Surely one day is much like another on a cycling trip? Well not so far. This was another day with a whole set of new experiences and was forever new and challenging. Two weeks ago (exactly) we landed in Tivandrum with more than a little trepidation. Two weeks in we have learned so much, gained immeasurable respect for the country we are visiting and relaxed into the trip.
We woke, did bike repair (the Indian roads take their toll but all is back in working order) and had breakfast as the only ones in the Lodge restaurant. Then we left Ooty and began a descent down a road which had more road signs warning of danger than I have ever seen. The surface was excellent but it dropped about 1200m in about 20km, including 36 hairpin bends.
We negotiated it slowly but, by now, we felt in control of our bikes and did not get spooked by 30% drops on the inside of hairpins – well only a little spooked perhaps. The valley opened up as we descended, with vast areas of arid wilderness with light tree cover exposed on all sides.
About half way down we came to a “police post” manned by an old man who demanded to see our permits. We, of course, had no permits and saw cars passing without having this demand. We got a bit of a stand off and it was unclear whether he had any official status or was just after cash. Total lack of language (other than the word permit) on both sides meant the discussions were limited. In the end we thought we had no choice but just to press on despite his (admittedly fairly half-hearted) protestations. After all, we had already descended 800m and were not, not, not going to turn around and climb back up for lack of a permit on a public road!
We pressed on, waiting for the wail of a police siren, but it never came. As the descent ended we were clearly in a game park area, and pressed on for the next 10km to Tamarind Tree Resort where we had booked a room (for about £15 for the night). We arrived about 11.30am and were met by Rahul who manages the place, spoke great English and expressed considerable surprise that we were allowed to ride our bikes through the game reserve. The major worry was elephants who have been known to charge at things they disapprove of – and cyclists in bright tops may well have come into that category. A competition between a charging elephant and a middle-aged cyclist is, to be frank, not much of a contest. I suspect that Chris Froome might do a little better but my money would still be on the elephant. We resolved to find a way of ensuring that we did not need to cycle through the rest of the park.
The attraction of Masainagudi is that it is in a Mudumalai National Park, and at the edge of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. We arranged a jeep to take us to the main government tour point that afternoon. Our guide was Jenith, a local man who had originally studied auto-engineering but was now studying wildlife and ecology whilst working with his own jeep to ferry tourists around. He could not have been more helpful.
We decided to take a minis bus tour of the off-road areas for a couple of hours. It was a good choice as we saw elephants close up, loads of deer, monkeys and some spectacular waterfalls. The highlight was 2 stags in a head to head tussle – no doubt over mating rights for the female deer close-by.
After the tour we visited the elephant sanctuary where captured “rogue” elephants were kept, on show for the tourists but with a chain around one leg. They looked fairly passive but Jenith explained that one had killed 37 villagers and another had killed 28! So the practical alternative to being kept in chains was being shot. Bernie expressed the view that, if it were her, the latter alternative might be preferable! It was a sad place but there was an understandable need for it as these are potentially very dangerous animals.
On the way back we shopped for food for supper and then saw a lovely sunset. A great day all round.