salem – karur – dindigul – virudhunagar

Friday 7th December (Salem – Karur)

I was almost half tempted to spend a rest day in Salem; the hotel room was pretty nice with the door open and a fairly cool breeze outside. But I don’t have unlimited time and need to press on, at least one more day before a rest day, despite bruised thighs and calves.

A nice man in a store on the ground floor beneath the Siva Lodge gave me directions out of town which, however improbable they seemed, soon had me on the required bypass. A nice restaurant, where I turned south onto NH7, provided breakfast.

The national highway was better than most, with less roadside sprawl. It was a clear day and I stopped around 11:00 am to change into a long-sleeved shirt. My knee was no trouble but I was well worn as I found the KVR Hotel (I think) in Karur.

The AC I was paying for failed early but I assumed it was due to a power cut. But it didn’t come back on so I checked with reception. A breaker was tripped, but it tripped again immediately, so I got moved to a new room at about 1:00 am in the morning. But I was planning to spend another day here so I could have a lie-in.

Day 33 Today: 97.4km, Avs: 15.8 kph, Time: 6hr 11min, To date: 2984 km.

Saturday 8th December (Karur) A rest day. Brief excursions for a shave and for good food at the restaurant below the hotel. Did some work on blog photos, then worked on my course project.

Sunday 9th December (Karur – Dindigul) There was a sign for Dindigul outside the hotel so I got off in the right direction, even if it didn’t seem the quickest way back to NH7. There was an alternative route to Dindigul, along SH (State Highway) 74 and I thought that I might be on that. No problem; it’s a relatively short distance to Dindigul so it didn’t really matter which route I took. Then I came to a twinned highway and turned left onto it, decision made for me. But something wasn’t quite right; the sun was in wrong place. After a few kilometres with no signage (that I could decipher, at any rate), I checked the map – which showed only one twinned highway, the way south to Dindigul. But unconvinced, I turned around and retraced about five kilometres to where I’d joined the twinned highway and turned left (south) onto SH74. I had been on the newly twinned highway to Trichy and Chennai, I presume.

The state highway was fairly quiet, with most heavy traffic presumably sticking to NH7. The surface was varied with sections that slowed me down a little but time wasn’t such a concern today, even with the extra and unnecessary ten kilometres.

I noticed that my appreciation of my surroundings is getting less intense. Head down, I’m pedalling away and missing much of the countryside. Just a few more days now.

Day 34 Today: 83.7 km, Avs: 14.7 kph, Time: 5hr 41min, To date: 3067 km.

Monday 10th December (Dindigul – Virudhunagar) The days are all merging together, into a blur. Where did I sleep last night? In which hotel? What was special about today? I guess that means it’s about time to end the ride. Or to slow down, and spend some time in these places I’m passing through – but my schedule doesn’t allow for that.

Initially, my plans were to arrive at Kanyakumari towards the end of January, having detoured to Hampi, Mysore, Pudicherry and Rameswaram. But Puri was a disappointment, and for a while I wasn’t having any fun, so I decided upon Christmas with my son Nicolas in Laos. This shrunk the timeline considerably. And there haven’t been that many places that I felt compelled to dawdle at/in. And, just maybe, I’ve done enough cycing for a while, given that I am not really much of a cyclist. The purpose of the trip was to see a different part of India – the eastern side – from the vantage point of a cycle. And to see if I still have, at 60, what it takes to be an adventurous traveller after twenty conventional years as a family man. Cycling itself was almost incidental, although the bicycle is a pretty amazing invention: efficient, affordable, free (as in freedom). Fitness and weight loss were other objectives; I must be fitter and I am definitely thinner but, possibly, not lighter; the scales I stepped on in Vellore had me weighing the same as I had when I left Canada: 5’8″ and 210 pounds which combines to make a body mass index (BMI) of 30 and qualifies me as borderline obese. Let’s hope those scales were wrong!

The hotel manager has just come in and told me I need to turn on the air-conditioning. Go figure! Maybe, because I’m paying for it, I’m obliged to use it?

I went for a walk around the district looking for somewhere to eat this evening. Quite a bustling place, lots of activity at stalls lining narrow streets. The town has quite a backward feel to it, interspersed with incongruities like a shop with fancy training shoes and an ice-cream shop. Dinner was quite basic, ‘gobi masala,’ or cauliflower curry, with chapattis. Then back to this rather grim hotel (the first hotel I looked at was worse; this may be the best in town, Google shows some others but everyone I asked pointed me in this direction).

Looking at Virudhunagar on Wikipedia, I see that this town of 73,000 people has ten engineering colleges and three polytechnics! On some parts of the ride, especially in Andhra Pradesh, it seemed like there was an engineering college every couple of miles. I think the Indian government opened the post-secondary market to private enterprise and colleges sprung up everywhere. Then there were concerns about academic rigour and many may have been shut down.

The day: a breakfastless start, a brief detour for a photo of the rock fort, and onto the highway again at about 9:30. I’d had a broken night so didn’t feel like getting up to early. Found a nice breakfast place on the highway – two masala dosai. Heavily vegetated ghats (hills) mainly to the left (east) but the road was only gently undulating. Lots of signs for Kanyakumari now. Saw some big rocks with buildings on them from the Madurai bypass and vaguely remembered a hot barefoot (required) walk up to a temple some twenty years ago. Of course, my memory may be faulty. South of Madurai, the countryside was less intensively cultivated, more grass and bushes. A clear day, with a hot sun and my feet burning, although the temperature was reasonable. The day dragged a bit, bum sore in the saddle, wrists and elbows aching, thighs weak. Jeez, what a whiney old fart I’ve become! Good night!

Day 35 Today: 102.6 km, Avs: 16.3 kph, Time: 6hr 19min, To date: 3170 km.

(Pictures will be a week or so; have to concentrate on coursework for a while)

 

12 Comments

  1. If you are not bent on visiting Kanyakumari you could turn off to the right soon after Virudhunagar towards Sivakasi (the fireworks capital of India; also specialises in printing of gaudy posters of film stars and assorted divinities) and Rajapalayam (a town that gives its name to a famous breed of dog). The road then heads south to Tenkasi, which is the railhead for Courtallam (Kuttalam) waterfall. Then if you head westward you will enter Kerala soon after Shencottai. This stretch is thickly forested and very scenic, but it also has some moderately challenging climbs. Shencottai to Varkala (via Anchal, Chadayamangalam and Paripally) would be about 100 km. This would save you the trouble of working your way up north from Kanyakumari to Varkala (120 km) along a congested highway. In Kerala avoid main roads in favour of rustic country roads wherever possible, because the former are always traffucked. :)

    • Thanks, Hari. I’m sure your suggested route would be more scenic than my chosen one but Kanyakumari has significance for me, not for itself but rather for its symbolism. I rode to KK in 1991, because it is the southern tip of India and I’d like to do the same this time. I’ve chosen Varkala just as a place to catch up on my coursework in a relaxing environment; I also have fond memories of Varkala from a few days I spent there in 1991. But the ride ends at KK. I may even put the bike on a bus to Varkala, just to save time that I can profitably use on the project I have to complete soon.

      • Ah, of course — that makes sense. I always prefer to skip highways in favour of country roads, but your nostalgic attachment to Kanyakumari puts a different spin on the matter. But you will find that the place has changed since 1991! So has Varkala — it used to be a laidback place with a few sleepy cottages among the cliffs adjacent to the beach, but now it’s become much more touristy and commercial. And of course more expensive!

        • Yes, KK itself wasn’t anything special twenty years ago and I expect a more developed version of the same now. But it does figure in my ‘top to the bottom of India’ ride. (Conveniently ignoring the further north in the west of India – maybe a later ride, heading north from Mumbai?)

          • The one thing that will stand out in Kanyakumari (which was’t there when you last visited) is the mammoth statue of the Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar on a pedestal in the sea. He looks more Assyrian than Tamil though.

          • Yes, I noticed that in the gathering gloom as I arrived tonight.

            A bit of a setback today; it appears that I’ve left my glasses at the side of the road somewhere in the last 80 km. Probably when I stopped to fix a leak. That’s a drag – I have to wear sunglasses to read anything at the moment :(. And I didn’t even find the leak so I reinflated about every fifteen km. I’m trying to fix it now – I can hear the air hissing but I can’t see the hole. One of the problems associated with age. But it will all work out… I’ll try and pick up some magnifying glasses, not ideal but will get me through until I can get my prescription emailed from Canada.

            I’m aiming for the Bangalore Express which leaves KK at 10:30 so I should have time for a couple of photos of the cycle, somewhere close to where I took one in 1991. It all looks totally different now, of course.

  2. Oh, and by the way, I think trains are faster and more reliable than buses in India. There’s a daily long-distance train (Kanyakumari – Mumbai Jayanti Janata Express) that leaves KK at 5:45 am. It reaches Varkala at 8:45 am, and that’s faster and more comfortable than any bus. You should ideally check in the bike as luggage in the brake van (reach the station at least half an hour early), but if you slip a couple of hundred rupees to the guard he might allow you to keep it in the guard’s van. The train will be empty at KK and you have ample time to see to things as it’s the starting station. Just remember to remove the accessories (including the saddle) and carry them with you. Book an AC sleeper ticket for yourself and travel in comfort — you deserve it after your marathon ride. :)

    • I think there is a later train, at about 9:45, as well. I’ll check that tonight. Good advice about the bike and the guard’s van. And I love the Indian trains. Plus, there is going to be the luxury of moving forward without having to work for it!

      I’ll be at the Haiwa Beach Residency on the north cliff. Hope it’s nice!

  3. If you have your prescription you should be able to get a new frame + lenses for about $50 from a local optometrist. It shouldn’t take more than a day if it’s not too complicated (no astigmatism etc.) In fact, they test your vision for free. It should be enough to get by till you’re home.

    I’m presuming you will leave KK tomorrow. Have you decided what train to take? I think the later train you mentioned is the Bangalore Express, which leaves KK around 10:30 am and reaches Varkala in the afternoon. There are two other trains with ‘AC Chair Car’ coaches but unfortunately both leave at unearthly hours — 2 am and 4 am.

    • I’m in Varkala now. I caught the 10:30 train today but, being an express, they wouldn’t allow unloading the bike in Varkala with such a short stop. And I couldn’t find anyone who might be ‘induced’ to alter that. So, I took the train as far as TVC, then got a passenger train to Varkala. It was actually kind of fun, going through all the bureaucratic hoops involved in getting the bike on the second train (Kanyakumari was fairly relaxed compared to TVC); lots has changed in India since I was last here, but some things are just the same ;)

      I do have astigmatism but I could probably get away with a simple magnifier lens until my wife comes out to Bangkok at the end of January. But $50 is considerably cheaper than what I’d pay in Canada so I’ll look into it. Again, thanks for your pertinent information – it’s a great help.

      I am at the Haiwa Beach Residency (+914702051033). Do you know which day you’ll be travelling down yet? I’m going to see if I can squeeze in a backwaters trip, for old time’s sake!

  4. Oh, do take Sunday off to chill out on the backwaters — I was thinking Tuesday morning would be a good time to meet. It would also give me another crack at organising USD on Monday. (You said you would be around till the 18th, didn’t you? Else I’d have to make it Monday.)

    • OK. My train to Chennai leaves Trivandrum at 17:10. My ticket is from TVC but I presume I can get on the train at Varkala, where it stops at 17:45. We’re leaving it to the last moment, with no room for error! I have to check out of the hotel at 12:00 pm so it would be good to meet before that.

      I’m waiting for my glasses at the moment; they were supposed to be ready at 18:00 tonight but are now promised to be delivered at 20:00. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The backwater trip will depend upon whether the glasses actually arrive. And how much course work I get done tonight; it’s a struggle using sunglasses!

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