Pune-Varkala Bike Trip
The prudent man would begin a 1000 mile bike trip with detailed preparations, bike inspections and lists of things to take. The truth is, I’ve never been a prudent man. And so it was that shortly after having woken up one Monday morning (28th March), I decided that I too was going with Anoop and his brother Amit on their bike ride all the way to Kanyakumari. Toss some clothes in a bag, tie the bag to the bike and you’re off. One of the pleasures of owning a Karizma.
I’d like to take some time here to talk about the bike here. The Karizma is not renowned for it’s touring ability. For starters it doesn’t even look like a tourer. It looks quite fragile and more like a city bike for people with more money than sense. However, as it turns out, she is simply superb as a tourer. Superb performance, superb safety, superb reliability. What more could a reasonable man want? Superb comfort? Okay, got that too.
When we started out I wondered whether my bike would keep up with the chugging locomotive and by all apperances omnipotent Enfield that Anoop was riding. I needn’t have worried. The Karizma easily outperformed the Enfield, and totally crushed it on hills although I believe the latter is more due to the specicities of Anoop’s bike than a general observation about Enfields. At any rate the superb silent Karizma engine performed like a dream. Overtaking was safe due to the power the Karizma delivers even in fifth gear. Just a little twist of the accelerator and the truck that was blowing great big diesel fumes in your face is quickly consigned to history. The braking is equally magnificent. A quick trip down the gears and a bit of brake and you’re at a standstill. Wonderful. All this of course makes for a much safer ride on highways. And the best part - at the end of a days riding you’re still limber. People say that the Karizma’s riding position puts too much weight on the wrists. I can safely pronounce this as a myth. We did an average of 250 kms a day and at no point was there any sort of discomfort in the hands. The only thing I’d like to change about the riding position is the footrests which are a bit too far back. Even so, after a while one gets used to even that and there’s nary a long-distance biker who doesn’t need to stretch his legs at the end of the day. All in all, the Karizma is a comfortable bike. So comfortable infact that even someone with as little long distance biking experience as I could do 7 days of 6 hours on the bike with no apparent trouble.
The route that we took was quite straightforward. Started off on NH-4 which becomes quite pleasant once it gets out of Poona. This is the same route I’ve often taken to Panchgani and there is slow but steady progress on the four-laning dream project Golden Quadrilateral. Up till Shirwal the highway is in stages of patchy completion but then it’s fully ready up until a little before Karad. We turned off just after Karad towards Amba where we planned to spend the night. It was getting dark and freezing cold, making me thank the little voice in my head that said “It may be April. This may be India. Even so, pack a jacket. Always pack a jacket.” Reached Amba at 11pm and ended up staying at the Pavankhind Resort, a lovely, luxurious yet homely place owned by a charming gentleman called Mr. Shirgaonkar.
The next day we made our way down the ghats to NH-17, the Bombay-Goa highway. The drive down was stunning. This was where Anoop’s bullet blew two fuses in quick succesion and then proceeded to have a flat tire. I got seperated from them in the confusion and did the 280 kms to Madgaon all by myself, which was wonderful fun. This bit of NH-17 is the kind of highway that makes biking a pleasure. You set your cruising speed at 60 and then sit back and relax. The road is good, the traffic light, the scenery acceptably pretty. Sometimes you round a corned and see a great big river. This can be stunning. It was really hot during the day but as the sun got low in the western sky it turned beautifully pleasant and it was a nice experience to bike through a countryside that was slowly switching on lights. I love this time of day.
Stayed an extra day at Benaulim trying to figure out scuba for the Kumar brothers. This didn’t work out so we set off southwards again. Goa was also a pleasure to bike through, but things started getting worse as we got into Karnataka. The villages didn’t have the same neat, clean look as those we’d passed in Maharashtra or Goa. Karnataka highways seem to have been forgotten by the tourist industry. Some places are truly stunning (driving into Karwar, for example) but there is a real shortage of decent places to eat and spend a few hours avoiding the afternoon sun. Even so, there were enough stretches of clear highway to keep things pleasant. That evening we stopped at the awesome Turtle Bay Beach Resort. They have a huge, empty beach and great food, though they’re a bit pricey. This was probably the last day of good biking as the road deteriorated pretty rapidly after that. A better idea for a bike trip would be to bike down to here, stay three days and then bike back. The rest of the trip is not recommended except as an endurance test.
The next day we stopped to try and get Anoop’s bike to climb a bit faster, which took a fair amount of searching for an Enfield mechanic. Then we had to go to Udipi station to book our return tickets from Trivandrum. The railways have certainly improved and this whole deal was completed with a minimum of fuss.
Onwards through Kerela where NH17 is continuously flanked on both sides with houses. Sometimes it narrows down to one traffic clogged lane in some godforsaken hellhole like Thellasery where it’s hot, sweaty and nothing is moving. This is my third trip to Kerela and I’ve decided that I don’t like it for the most part. The famed backwaters are a huge anticlimax, the Periyar sanctuary likewise and even Munnar etc. can be given a wide berth without getting the feeling that one is missing something. Only Varkala redeems Kerela in my eyes and soon that will be gone too.
One strange thing about Kerela that strikes even the most unobservant of travellers (i.e. me) is that women seem to be stuck in a different age here. All the female centric hoardings were either for jewellery or saris, nothing else. One hardly sees any women on the streets and all in all there’s this hugely conservative vibe coming off every thing. Burqas are common. I even saw a hoarding for Parvin Pardah and Hijab featuring a pleasant looking woman in a hijab. Imagine that.
Next night in Nileshwar. The Nileshwar resort had the world’s best chef and the world’s worst service. All this wonderful food would come to the table in the wrong order. It was sacreligious. Sometimes we’d eat in tiny restaurants. When you ask for a menu, there is none, so you ask - what do you have? The answer is rice, chapati. And? And nothing else. Okay, daal? Yes, we have daal. Vegetables? Tomato sabzi, aloo gobi, capsicum. Alright, non-veg? Beef curry, chicken curry. Now we’re getting somewhere. No matter how hard you try, waiters in these places have trouble telling you what they have and it’s almost a challenge to coax the list out of them. Evolutionary dead-end.
Anyways, by now NH17 had become quite terrible, passing through big towns was taking ages and everyone was getting impatient. The Karizma had a little hiccup as she overheated in Cochin possibly due to her being overdue for a servicing, but even so ten minutes later she was fine again and the big broad NH47 between Cochin and Trivandrum came as a pleasant relief, and along with it came the rain. It started pissing down about 40 kms from Varkala, so we spent the night in some unknown place. The next morning we reached Varkala. Carrying on to Kanyakumari seems like an unnecessary act given the state of the highways outside, so I’m just going to go have a beer and look at the sea. I’m reading “The Eye in the Door” by Pat Barker. It’s amazing. Review later.
To conclude, I’d just like to say that biking long distances is a superb actuivity. The highways are only as dangerous as you make them, and the pleasures of seeing the country from so close are indescribable. When you finish a trip where you have been intimately connected to every inch of progress that you have made, there is an extra edge to the thrill of arrival. Like trekking on bikes.
I’m looking forward to the next one already.
Update: I calculated the fuel efficiency of the Karizma twice during the trip. Once it gave me 609kms for 11.85 litres (51 kmpl) and the other time it gave me 637 kms for 13 litres (49 kmpl). Staggering. Unbelievable. But true.
At the time of loading it onto the train it still had 7 litres in the tank. The boys who put it on the train there really liked the Karizma :-)