Harsha’s instructions, with the precision of a cabin crew, about the two-day-long cycling trip in Wayanad feels repetitive to me — keep yourself hydrated, follow the map, tag along fellow riders, it’s Kerala so it will be hot and humid.
Perhaps sensing my mild disinterest, he tells me, “You’ve travelled with us before.” I have, but this trip was unlike the ones before, I’d realise not too later.
After a long night’s journey that involved detours and navigational complexities — because the driver trusted the lone strangers at bus stops in the middle of the night to ask for directions while a few fervent passengers among us tried to convince him Google maps is a better idea — we reached the town of Mananthavady in the Wayanad district from where our two-day, roughly 160-km-long cycling trip along the elephant corridor, began.
Wayanad on wheels
Freshening up was followed by breakfast, where I met fellow riders — Mike from Texas who revealed that he had gone on a bicycle trip looping South India 12 years ago starting and ending at Chennai, traversing Kerala and Karnataka in the process.
While Pratik and Anuj are weekend city riders who were new to this kind of trip, Param and Phaneesh’s sole purpose of the trip was to dwarf every other rider’s efforts by reaching the finish line first in every single portion of the ride.
There was also a family of four on the trip with two children, aged not more than 10, who spiritedly finished the trip.
Although I am never competitive, my tactic was to start at least half an hour before everyone and reach the finish line to avoid being the last rider.
So I set off on my rented cycle into the pleasantly chill dawn of Mananthavady’s roads.
We are provided with a printout of a map, though the rider demography suggested that we use Google to find our way around.
However, I left my phone at the hotel and sought help from the locals since I knew the local language.
The first day’s itinerary involved riding up to the ancient Thirunelli Temple located in a thickly wooded area surrounded by the peaks through the north Wayanad wildlife sanctuary.
The thought of wildlife sighting while riding ungaurded on a bicycle gave me the jitters.
Though I have sighted wildlife while cocooned in the confines of an automobile driving through places like Bandipur, encountering an elephant herd on my own, exposed in all probable ways, was not a pleasant proposition.
As if to mirror my contemplation, I heard affirmation of this piece of information from many locals I bumped into, while I pedalled into the road that cut across the spine of the wildlife sanctuary.
“It is an elephant region. Watch out when you ride,” I was told. Upon further questioning, I was also reassured that they wouldn’t harm unless they were provoked and that I was to be careful.
Careful? I didn’t know how.
Although these predictions gathered collective fear in my belly and the often recurring signboards in yellow and black exacerbated my fear of an encounter with elephants, nothing happened.
I heard birdcalls, caught a whiff of crushed forest leaves and continued riding, as the fear of elephants pushed me on.
I finish the ride soon enough and arrive at Mananthavady to commence the second section of the ride that was to conclude at the Banasurasagar Dam, an important tourist attraction.
Since it was a Saturday, I wasn’t particularly enthused about the dam itself, but the ride promised allure.
Sights en route
Banasurasagar Dam hosts islands in the midst of its sprawling reservoir — said to have evolved from the submerging of land when the dam was built back in the 1970s.
Weekend revellers — school kids on excursions, couples and families — populate the dam’s premises.
The silent waters of the reservoir were ripped apart by speeding motorboats with tourists in orange lifejackets, while the sun was a soft yellow in its crepuscular charm, getting ready to disappear behind the peaks.
The next day’s insouciance was a result of the largely descending landscape.
The journey to Kuruvadweep Island from Mananthavady, roughly 20 km, takes all of two hours with good roads in order.
But confusion ensued upon reaching Kuruva.
Some of us wanted to take the bamboo raft and visit the island, but the boat services would open only after 10 am.
The coordinators provided two options — one for people who want to ride back to Sulthan Bathery, the final destination from where our bus would pick us up for our return to Bangalore.
I opted for the second alternative, and loaded my bicycle in the truck and boarded the bus to reach the other entrance of the Kuruva Islands.
I walked along the tall trees with barely-there roads towards Kuruva’s entrance where tickets were being sold and took the bamboo rafter ride that lasted all of 10 seconds.
Kuruva turned out to be crowded than a mall in Bangalore with Sunday traffic in full attendance.
But the walk along the awning of evergreen trees with birdcalls for company by the side of the river made me forget the crowds.
Entrance to the island is heavily monitored with plastic bottles being numbered before they are allowed to be carried inside.
The island is also home to varieties of birds, orchids and herbs.
I ambled around for some time and returned to the mainland.
I found a tiny shack that sold the famous Kerala staple kappa and meen curry (boiled cassava and fish curry) and topped it up with sliced pineapple in brine for dessert — my share of carbohydrates before boarding the bus and getting back to reality.