Sunday, April 15

The Solo 144

Tellicherry is a small town north of Calicut. For the foreigners who colonized this part of Kerala, this town was favorite. Early 17th century, the French came to Tellicherry and took complete control of Mahe, an area 5 Km south of Tellicherry. They developed it into a major port, which soon became very popular in the Continent. The British came late in 17th century and got a strong grip on Tellicherry with the help of the local Raja. They established a factory in 1708. Many of Raja’s family members who later attacked the factory causing a major setback for the British, challenged this action.  

It was at that time, the British contemplated a military centre at Tellicherry. Added to it, the strong military presence of the French at Mahe was an irritation for the British who vied for the rich spice trading centers of Malabar. Finally, in 1725, the British East India Company decided to build a fort and protect the trade routes, which they feared, otherwise would fall in French hands. With the blessings of the local Kolathiri Raja, the British soon began to build a fort on the strategic hills adjacent to the sea. By the end of 1776, the British had a very strong military presence at Tellichery, the Fort being the headquarters. When the British finally left after the Independence, the Archeological Survey of India took up this fort. Since then, it is maintained as a National Monument. 

The light house marks the sight of a redoubt and is in a fair state of preservation. 

This is a square Fort with massive walls. The entire structure was built in the typical Malabar laterite stones. Inside the Fort is a war room, prison and secret tunnels to the sea (the escape route). There are huge ramparts with cannon holes and a lighthouse. Altogether, this Fort is an imposing structure. Looking at it today and walking through the length and breadth of its ramparts, I graciously read history, which molded the future of Malabar and the British Raj in Kerala.  Though I have travelled a lot through Tellicherry, I had never visited this simple fort. Somehow, I had missed it! On this Vishu day, when the world was busy celebrating the Malayalam New Year, two of my friends and I decided to spin across Calicut and reach Tellicherry Fort.  

This is the parade ground and the rampart.
Historians have recorded that the British were playing Cricket at Tellicherry  during those times. The Europeans and some of the the locals used to attract huge crowds with their Cricketing skills near the seashore adjacent to the Fort. 

From Calicut, the distance stood 72 Km to reach the Fort. The terrain was 100% rolling tarmac. After all these years, the Government’s public road authorities have constructed only a small section (around 30 Km) of this terrain in perfect flat topography. The summer was at its best and I knew that hydration would be a major factor for this ride. With most shops closed on Vishu, replenishing the water would be a small trouble that we were to face.  Having fully loaded the hydration pack we were all set out to Tellichery at 6:30AM.  

Adjacent to the Fort, the British had build a small Church and a Cemetery. When they left India, the Archeological Survey of India took over the Fort and declared it a National Monument. The Church was shut down and was ruined. The local Christian community was not interested in that property and for years, it laid like a hunted structure.  

The solitude this place offers cannot be grasped by any city dweller. 
The serenity of the Church, the cool breeze of the sea and the shades of the neem trees are a joy to enjoy. With books, I go there often to read and meditate.
On the background, we see the sea and the rolling waves. 
In 2009, Government of Kerala took up the restoration of this property siting the heritage value of the same.  Thanks to the then Leftist Government, with the restoration complete, this is one of the most tranquil and serene area I love to visit often. 

Ya ... I have reached here !!
  The location of this Church is unique as the beach and the sea forms the backdrop scenery from the Church’s Altar. This is the only churches I know, which has such a scenic beauty in this part of Kerala. The Church’s architecture is typical Gothic and English.  With series of Gothic arches wherever we look, it is an absolute delight.  Inside the church, with the constant cool breeze from the open sea, there is no requirement for electric fans.  The vast beach and the distant rock formations add to the scenery of the location. There is also a small English Cemetery adjacent to the Church.  Peculiar shapes of the headstones in this Cemetery are a major attraction to the historians. This is the only Cemetery where such diverse shaped headstones are seen. The famous English philanthropist and educationalist Edward Brennen, who had made Thalassery his home and who founded one of the oldest educational institutions of Kerala, the Brennen College (in 1862),  is laid to rest in this Cemetery. It is believed that the British Commander who led the battle and plotted the final fall of the Pazhassi Raj is also laid to rest here.  It is said that after the victorious battle against Pazhassi, this British military Commander refused to go back to England, making Thalassery his hometown and preferred to be laid to rest here. 

The Church as seen from one of the Fort's cannon holes located on a redoubt.

Spinning on a holiday got its advantages and disadvantages. Holiday takes away lots of traffic and crowd from the National Highways. The main disadvantage is that the cyclists have to fear drunken drivers on the roads. With drunken drivers proliferating, this is major cause of concern on Kerala roads.  However, we peddled at an average pace of around 28 KMP. On reaching 30 km, both fellow cyclists decided to return home for the Vishu luncheon that they would not want to miss. So, they turned home… and I decided to make the rest of the journey solo.  

The grand redoubt of Tellicherry Fort with a lighthouse
and cannon holes all around. Redoubts were a component of the
military strategies of most European empires during the colonial era 
popular during the 17th century. 

The only remaining portion of a British cannon which was used  in this fort

With series of Gothic arches wherever we look,
this Church is an absolute delight
Cycling to Tellichery Fort was a synergy of 3S : 
Solitude, Spirituality, and Sportsmanship. 

I carried 3L water, 1.5 KG camera + accessories, multi tool with tire levers, pre-glued puncher patches, hand pump, the breakfast (peanut butter spreads) and the first-aid. Hauling all these were another troubling point in the spin. The weight of all this put together was not comfortable for an easy spin. Yet, when you do something you love, you don’t realize the pain in it…, and I was spinning. Yet, I would always advise any solo cyclist that he must never attempt to spin without carrying all the essentials. We can never ever depend on the locals for our way of getting things done. 

At 12:15 noon, it was time to hurry back home. The 72 Km of spinning back solo was the toughest, simply for the fact that I was all alone. Hydration pack was almost empty and the blazing heat of the Sun was slowing me down. I decided that I would spin slow. My average pace fell to 23 KMP. But it was OK. For me, as a solo cyclist, a safe and sound journey was more important than speed. As I reached home at 3:30 PM,I quietly enjoyed a cool bowl of watermelon and called 'The Solo-144'  a day in my life ! 

File photograph of the old church in ruin

The fully restored Church as it stands today .

P.S : '144' because, it was 72 KM X 2  spin

Saturday, April 14

... a quick walk through the garden!

Malayalam Calendar New Year Day is the ‘Vishu’ and today Malayalees everywhere celebrate ‘Vishu’. What is most characteristic of this festivity is that the yellow Vishu flower blooms throughout Kerala. It is auspicious to see the yellow ‘Konna’ (the name of the flower in Malayalam) on ‘Vishu’. 

Easter was  last week. Still, some Easter Lilies are in bloom in family-friend’s home. She tell me that all the Easter Lilies bloomed exactly on the Easter day and she keeps asking me how these little flowers knows the exact date of the Easter. I too wonder as to how the buried blubs of these lilies keep track of the date and the time. Some speak of biological clocks in all these. But it is an absolute wonder that we have a nature that will not allow things to happen just like that! Though the exact mechanism is unknown, I think God has fixed time for every flower's bloom!!   

With the advent of the Spring, it is a joy to walk around my home. Champa is loaded with fruits. She is so generous in her flowering and her branches grow heavy with fruits.

The Betel nuts have ripened to show forth all her beauty. 
Some are cherry-red, others golden and the late comers are still green ! 


And the bee on one of the yellow flowers caught my eyes. I have found bees difficult to snap. 
They always fly away whenever any human comes near them. 
I think it is all because of their eyes: large and located on top of their head. He'll never miss you if you go near !! 
(Even this bee wasn’t that friendly to me.)  

I think it is true what Rumi,the thirteenth-century Persian mystic said...
"The Lord of beauty enters the soul as a man walks into an orchard in Spring"

Friday, April 6

The Chain Tree and the BAD BOY stories ...

Everyone has to be lucky at times. 
Sometimes life comes like a rain with no sun shining. The week was cluttered with sad and bad news.  I cannot be a recipient of only good news…got to accept all that comes in life: good or bad. The integration of it all makes what I am. When I first heard that a cool spin can de-stress the rider, I never believed. But that’s true. Cycle voyage is indeed a vehicle for de-stressing ourselves. Bad news, sad news, no news…doesn’t matter… A spin makes a difference to it all!

Summer is the peak cycling season. Come weekend, it was time to take the BAD BOY for a spin. Five of us got out.  Spirits were high. My small cycling squad was told about this plan weeks ago: we would do a continuous 60 Km cycling with 13 Km of steep Ghats that include 9 hairpin bends. The sun would warm us above 35 degree and the road was NH 212 Calicut – Bangalore National Highway.

Every time I take these Ghats roads, it offers a different perspective of the world I see. This time, for the first time, together with 4 friends we were attempting this steep road. This is a magical road with luxuriant Reserve Forests abutting the path and the sight of monkeys scavenging the food flung at them by the travellers. Always I had been fascinated by the serenity and beauty of the picturesque plains below. The day being a weekend holiday, the road was relatively loaded with all sorts of travellers. Except for five of us, there were no other cyclists.  I think our bright jerseys and the slim cycles caught the eyes of everyone.

After the fall of Tipu Sultan on March 22, 1792, the entire Malabar was seeded to the British in the famous Sreerangapattanam truce between them. It was at this time, the local King, Kerala Varma Pazhassi Rajah, (a famous, bold and fierce local raja) challenged the supremacy of the British. The menacing guerrilla warfare of Pazhassi was too much for the British and he was driven deep into Wayanad jungles. In the end, on November 30th, 1805, the British could only get the dead Rajah, who killed himself somewhere in the interior of the forest. Thus, Wayanad fell into the hands of the British. In no time, they opened up this rich and virgin plateau for cultivation of tea, coffee and other cash crops. Roads had to be built across the dangerous slopes of Wayanad, from Kozhikode. The large number of Tea and Coffee Estates, and the legendary spice gardens of Malabar and the rich timber wealth of these great virgin forests were too much for the British Empire to ignore. Without developing a road, they would not be able to haul them to Calicut port and to ship them to England. Thus a road was conceptualised.

The story tells that the Wayanad Ghats road was first explored for the British by a local tribal. It was a young tribal who convinced the British engineers that a road could be charted across this difficult terrain. 

The fluid nature of the hill-soil and the unpredictable  rain water channels during torrential rains on the hills made the British’s job difficult. As this tribal youth knew the nature of the soil and the water paths, he became the guide to the British. The story says that the British, later killed this youth to take the full credit of discovery. But then, the spirit of this youth began to create havoc on the travellers on this road. 

The Chain Tree
Many were afraid to use the road and, it is told, many could not travel on this road to reach their destination on time. Often the spirit would intercept the traveller and confuse him, leaving him frightened to step forward. 
The Chain Tree has become a small  Shrine

The situation became so difficult that a Hindu priest had to chain the soul of this youth to a tree by this roadside. Today, every traveller on this road can see a large Ficus tree bounded by a chain.  This is the famous ‘Chain Tree’ on our track. The ‘Chain Tree’ story visited me as I vigorously peddled across all these hairpin bends.

I call Cannondale Bad Boy a typical Z-category ‘Black Cat’ in her appearance and performance. The moment I took to the saddle of this bike, I could feel a different throb from that of Q5: Bad Boy is smooth, swift and obedient. The character of speed comes with an amazing ability to fully control the wheels under all situations. 
The total bike-weight is less than 12.5 Kg. and it is a bike stripped and clean with only sheer essentials.  The frame (especially with the FATTY fork) looks really fat and bulky… don’t worry!... it is only an illusion. The frame is very light and sturdy in its construction and performance. Look at it and you can appreciate the expertise Cannondale has in working with aluminium. The finish of this frame is great: smooth, starkly clean with no working smudges that is usually characteristic of any other manufactures’ welded frames.  Added to it is the metallic, all-black matt-finish which steals a surprise glance from any street eye-ball. The street first looks at you and your colour…then they keep on gaping at the BAD BOY…they wouldn’t take the eye away from it. There is a delicate sparkling to BAD BOY’s matt-finish which is noticeable to careful eyes. 
Even the labels and the graphics on the frame go great with the all-black concept of the bike. The name “CANNONDALE” is itched in aluminium and not painted as in most other manufactures’ frames. The routing of the cables is another feature which is distinct from Q5: not a single cable is routed under the top tube. Everything goes under the down tube. This gives a clean streamline profile for the top tube and is very important as this design helps us to carry the bike on our shoulders (like in a cyclo-cross application).

Nazar had his Trek MTB looking
on to the winding roads ... 
After the 44 Km smooth highway tarmac with occasional ups and downs, the Ghats began to bite our peddling. The hard part of the ride would be this section. The 13 Km climb that follow is what makes this ride extraordinary. And the blazing sun was burning the tarmac tar. I could smell the scent of this from my saddle. As each of 9 hairpin bends is spread across this long section, it was ideal to take it systematically in super-low gear. Wayanad is a beautiful land. With huge potential for tourism, there has been unplanned development of properties recently. This has made these Ghats road busy.

Looking down on to the hairpin bends is cool.... !
One trick that I have understood in taking long climbs on cycle is that, I never look towards the elevated horizon far away. If I do so, it frightens me. A mental conversation sets in, “Oh! Is it so long and high??”  And then there is a possibility of giving up the peddling. Instead of that, in every long climb, I glance only at the immediate vicinity of peddling. This prevents me from mentally calibrating the climb.

The geometry of Bad Boy is different from Quick-5 and other cycle-frames in the market. While Quick offers an upright riding position, Bad Boy has an aggressive posture for the rider… still, no back pains. The spinning comfort of Bad Boy is remarkable. Weighing less than Quick-5 and with the combination of 700cc slim tires this bike is rightly called the Urban Dark Horse. The disk-brakes give ample allowance to speed across urban terrain in a sporty style. But, on the visibility factor, Quick’s upright riding position looks far superior.Yet,the aggressive posture on Bad Boy is strengthened with the bike’s styling that grabs street-attention. Over all, I would give 4 stars upon 5 for this Black Beauty.   

Among five of us, Biju and I reached ahead of others over the Ghats. Up at the end of Ghats stood an empty open Café Day store. It was a welcoming experience for us to cool down. Nibbling chocolate chip cookies with hot cappuccino, it was time for ‘soft cycle talks’ between both of us. Thoughts and words carried us away for a moment. 

If life is a circle, we cycle around it day in and day out. It is true that we cycled as school children and as young teenagers. But, today, as we browse over a cappuccino, we have walked a long way into our adulthood… into our middle age and still we cycle. But the experience is different… the language of pedaling is different and...times are different. This is the real fun of spinning.

As moment stood noon in that empty Café Day store, no one eavesdropped our whisperings and our laughter. And we moved on... 

Time was up and we had to cycle back home. Rolling all the way down and spinning away along the tarmac looked exiting. Yet it involved carful manoeuvring. If climbing Ghats were tiring, spinning down the 13 Km is to be accosted in fun. But safety is important. I found the disk brakes on BAD BOY absolutely fantastic and responsive. The speed with which we could cut through the road-traffic and swing and roll down the Ghats surprised the motorists.  In a non-stop peddling with an empty hydration-pack I zoomed back home. Cyclometer read 127 Km trip distance.

 Thanks to Praveen, my fellow cyclist who shared his mobile photos with me for posting in this blog.