Take me home

While driving during my September 2009 Goa road trip I started to think about the idea of driving from Bangalore to Kolkata, for the trip home.
I first saw the milestone for Kolkata(which read about 1900 odd kms) on my way to Chennai and since I’ve started riding , I’ve this weird temptation of riding to the place if I see a milestone for it :).
Even though i was playing around with this idea, I was quiet skeptical about actually executing it because the distance was pretty big and that I would have to take some extra leaves too.

So I thought about doing this ride some other time and booked my return air tickets.
Still the inkling of doing this trip kept on growing and I asked my manager if I can get 3 days extra leaves. He agreed about 7 days before my vacation was about to start and once I got the green signal , there was no looking back.
By this time I had read up almost all the travelogues posted on the internet about this route. I looked up for some interesting diversions that I could take, threw Chilika lake into the mix and hatched up a rough road plan. So on 15th Jan 2010, I was ready with by bike serviced, bags packed and after a short day at office I hit the road at about 4:30 PM. The plan was to go up to Tirupati (about 250 kms).

This section of the trip was mostly uneventful with the roads average at best. I had not driven on this route before and found the water bodies and hills pretty novel especially during the sunset. I passed through Kolar, Palamner . It was mostly a two way highway and that too after dark, so I could do only average speeds and by the time I reached the diversion for Tirupati just before Chittor, it was already 8:30PM and I was about 80kms from Tirupati. I decided not to tax myself anymore and with accommodation in Tirupati hard to find (it was a long weekend) I shacked up at a shanty hotel near the Chittor bus stop. I shelled out 120 bucks for a pretty pathetic room, got an offer for the services of a prostitute with the guarantee that she was safe. I politely refused, had an Andhra meal and retired for the day. Tomorrow was going to be a long day and I made a mental note of not to push myself and to only go as far as my body was comfortable with.

The next day morning, I woke up at about 4:45AM and by 5:30 I was on the road. The target for the day was Vizag, about 850 kms away. It was pretty dark with a slight chill in the air and hardly any other vehicle on the road. On some stretches, the road appeared positively SPOOKY  . By the time the first light of the day arrived I was within hitting distance of Tirupati and the surrounding hills and the morning light made for an amazing ambience. I stopped at a couple of places to take in the sight. This kind of things is one of the primary reasons for doing these rides. These moments when you feel at one with the surroundings, like a particle floating around, with no future and no past.
By 6:45AM I was crossing Tirupati . Took a break to enjoy the play of light with the dew drops in the paddy fields. I reached Naidupetta and finally joined NH5 by 8:30AM . I felt a quiet sense of elation on reaching the road which was going to comprise most of my journey. The road was superb and lived upto its billing. From this point onwards I was on power riding mode i.e.. no stopping for breaks, except for a fuel stop. Crossed Gudur , Nellore , Ongole on the way. Also encounter a short burst of unseasonal rains before Ongole. The journey continued and it was not until at around 1 PM that I reached Vijaywada. Stopped for sometime on the bridge over Krishna. The mighty river, which actually looks like a sewage drain here was quiet a contrast from when I last saw her near Bagalkot about 1.5 years back. As I entered Vijaywada, I saw a milestone reading Vishakapatnam-400kms. I was feeling a bit tired but decided to push on , hoping to reach Vizag by 8PM. After Vijaywada, the road got even better(if that was possible) and I found myself doing awesome speeds. I also noticed a lot of Open bill storks around Vijaywada. Kept on driving and Rajahmundry came a lot sooner than expected. Kept on pumping and suddenly crossing one of the numerous tool booths saw Vishakapatnam—130kms. Decided to check the time and it was only 4:30 PM. I had covered about 270 kms in just 3.5 hours. I never thought I could do such speeds on my Splendor. After a round of self congratulations I started again, but a weird kind of “complacency ” had set in.
About 10 kms before that point, the bike had gone into reserve and I decided to check how far the bike will go on reserve fuel. So I kept pumping and about 35 kms later the bike dried out. I decided to stop some passing bike to ask for some fuel but no one would stop. Finally I was able to stop a guy on a cycle who told me that there was a village about a km back and a shop there stocked petrol. So I pushed my bike upto the village only to find out that the “official petrol pump ” was dry. He directed me another shop in the interior of the village. So again after pushing the bike for about a km, I was finally able to locate the shanty. The petrol looked suspicious, so I decided to fill up only ½ a litre. What did look tempting was a bottle of “goli soda”. By this time I was riding for about 12hours with absolutely nothing to eat. So had a bottle of soda and moved on. You would think that I would have learn’t my lesson but for some weird reason I decided to fill up fuel only from a petrol pump which came on my side of the road. As it turned out, there weren’t any and the bike again died after about 20kms. This time I was near an RTO office and was told that the nearest pump was about 3kms away. So I parked my bike near the RTO office and started walking towards the pump. As I was walking, I saw a bike coming in my direction. I waved and surprise surprise, he stopped. He could spare only about a quarter litre , so I filled it and started again, very aware that the bike can stop anytime and I may have to repeat the whole cycle again. I was now driving at around 40kmph to get the maximum mileage from my bike. Finally I reached Tuni, filled up my baby and headed towards Vizag. The progress was slow and by the time i reached the outskirts of Vizag, it was already 8PM. I had heard that there were some nice hotels on Beach Road facing the sea. So I asked for some directions and kept going ahead. After about ½ hour, I realized that I was actually exiting Vizag . Instead of heading back I decided to move on and find some hotel on the roadside.
By this time i was dead tired and hungry so was on the lookout for some dhaba. Finally found one, had roti and dal and asked for some nearby hotels. He said that there were none. The closet hotels were at Vizianagaram, about 20kms away. The other option was to keep going ahead upto Srikakulam(about 60kms away). I was too tired to go ahead and asked him if I could spend the night at the dhaba. After a bit of persuasion, he agreed but when he showed me the sleeping area, there was no way I was spending the night there after such a long hard day. It was next to a huge drain and even bigger mosquitoes were flying around. So I politely thanked him and headed out. I initially thought of going to Vizianagaram but the diversion came a bit “too quickly” so I decided to move on.

After about an hour, reached Srikakulam and checked into a hotel for 200 bucks. When I parked my bike, the trip-meter showed 997kms for the day and the watch showed 10:30PM. It was 17 hours since I had started from Chittor. A day to remember.
The next day woke up at around 7AM. Surprisingly, there was hardly any fatigue and I was ready to go. The destination for the day was Barkul, about 230 kms away, on the banks of the Chilika lake.Chilika lake is a shallow brackish water lake. It is easily the biggest lake in India and one of the biggest lakes in South Asia.
I hit the road at about 8 AM and in no time I was crossing Palasa. The tarmac was still superb. I crossed into Orissa at Ichapuram and stopped for breakfast. After breakfast, moved on, now on the lookout for the pathetic roads that this section is infamous for. And it finally arrived. The NH construction was underway and there were tones of diversions, but nothing un-driveable. Progress was as expected,slow . The situation was particularly bad around Brahmapur and Ganjam. I finally reached Barkul at around 1PM only to find a huge crowd. It was a Sunday and the place was full of people. I headed to the OTDC Panthanivas. The place looked dirty and the staff uninterested. They told me that there was only one room available for 1500 bucks!!. There was no was I was shelling out 1500 for a facility like that, so decided to checkout some other options. I found a pretty good room at Kasturi Niwas for only 300 bucks. The owner was very helpful as were the staff. My prime motive for visiting Barkul was to go to the Nalabana Bird Sanctuary.  It is a small island about 16 kms into the lake and it surfaces only during the dry months. This island hosts one of the biggest congregation of birds in the subcontinent.
So after having lunch, I went to the jetty to take a boat ride to Nalabana. On reaching the jetty , I was informed that the last boat to Nalabana had left for the day and that i can only visit Kalijai temple( about ½ hr boat ride away). I decided to hold off the visit till later in the evening so that I could catch the sunset from the boat. I explored the shores for about the couple of hours wathching the Black Winged stilts, terns and the occasional gulls. At around 4:30PM i bought my return ticket to Kalijai for 30 bucks and boarded the boat. Each boat ferries about 20 people and it’s a pleasant ride except for the sound of the motor. The temple, as with most temples, was its usual dirty self. I returned from the trip at around 6:30PM. Went to the “DHABA” at around 9 (by far the best place around to have food) and had the famous Chilika prawns. The next day was an early start as I had to go to Nalabana. Even before visiting Nalaban ,I was aware that it would be pretty difficult to sight the birds since you are not allowed to go inside the protected area. But the “pilgrimage” had to undertaken. Also the 3 hr boat ride on the Chilika was also pretty tempting. I reached the jetty around sunrise, but there was no one around. I was informed that the earliest I could get a shared boat was around 10AM(today being a Monday) and if I hired a boat all for myself then I could leave by 8 but will have to shell out 800-900 bucks. Not willing to wait that long, I enquired around without making much headway. I came back to the hotel and asked the owner for some help. He took me to a group of boatmen who ply their trade a bit left of the main jetty. There  he arranged for a boat for 500 bucks. So I set off to Nalabana at around 7AM. The ride was pretty good and I spent some awesome idle time just lying there on the boat and endless water in front of me. Birding wise, there were the occasional gulls, ducks and terns. We reached Nalabana, lingered around for a while and then made our way back. After lunch, I headed for what was going to be the highlight of the trip, birding wise.

The destination was Mangalajodi, about 40kms from Barakul. Mangalajodi, a small village along the northern shores of the Chilika is a great conservation story.

I reached Mangalajodi at around 4PM and met Madhu, who was going to be my guide during my stay at Mangalajodi. Madhu took me for a quick trip that evening and what I saw was pure bliss. Infront of me stretched out huge tracts of marshland which promised birds, lots of birds  I had two lifers that evening itself. The people at the Mahavir Pakshi Suraksha Samiti ( the organization which looks after the welfare of the birds at Mangalajodi) arranged for my staty at a locals house(@Rs 250). For dinner one has to come to Tangi, about 4kms away. That night I went to bed thinking about birds, wonderful birds.
The next day I was up before the sun and was by the marshes by 6AM. The whole place was covered with fog which gave it a lovely surreal feel. Madhu came along with a small boat at around 6:30, but we had to wait till 7AM because of the fog. The plan for the day was to slowly drift around in the marshes and see the birds from close quarters. And what a lovely day it was. Birds at every nook and corner as you slowly drift through the marshes. Black Tailed godwits and whiskered terns were there by the thousands. We spent the initial half of the day looking for the migrants and after a delicious lunch prepared by Madhu’s wife ,we went for the residents (the crakes,bitters rails etc). It was the most amazing day of birding I had ever had. Even now just thinking about it brings a big smile to my face. It helped that Madhu knew the place like the back of his hand.

The next day was going to be the final stretch of the journey. The final push homewards. I started at around 7:30 and the road was pretty amazing. I zipped along and was nearing Bhadrak by 10. As I started planning for an early finish, the road turned into a nightmare. The Bhadrak-Balasore stretch was easily the worst I encountered on the whole trip. After Balasore, the roads started improving and around 12 I saw the first Bengali signboard. I had entered Bengal. Starting from Karnataka, passing through AP, Orissa and finally reaching West Bengal. As I entered Bengal, I could see little girls in saris and realized that today was Saraswati Puja. I reached the Kharagpur bypass at around 1PM and took a small break. After that it was one straight ride homewards. I passed through familiar places and luckily even the infamous Kolaghat bridge was empty. Finally I took the Kona expressway to enter Howrah and by 2:30 I was parking my bike in front of the apartment. I went up, rang the bell and was greeted by the stunned look on my mother’s face


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Bitten by the wanderlust bug.

6 thoughts on “Take me home”

  1. That was a very good write-up of a truly impressive ride. The maximum I’ve ridden in a day is only close to about 350 km and was quite exhausted by the end of it… hats off to you!!

    1. Thanks Googie. Are you still in Ecuador or have you moved on? Recently came across the Lonely planet episode on Ecuador. They spent considerable footage around Banos and it seems to be an amazing place 🙂

  2. Tomorrow I am planning to travel Bhadrak using My bike and I got a lot of help from this article, by the way From Berhampur to Balasore rad is now fully completed and in excellent condition.

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