Bike ride into the Western Ghats

Western Ghats - Talakaveri

Uncomfortable in the Western Ghats

Baja Pulsar 220 F in the western ghats
Baja Pulsar 220 F
Madan has had me sitting on the back of Baja Pulsar F 220cc motorbike for my journeys into the Western Ghats mountains of this part of India. The bike is incredibly uncomfortable and the scenery is incredibly beautiful. So it makes a sore bum worth while. (I linked the specs of the bike for those of you that like that kind of thing… Yes Tim, you.)

Areca nuts
Areca nuts with a cat. Looks uncomfortable.
The geography of this area and the Western Ghats still confuses me, largely to do with the place names that bear no resemblance to European place names. I’ve been to the joining of the three rivers that form the holy river of the south, the Kaveri, at Talakaveri (tala = head) and I’ve seen coffee plantations. There are coconut palms everywhere and also areca nut palms. The latter look a little like mini-coconuts both growing and when taken apart, they are fibrous inside just like a coconut. They are a little smaller than a tennis ball. Areca is used as a kind of tobacco substitute here. It’s chewed with a bit of tobacco wrapped up in a leaf that has a light coating of lime on it. As yet I haven’t tried it, and I’m not sure that I will. We’ll see.

The Western Ghats of Karnataka and Kerala

The bike ride took us in and out of Karnataka and Kerala as the border is very close to this part of Karnataka State. The Western Ghats run the length of the western side of India, a bit like the Andes in South America. In places we were in deep jungle and I’m still hoping for some wildlife. Tigers don’t exist here but there are cheetahs and elephants. To date I’ve only seen birds which move too quickly to get pictures. I’d need to sit still for a couple of hours. In other areas the scenery is open and rolling with mountains in the distance. The rivers are fairly dry at the moment but Madan tells me that they are huge and fast running in the monsoon season.

Hanuman in the Western Ghats
Hanuman paying devotion to Shiva at Hanumagiri
We climbed Ranipuram in Kerala and saw the vistas of the Western Ghats from on high. Some of those photos I put on Facebook. I went to Hanumagiri which is a huge temple dedicated to Hanuman, the monkey god that helped Rama rescue his wife Sita from Ravana the king of Sri Lanka who was claimed to be a Rakshasa, a demon. There is a lot of information on the legends of Hanuman on the Wikipedia site. Here in India Hanuman is jokingly referred to as Superman’s big brother. Read the stories and find out why. The little squirrel I mentioned in this post is tied in with this legend. It helped Shiva to construct the land bridge to Sri Lanka to rescue Sita.

western ghats roadhouse
Madan waiting for his food
We stopped for lunch, it cost about 2 quid for the both of us. I had a pilau I don’t remember what the name of Madan’s dish but it was served on a banana leaf. Here in the south they eat with their fingers. They claim it tastes better that way. I don’t see how and I haven’t noticed. Nevertheless I’ve had to learn the technique as some of the eateries don’t supply cutlery. I’ve explained that in Europe one of the first things you teach children is NOT to eat with their fingers. Personally I find it pretty gross to have food all over my right hand, but that’s the culture here. Granted all the establishments have a hand basin or some sort of wash facility.


Journey south to Perlampady, Karnataka

Perlampady, Karnataka header

On my way to Perlampady, Karnataka

Areca nut tree - perlampady, kernataka
Areca nut tree
Well I’m down in Perlampady, Karnataka in the south west of India. Above Kerala and below Mumbai (Bombay). I’m staying with Madan’s family. His mum, sister and brother. This is jungle territory. Coconuts, rubber trees, bananas and areca nut trees.

perlampady, karnataka
Karnataka State
Madan and I flew out of Delhi to Bengaluru (Bangalore) on IndiGo airlines. The flight left at 17:05 but we had to suffer the 4 hour bus from Simbhaoli to Delhi with my case that’s as big as a coffin but at least my ukulele fits inside. The plane arrived in Bangaluru, the capital of Karnataka half an hour early at 19:20 which meant that we had plenty of time to get the 50km from the airport into the city and find the bus to Perlampady, near Mangaluru.

Bangalore buses

Bangalore bus station is… well let’s just say that I was glad to be with Madan. They don’t speak Hindi here but Kannada, not that I speak either. One thing I noticed almost straight away is that the roads are better maintained, the traffic obeys the rules of the road that I learned. The drivers don’t seem to feel the need to drive with one hand on the horn constantly as they do in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, and the roads are clean.

The bus station has more of an organised European feel, rather than the pandemonium of Anand Vihar in Delhi. It is also considerably cleaner. I’m guessing that the presence of litter bins and rubbish bins and fines has something to do with it. Either way the people down here don’t just toss their waste onto the ground or out of the car window.

We found a bus. Apparently there are a number that we could have used to get to the area Perlampady, Karnataka. This bus went to Subramanya, a temple town near to Madan’s village. Near is a loose word here in India. We’ll still have 50km to cover when we arrive.

The bus is, what I’d call, a basic cross town bus and we’ve got 350km to do in it. Rigid seats, no room for my coffin case but clean. Yes there are other more salubrious buses, sleepers, semi-sleepers, air conditioned and more. This one cost us about 450/- rupees – for both of us! Ok, I can deal with 350km for less than 3 quid each.

At ten o’clock the bus pulled out on time and we drove through the streets of Bangaluru. Again I noticed how much cleaner the city seemed to be, compared to New Delhi. The air also seemed less polluted but that could be due to the time of day. I’m told that the Bangaluru traffic is horrendous. It wasn’t bad at this time of night on Christmas day. By eleven we’d exited the city and we’d stopped at a roadside eatery for supper.

Now back on the bus the internal lights were switched off and we rumbled off into the west and the night. It’s hard to sleep on seats that are hard and nearly 90° backs. Actually it’s nearly impossible (for me anyway). I drifted in an out of dozing until we reached the Western Ghats. Now the road has to descend the mountain roads. Hairpin bends and, in this area, poorly maintained and some serious water damage from the monsoon rains. Some of the holes would swallow a small economy car. Driving in India is done on the left, like the UK, but here – well just use the bit of the road with fewer holes. Overtake where you can (and where you wouldn’t in Europe).

We eventually arrived in Subramanya at about 05:30. The town/village was already awake. Apparently this is because the temple here is famous and has many visitors and pilgrims. The temple is dedicated to Shiva’s son Shanmukha. I was glad the public toilet had no light 🙂

Now for the last bit. We found the bus to Perlampady, Karnataka and hoisted the coffin aboard. Again, the fare for both of us wouldn’t have got one stop in the UK. The driver made use of the early hour to try out his rally skills. On a few occasions I was literally lifted from the seat when hitting a particularly nasty bump. The twists and turns and hairpin bends made sure that no more sleep was possible.

Madan’s home in Perlampady, Karnataka

perlampady, karnataka
Looking over some of the Perlampady houses
So we arrived in Perlampady. Madan’s younger brother Kiran was waiting at the bus stop to see his older brother and the strange white man of whom the family had heard. We walked about 150 metres to their house where I met Madan’s mum, Selvamani. His nearly eighteen year old sister Chandrika was still in bed. I guess teenagers throughout the world are more or less the same.

Chandrika and Kiran speak english, albeit shyly. Selvamani has a couple of words. Once the shyness started to disappear both Chandrika and Kiran started to speak to me. It’s hard with non native languages even when you do learn them at school. The only way to get better is to speak, speak, speak. I hope my stay here helps young Kiran with his school work. Chandrika is at college in Mangaluru and will return there on the 30th or 31st for the new term. India’s new year falls on the 14th of January so the Christian festivals aren’t that important to Hindus.

Rubber tapping in Perlampady
Rubber tapping
So here I am, in the middle of a south Indian jungle surrounded by banana trees, areca nut palms, coconuts and rubber trees. It seems that a lot of the labour here is involved in rubber tapping the huge acreage of rubber trees.

This is paradise to me. If I get to stay in India I think that it will definitely be in the south of India. The temperature is in the high twenties, low thirties. I’m going to dig my shorts out and then have a wee siesta.