It’s 4 pm on a Friday and I tirelessly go through my office emails checking for any assignments that need urgent attention. Nothing there. I think about the coming weekend and how I would like to spend it. I call up my friends asking them if they would like to go for a ride. Most of them are busy, some are working and some have plans of their own. I keep scrolling through my contact list trying to figure out who I can convince for a trip. I make about 10 calls and give up. Looks like no one is free. But I have this strong desire to ride and I decide to go solo. I have never ventured out alone; I ride either with my friends or with my biking group, Bangalore Motorcycle Club.
I get a little scared and wonder how I would manage if something happens. I don’t speak the local language, I know nothing about fixing issues with the KTM and wonder if I was out of my mind going somewhere alone. My fears almost convince me to give up the trip but I somehow muster enough courage to go ahead with it. I start googling and look for places. The list is the same one I have scrolled through hundreds of times; Coorg, Chikmagalur, Ooty, etc. No, am not going to a place full of a billion people.
I keep scrolling and reach the 18th page in google and discover a property in Kolli Hills. It’s somewhere after Salem and the Wikipedia page talks about 70 hairpin bends. Hmm, that sounds interesting; something I haven’t done before.
I start looking for properties and find something called Kolli Hills Camp. Soon, I have spoken to the owners and booked a hut there. It feels good; even before the ride begins I feel I accomplished something. Kolli Hills is a small mountain range located near Namakkal. They belong to the southern part of Eastern Ghats and have 70 hairpin bends to reach the top. There are a few resorts there but I chose the camp since it’s pretty secluded and away from the touristy crowd.
That night I don’t sleep. It’s a mixture of excitement and fear; the anticipation of what’s gonna happen and how the ride is going to be. I stay in bed, tossing and turning and it’s already 5 am. I am already packed up and load the bike. The roads are deserted with only the newspaper agencies to be seen. Traffic is almost negligible except for the lorries speeding across the empty Bangalore streets. Soon, I am on NH 44, gunning towards my first pit stop at Shoolgiri.
Breakfast is quick, a latte and chicken sandwich and I am back on the road again. As I speed through the highway, the sun emerges from behind some hills and I am exposed to a beautiful sunrise. It’s something too beautiful and awe-inspiring to miss. I park on the curb and take some pics.
A couple of hours later, I am around 50 kms from the destination at the base of Kolli Hills. The road is deserted and I seem to be the only traveler headed this side. There is a lovely patch of paddy fields and I decide to take my smoke break. As I am standing there admiring nature, a big guy emerges from the field, walking towards me. He appears to be a farmer and has a huge sickle in his hand. I shudder with fear. Why is he walking towards me? What is gonna do? Am I safe? How do I call for help?
As all these thoughts run through my mind, he approaches the KTM and stops. He looks at the bike and then glares at me. His hand moves and my eyes are hooked on to each movement he makes. He whips out a phone and asks me if he can take a pic. For sure brother, as long as you let me and the bike go. He takes a couple of snaps and walks away. My eyes are still tracking his moves, especially the sickle. Once he disappears into the fields, I able to relax. That was close!!! It’s funny how the mind creates situations that really aren’t there. Now when I look back I laugh at my situation but at the time I was shit scared.
I hit the ghats and the board reads Hair Pin bend 1/1. Good roads, no traffic and I rev up the Duke and literally attack the curves like there is no tomorrow. Every turn takes me left and then right and then left again. It’s continuous for some time without a straight patch. I feel like Rossi for a while trying to lean and take the curves. But I am no Rossi and soon realize that, as I ease the accelerator and putter on. It takes me about a half-hour to reach on top. The mobile is dead and I don’t have access to maps. Shit! I look around and ask people if they know where the camp is. Most don’t respond and others seem uninterested.
The road seems to be going straight and I start riding. I cover about 15 kms and don’t see the place anywhere. I talk to a couple of resort staff and they also don’t seem to know about the place. I start doubting my decision to ride solo, especially in Tamil Nadu where language sometimes is a challenge for nonlocals. I start heading into every nook and corner frantically, desperate to get to my location. It’s soon going to be sundown and I am little on the edge here.
People start noticing that I crossed them several times in the last hour. One of them stops me and offers help. I try explaining to him where I need to go and he points at a road that could be the right one. A ray of hope and I rip into the curves. It’s been 30 mins and still no sign of the place. No boards, no maps, no network. Thank you, Airtel! I reach a tea shop and ask him if I could use his phone. He obliges and I call the camp staff. I pass the call to the tea shop owner and he takes the directions.
He apparently knows the place and offers to take me there. I have no choice but to oblige. He hops on to his bike and is soon following him into the jungle. Soon my mind starts playing tricks and is wondering how I will be either kidnapped or cut up and buried in the jungle. This is something so alien to me and the fear is gripping.
After a couple of kilometers, we reach a campsite and I see some huts along with 3 young boys. I ask them if they have my booking and am so relieved to find out am at the right place. The next 10 mins are spent thanking God and calming myself down. I park the bike and they fix me up with some yummy chicken and rice. I don’t even know what the food tastes like since my mind is still trying to cope up with the experience I had earlier. The staff tells me that I am the only guest there that night. Great, no one else around. 3 boys who don’t even speak the language I know. I spend the next couple of hours showing them my travel pics. It gets dark and the staff gets busy cooking dinner. There’s still no network and I have nothing to do. Luckily, I have videos on my phone. The hut seems dilapidated. The jungle is dense and peacocks are at the peak of their mating season. Their sex calls seemed nice at first but now the incessant calls are getting to me. I lay in the bed trying not to think and watch some videos.
It’s dark and starts raining. Lightning lights up the sky and the peacock calls are overshadowed by thunder. Suddenly the power goes off! Wow just when I thought nothing could go wrong, this happens. It’s pitch dark outside and the rain hits the jungle hard. It’s pouring and I run out to park the bike in a safe spot. The winds are intense and I am nearly knocked off my feet a couple of times. The staff gets dinner in my room and by the time I have, it’s gone cold.
It’s night and I can’t seem to sleep. The videos are over and I watch them over and over again. In typical horror movie fashion, the wooden windows blow open due to heavy winds and rain gushes in. From inside, I can see lightning and the silhouette of tall dark trees. The door started rumbling and I quickly put a chair in front of it, fearing something might come inside. The roof is now leaking and I am restricted to one corner of the bed. I heard crickets and lizards making merry in the room. Maybe they know I am scared of them and are trying their best to make it worse. The night is long and I get no sleep. At 6 am when the sun rises and the storm is over, do I get to sleep for an hour or two? I survived. I thank my stars.
I reach home in the evening and reflect upon my experience. Sure it was scary, disastrous, nerve-wracking, and probably not a great trip. But I am happy and feel I accomplished something. I always thought I could never do a trip alone, I was always too scared of going out of my comfort zone. I was too full of fear and worried about what could happen to me or my bike. And I never ventured out on a solo trip. Until today. Today, I feel confident. I feel good that I did something for the first time, on my own. The risks were there and I overcame them.
At the end of the trip, I have a different mindset. I am more open to traveling alone, more appreciative of nature, and the people around me. And most importantly, I now know what to do when things don’t go as planned. To all the travelers out there, do a solo ride. It might be scary but it’s fun too! And let me know how it went.