Since a visit to the picturesque Bekal Fort in Kasaragod in the summer of 2009, I, a Bangalorean to the core, had cherished the dream of settling in Kerala. I realized that dream early last year, when I got an offer to join a hospital in Kochi as a cardiac surgeon. And the very next hour after my successful job interview, I went to the Triumph Motorcycles showroom in the city and booked a Street Triple. What better way than motorcycling to explore God's own country!
As luck would've it, my initiation to the biking culture was a 150 kilometer-each-way ride to the beautiful Malampuzha dam. As if that wasn't good enough, the ride featured the largest-to-date gathering of Triumph motorcycles in Kerala- nearly 20.
We started at six in the morning from Kochi and took the Salem-Kochi-Kanyakumari highway no. 47. For about 140 kilometers, we rode in near-perfect formation. The "pilot" would lead the pack, setting the pace, waiting for the rear to catch up, while the "sweep", usually the most experienced rider, "swept" the pack, urging the slowest among us to move on and keep up. At times, our line of riders would stretch to a couple of kilometers, but we had been warned to ensure there were always at least one set of headlights in our rear-view mirrors, failing which we were bound to slow down for the rest to catch up.
This first experience of group riding was going to have a lasting impression on me. The ever-confusing hand signals (I still haven't gotten a hang of them), the insecurity of a new endeavor, the inexperience of a new-comer, all these seemed overpowering at times. Yet, the reassurance that someone was tagging along despite the lead-group tearing away at times and the fact that the whole file of bikes would halt every dozen or so kilometers to regroup, were solace to my quivering soul. We thus rode for about 140 kilometers till Pudussery West in what would have been an otherwise insipid highway expedition for most bikers.
We then took a left to leave the highway for a nine-kilometer ride to the dam. The Malampuzha dam, located 10 kilometers from Palakkad town, is the largest reservoir in Kerala, supplying water to Palakkad and surrounding areas, and irrigating farm land in the vicinity. It was built in 1955 across the Malampuzha river, a tributary of Kerala's second-longest river, the Bharathappuzha. We then took a right turn from the dam entrance exploring the countryside.
The troupe rode in unison over winding country roads laid through lush green agricultural fields and villages. As biker after biker banked to turn, straightened up, and then banked the other way, overcame a rare slip of the rear, and held on to his line, I found that the dejection of being unable to keep up was overcome by the joy of watching the harmony around me. The insecurity I felt while trying to put body out and knee down as I attempt to take a curve -- it soon diminished. I was promptly educated during the next rehydration break on the nuances of cornering, gear down afore, enter at the right speed, avoid breaking in the turn, power out of the curve, and bank more to turn more. Oh, this was so exciting.
And as the feeling grew that one couldn't get enough of these beautiful roads, we chanced upon a small path leading away from the road to a large expanse of river bed on the foot-hills of the Western Ghats. This was Kava, the catchment area of the Malampuzha dam. A breathtaking expanse of greenery carpeting the undulating terrain, surrounded by the mountains on three-sides. As we lined up the motorbikes for a photo-shoot and turned the engines off, the quietude of this place sunk in. Kava is the ideal spot for nature lovers who want to spend time in silence, surrounded by serenity, in the womb of mother nature; a feeling quite similar to what one experiences in the middle of the Vembanad lake at sunset.
We spent a good one hour there, lazing around, testing the off-road capabilities of some of the motorcycles and capturing memories on our DSLR’s. We were about to turn back when a straying biker (me, of course), chanced upon a small trail amidst the thick vegetation, which led us straight to the river bed. We rode carefully through a quarter mile wide expanse of marshy land to reach the water. We could literally take the bikes into the water! Half a dozen guys tore off their riding gear and dove straight in! Thus unfolded the most memorable and picturesque getaways I've experienced. As we stood there in our Lilliputian forms on the soggy river bed next to our egos (read-bikes), we were dwarfed by the unending expanse of the dammed river on one side and the towering Western Ghats on the other two sides.
The ride back, with frequent rehydration breaks and an hour long lunch break was sober, exasperating, and seemingly never ending. I was so tired after riding 300 kilometers and spending hours in stifling heat, that too in suffocating riding gear, that I swore not to ride in the heat again. This feeling soon passed, inevitably, as I've spent most of my free time since that March day in 2015 riding with my friends, exploring the wonders of Kerala, and bringing a new meaning and purpose to my life.
(Photos: Nishad K.P., Sarun Sasidharan)