Day 5: Kumarakom to Wagamon (or Vagamon): 87km and 1,450m of climbing

The clue to today is in the climbing numbers – our first big climb of the trip. Tough, tough, tough!!


A week ago today we left Birmingham, not knowing quite how this trip would work out. Now we are a week in, although we have still not turned over the map to the next pane (but it is a very large scale map).

We overslept and missed a visit to the bird sanctuary although as we passed it said the sanctuary was open from March to November, so maybe we missed little. Ambling along the shore of the lake we made good time. The land here is incredibly flat, with soaken fields growing rice stretching out for miles to the east of the lake.

P1020358We rode across this landscape for about 10 km and then turned East, and continued East all day. We had chosen a longer route to avoid going through the city of Kottayam, which would have been an “experience” but another we avoided.

P1020361Our route took us through the smaller towns of Ettamaneur, Palai and Erattupeta. The predominant writing here is written in a circular form which looks to have more in common with more Cyrillic script than western script. There are some roadsigns in English, but translated place names get spelt in different ways to the map (and between different roadsigns). The distances are also a bit haphazard – but then that is true in Sussex as well. However a combination of the maps on the Garmin (downloaded free from Streetmap – thanks) and googlemaps on Bernie’s phone with an Indian sim card plus the paper map of South India meant we navigated OK.

P1020362We stopped for lunch in the shade of trees in the grounds of a massive church, and brewed coffee. Lunch is mostly fruit and snacks – we are eating lots of oranges and bananas.

P1020363Then we began the climb – and I noticed that I had lost use of my chain rings. That’s OK – I will just pop the bike down to the wonderful Mark at Overspoke Bikes in Bewdley and get him or Richard to fix it – but there was a flaw with that plan – about 4,000 miles of flaw. Anyway I had bottom chain ring and knew that this was all I would need for the next 4 hours so decided to fix it tomorrow.

By the top, we felt we might need to check into here

So the climb began – a few ups and downs and then the serious, head exploding, energy sapping stuff. The early bits were not too steep but it was very hot still. Also, we are not yet back to full tour fitness, as this is still week 1. So we had to take it in bits. Lots of stops, quite a few more bananas and gradually we inched up. It was a 1000m climb – about the same as climbing the Col de la Combiere for those who have that experience.

As we climbed the shadows lengthened and the temperature dropped – through a combination of the day and the height. But that was counteracted by it getting steeper and tiredness setting in. The views were amazing as the road snaked its way up the side of the mountain. The traffic was very light and there were no other cyclists – of course – but we got lots of encouragement from those passing on occasional motorbikes and cars. Eventually we reached the top at the little town of Wagamon at about 1000m. Bernie was in better shape than me and she counted down the last few hundred meters. At least we knew we had a room booked. It was now about 6.30pm and we had our lights on!

P1020368But when we turned up at the “Golden Park” hotel, we found our reservation made on counted for nothing. An Indian shrug of the shoulders – we are full. We suspect they thought we were not coming and let our room to someone else. However, as always, helpful locals with local knowledge helped us out. We were pointed to another hotel which had a room, and were soon collapsed in a horizontal position.

We dragged ourselves down to the hotel restaurant where, of course, we were the only diners. The butter chicken curry was excellent, even if we were both in that “too tired to eat” mode.

The first big climb of any trip is always memorable and this was no exception. It sets us up to get to the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary tomorrow and so objective achieved, but it also showed that we have some way to go before we have full fitness.

2 thoughts on “Day 5: Kumarakom to Wagamon (or Vagamon): 87km and 1,450m of climbing

  1. Congratulations- some achievement! Beautiful photos. I remember scaling a sizable hill in the heat in Jordan by bike several years ago, in order to reach a school for children affected by disabilities which we were visiting. The years have dimmed my memory of the climb but what I do remember is the descent which was an exhilarating relief but fairly scary. I certainly checked my brakes before embarking! Enjoy the sanctuary tomorrow.

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