Green Break : Chikmaglur and Coorg

Dusshera holidays and most of the kids friends having left on vacations meant we needed to entertain them. And the usual mall/amusement part/restaurant routine did not appeal at all.

So a location was zeroed in on, reservations were made at a resort-in-a-coffee-estate, and off we went.

For some weird reason, I decided to chance the Tumkur road ('should be ok early in the morning') and regretted it all the way upto Kunigal, where the alternative Magadi-Kunigal drive would've met the NH-48. There's construction work all the way upto Nelamanga, bad surface, awful traffic, and dust. And early in the morning is ideally when you want to feel the fresh air through open windows.

A little ahead you cross some windmills on your left - in fact the road goes all around them and you get a 270 view of the hillock with these huge white beauties atop them.

The road after Kunigal is mostly in decent shape, and traffic got a little lighter too. The weather was very nice, and the sun did not feel warm at all. We stopped on the roadside for a quick breakfast - stuff we'd carried from home to save time - and were soon at Hassan.

Hassan itself is dusty, with broken roads, and traffic. Its a major agri-trading town and that shows in the businesses you see around there. We did a quick refill at an ATM and got out of there as quick as traffic would permit.

The Hassan-Belur stretch is an absolute beauty - both in terms of the rolling tarmac (painted shoulders and all!) as well as the scenic countryside you pass through. Another set of windmills on the right, a couple of very pretty lakes, the huge reservoir of the Belur dam, and great weather kept us company. The road became a little iffier after Belur, but the view from the window got better and better as we got to Chikmaglur. It started drizzling a bit as well.

Chikmaglur has gotten a lot more crowded since our last trip there nearly seven years ago. One ways and quite a lot of traffic meant some time spent crossing the town. Once past, it became apparent why this region os called the Scotland of India. Coffee, tall trees, rolling gren hillsides and gentle rain.

To get to Hunkal woods, we had to keep going straight past the Kymara junction - where I'd earlier taken a left towards Kemmanagundi - for about 20 kms. The traffic dropped as we drove on the curvy roads around the cloud covered hills.

At Hospet village, we saw a smart looking board saying "Hunkal Woods 3.2kms" pointing left (There were signs at every possible fork - nicely done). The road was narrow, broken and went right through pretty coffee territory. After about a kilometre or so all there was an uneven dirt track and carefully kept the tyres on the higher parts of the road to avoid bottom scraping. The woods got thicker, and the rain much heavier as we gained elevation rapidly and reached the property.

The service at Hunkal Woods was warm, effective yet unintrusive. Nizam, the main man there, suggested lunch, some rest and a trek to a waterfall at 4pm. The food was basic, tasy and very nicely served at the open dining area.

So off we went on the trek through coffee, some bush, waterfalls. There were some steeper sections, and a couple of leeches to spice up the trip :)

That trek was cut short (though we did reach the waterfall) due to failing light and Shubha having slipped and bent a finger a little hard - so we returned and promised to go on a longer one the next morning.

Just before we got back, Nizam took us on a slight detour to a coffee drying yard where the guy running the place passionately explained the pulping, cleaning and drying process, the difference between Arabica and Robusta, and let us know that their coffee had won a prize announced by "Ely, of Australia"!

We got rid of the leeches (salt really works!) as well as the kids' squeamishness, had a bath, and were wondering if we should have another round of coffee (its on the house, unlimited) when the lady who runs the kitchen there herself brought very welcome mirchi bhajjis with a gentle knock on the door.

The bonfire was a little tough to get going, given the wet ground below, but it was worth the effort. Dinner was another nice affair though the kids were beginning to get sleepy and we retired early.

We got up at 5:45 am - no alarm - and thats one of the best parts of a being in a place like this. The kids got up a little later, and after some coffee and milk, we got ready and set out for the morning trip. This was a longer trek, and Nizam carried our breakfast. Upto the grassline was mostly coffee plantation dirt roads - wide and easy - though we did cross some creeks, bush and other assorted obstacles. One stretch was a little steep along the sides of a hill - but they grow coffee everywhere!

Soon we had walked to the grassline. Courtesy the acclimatization the previous evening - and Nizam's assurance that the juice from the bitter-lime fruit he'd plucked as we started would keep leeches at bay - the kids were feeling much braver. I was anyhow wearing gumboots, and Shuhba seemed to not care. The views of the rocks - which seemed to be covered with soft grass - kept egging us on to go further and further. We stopped near the edge of the plantation (place that used to be wooded till a few years ago - 'Tiger Woods' ?) for yummy Rava Idlis and very fresh coconut chutney.

We soon reached the top of a grassy hill a little below Hunkal Hill, and started our descent towards the last evening's waterfall below. Once we got to the road, Nizam and the kids took a ride in a passing truck to the estate, and we walked down to a hot lunch before we packed up and headed out.

We drove back to Hassan, and from there towards Madikeri via Arkalgud, Sanivarasanthe, and Somwarapet. There's a huge dam and hydro-project at Gorur that I knew about only when we came across it :) The road was iffy upto Sanivarasanthe, and past that it got more and more amazing every passing kilometer. Tata Coffee has some huge plantations is the area, and the well maintained hedges and tall, old trees in the plantations give the entire stretch a very picture-postcard feel.

Next day we did a quick trip to Dubare to try and "interact with the elephants", as one of the sites described it. There was a place serving bread and omelette there, and I was almost thankful for the regular breakfast. We took the boat to the other side, did the mandatory elephant ride and walked around to where a wild elephant had been held captive for taming. Felt sad to see man's efforts to break the spirit of these huge creatures.

Spent another day near Bhagamandala- mostly work involving trying to figure out next steps for getting the house in shape - and we headed back home. An amazing 4 day break, green, fresh air, the kids' fear of leeches gone forever, Dubare finally seen. (The huge bonus was the fuel efficiency that the old workhorse managed - 15kmpl+!) Gotta do another trip to Hunkal Woods - probably in January when the coffee is dried, and the air's cold.

TFN09 Framed

TFN09 Frames:

Follow maadi. Ride maadi.

Wall Painting

Over four years in our current house with toddlers and theie armies of friends around did take a toll on the walls. A couple of them more than the others, and a lot of switches has smudges around them.

Shubha was keen on a DIY, so off we went to a hardware store.

2kgs of white distemper, a brush, a roller, and a few words of advice from the not-particularly-convinced guy at the store set us back about 230/- or so. So far so good.

A little bit of reading on the web brought some confidence to back up the advice received earlier, and we started with optimism. Well, at the back of the mind was the knowledge that it could hardly look worse than it did before the repaint effort :D

Step 0. Move the furniture around as needed. Keep a ladder, wet cloth, lotsa newspaper handy for managing the dripping.

Step 1. Scrape, scrape, scrape with sandpaper. The walls need to be rid of warts, heel scuffle marks, pencil art, and powdery stuff. Its pretty tough to get a totally smooth finish, but this part of the process (as we realized a little later for some patches we did not quite attack to enthusiastically) is the most critical one.

Step 2. Put on some nice music and take a break/chai/juice. All that scraping makes you a little tired. You also might want to do a little bit of cleanup now before it spreads all over the house!

Step 3. Mixing the amount of water in the paint. For oil bound distemper, we needed to add between 0.5-0.65 litres of water per kg. We played a little cautious and used only about 1kg to start with - and it turned out to be enough. Mixing it well is important, especially towards the bottom of the bucket.

Step 4. Slop, slip, splosh. Applying it onto the wall. We started with a lot of uncertainty. Unclear how much should be 'used' per stroke, and in how much of a patch it should spread. But stuck with vertical strokes of the brush initially, and used the roller once the 'painter' moved onto an adjacent patch. Trick : since it was white on white - matching colours was not critical and even not-too-great a job on applying it uniformly did not matter at all. Kept wiping off the paint that dripped here and there. Also, contrary to advice - started from the bottom end since those were the really dirty parts and we weren't sure if the paint would be enough :) Since it was starting to blend in easily as it dried we took a call that it would not matter even if we were unable to do the top bits - those were hardly dirtied anyhow.

After the first wall the confidence shot up, and we touched up pretty much all the major greased-up bits around the house!

Turned out to be a decent job. Not too expensive, and overall, we might've spent 4 hours including the cleaning up afterwards. The brush, roller etc were easily cleaned after dipping them in water for a while.

We've possibly pushed out a full paint job by a couple of years. And its nice to see clean walls :)

TFN09 : All Systems Go!

The donations needed for TFN09 have been announced.

The invitations for the registration should start going out now, and we should have the riders for this edition known in a few weeks at most, if the signups happen fast.

All systems go. Go train!

Is It Safe ?

Thats the most common question/fear I've heard from people when it comes to considering cycling in and around Bangalore.

[ Personally, I find it safe enough. 80% of road fatalities are those of pedestrians, yet the question rarely comes to mind whether we should avoid walking! Most often, one's either ahead of traffic or behind the lot thats gone past, so you need only a few moments of alertness and you're good. Way lesser risk, and stress. ]

Here's a few interesting viewpoints on safety:

Jayadeep talks about subjective safety, and the Insecurity Syndrome associated with cycling. Honestly, I have almost no incidents on a typical cycle trip, and at least one or two "braked too late" or "got a little closer than I'd have liked to" ones when do a similar ride on the motorbike. In a car, it still happens and its still unsafe - for someone else!

While on that, here's a beautifully articulated viewpoint from Rajat on the Bangalore Bikers group:
Ever since I started commuting by cycle, time and again I have pondered over the safety aspect of cycling when used as a means of transport. Even though the statistics point to a low accident rate, the danger of being hurt sometimes fatally is ever present. An increasing number of bikers and daily commuters will undoubtedly increase the probability that our community may very well have to deal with some really bad news sometime or the other. Each time out on the cycle we are aware of this undeniable fact and yet we ride unafraid, extra cautious maybe, but unafraid nevertheless. We ride our cycles not for lack of choice but because we want to and we choose to. It is my great pleasure to ride each time, either alone or with others, secure in the knowledge that in however small a way it may be I am making a difference in this fragile world of ours.
Somewhere, traffic's started becoming an arms race! No winners there. Just larger SUVs, more metal, road rage and a downward spiral. The humble cycle might yet break that loop.
More cycles -> fewer cars -> safer roads for all!
And honestly, the last 2-3 feet on Bangalore's roads are unclaimed and quite safe :)

Other tips:
  • Be V-I-S-I-B-L-E. The helmet helps. Reflective strips, lights at night.
  • Don't stick too close to the edge. Motorists apparently leave as much space from you as you leave from the edge!
  • Use your arms etc to "puff yourself up" and define a space around yourself clearly.
  • I sometimes stand on pedals to appear larger/slow down vehicles right behind.
  • Make sure all your actions are indicated in advance to people around. Visibly, and if needed, audibly.
  • Be polite. Make eye contact.
  • Yet, be assertive. You know how it is around here.
  • Before even a minor swing out from your lane/line, look over the shoulder. Practice this.
  • Flow with the traffic - especially when switching sides of the road etc.
  • Avoid making dumb mistakes yourself :)
  • Give right of way. Especially to pedestrians.
  • Have fun.

LifeSchool : Investment Advice

I've been investing for the better part of a decade now. Insurance, stock, mutual funds, structured products, real estate. (The only no-no has been derivatives cause it just sounded too not-me.)

Yet one learns all the time. The most recent learning ? that "portfolio allocation strategy" is more than just a phrase.

Part of my investments are debt heavy, and defensive. Another part was meant to be the aggressive part which was to pull up the overall numbers. The idea was also to not worry about this for a 3-5 year timeframe, since thats a growth story for the Indian economy that I totally believe in.

The mistake ?

I'd had a decent mix of stocks for this part of the investment for a few years, and assumed the PMS product would continue with a similar philosophy when my investment advisors suggested the same. In hindsight (and for the future) I should've tried understanding clearly the goals and approach of the PMS before stepping in. Its the same stock, the same kind of research that they'd provided earlier, but very different results. Its not merely the difference between a bull and a bear market (have been through those earlier) but the difference in the goals and aggression levels for the portfolio.

The PMS was trying to be defensive on behalf of a large set of its investors and took large cash positions - and this was at odds with my intent. So it could obviously not cash in on opportunities when the markets recovered.

Lesson learnt : Just because the product says its of asset class X, do NOT assume that as the whole truth. If the goals a product is trying to achieve are not clear to you or are clearly divergent, stay away!

TFN accommodation gets swankier

The Tour of Nilgiris just announced the places where the riders will rest their weary bones. Definitely better accommodation than for the 2008 edition - what with a pool, twim sharing rooms at some places and all that!

Iruppu is the break day - and the place looks fab. There's the falls closeby, and also some river rafting etc. Personally, even a chilled out day taking in the green surroundings at Coorg isn't a bad idea at all. Esp after the longest ride on the tour...


Rode a good weekend ride. A short slow one in great weather today.
Lovely weather. Oops, said this already :)
Nice Dev D songs on the headphones.
Solar powered light in the room adds more feel good.
Had nice hot tea.
One more person following their heart.

It all adds up. Some days are just so full of smiles and buoyancy.