September 2018 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Udumalpet to Munnar Forest Highway: Perfect Route for your Neelakurinji Holiday

The Neelakurinji slope at Yellapatty, Kerala

There might be another 30 to 45 days to see the rare Neelakurinji flower before it disappears for another 12 years. I have just experienced the mass bloom of this neelakurinji flower up close and I totally recommend that you experience this surreal spectacle too.

Waterfall amidst the forests - enroute to Munnar from Marayoor

In case you are planning a road trip to the Neelakurinji region of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, I would heavily recommend taking the scenic forest highway from Udumalpet (Tamil Nadu) to Munnar (Kerala). Ideal for all those driving from Bangalore, Chennai, Salem, Erode, Coimbatore and other places in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, this route offers the perfect mix of narrow winding mountain roads, pristine nature, fewer vehicles, stunning views of tea estates and shola forests and easy access to many wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.

Enjoying the beautiful forest view during a pit stop near Munnar

This forest highway takes you through or by the following wildlife sanctuaries and national parks – Anaimalai Tiger Reserve, Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, Marayoor Sandalwood forest, Neelakurinji sanctuary, Anaimudi Shola National Park and Eravikulam National Park. The mountains near Marayoor, Kanthaloor (which is part of the Anaimudi Shola National Park and Neelakurinji sanctuary) and Eravikulam National Park are three places that fall on this route and where the Neelakurinji is currently blooming.

Entering the mountains of Munnar from Marayoor, Kerala

And once you reach Munnar, you can drive or ride all the way to Yellapatty, Kollukkumalai, Mesapulimalai, Vattavada and Pampadum Shola National Park for more neelakurinji blooms and different experiences.

Perfect conditions for a monsoon holiday to Munnar, Kerala

This forest route not only gives you easy access to the Neelakurinji, but the journey in itself is a special experience as it takes you through lush forests, busy wildlife and birds, stunning tea estates, umpteen waterfalls and gorgeous mountains all the way from Udumalpet to Munnar, which is about 88 kms in total.

My Custom Motorcycle and a Bright Bouganvilla bush

For those looking for authentic Kerala homestays on this route, Marayoor is a good option. For a true village experience, Kanthaloor is your bet. And if you wish to see the endangered Nilgiri Tahr up close, Eravikulam National Park is your bet. And for all modern day luxuries, creature comforts and divine weather, you have Munnar.

The gorgeously green shola forests of Yellapatty, Kerala

Wherever you opt to stay and whatever you opt to do, this Udumalpet – Munnar forest highway offers you a thrilling experience filled with gorgeous nature. So, go on, set your sights on a Neelakurinji mass bloom and explore and enjoy the rest of Kerala, which is eagerly waiting to show the world that it is all ready after the epic floods of August 2018.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

On Top of the Neelakurinji Mountain

The Neelakurinji forest view at Yellapatty, Kerala

I saw the rare Neelakurinji for the first time in my 36 years on this planet and it was possibly the very first time that I was completely lost for words. Such was the beauty of the Neelakurinji mass bloom! This flowering plant defies gravity, enjoys some of the best views in the Western Ghats and prefers steep slopes at pretty high altitudes.

The boys have finally chased the Neelakurinji and this is at a place of a mass bloom

Over 10 days, 3 of us rode through the mountain roads of Kerala in search of this once in a 12 year spectacle and I have to say that we found this flower blooming almost everywhere. The recent heavy rains in Kerala and the ensuing Kerala floods certainly played their part in delaying the bloom, but thankfully, the flowers are resilient and are now blooming all across Kerala and neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

The Neelakurinji flowers and the gorgeous view of the Western Ghats

We trekked high and far to get real close to the flower. Eravikulam National Park, Vattavada and Kanthaloor are good spots for those looking to simply see the bloom from a bit far away, but without having to walk much. To see the mass bloom, you will have to trek at least a few hours over some steep terrain, but it will be totally worth the effort. Such a location is Yellapatty ( about 28 kms from Munnar on the Munnar – Top Station highway) where the mass bloom site is right above and below the Cloud Farm camping site. The entire hills are covered with this blue flower.

The Neelakurinji slope at Yellapatty, Kerala

What I found during these different visits are that there are quite a few species of the Neelakurinji, that they come in different colors and sizes, that the entire plant dries up after the bloom and that the honey made from this rare flower has a lot of medicinal properties. And the flower is indeed a shade of blue, but the color feels like pink, purple or white depending on the time of the day, the harshness of the Sun and the angle at which you are viewing it from.

Enjoying the view of the Western Ghats while sitting on the Neelakurinji mountain - Yellapatty, Kerala

This flowering plant, which grows alongside shola forests, is certainly a treat to the eye and the senses. While it doesn’t have a lot of fragrance, it certainly attracts a lot of bees, who seem to be enjoying the once in a 12 year feast.

Neelakurinji adorning the entire slope of the Yellapatty mountain

I have a lot of pictures, videos and experiences to share with you from this special Neelakurinji motorcycle trip. Right now, I am post processing all of them as fast as I can. This is just a sample of the pictures that have been clicked. So, do stay tuned for a series of Neelakurinji posts over the next week.

One of the largest Neelakurinji bloom locations of 2018

Kerala is well and truly back on track. Most people are still worried, hence there are hardly any crowds. This is the best time to see the Neelakurinji in Kerala. Munnar could be a potential base, while having a vehicle at your disposal could allow you to be mobile and explore the various Neelakurinji regions located in the mountains around Munnar.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Upcoming Travels: Chasing the Neelakurinji

One of my most awaited trips of 2018, I can’t tell you how happy I am packing my bags. After all, I am going to see the flower that blooms once every 12 years. Yes, I am talking about the iconic Neelakurinji, the flower that lends its name to the Nilgiris or Blue Mountains and that last bloomed in 2006. It is found in the shola forests all across the Western Ghats, but some of its prettiest views are found in and around Munnar.

I had initially planned this trip for end of August, but due to the devastation caused by the Kerala floods, I had to reschedule my date with the Neelakurinji. The highways have been repaired and the flower is blooming all over Eravikulam National Park, Anamudi Shola National Park and Kurinjimala Sanctuary across Rajamala, Vattavada, Kanthaloor and Marayoor, all at a short drive from Munnar city centre.

3 riders on 3 motorcycles will be riding from Bangalore to Munnar and will be chasing the Neelakurinji flower from Marayoor to Vattavada to Kanthaloor to Eravikulam to Kodaikanal over 10 days. There will be lots of Neelakurinji chasing to get the best pictures at the various locations, some bit of off-roading, offbeat trails and good ‘ol relaxation. In between all the Neelakurinji visits, we plan to indulge in some nature and birding at the Thattekad bird sanctuary and explore some of the other attractions in this region.

As this will be the first time I set my eyes on this rare flower, I don’t have any pictures to share with you, but do stay tuned to my social channels for live updates from the world of the Neelakurinji. As there will be good connectivity where I will be staying, I intend to be quite active with my updates. I am pretty sure that you will not mind the overdose of this rare flower from God’s Own Country and the Blue Mountains. May be, my trip will entice you to plan your very own date with the Neelakurinji or you could wait till 2030!

Cheerios and see you from the land of the Neelakurinji!

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Monday, September 10, 2018

Gudibande Fort: A Great Sunday Trip from Bangalore

Enjoying the panoramic Gudibande view

As Bangalore gets more and more crowded, slow and polluted, all of us seem to be craving more for those weekend getaways that take us away from the commotion of the city. While the Mysore and Hassan routes seem to be the most popular owing to great weather, proximity to the Western Ghats and a good many attractions, I kind of like the offbeat getaways on the Bangalore-Hyderabad highway for quick day trips or even a full weekend trip.

Video Note: Watch the panoramic view of Gudibande Fort, Gudibande town, the Byrasagara lake and the rocky outcrops in 4k resolution for best effect.

There is the Jayamangali Blackbuck reserve for those seeking a quick wildlife getaway, the Veerabhadra temple at Lepakshi, the vineyards and farms of rural Chikkaballapur, the beautiful Nandi Hills, Skandagiri and Chandrayana Betta, the gorgeous canyon views at Gandikota, the mesmerizing Belum caves and even the traditional wedding destination and 9th century temple of Bhoga Nandeeswara.

The Gudibande Fort landscape all lush after the rains

I found one more off-beat attraction during a Sunday morning motorcycle ride on the Bangalore – Hyderabad highway. This is the 17th century Gudibande Fort, which at 100 kms from Bangalore not only offers a relaxing rural getaway, but it also provides you with a short trek to the top of the fort where you can soak in the panoramic views of this rocky landscape.

Motorcycle trip pitstop - Byrasagara Lake

Believed to be a replica of the Madhugiri Fort, the Gudibande Fort was built by local chieftain Byre Gowda as a small township with watch towers. Designed over a natural hill, the specialities of Gudibande Fort are its rainwater harvesting methods and hidden escape routes. One can catch a glimpse of these specialities through some surviving ponds and tunnel systems even though most of the fort structure is in ruins.

Agricultural tracts next to the rocky outcrops of Gudibande

Once you park your vehicle at the bottom of the Gudibande Fort, it takes about 30 to 40 minutes to climb to the very top. Most of the trail is a gradual ascent, but at some stretches, there are steps that can be quite steep. As you climb, the view keeps getting better and once you reach the very top, you are greeted by a heavy gust of a wind, a small Shiva temple and a panoramic view of the colorful walls of Gudibande homes, the massive Byrasagara lake and the rocky landscape interspersed with green flats.

The Monsoon Clouds and the Morning sun add character to the Gudibande Panorama

There are no shops at the top, so do remember to carry your water and power snacks with you in case you feel thirsty or hungry on the top. Once you catch your breath after reaching the top, you can go for a walk along the entire circumference of the fort soaking in the different views that it presents. And if you feel like it, you can even read a book on the top while relishing the cool winds.

Monsoon Clouds and the Gudibande landscape

So, if you have a Saturday or Sunday to spare and would love a short ride or drive and a small trek, Gudibande Fort is that perfect offbeat destination for you!

Gudibande Fort and the surrounding landscape

Preferable time to visit the Gudibande Fort:
Early morning or late evening

The solid Gudibande Fort that has stood for over 300 years

Nearest place to eat:
Chikkaballapur, Hindupur or restaurants on the Bangalore – Hyderabad highway

Monsoon clouds, Byrasagara lake and Gudibande town as seen from the top of Gudibande Fort

Nearest petrol bunk (Gas station):

A Stunning aerial view from the top of Gudibande Fort

Route Options:
Bangalore airport Hyderabad highway and then take a left at Peresandra and head straight to Gudibande town or take the Yelahanka –> Doddaballapura –> Ghati Subramanya –> Gauri Bidanur route or take the small village roads between Chikkaballapur and Gudibande after taking the Bangalore – Hyderabad highway.

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Saturday, September 01, 2018

Heavenly Monsoon Ride to Bisle Ghat, Karnataka

Monsoon Motorcycle Ride to Bisle Ghat, Karnataka

One of the hidden gems in the Western Ghats of Karnataka, Bisle Ghat is a gorgeous tract of montane rainforest, evergreen tropical forest and a less trodden upon narrow and winding highway that connects the temple town of Kukke Subramanya with the coffee estates of Sakleshpur. Usually, most visitors opt for the more popular and larger roads of Shirdi and Charmadi ghat highways and may be that’s why this forest has retained its true character. Even the forest department doesn’t have many stations here. It is just pristine rainforest all the way, possibly some of the best in Karnataka along with the ones at Agumbe.

Views slowly clearing during monsoon season at Bisle View Point, Karnataka

I was so happy a few months back when I heard that the government had laid a new road on the tiny highway connecting Vanagoor and Kukke Subramanya, but that excitement was short lived as Bisle Ghat was one of the regions that saw many landslides during the recent Karnataka floods. In spite of knowing that most roads were closed, I still decided to embark on a motorcycle ride to this green paradise during the peak of monsoons.

Video Note: Experience of torrential rains at Bisle Ghat view point. Watch in 4K resolution for best quality.

Luckily for me, the minor landslides and tree falls were cleared just in time and I could ride a little bit beyond the Bisle Beauty spot. A few kilometers beyond the beauty spot was a major landslide where the entire highway had caved in, so access to Kukke Subramanya from Vanagoor via Bisle Ghat was totally cut off. Even though I could not ride all the way to Kukke Subramanya, I was fairly happy that I got to experience the winding Bisle Ghat roads and see the Bisle view point during the monsoons.

A Monsoon Moment - Motorcycle Trip to Bisle Ghat, Karnataka

Heavy rains greeted me for most of my time here, but when they stopped and the mist cleared, the view was spectacular. Tall trees, rowdy brown rivers and a sea of green is what presents itself to you from the Bisle view point. On a good day, one can see the peaks of Kumara Parvatha (Dakshina Kannada), Pushpagiri and Dodda Betta (Kodagu) and Patta Betta and Enni Kallu (Hassan) from this view point.

The Misty Bisle View Point, Karnataka

When you drive from Sakleshpur to Vanagoor, coffee estates, pepper plantations and spice farms greet you all the way. In between, you can also see the vivid greens of the young paddy. As you cross Vanagoor and slowly head towards the forest check post at Bisle, the forests start getting taller and denser. There are no more man made plantations, but nature’s rainforests. And once you cross the Bisle check post, it pretty much becomes dark even during the middle of the day.

Monsoon Motorcycle Ride towards Somwarpet, Coorg

Due to the heavy rains, tree branches, leaves, slush, landslides, stones and other natural elements were present on the road. Hence, even though I was riding on a highway, it pretty much felt like off-roading and I was so happy that I had off-road tyres on my motorcycle. As the roads to Kukke Subramanya were closed due to landslides and because of the extremely heavy rains, I hardly saw a few vehicles on the road. It was pretty much our two motorcycles and the beautiful rainforest highway.

Tropical forests, mist clouds and an open road for company

The Bisle beauty spot was the only place that was accessible and hence we spent most of our break time there. Extremely heavy rains, sharp winds and dense mist kept us company at the shelter built by the forest department to enjoy the view. The video above should give you a good idea of the rich monsoon experience. From time to time when the rains stopped and the mist cleared, you could see the panoramic view of the dense jungles and the thundering Giri river below, which eventually joins the mighty Kumaradhara river further ahead.

Bisle View Point, a gorgeous tract of rainforest in Karnataka

Just this ride through Bisle Ghat and the stop at Bisle view point during the monsoons is an experience in itself. Hopefully, I can complete the entire stretch when the roads are open and offer my prayers at the Kukke Subramanya temple.

Video Note: Heavy rains and misty views at Bisle beauty spot. Watch in 4K resolution for best quality.

If you like off-beat trails, a little bit of adventure, lush rainforests and enjoy getting wet, you will have an absolutely mind blowing time at Bisle Ghat and its various view points. More so if you are interested in trekking, bicycling, mountain biking and/or motorcycling. And the best season to explore this fabulous gift of nature is during the monsoons or immediately after it. For the best views, Jan 15 to Mar 15 are perfect.

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