Tour Of Ballalarayana Durga
By Ashwath Rasquinha
A Wholesome tour with a sweet centre filling of ‘Suffering’!
When passionate cyclists come together, a passionate cycling tour in a scenic but challenging route is imminent. This time around, we chose a tour around the great peak of ‘Ballalarayana Durga’ in Chikmagalur district.
We had visited this mountain on one of our earlier hybrid tours (Tour of Malenadu), and I, unfortunately, missed out riding on that particular day. Filled with regret, I knew another trip was calling. I spilt the idea among fellow cyclists, and several hungry riders readily lapped it up.
In a spark, the route was mapped, logistics was arranged and seven of us were all set. A day before the tour, Sarvesh our fearless ‘climb seeking artist’ suggested we visit the Ballalarayana Durga (BD) mountain top twice in the tour, albeit from different directions, once in the morning to see the sunrise and again in the evening to witness the light fade away. It was a jolt to my plans, as we were going to mess up the timing on the planned loop. Nevertheless, I hesitantly agreed; anything for an over the edge adventure, that is guaranteed to numb you physically and mentally.
We reached Kaimara Estate in Hirebyle (our host and co-rider Sudhir’s coffee paradise) the previous day of the tour by our vehicles, to unwind and gossip amongst the cool, refreshing, pristine surroundings of the coffee estate. And the topic of discussion for the entire evening ended up being ‘How we were going to manage the route the next day while including two trips to BD’. Amidst several coin tosses, practical advice, high-pitched excitement (mostly mine) and spilt beverages and laughter, we decided to run with the trip to BD in the morning and evening. Getting a glimpse of the sunrise was out of the question as we lost track of time in the deeply involved discussion and it was already 1:30 am. To adjust time, we would not be doing the originally planned full loop but break it and return as per our convenience with regard to keeping time.
The next day after a sumptuous breakfast of bread, butter and egg-burji from the Kaimara Estate kitchens, we set out at 8 am, fully dressed in shiny latex; bikes checked, cleaned and lubricated. After confirming the new route to BD with the locals, and a couple of enquiries later we set our plan rolling. We start our ride from Hirebyle and proceed towards Kela Marasanige, to start the first climb of the day through a scenic path on the edge of a mountain overlooking the spectacular BD in all its glory.
Upon reaching SH 106, we comprehended the idea that we were on a wrong route and weren’t going to make it to BD, and re-planned the route for the rest of the day. We began rolling towards Kalasa, a 22 km winding-rolling road. After a quick coffee break in Kalasa, we headed towards Horanadu (8 km). It was a much-awaited relief, after encountering 8 km of descent on rough roads on the way to Kalasa, the road to Horanadu was smooth as it could get, and I could picture my lanky road bike thanking me for it. A quick-stop darshan at the Annapoorneshwari temple in Horanadu and a photo session later, we headed back to Kalasa for Lunch. The ‘Prince of Kalasa’ hotel was a surprise find; relaxed outdoor setting, just what we needed to unwind. We weren’t expecting much in terms of quality of food, but once the Akki Roti thali started getting passed around, we knew we were in for a treat. After multiple orders of Akki Roti, Neer Dosa and Gulkand, and exhausting the hotel’s supplies, we decided to take a power nap for 15 minutes on the benches itself, while the soft natural breeze calmed us down.
At 2 pm, we started our ride back to Hirebyle and regrouped in Sunkasale (25 km), the base of BD, and had our fill of energy boosting bananas and cool water. At 4:15 pm, we begin the most awaited climb of the day, a climb which would culminate the whole essence of the tour. A 7 km climb with gradients touching 30% in one section, and between 10% and 20% on the other sections, it was a climb only for the brave at heart, literally, you had to be 100% fit to climb. The fittest rider in the group, Shyam, and I, the frailest, were on a mission to get to the top the quickest. I was expecting an average pace, to begin with, and increase the pace towards the finishing point. But to no one’s surprise, Shyam starts gunning it from the get go, and I was compelled to be with him or else lose any chance of making it up later on severe gradients. Four kilometres fly by, and I was already in a world of pain, a pain I have never experienced before. My thighs screaming and my heart racing, I was left with no choice. I kept telling myself the top is just around the corner and it’ll all be over soon. That idealistic thought lasted only for three seconds, and I was back to panting and gasping and secretly uttering pleasantries at Shyam who was spinning effortlessly, who showed no signs of wearing out nor slowing down. I survived right until the last climb, a wall of 30% madness, right at Shyam’s rear wheel till the top of it and then in the final 200 meters I let go, as my body screamed to stop the preposterous abuse. In true Shyam style, he carried on casually towards the end of the segment, I think I also heard him whistling a couple of tunes.
One by one the riders reach the top, looking to grab any and every ounce of water. We parked our bikes and began a short hike to the top of BD, serene and calm at an elevation of 1,500 meters, nature belittling us with its vastness. At about 5:30 pm, the light was quietly fading; a good 40 minutes on the mountain and a plethora of photographs later, we pick our bikes up to begin our way back to the estate. This is when my legs bring me back to the order of the day, frozen in time, refusing to budge, refusing to complete one pedal stroke, I was baffled as I was already in the easiest gear possible. After the descent to Sunkasale, we decide to strictly go in a group as everyone was worn out and darkness was just around the corner. It was a quiet 12 km ride back to the Kaimara Estate and a moment for reflection on the day’s accomplishments, a ride covering 101 km with an elevation of 4,050 meters. Why do we do these crazy difficult tours? Why do we put ourselves through this madness? Masochism perhaps, the answer may not be that simple; but at the end of the day, we are a bunch of riders from various walks of life united in cycling adventures, an adventure where friendship is progressed, bonds strengthened and memories etched forever. ‘Life begins at the end of your Comfort Zone’ - Neale Donald Walsch