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Tour de South India BTC's 200th Event

BTC scores a memorable double ton with its Tour-de- South India
199 great events in the past! The challenge was to raise the bar higher—and boy did the bikers from BTC rise up to the challenge!!! They raised the bar several notches higher with the Tour-de- South India.
5 days of biking through varied terrains- from smooth highways, bumpy roads to hairpin curves and literally no roads, from braving the scorching heat to enjoying the slight drizzle, the team on their mean machines did it all to make BTC’s 200th event one to cherish.
Day 1: The day started with the team assembling at the meeting point at 4 a.m. Piyush and Virander, the organizers ensured that all were set to start the trip knowing the necessary rules and signals. The group set off in the darkness on what would turn out to be a fascinating trip over the next 5 days.  The distances were swallowed away as the group set a brisk pace in perfect tandem. The early start ensured that we made short work of the 200kms to Salem where we stopped to have an early breakfast. Over idlis, dosas, pongal and tea/coffee, we saw for the first time in clear light the entire group and had a quick round of introduction. Our stomachs full and now able to put faces to names, we set off again on our bikes towards Madurai, our next stop some 240 kms away.
With the scorching sun beating down on our backs atop revving engines, we rode on the highways fighting bouts of drowsiness and feeling the warm wind on our faces. As if braving the forces of nature were not enough, we then encountered a very familiar man made force- TRAFFIC! Varun, armed with his knowledge of Tamil, took over the lead from Piyush as we threaded our way through the heavy traffic of Madurai with directions from locals to help us on our way. Our tussle with the traffic left us feeling drained and me sunburnt like a smoked salmon  as we settled for a late lunch (around 4 p.m.) at a small hotel after crossing Madurai. Our tiffin meal satisfied the pangs of hunger and gave us a much needed break after our 400 km ride. It was during this break that we were introduced to the celebrity status of Virander’s Harley which would be a constant companion for us through our trip. One drunk local enquired about the Harley and on hearing that it can go at 500km/hr (info from Subroto Dada’s encyclopedia) gestured wildly asking “ What is the proof” much to our amusement,  which became an oft repeated line through the trip.
The weather gods were kind to us on the last leg to Rameshwaram and we covered the distance of about 150 kms or so in pleasant weather with just one break in between where we had the first of the numerous photo sessions of the trip. Our final stop for the day was near a beach on the outskirts of the town. The cool breeze, the sound of the waves, twilight settling in- the perfect combination to wash away all the fatigue of the 600km ride. The bikers gave into their primal sense of adventure and rode their bikes on the beach. The thrill of riding on the sand and the sense of achievement at having completed the first leg of the journey in time slowly gave way to the urge to capture the moment and an extended photo session aided by the bike headlights and fog lamps ensued.  
The fading sunlight reminded us that we needed shelter for the night. Varun and Piyush promptly headed off the beach to look for a place for us to camp for the night. As luck would have it, we didn’t have to go too far. A semi-finished resort barely 100 meters from the beach became our retiring spot for the night where we all drifted off to a sound sleep after  the long and tiring day.
Day 2: An early morning start yet again saw us reach the Pamban Bridge by 6.30 a.m. well in time to beat the crowds which come in hordes to this place which offers a breathtaking view of the sea on both sides and the railway bridge running adjacent to it. A railway track so close to the sea is a sight not many places in the world offer. Our numerous photographs of this place do not begin to capture the majesty of this place. The feeling of riding on this bridge to the sound of the waves and the wind in our faces needs to simply be experienced, not described!! We reluctantly left the bridge to continue with the rest of our trip. En route, we had breakfast at a joint which served Punjabi dhaba and Chinesh cuisine!! A first for a dhaba being served at a restaurant am sure. We made our way from Rameshwaram to Dhanushkodi, a distance of a mere 20km which took us more than an hour to cover. The two lane road flanked on both sides by the swelling ocean, compelled us to stop and revel in the sheer beauty of the place. Out came the cameras and while some vied to get clicked at this exquisite place, others lost themselves in the serenity of the place which even the passing vehicles could not disturb.
Finally we moved on to Dhanushkodi.  We wanted to ride till Dhanushkodi, the only land border between India and Sri Lanka  in the Palk Strait. However, advised by locals and based on our assessment of the sandy terrain, such plans were shelved and we all agreed to hop on to a TT.
The bumpy TT ride was one of the most exhilarating rides of the entire trip and the feeling of calm acquired on the road to Dhanushkodi fast dissipated to give way to a sense of excitement and anticipation. The sand densified by the numerous jeep and TT trails seemed to wage a constant battle with the waters of the sea to provide us motorable pathways. We drove over land where the sand won the battle and waded through the sea where the water overwhelmed the land. The challenging drive through land and water dotted with exotic birds at home in the heavenly surroundings made the drive one of the most amazing legs of the trip. The 20-25 min drive finally brought us to the Ghost Town of Dhanushkodi which bears testimony to the devastating effects of the 1964 cyclone. A half hour stop at Dhanushkodi and numerous pictures of the place which is just 18kms away from Sri Lanka separated by the sea rounded our trip to Rameshwaram as we headed off to Kanyakumari, some 300 kms away.
A late (again ) but sumptuous lunch on chicken, mutton and fish ensured that we were ready to tackle the rest of our ride for the day. As we headed towards Kanyakumari, the sight of four bullets in a line led/followed by a Harley (with Sneha on the Harley obligingly taking pictures and videos) roaring with their engines at full throttle (not literally, we never did violate the BTC speed norms) was one to behold.
We reached our destination around 8 p.m. on Christmas and were greeted by throngs of tourists who had come to Kanyakumari in the holiday season. A futile search for hotel rooms finally found us taking shelter for the night in an outhouse in a hotel, where we slept off after a tiring day with strict warnings from Dada to wake up in time to see the famed sunrise at Kanyakumari.
Day 3: Man proposes, God disposes!!! We woke up in time for the sunrise but the very clouds which had made our ride so pleasant thus far ended up playing the villain and obscuring the sunrise. The crimson sunrise eluded us and we ended up taking comfort in the motto of the BTC Bikers Club: It’s not about the destination; it’s always about the journey. We did, however, walk up to the Sangam from where we could see the difference in the color of the waters of the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. Needless to say, a great photo opportunity and our avid photographers lost no time in taking full advantage.
 A hearty breakfast washed down with some really delicious lassi (a surprising phenomenon in Kanyakumari) left us all set to embark on our journey to God’s own country. Our first port of call: Kovalam beach. The 90km ride left us all fuming- the culprit: the unavoidable, heavy traffic on NH47- the shortest route.  A quick stopover at the beach to rest our bodies and stretch our limbs and we were off again to our next destination, Gavi, an eco-tourism destination in Kerala about 235km away.
This time we travelled on the state highway which took us through country roads with moderate traffic. Our hunger pangs satiated by a quick lunch (one where Chandru ordered a chilli parotha which turned out to be nothing like a parotha he had ever imagined, but absolutely yummy nonetheless) we set off to tackle the winding roads as we rode higher and higher through the Eastern Ghats. As though the sharp twists and turns were not enough, we came to a densely forested road which made us stop in out tracks.
 In front of us lay a 2km stretch of unsurfaced road strewn with loose gravel at a steep incline enveloped by dense forests in fast fading light. We had our task cut out for us- either conquer the terrain or spend the night stranded in the forest.  With nowhere to go but ahead, the bikers showed great skill in handling their bikes weighed down by luggage and pillion riders on this treacherous track where a single mistake could be dangerous. This was easily the most unexpected, challenging and physically demanding phase of the journey (The Harley in typical celebrity diva fashion had to be helped (read hauled ) up the slope by Virander, Dada and Piyush). 
Drenched in sweat but alive with a sense of accomplishment, we then rode off to the nearest village, Chittar, to halt for the night. Varun again took the lead in communicating with the locals and help us find accommodation for the night. After a dinner of cakes (in keeping with the Christmas spirit ), bananas and biscuits we finally slept on beds for the first time during the trip that night in Chittar and dozed off blissfully till we were woken up early next morning yet again.
Day 4: Steaming hot cups of tea and more cake at 6.30 a.m. and off we rode again to make it to Gavi. But Gavi seemed to be elusive yet again. About 60kms away, we were told that we could not ride through the protected forest areas on the way and had to take another route via Vendiperiyar some 70 kms away. The good sleep the previous night had given us the energy to take this new obstacle in our stride and we set off for Vendiperiyar determined to reach Gavi finally. The ride through the ghats was an absolute joy with the chill in the atmosphere tempered by the shining sun. The fresh morning air egged us on till our stomach finally reminded us at 10 that we hadn’t had breakfast. A stop for breakfast at a hotel about 20kms from Vendiperiyar saw us gorging on appams, fish curry, chicken curry and omelettes. We then headed to Vendiperiyar and from there on to Gavi, only to be told that we could not enter the reserve on bikes and the next bus was available only at 2.30 p.m.
We decided to move on to Thekkady instead of waiting in Gavi for 3 hours and thus Gavi continued to elude us till the end. The short 30km ride to Thekkady lined with tea and spice plantations led us to the idyllic Periyar National Park filled with visitors owing to the holiday season.  As luck would have it, the large crowds and the long wait for tickets to take the boat ride through the reserve was not what we were looking forward to. So after spending some time in the park lazing around and taking some pictures, we headed out of Thekkady to do some shopping for the spices, tea, banana chips and cakes that Kerala is known for.  Shopping done, we headed off on our journey back to Madurai to ensure that we did not leave too much distance to cover on our last day back to Bangalore. The 140 km journey was interrupted by a break for late lunch (around 5 p.m. ) in which we wolfed down a variety of fried rice, chilli parothas (yes they did become quite a hit with the group) and rounded off with kulfis. 
We managed to find a hotel on the outskirts of Madurai, where we decided to stop for the night.  We finally called it a night after some dinner and some light hearted banter among 7 people who were practically strangers 4 days back but had become friends during the course of the trip.
Day 5: A comparatively late start (6.45 a.m. ) on the last day signaled that the trip was drawing to a close. We set off from Madurai towards Bangalore under a cloudy sky. The 400 kms back were all that were left of this amazing trip. It seemed the weather gods were trying to make our return to Bangalore as pleasant as possible and lift our spirits. A short ride into the return journey, we were greeted with a slight drizzle which provided the perfect setting for ending a trip that was etched in each one’s memory. A brunch on the way saw to it that hunger pangs did not detract from our experience. The kilometers fell away as we rode back to Bangalore taking multiple halts, savoring the last few hours of the journey. 
We finally crossed the crowded stretch in the Hosur road and halted at Attibele for our feedback session conducted by Piyush. Trying to fill the void left by the end of the trip with goodbyes and New Year wishes, we then headed off to our homes and the rigors of daily life which we had left behind for the past five days.
Kudos to Piyush and Virander for planning and organizing the trip!! Was every bit worth the sore bones and aching backs.
The best rides are the ones where you bite off much more than you can chew, and live through it.
Here’s to more such rides from the BTC Bikers!!! 

Written By     : Shweta
Organized By : Piyush & Virander
Date of event : 24th to 28th, Dec 2014
Place             : South India
Photos           BTC Facebook

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