Monday, January 23

A Kakkayam Love Story ...

SOME PEOPLE tell me that the best time of the day to create anything is dawn. That is one reason why cyclists get into their job early in the morning.  Hence, three of us got out of our homes early in the morn  and decided to take a 100 Km trail last week.  To surprise each other, we said that we’ll not plan the track and the destination. Coming together, we just rolled on our cycles until we reached empty patches of the road.  Finally, down 22 Km. into the Highway, we decided that we would be cycling to a remote hydropower dam’s catchment called KAKKAYAM.  The Kakkayam Dam is under the control of Kerala State Electricity Board and is not open to the public. It is a protected area, which comes under an important hydroelectric power project.   Though the catchment area is open for public, very few reach there.  

Kakkayam is a small isolated hilly enclave cocooned by the Reserve Forest and huge rubber plantations.  This pristine valley forms the part of the extended catchment area of the dam.  We planned to do a continuous  54 Km. peddling from Calicut to reach the dam’s catchment area and then to relax for half an hour in this valley.
It takes nearly 26 Km. of continuous peddling to reach the road junction, which takes a turn to the forest region and the plantations. The ‘Estate Mukku’ as it is known, is the last place where some locals warned us not to attempt the hills on a cycle. “It would be a futile,” they said, as it was too steep a climb to do it on cycle. Yet, we wanted to attempt exactly that! Together, we had carried an extra tire tube, a puncher kit, and some water. Cutting and climbing through the rubber plantations and the forest tracks, it was an adventure that rocked our hearts and bikes.

As the sunlight filtering through leaves struggled to reach ground, we struggled to pump the peddle through all those solitary steeps and violent slopes.  Suddenly, all the romance of peddling vanished....what was left was only hard breathing! That was one time in life I wished I had an additional pair of nostrils! My Cannondale Quick Hybrid stood true to her class, giving me the best of her performance in these stressful terrains. (I know, after all she wasn’t made for the hills and the forest!). And for the first time, I felt the efficacy of 1 X 1 speed selection on her gears. But for that 1 X 1 speed selection,  I could not have pushed myself all the way up. Reaching the top of the ghat road, we were surprised to know that there was still 28 Km. of hard cycling ahead of us to reach the Kakkayam valley. And we kept on peddling…  

The beauty of this location is that, it is by and far untouched by the shoddy tourists and drunken motorists.  

Thought we found that the tar-tarmac was good and fresh, there were no motorists but for some occasional bikers.  Kakkayam valley stood at nearly 2500ft. above sea level. 

This region is famous for the great biodiversity that it preserves. In fact, the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified Kakkayam as the one of the best bio zones in Asia.
In early part of 1900s and after the Second World War, the Syrian Christian community from the south of Kerala immigrated to this region of Malabar. They speak of their presence through the occasional sighting of the Cross and roadside Chapels. I stopped by one of them to make a Thank Offering. Rubber cultivation forms the backbone of the local economy. The Kinalur Estate, planted before the I World War by the pioneering British planters is one of the largest rubber plantations in India and is located in this region.   

As this latex rubber drops into the collector, 
I believe, there is something of rubber in all of us !  

With the recent boom in world commodity prices, this region has awakened to the economic importance it holds in rubber.  After all, there is something of rubber in all of us. My cycle tires tell me so!
Country roads, take me home to the place where I belong.... 
Hills and evergreen forests surround the Kakkayam valley and her extended catchment areas.  It is from this catchment area that water is channeled down through various channels to the Tail Race Power House.  Our cyclometer showed that we were climbing and advancing at 16 Km/hr.  That was pretty good for us as the terrain stood steep, sloppy and messy. By around 10:45 a.m., we reached our destination: the beautiful green Kakkayam valley and her catchment area. The sight was gorgeous… absolutely gorgeous.  

The sight was gorgeous… absolutely gorgeous!!
I placed my cycle resting on an evergreen pine tree and tried to sit by it. I watched the glory of the vast valley: once upon a time long long ago it was a place where the giants of the forest roamed. This day too it is glowing with beauty, enchanting me to slumber in its bosom.   

The calm, tranquil and the chill waters of the catchment area were very tempting for us to take a dip.  I was in no mood to yield to that temptation. Cooling ourselves in those waters would make us lethargic to peddle 54Km. back home.  That is the last thing a cyclist would have. We gave up that plan and walked around the fringes of the water. We stood by it and thought distant thoughts. The grass was brown. We took off our shoes and felt the grass blades caressing our worked out feet.  We basked on the grass like little children only to discover ants troubling us. Abdul wanted to cycle on those waters. Finally, he did it. 
Baptizing his wheels in those waters, his face bloomed with a smile.  The momentum of long cycling did not allow us to rest on the grass. So we commenced to sluggishly peddle around this huge valley. “Were we doing a slow-cycle-race?” I thought. 

On the way back home, we did a continuous 45 Km peddling.  I stopped just to replenish my water bottle and completed the final 9 Km to reach home. 

I do not know when humans realized that they are leaning on trees for their existence…

Cycling back, I realized that a Monday awaits me. Every picnic ends. Every trail too has to end. Life doesn’t offer us endless streams of joy and happiness that goes round and round.  At the Kakkayam Valley, my friends and I shared some momentous moments that will linger with us for a lifetime. More than cycling 108 Km., I realized a closeness that is difficult to write… which could only be experienced in life’s peddling.  

A victory! To leave your loneliness

panting behind you on some street corner

while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell. 
                                                   (from the poem 'The Rider' by Naomi Shihab Nye, USA)
Two cycle lovers on my way to 'A Kakkayam Love Story'  

Abdul Nazzer .
Biju Jacob 

Sunday, January 22

... a counter point .

' I think the most ridiculous sight in the world is a man on his bicycle, working away with his feet as hard as he possibly can, and believing that his horse is carrying him, instead of, as anyone can see, he is carrying the horse.' ... George Bernard Shaw (from 'An unsocial socialist') 

 When people raise a counter point to my way of thought and living, how will I take it? How must I approach it? I love listening to politicians after a poll. None of them will tell that their party has lost the poll because people voted against their policies and politics. It is difficult to see our own debacles and failures than to see them in others. That is a million year old problem!

Today I want to look at the above quotation from ‘An unsocial socialist’. Bernard Shaw saw something I never saw… and,  I wish I never knew this quotation! To call myself the  ‘most ridiculous’ would be a far cry to a life style I cherish.

Looking at two classical American cycle posters of early 1900s, I can have a breather from this socialist-criticism of the cyclist. These two cycle poster were designed by Jean de Paleologue, a Romanian artist who contributed some of the finest messages for the cyclists through his posters. In these posters, we see a brave, casually and contemptuously mounted Red Indian, cycling away from horse mounted fellow Red Indians. In the second poster, we see him cycling down two rows of white Americans, kneeling in obeisance before him.

Acknowledgements: Posters were taken from Cycling in Posters', produced by Angel Books, Amsterdam 

Sunday, January 15

... and all the Birds flew away!

A picnic on cycle to a remote beach is always fun. Friend and me picked up our cycling gear and peddled to Kadalundi Bird Sanctuary.  A cool 65 Km ride along some beautiful beaches of Malabar and the cool coconut countryside. 

It was early in the morning. The sea was cool. It looked as if Sun was taking her own time to pop up. We peddle straight to the Baypore Fishing Harbor. That was the dead end of the road. The fishing trawlers were pulling out for another catch of the day. Golden hue sun filled everywhere.  We stopped at the dead-end of the harbor road to load cycles on to the ferry.  We saw people a little taken aback seeing the bright colors of our cycling jersey and the strange headgear.  Some of them were more curious about the bike and the ‘complicated’ chain drive. “Where are you from?”, and “Why are you here?” were the other common questions. We had to talk to them all. Though every cyclist need to be left alone, part of the cycling is all about people: without them, cycling world would be strangely empty!

Isn’t it human to think of ‘I’ more than any other word in the dictionary?  I want to be the first to reach the mount Everest, first to round the world …., first to swim the English channel and first to reach the moon. Given a change, I like to inaugurate something strange with my little life. On the ferry, friend and I had a similar feeling that we were about to accomplish something strange with our bicycles. One thing for sure, we both were accomplishing the maiden ferrying of our ‘Cannondale’ and ‘Trek’ over a country boat across a Malabar estuary,  for the first time. In addition to all that, we enjoyed every bit of the river crossing.

The Kadulandi Bird Sanctuary is famous for more than 60 species of migratory birds. This bird sanctuary is spread over a cluster of islands and we decided to cycle to couple of them. The scenic beauty of the place is enchanting. Cocooned by the red laterite hill rocks surrounding the Kadulandi river, I quickly realized that it is my ‘God’s Own Country’ and there is no doubt about it! The red laterite hill rocks are very hard and they guard the mouth of the river estuary. 

These laterite stones were so popular that even the Dutch, the British and the Tipu Sultan of Mysore quarried them to build forts and roads. Even today we can see some of those laterite civil structures in Malabar.  Nevertheless, the Bird Sanctuary did surprise both of us: there was not a single bird to be found!  The local anglers informed us that this was not the time of the year when migratory birds would home-in. I could see some native seagulls scavenging fish near some fishing boats. But for that, there were no birds.  We understood that it was ok for cyclists not to chase after birds. Hence, we proceed to cycle further deep into the sandy coconut lagoons and the countryside.

Cycling further down to the river mouth, we reached the edge of the land. We stood separating sea and the shore. What a splendid view it was!  Like a romancing lass, the surf and sound of the waves rolled all around us. I kept listening to it more and more. Then I felt our cycles enjoying the fun… I believe the cycles too have a heart and a soul! Not wanting to wet their wheels, we stood still a safe distance away. The joy of the cool salty-breeze kissed us all over! In the 1997 American epic romance blockbuster 'Titanic', I remember a famous posture of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet holding each other at the top deck of the Titanic. This posture was the icon of the film. Kate Winslet was holding her hands in a ‘T’. Our Cycles too stood romantically at the edge of the cliff, holding her ‘hands’ like a ‘T’!

Peddling back home was through the lonely tarmac roads.  From Calicut University campus to Calicut city, the roads are all a mixture of State highways and National highways. Kerala is blessed with lots of these roads bearing notorious elevations and steep slopes. In every manner, these tarmac roads offer no easy peddling.  But Hai, How is it that every road-elevation always rewards cyclists with an equivalent cooling slope? That has kept me thinking a lot!
As I was approaching the city, a motorists came by me and asked, “Do you carry a message for us as you cycle?” , “Why do you need a message?” I told him, “ Cycling is the only message we have for you.”

... and all the Birds flew away!!

*** Photo Locations: 
Baypore Fishing Harbor and 
Kadalundi Bird Sanctuary 
near Kozhikode. 

Wednesday, January 11

Precious Memories of prayer times …

How many words
are required
that I might explain
how You have left me wordless?
Poems defiantly
settle in my fingertips;
never to be written or read,
but to touch Your cheek
and trace Your lips instead.

This great mystical Himalayas mesmerize me each time I look at it!

Prayers once spoken
refuse to leave my tongue;
they linger and burn,
then turn themselves to kisses.

Oh tell me Love,
that this is the Language awaiting.
For my heart is a silent sonnet,
and Your Name my only creed.

This RED lorry grabbed all my attention on a silent beach !

Poem acknowledgement : 'Wordless'  by Oak Abbey (2012) . 
Photos Location : (a) En-route to Hampta Pass, Himalayas (b) Calicut Beach Road  

Friday, January 6

“Strong, Light, Cheap. Pick two.”

Can I ponder a little about a conundrum? It is about manufacturing a bicycle, which is strong, lightweight and cheap on the currency!

“Strong, Light, Cheap. Pick two.” This is one of the most interesting quotations that I have come across in cycle world.

One of the most common and genuine questions any novice biker will be asking is, “Which bike should I buy?”  Keith Bontrager,  a brilliant bicycle-frame builder and component designer said it simple:“Strong, Light, Cheap. Pick two."

Yes, I can pick a strong and light bicycle, and then I cannot get it cheap.  This is the reason why entry-level road bikes cost more than entry-level mountain bikes. Lots of technology goes to make aluminum tubes both light and strong.  What is more interesting is to note what balancing of priorities goes into the construction of hybrid bicycles: something between a road bike and an off-road bike! I have marveled at the way companies balance priority and build excellent road bikes and hybrids.

If my bike is light and cheap, it probably will not be strong. Many lower-end aluminum bikes go into this category.  A strong bike just does not mean that it can carry 90 Kg rider’s body weight. It means, the bike should pull much more weight and stress day-in and day-out. If the frame is light, it may flex upon tough riding, causing discomfort. Light frames are designed on a principle of sturdy platform.

If my bike is strong and cheap, it will never be light.  Well, the typical example is the doothwalla cycles of India. They are steel tube frames and they carry heavy-duty fittings. Put everything together, they will cost less than 4000 rupees. Weight is an important design factor in the construction of any modern bicycle. And the 'strong and cheap' bikes just forgets it!

The conundrum of the quotation “Strong, Light, Cheap. Pick two”  is worth musing repeatedly by any cyclist.