Bathing In The Beauty of Nilgiris: Tour oF Nilgiris 2012 Recce

My tryst with Tour of Nilgiris(TFN) in 2011 had a huge impact on me. I had a fantastic time riding the tour and documenting the experience on this blog. This year when I was selected as the official blogger for the tour, I was thrilled to bits. I’m excited that I’m going to re-live the awesome tour again and will be documenting it through the experiences of the 85 riders riding the tour this year.

When I was invited to join the TFN team on the recce during the 3rd weekend of this month, I was in a dilemma. It was difficult to choose between the ever exciting Bangalore Bicycling Championships race(was an XC at Turahalli this month) and the awesome tour. I chose to spend the weekend in the Nilgiris with the TFN team. And oh boy! What a weekend it was!

The beauty of Nilgiris…

The jam packed itinerary went something like this. We start on 13th(Thursday) night and reach Madikeri. We take a quick nap in a home stay there before we go to explore the route for day 3 of TFN-2012 which is from Madikere to Sultanbhateri.  We would also finalize hotels, pay advances and decide on a competitive section for the day. We then reach Ooty on 14th night and explore the route for day 6(day 4 being Sultanbhateri to Ooty and day 5 being a rest day). We would also finalize hotels, pay advances and decide on a competitive section for the day. 15th night we would stay in Ooty again and start towards Mettupallyam on 16th. We would need to explore the final day’s route from Mettupallyam to Chamrajnagar which includes the 27 hairpin Satty climb, before heading towards Bangalore.

The recce team consisted of Deepak Majipatil, Francis Santosh Lobo(Tour Director), Badrinath V Sastry(Asst Tour Director), Chenthil Mohan(Official Photographer), Satish Kumar(Driver cum Route Maker), Adarsh Kashyap(Volunteer Route Marker), Siva Sai(of Siva’s road and Siva’s Regal fame; Rider of 3 TFNs who will be riding his 4th TFN this year) and yours truly as official blogger.

As we started from Deepak Majipatil’s house, it began to rain. Siva rued the fact that he spent two hours washing and polishing his bike(Scott Addict) that morning just to put it on the roof rack and let it be washed again in rain. I was happy that the Lemond is getting a much needed bath. 

After a chapatti sabji dinner at Deepak’s house we stopped a couple of times on the route to Madikeri for chai in the cold night. Sipping hot chai in the cold night in the middle of nowhere chatting about all and sundry was great fun. While in the car, I tried furiously to sleep. 

Madikere-Sultanbhateri(Day3 of TFN-2012):
We reached Madikere around 4:30am and slept till 8am. After a hot shower and idli vada breakfast, we started out towards Sultanbatheri. We stopped at the hotel Venkateswara(?) in Madikere, checked out the rooms and the dining hall before paying advance for our December booking. The hotel seems to be relatively new and very nicely maintained.

We then began to drive towards Sultanbhateri. In TFN-2011, we went to Kannur from Madikere(Day 4) where we had a rest day. We then went from Kannur to Sultanbhateri. This year, we will be directly heading to Sultanbhateri from Madikere. The route is going to be around 130km of which nearly 60% would be Paris-Roubaix type roads. One of the most scenic routes, more scenic than the next day’s route to Ooty in my opinion. So, be prepared to be astounded by the scenic beauty and also to be shaken to the bone by the P-R type roads.

The markers on the recce made furious notes on where all the markings need to be made to avoid people losing their way on the not so direct route.

We managed to find a relatively good stretch for a small competitive section for the day. After that we entered the Kerala side and rode through a beautiful forest. We stopped at a Unniappam place by the roadside and ate delicious Unniappams and lemon tea for our lunch. We will have to ensure that there is adequate marking on the day so that people don’t miss this place. This is a must try on the tour.

The roads through the forest are quite well paved and marked but they are quite curvy and not that wide. One needs to pay attention to the oncoming traffic as it is after all the notorious territory of Kerala drivers. After this beautiful stretch, a few kms of more bad road takes you to the last 30-35km of excellent roads until the destination for the day, Sultanbhateri. 

It was around 5pm and we had our lunch cum dinner there before talking to the hotel guys for accommodation. We then drove to Ooty to stay. Sultanbhateri-Ooty, the day seven in last year’s tour will be day four of TFN-2012  

Ooty-UpperBhavani loop(Day6 of TFN-2012):
That night we checked into the Youth hostel in Ooty and rested. Next morning it was time to explore the UpperBhavani route and finalize the competitive section for the day. The route is going to be one of the toughest on the tour. Nearly 4000m of total elevation change in 130km of the route with not much change in the total altitude means you are going to go up and down a lot. The roads are good apart from the last 3-4km nearing UpperBhavani where they are slightly gravelly but very ride-able. There are quite a few short and steep climbs on the route. They keep on coming at you right through to the end. So, get your climbing legs tuned up before this day. And saying that the scenery is going to be stunning will be a gross understatement. Pristine beauty!

This route is going to be part of TFN Entree where about 60 additional riders are going to join the regular TFNers. It is going to be one bad-ass day! 

Venky’s Chicken:
While riding on one small section on this route, going through a small village, there was a small accident. I ran over a chicken. 

It was a mildly traumatic experience for me and a severely traumatic and a fatal one for the poor chicken. For all those friends who are inclined to attribute ruthless killer instincts, I take this opportunity to categorically say that it was quite unintentional and purely an accident. I am inclined to even say that it was a suicide by the chicken. I said a small prayer for that poor soul and refused to eat chicken that night in dinner. Had mutton biryani instead.

Awesome Downhill: Ooty-Mettupalayam(Day7-TFN-2012):
The next day we headed towards Mettupalayam we drove till Kotagiri and started riding towards Mettupalayam. It was one hell of a downhill that lasted nearly 25km from where we started. It is quite curvy and technical. People need to be quite careful with the oncoming traffic. I would advise extra set of break pads to be carried on the tour just in case. People signed up for this year’s tour need to sharpen not just their climbing skills but also their descending skills. Not because there is a downhill competitive section, because there is not. It is just to survive the tour without incident.

Again this is an extremely scenic route. Part of this route was ridden last year when we headed towards Kodanad view point on the last day of the tour.

Sathy Climb: Mettupalayam to Chamrajnagar(Day8-TFN-2012):
Once we reached Mettupalayam, we had lunch in the same hotel where we are going to stay on the tour and headed towards Chamrajnagar. The road towards Chamarajnagar from Mettupalayam is one long straight beautiful road till LowerBhavani dam. From there we take a diversion towards Bannari and start our competitive section for the final day up the Sathy climb. It is about 11km and 27 hairpins of beautiful climb that is going to have one final say on the GC standings for this year’s TFN. I suffered and thoroughly enjoyed the climb.

By the time we completed the climb it was already past 6pm on 16th(Sunday) and we started driving towards Bangalore. We reached around 2am on Monday ready to go back to our earthly office going existence with the memories of an awesome weekend in biking heaven. The enthusiasm and excitement that is going to carry me through now would be due to the fact that I’m going to go back to those awesome roads in the Nilgiris along with 100 others in December for more than a week. 

Here are the photos from my cell phone:

Here are the awesome shots by Chenthil     

PS: If you are one of those who want to ride the TFN, but were either unable afford the time/weren’t sure about the ability/did not get an invite. Tour of Nilgiris Entrée is a quick 3 nights 2 day ride in the heart of Nilgiris. Go register and be part of the awesome tour! Details here:

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