Nandi Hills is the pride of Chikkaballapur district and one of the most popular tourist destinations that is with-in an hours drive from Bangalore. With an ancient temple on the top, Tipu’s fort and summer palace, hiking trails and amazing views of sunrise and sunset among many other special attractions of the place, this is one of the tourist hot spots in the region. Around 60k away from even center of city, it also makes for an ideal long weekend ride for motorists and cyclists alike.
Over the years, it has grown in popularity and as a result the traffic on the hill has increased tremendously. While the growing popularity is great for tourism and the economy it generates, it does put great strain on the delicate ecosystem of the hills and the surrounding region.
The efforts from the local administration and the tourism department to develop the region further, are evident from the recently approved cable car project among other things. The cable car project will not only be an added attraction offering tremendous views but also potentially reduce the vehicular traffic on the hill(in a very minimal way, I must say). Proposals to allow only electrical vehicles up the hill to ferry tourists are supposed to be under discussion in an effort to reduce the strain on the ecosystem of the region. Exploring ideas for encouraging eco-tourism and making the area a hub for outdoor sports and activities, has lead Dr. Sudhakar, the Member of Legislative Assembly of Chikkaballapur constituency, to reach out to the cycling community in Bangalore via Dr. Arvind Bhateja and our cycling team, Spectrum Racing.
We were invited into a meeting where we shared a few ideas for making Nandi hills a sports and eco-friendly region. One of the ideas was keeping the hill closed to vehicular traffic for a few hours in the morning during the weekends.
Some of us have been riding to Nandi hills for more than 8 years and have seen the traffic on the weekends grow to massive proportions. There are days when there are massive traffic jams on the hill and fatal accidents from reckless driving almost every week. We had to avoid cycling on Sundays to Nandi hills as the traffic increased so much so that it began feeling hazardous to be on the hill on any given Sunday. We had to move our weekly cycling pilgrimage to the hill to Saturdays. Now, even Saturdays are becoming similarly busy and unridable.
So, the promise of having the traffic closed to vehicular traffic even for a few hours in the morning felt like music to our ears. To see how such an arrangement would work at least once or twice a month, it was decided that an experimental run would be conducted during the weekend of 1st and 2nd July. During the week before, a few of us from Spectrum Racing took time off from our day jobs and approached the Horticultural department, Police department and local Zilla Parishad administration to get the required permissions and over see the arrangements needed for the weekend. Information was disbursed via social media, radio and tv tickers. We have put up banners at important junctions on the way. Cycling and running communities turned up in huge numbers to turn up on those two mornings to enjoy the traffic free fresh air of the hill.
On 1st July, as a big group of us rode the base of Nandi, we could see the police barricades at important junctions like Karahalli cross to stop the traffic. Many of the people who came there on motor bikes and cars parked their vehicles and walked towards the hill. It was brilliant to see so many people walking, running and cycling towards the hill.
At 7am, MLA Dr. K Sudhakar flagged off the ride by riding his new bike along with us. We rode at a liesurely pace up the hill enjoying the serinity of the hill where you could almost hear the cool fresh breeze singing into your ears. It was amazing!
Even young kids were able to ride up the hill without having to worry about the traffic. I have seen one kid riding up the hill while his parents did their morning run behind him. Another father rode along with his son all the way up the hill. Many riders did their first ride/run/walk/hike up the hill that morning in complete peace and hormony.
Many cycling and running groups from all over the city turned up and experienced the bliss of riding and running up the hill in a heavenly atmosphere.
BAR Nandi Mass Start Race!
After enjoying a casual ride up the hill on Saturday 1st of July, we got together again on Sunday, 2nd July at the base of the hill. This time, for a Bangalore Amateur Racing(BAR) Mass Start Nandi hill race from the base of the hill to the arch. We have done quite a few Individual Time Trials(ITT) up the hill but with the hill closed to motor traffic, we thought it would be a great oppurtunity to do a mass start race. We had Chikkaballapur ZP CEO and DSP to flag off the race and about 25 riders raced up the hill while others did a casual ride up.
The mass start format allows riders to chose a wheel that they can follow and try and stay with it. That sort of oppurtunity can work to the benefit if you choose the right wheel to follow and could back fire spectacularly if you end up going into the red too soon by choosing a wheel that’s too fast for you. Also, having a carrot to chase in the form of riders ahead of you provides it’s own motivation. So, this was an unique oppurtunity for the riders to rake up personal best timings on the hill.
As soon as the race started, the pack broke into smaller groups right at first steep bend. Both the skinny climbers and stocky power horses were giving their best to ride away from each other. Naveen Raj rode quickly away from the rest while Murali was chasing behind him. Vivek Radhakrishnan was in the third position and Criag was a few meters behind him. After them was a bunch of 4 riders, Tarun Rao, Dharshan Rajgopal, Phanibhushan Simhapatra and Arvind Bhateja.
By the time we got to the steepest part of the hill, at curve 33, Craig had caught Vivek and went past him, spinning up the hill like a mountain goat. It was incredible to see the 80kg power horse turning into a mountain goat. He was riding like a man possessed. And so were most of them that day.
Naveen Raj kept the huge lead he built till the finish and finished under 22mins for the first time with 21:29 according to the Nandi Strava segment.
Curve 33 also saw the duel between the skinny climber Tarun Rao and Arvind take shape. They have been chasing each other down exchanging leads through out the last 2km. Eventually the skinny guy finished a few seconds ahead of Arvind and finished with 24:04 and Arvind too got his goal of finishing sub-25 for the first time.
Murali finished 30 seconds behind Naveen Raj and went under 22 mins for the first time with 21:59. Craig finished a minute behind and went under sub 23 with a 22:59. From fearing climbs of any sorts to going sub 25 and now sub 23 on Nandi, he is amazing example of how hardwork and consistency reaps benefits.
Vivek too finished a few seconds behind with a personal best too. He was followed by Tarun and Arvind both finishing sub 25! What a way to celebrate a weekend of zero traffic on the hill! The top 6 all got personal bests and all were sub25 to sub 22.
Top 5 for the BAR Nandi Mass start race!
It was indeed an amazing weekend of riding and racing on the hill with zero traffic. The police and officials of the administration were incredibly cooperative in making sure this experiment was a success.
Special thanks to Chikkaballapur MLA Dr. K Sudhakar, DSP Mr. Purushottam, Zilla Parishad CEO Mr. Manjunath and the Horticultural department official Mr. Raghu and their collegues for making this happen. Also thanks to my teammates, Dr. Arvind Bhateja, Craig Raynes and Manjula Sridhar for the behind the scenes work for pulling this off.
Although we know that it may not be practical to do this every weekend, we will be pursuing to make it possible to do this at least once a month. Hopefully, we will be able to spare the time and energy needed to work with all the concerned authorities to make it happen.
PS: Below are the pics from my teammate, Craig, the very next Sunday(8th July) where the traffic jam on the hill made riding impossible. It is not safe either for us or the environment to leave this so called ‘tourism’ unchecked. Responsible tourism, eco-tourism, or whatever you call it, is the need of the hour!