 100kms loop. Breakfast was planned at our usual Harohalli joint on Kanakapura Road, a favourite since my days with MOT. We would be skirting the edge of the Bannerghatta Reserve Forest- and on a previous ride, I had seen this road to be scenic and of good surface. What I did not notice was the roadworks sign at Ragihalli.
After breakfast at Harohalli, we took the first left and came upon a beautiful stretch of tarmac. Popular with cyclists, this two lane minor state highway is a gorgeous connector between Kanakapura Road and Hosur Road, both arterial highways leading out of the city. Roadworks at Ragihalli village, however, forced us into a detour through the sleepy hamlet, and we missed a turn at the fork. We unknowingly entered the reserve forest on a dirt trail. About 20 minutes of riding brought us to a point where the trail petered out at a line fence and its makeshift barrier. The area up ahead looked like a forest, and was inviting. I crossed the line fence through the barrier and was about to downshift to take on the incline, when I saw this sign. And stopped.
We noticed that the fence was (supposedly) electrified, and we were bang in the middle of an elephant corridor! We had barely done forty odd kilometres of riding , and here we were, in a state forest- with real live elephants! Needless to say, we calmed our fears of getting raided by tuskers and posed for some photos- this photo op was not to be missed.
We decided to continue onward as Google Mausi, told us of a secret path out of the woods. Soon we were passing through some lovely stretches- like the one below- this was real country!
About another 40 minutes of riding and Google Mausi decides to give up the ghost. I had been standing on pegs in that stretch, and as I sat down, I noticed Mausi is silent. I beckon others to stop and we do a quick look around.
Nothing much around- a quaint little temple, where the Pujari probably visits on a fortnight, some make believe grass and a beautiful Jacaranda tree. Photo op not to be missed? You bet!
There wasn’t much to do beyond that in this place. So we decided to move on. Now did I tell you that Google Mausi moonlights as a Goddess? (To understand this phenomenon better, I suggest you read American Gods, by Neil Gaiman). Well Goddesses, often find favour with the cool candidate. Deepak has a cool bike- therefore Goddess lights up his phone. We discover a way out of there- turns out we just need to keep on moving down the same trail.
Well, that broken forest road throws up another surprise- and we find a boulder outcrop with a great green vista. Needless to say, the bikes were lined up, on the rocks. Metal sided with plastics and looked onto the great greenfield beyond!
After this call of duty it was time to bid goodbye. We left our separate ways and joined that rush of weekend traffic and caged imbeciles on the road. It’s always fruitful to start a great Sunday by getting lost in the neighbourhood wilderness!
For professional reasons, I am not at liberty to reveal what TEMC stands for. Rest assured, it has something to do with my workplace. And yes the last two letters stand for Motorcycle Club. Now it so happened that parking lot discoveries revealed to me that there were quite a few ardent motorcyclists in office. It was only a matter of time before a Whatsapp group was created. Official emails were sent and the first day ride was organised to Yelagiri on August 28th, 2014.
We were a motley bunch with most of us riding Royal Enfield motos and a couple of lads on an Avenger 220 and a Yamaha FZ 150. The plan was to cover the 160 odd kms to Yelagiri in good time and start real early.
Now this ride was a first with folks from my office. My expectations from this ride were so so. There were some inexperienced riders in the group who would need some amount of shepherding. At the same time, four of the riders had done a lot of touring- A moto couple, Vaishali and her hubby Ashutosh, had also done the Leh/ Ladakh circuit. Sabith and Rajeev were experienced riders. I had had my share of rides.
We assembled in front of Total Mall, Koramangala at 5:00 am and most of us showed great discipline and turned up within minutes of each other. The last rider, Sabith, was to join us somewhere near Hosur. We made a cracking start and were at the second rendezvous in no time. Sabith turned up some 10 minutes later and it was surprising to see him sans his riding jacket. Instead he had a yoga mat strapped with a bungee cord on his seat! I still wonder what he had been thinking at that time…
On and off, the group would fall into a two by two ride formation, but it was mostly each man for himself. Ashutosh had the good sense to ride tail and make sure no one was falling behind. Breakfast halt was at Shoolagiri- and many a masala dosa, idlis and vadas were gulped and washed down with steaming filter coffee. We made good time after that and reached the foothills of Yelagiri by 7:30 am.
The real fun started after that, the ride uphill was exhilarating. At that hour, there was no traffic, so you had all the bends to yourself. I could see Sabith, just ahead, scraping his footpegs on every corner. On this ride I had a custom performance exhaust strapped on my bike and this was a good opportunity to test it (more details here- https://yonderbluemountain.wordpress.com/2016/06/26/c5-evolution/). I gunned the throttle and took pole position. I think that was the fastest climb I have ever done in my life. I had no time to count the bends, nor to admire beautiful mountain vistas flashing past me. All I could see was the corner ahead and Sabith in my mirrors, hugging bend after bend. The logic was simple, slow down just before the corner, accelerate through the bend, make sure you time yourself around the corner and keep your eyes glued to a spot at least 50m ahead. Before long, the entire fast bunch was at the top. This was good riding, I told myself.
Yelagiri is best described as a sleepy hill side town, I would go to the lengths of calling it a kasba-something between a town and village. The townsfolk were just rising- a tea stall owner was setting up his pots and pans, when we rolled in. It seemed like a scene from an old western. There you have it, a main street. Townsfolk just starting to go about their business. Shops starting to open, smells of breakfast wafting into the street from a few meagre cafes and schoolchildren being cajoled out of their houses by their frantic moms. Suddenly, there’s a thunderous sound, and a bunch of cowboys ride in on iron horses. We get stares. Some appreciative glances from a few youngsters. A few minutes of drama and we are the centre of it all. But this town is no stranger to visitors. We park and dismount, kill our engines, and the towns people just shrug and go about their business. This is clearly no event for them.
We stand together, sipping coffee when one of us glances at his watch. Its 8:30 am. We applaud each other- wow! We made good time. We are happy. And then it strikes us! This was meant to be a whole day affair! We have made it to our destination too early! What are we supposed to do now? This was surely a first in my history of rides.
Grand plans are charted immediately, some of which promise to be a mini tour around half of South India. We soon remind each other that we have wives, children, uncles, aunts and mouths to feed. Indeed the nation’s economy hangs in balance until our return- not to mention the rest of the office eagerly waiting for us to return to work! We finally decide to survey and explore local flavour. Directions are asked of village folk and we take one of the smaller roads leading out of town.
An old gent tells us of a spot on a hill and we head off in that general direction. A spot of off-roading and a steep climb leads to a hill top parking lot- with views to behold.
Some of us head off for a trek after that. I lose and find my phone on the trail. A lonely goat herd doubles up as a guide/ sneaky murderer in our collective, fertile imagination. A couple of hours later, we decide to head back home. Some photo sessions on the way down and we conclude that this has been a good day out. A short detour to Krishnagiri dam turned out disappointing, but I did manage to take a couple of photos.
With that first ride ending on a happy note, I have one more reason to love my workplace (yeah right!).
In the years 2013-2014, I had great fun with a bunch of like minded, ragtag motorcyclists, most of whom were based in south Bangalore. We wanted to spend our weekends exploring our very own back of the woods in the format of short breakfast rides, with the intention of going in for longer weekend rides in the future. After two great Sunday rides, I sat down one balmy afternoon and penned this introductory write-up for the group, now called Ministry of Torque, on Facebook. A few edits from Pankaj, one of the founding members, and the intro summed up like this-
“We are an enthusiastic motorcycle club started by a bunch of passionate South Bangalorean motorcyclists. We think of ourselves as a bit old school, ‘weekend enthu cutlets’, who thrive on the old adage ‘they dont build ’em like this anymore’, which means we love our Royal Enfields, Harley Davidsons, Triumphs and the glorious old RD 350s and Yezdi 250s. With us its all about pure, quintessential motorcycles that ooze character, scream nuts and bolts and wear steel and proclaim business.
We do weekend rides, long and short, to destinations around Bangalore. We feel there’s enough living culture to explore in our own backyard- right here in the heart of South India…from the lush greenery of Coorg to the verdant, chilly peaks of Ooty and all of the lakes, rivers, valleys, monuments, wildlife and villages in between.
If you are passionate about motorcycling, are based in Bangalore and have the right bike (Bullet, Harley, Triumph (we love Bonnevilles!), Yezdi, RD 350…) or the right attitude (all plastics above 250cc), please feel free to drop us a line and join us on our next ride.
Until then its Cheerio from the Enfield Explorers! Happy Trails Everyone!
* Please note- We promote safe riding with appropriate safety gear – good lids, gloves and shoes are a minimum must, and exercise strict group riding formation at all times.”
How it all began…
Our very first ride, using an alternate route to the ever popular Nandi Hills turned out great. We had Nikhil (on a Harley Davidson Iron 883) join the group that day. He just happened to be looking for riding companions, and we just happened to pass that way. Considering that most of us had only been introduced to each other an hour or so before,there was an easy camaraderie in the group that said- come on in mate, so long as you love to ride.
The Nandi Hills sojourn was also good because we actually avoided the regular route to Nandi Hills (Airport Road), and took an inner route through Nelamangla, off the Hassan highway. Pankaj was the route master, and Shalin got the bunch together. You can read more detailed reviews of the rides here- https://bulletmerijaan.wordpress.com, Pankaj’s very own blog. We got on well on that ride and promised to meet up again soon.
Some rides to remember…
The next ride was not to happen before early June, however, and we rode to Manchanbele, a lovely reservoir off Mysore road. A giant monolith, Savandurga, frames the reservoir, and its a fantastic getaway, if you have couple of hours to spare on a weekend. We were able to take the bikes right down to the water at that time- I’m told now the authorities have fenced off the area and you can only see the water from the approach road.
Our next ride, to what Dev fondly remembers as a ‘Forest’ did not turn out as planned. We wanted to visit Anchetty, a forest stretch in Tamil Nadu, but a couple of wrong turns off Kanakapura Road and we ended up in the middle of nowhere. We found a government school, abandoned in 2002 and whiled a bit there. There were photo sessions and bike talk, with the guys completely ignoring the fact that this was not the ride destination. What I was beginning to like was that the riders in the group were a happy go lucky bunch- every ride equalled discovery + fun, even the ones that did not turn out quite as expected.
We were determined to do Anchetty, and that happened in a sort of refreshing way actually. The group had been fairly quiet through autumn/ winter of 2013, and 2014 brought in the promise of a good ride. I managed to rope in Sabith, an experienced rider and a colleague from work, and Abhijit, my neighbour, and a core member of the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Club, on this ride. Now Abhijit is an ardent motorcyclist- in life you are sometimes fortunate to meet people who live by a motto. I guess his motto is “Two Wheels Only”. More about him, here- http://www.motorcycl.in
We also had Som join on his Desert Storm- he had come ‘geared up’ for the ride- as a paratrooper! The rest of the group were the usual suspects and the core members- Pankaj, Shalin, Dev and Anand. We missed Bipin and Nikhil on this ride though- and what a ride this turned out to be!
Every once in a while, ride plans are made with gusto and talked about on the FB group page. People promise to join the ride, but when the alarm shouts 4:00 am, only the determined few make it to the start point. On one such occasion, there was only Pankaj and me who turned up. En-route, we were rewarded with a dazzling sunrise over a lake on Kanakapura Road. A hearty breakfast and a short detour on our way home and it was a Sunday morning well spent.
It was awesome being part of a group of like minded motorcyclists. We learnt important group riding skills and co-ordination. Before long, learning from each other, most of us acquired proper motorcycling gear- Jackets, Gloves, good Helmets, boots, knee guards etc. We discovered wonderful places, a stone’s throw away from the city and some fabulous breakfast joints along the way.
Ministry of Torque
The tribe of Harleys kept increasing gradually, ride after ride. Amit and Nikhil were already on a Superlow and Iron 883, respectively. Dev, who had a RE Thunderbird 500 and was obviously not happy about its performance, progressed from a Superlow to a Fat Boy. Shalin and Pankaj were to follow suit. More members were added to FB group, many of whom also rode with Riders Republic, the largest independent super bike group in the country. And so the name of the group- Enfield Explorers, was called to question. A more inclusive name, Ministry of Torque found favour with many and was adopted. Here’s an FB link to the group’s activities-
A few years ago, on my way back from a meeting in Whitefield to my house near IIM Bangalore, I discovered this road at the suggestion of a colleague. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first rode on it. One minute you are negotiating gaps between heavy trucks on a major state highway leading out of the city, and a minute later, you turn right on an almost invisible lane and you are instantly in the midst of a motorcyclist’s dream. This back road, which is off Varthur road, touches a pretty village after a series of twisties and then has little bits of straights before dissolving into twisties again. It finally hits Sarjapur Road after a run of 5 km. And hear this- there was little or no traffic. The road condition was impeccable, and although you wont find rolling mountains here, there was ample greenery and smiling village folk on the way.
In the early days, when I moved to South India, these little discoveries added to the list of everyday delights which made me slowly fall in love with this place. These quaint roads, lined with greenery, on the outskirts of the city, that lead nowhere seemingly significant, but which always leave you feeling refreshed and give you a notion of being away from it all.
Long before the Varthur-Devanahalli-Airport road became a regular favourite with Airport Taxi operators, my wife and me had happened to venture out on it, one fine Sunday on our Avenger 220. We joined the Old Madras Road from Whitefield and continued on till we reached Hoskote. From here we took a left turn and after a kilometre or so started getting into real country. One starts to notice innumerable vegetable farms in a short while- the lifeline to the fresh produce, the city gets every morning. And then come the bends, and my heart whoops with joy. Apart from the absence of monstrous trucks invading your sense of well being and those nice surprises round every bend, what’s really great about these city limit back roads is that it is here, free from city noise and pollution, that you feel that whiff in the air, and are able to truly enjoy that fantastic weather you get all year round at 917m of elevation.
Over the years my motorcycle buddies and me, have explored these back of the woods as part of a rag tag moto group that thrives on the idea of ‘Sunday Breakfast Runs’. The format here is simple- wake up real early, start your engines at the crack of dawn, congregate at a designated street corner somewhere in the city, ride towards a pre-ordained breakfast joint on the highway (where the proprietor is as enthusiastic about rising early as you are), gobble down standard fare- idly vada, khara bhaat, maybe some masala dose… and wash it all down with steaming hot, strong filter coffee.
Over breakfast, talk bikes and plan the next big ride, and update your dream motorcycle wishlist, based on inputs from your moto-mates. When you are finished with breakfast, you need to take the long way home- which generally involves heading into the nearest patch of woods and perhaps a little loss of tarmac.
On all these rides we have figured routes which venture off the main highways leading out of town. We take them small unknown roads which connect one major route out of the city to the next. You can also read about some more back road discoveries here-
It can catch you unawares. On a long ride out into the wild. Or in a short day trip out of the city. On independence day- 15th August, 2012, we rode in a group of three to Nandi Hills on the outskirts of the city. I have modified the C5 slightly, with a taller handlebar that makes for relaxed riding on long commutes. Our way up was a fast clip early in the morning, with the climb to Nandi Hills being crowded with motorcyclists from all over the region. A couple of frenzied hours spent gawping at beautiful machines and taking many photos later, we made our descent for a spot of breakfast.
As we rode down, I switched to neutral and killed the ignition on a whim. Soon however, I was coasting down the hill at 60kph,with 180 odd kgs of heavy metal between my legs. The C5 is an amazing creature. Never had I imagined going so quietly, so fast on a machine known the world over for its guttural thump. There I was, silent as a cat, foot pegs scraping the bends, overtaking running vehicles with casual nonchalance. This was as perfect as it could ever be- me and my machine in absolute communion. No words spoken. No throaty roars from the exhausts. No clunks of gears falling into place. No revs from the throttle. Just wind on my face. And the fresh morning chill awakening every single nerve end in my body. Twisties all the way down. Bliss. A full 20 minutes of silent running later I coasted to our rendezvous – a roadsdide dhaba, for our breakfast treat.
The ride into the city after breakfast was pretty mundane, even annoying at times, my mind cursing the various autowallahs, taxiwallahs and hurried commuters who are constantly a menace on the city’s streets.
Home and a hot cup of tea in hand, I sit pondering my down hill run. Motorcycling magic occurred that day, and I shall fondly remember that ride for just the same reason.