This was supposed to be the easy part, 40km of undulating road that had a height increase of no more then 300 meters to our destination! It was pure hell, the combined lack of food and the awful road surface meant that it was really really tough going. With no fuel or food left we had nothing to eat again, none of the villages we passed had shops until we had been cycling for a few hours. Progress was painfully slow, when we did find a shop all we could find was plain biscuits and old cheap crisps. We stocked up on these before continuing.
While eating our cheap snacks a boy no older than 12 pulled up on a scooter and offered us something I didn’t quite understand. I asked him to repeat what he said and he replied ‘mushrooms, mushrooms’… we had our heads in our hands sat on the side of the road and just laughed, ‘why would we want mushrooms at 8.30am?’, ‘no, sir… magic mushrooms!’. We had no intention of purchasing psychoactive vegetation at any time let along early in the morning with a 35km cycle ahead of us. We ushered him on slightly confused by this early morning experience out here far from any signs of tourism. We later learned that Kodaikanal is quite famous amongst Indians for this particular activity and may explain why we heard so much screaming and laughing coming from a forest on the opposite side of the valley to where we camped last night.
The road eventually got better, but we struggled with unexpected hills and the increasing temperature. It was slow hard going, every peddle stroke was exhausting and it seemed to take forever to cover such a short distance.
We limped into Kodaikanal where we were immediately hounded by accommodation touts (who result in additional costs as a commission is added when you go to the hotels they suggest, they then try to follow you everywhere you go) who swarmed us every time we stopped in the town to try and fix our bearings and find where we wanted to get to – it was testing to say the least. We had come down a huge hill to the centre before realising our planned place to stay was back up the hill, our subsequent search for new accommodation was both stressful and time consuming – over two hours later we had a place and could finally remove our filthy clothes, shower and immediately find food.
For the first time in India we came across fast food outlets, the hill station of Kodaikanal had a dominos pizza… after spending less then £1 over three days we blew £20 on pizzas and all manner of other junk in a feast to make up for all the meals we had skipped!
Well we made it! The route was exceptionally tough but it was certainly possible, if we had not made our wrong turn then it would have been much easier and we would have done it in three days. Unusually for us we were ill prepared with our food, we had expected to be able to obtain more on the route and it took us longer than expected. It was great to get truly off any beaten path in India, we certainly blazed our own trail and tested our physical and emotional strength. The scenery was stunning, and because we were away from people and Indian tourism we saw a landscape that was not covered in human shit and plastic waste – quite difficult to find here. Most importantly we were not caught, in fact we didn’t see a single sign of officialdom on the route. We saw no officials and passed no signs suggesting the area was a park or reserve, none of the locals we spoke to said it was a problem, once in the park we saw no one until we were back down in the next valley. All in all it was an great experience, but one we would be quite happy to not have to do again! With more food and not taking the wrong route it would have been tough, but much more manageable! Taking the correct route would cut down on the effort required considerably, also doing this from Kodaikanal to Munnar would be much easier as the height loss would work in your favour (the route would have a predominantly downhill trend) and the long initial forest track would be downhill.
We had a lot of weight on our bikes and narrow tires, we were also not especially fit after a long break and illness. Without this it would have been three days of strenuous effort within the capabilities of most people cycling as long as your navigation skills are ok and you don’t mind pushing your bike for extended periods of time! If anyone wants any more accurate directions on how to do this then please send us a message.
PS: We would like to thank Tessa who bought us a delicious pot of pink guava jam as we left Munnar, although not supposed to be eaten by the spoonful, it provided much needed energy when the rest of our food had gone!