Descending the Western Ghats
The road from Munnar north to Udumalpet took us out of the Indian state of Kerala and back into the state of Tamil Nadu.
We descended more than 800 meters – leaving the lush tea and tall trees of a hill station for a landscape that could have been an African plain, full of scrubby brush and thorn trees. It was probably one of our most beautiful rides: through the Marayoor Sandalwood Forest, Kannan Devan Hills coffee and tea plantations, Erivikulam National Park, Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, and Animalai Tiger Reserve (no, we did not see any tigers).
It was hard to leave Munnar, where we had posted up for five days of natural beauty and peace. But as the weekend approached, and holiday-makers came out in force, we encountered a few groups that made it a little easier to justify moving on. First, we were chased by a group of Indian tourists who saw us ride by and ran screaming into the restaurant where we were (trying to) have breakfast to insist that they get a pictures of themselves “pretending” to ride our bikes. If you’ve ever tried to talk with me before I’ve had breakfast, or been around me when rude strangers were getting grabby, you can imagine my reaction. It was not friendly. Second, our oasis in the tea was taken over by a large group of backpackers who stayed up until 2 am drinking then woke us up at 5 am puking. We usually get up at 5 am anyway, but it seemed like a clear sign that we should vacate.
We ended up riding for more than 9 hours (and averaging only 10 km/ hour). Despite being largely downhill, the ride was exhausting in its own way. The first hour or so was climbing (or pushing) the bikes out of the valley in which Munnar sits, and the rest of the day was a work out for my hands, clutching the brakes as we descended the steep grade.
I hadn’t expected that the differences between the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu would be so immediate and so striking, but they were. We were waved through a series of checkpoints at the border (passing out of Kerala and out of the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, and into Tamil Nadu and the Animalai Tiger Reserve).
The minute that we crossed the border, the road quality changed from fresh, smooth asphalt to cracked and bumpy pavement. The shade disappeared, the air was full of dust, and drivers were less courteous. It was sort of like crossing from California into Mississippi – without the entire southwest in between.
After beautiful Munnar, it was tough to face another dusty junction town. And not just any old dusty junction town, but by far the loudest, rudest, and dustiest we had seen (seriously, the roads were paved in dust). Worse yet, the hotel options in Udumalpet were either full, creepy, or expensive and rude. We chose expensive and rude – but at least it had AC.