07 January 2010

Kodaikanal to Munnar -- On a Bicycle !!

If you ask most people who live away, or even in Kodaikanal, they would tell you that the way to get to Munnar, is to get to Palani, or to Theni.

However, unknown to many, there are numerous jeep paths in and around Kodaikanal that would get you to Munnar. One such road is the now closed to all kinds of activity -- Escape Road.

A few months ago, I came to know of the fact that I would have ample free time on my hands for the New Year. Aimless browsing gave me this link, an Australian (I think), who had bicycled his way from Kodaikanal to Munnar.

I thought I shall more or less try out the same. Here's a blow-by-blow account.

Day 0: In which I get my bicycle ready.

I cycled over from my house to Balaji Cycles in Saidapet, Chennai. I trust them with my cycle, a modest, or in words of other "cyclists", a lowly Hero Thunder Racer. Later in the trip, I would learn that this thing can really fly, and helped me cover around 30+ kilometers, across the mountains, in around 75 and odd minutes.

I spent sometime preparing a seat post, made out of steel (the rest of the bicycle is aluminum, which makes it feather light) and fixed it on to the bicycle. All gears were checked and found to be in proper condition.

I had a ticket for Kodaikanal with KPN travels. I cycled over to their parcel office in Gunidy to dispatch the cycle, only to be told that they have no service to Kodaikanal, and I can put the cycle on top of the bus in which I am supposed to travel.

I then cycled over to Koyambedu, and parked the cycle there. Later in the night, I put it on top of the bus and tied it up with their ropes.

Day 1: In which I laze around and take loads of pictures.

I arrived at Kodaikanal and went straight to Greenland Youth Hostel. There was a motley crew that was attempting a trek to Munnar, albeit through a different path. I met with their guide Babu. I tried picking his brain to get some tips. I then learnt about the fact that the jungle routes are more or less closed to all kinds of traffic. He advised me to take the observatory route along the roads, and promised me that the views are quite good even through that side. He advised me to get to a village called Kilavarai(also called Kalvarai by the locals) for the night, stay there, cross the hills and get to a village called Koviloor the next day, and from there on, to Top Station and Munnar.

After a quick bath, I repacked my bag and gave some of my luggage for safe keeping with the kind folks at Greenland Youth Hostel. I cycled over to the market and got myself a nice cloth rope. A cloth rope is, on any day, a better alternative to nylon ropes. A cloth rope would tighten up over time and make sure my bag is safe. I got some packets of date fruits (it would come in handy the second day) and some sweet bread. (Milka wonder cake !!)

I then started cycling towards the observatory road. It was quite steep, but not anything difficult. Once I crossed the observatory, I continued cycling towards the Governor's view point. As soon as you cross the observatory cycle for around two kilometers, and look for a road that turns right and goes towards a village called "Poomparai". When in doubt, ask for a Klavarai village. Turn right at this road.

You would need to cross a road like that. The next few hours were spent in cycling slowly, trying to drink in the views and spending as much time as possible, in taking some pictures. (It is a different matter that I suck in photography, but hey, the camera is mine and I had all the time in the world).

After about two hours, I reached the village of Poomparai, and had lunch. A simple meal of rice and vegetables. Boy, it tasted awesome. You will pass a temple like the one that you see here.

Poomparai village was quite beautiful with all the mist that was shrouding it. I was rather unhappy as there was too much mist and I could not take some more pictures as I would have liked to. I guess I would have spent an hour or so here, just watching the mist flow by.

I then started cycling towards the next village, Kaunji. I had to pass another village called Poondi, before I can get to Klavarai.

Since I was in no hurry, I was doing it in a relaxed manner.

Kaunji Village.

At around 4PM in the evening, after cycling for about 5 hours, I reached Klavarai village, a distance of around 40 kilometers. I was told that options to stay for the night were quite limited and hence, I should get back to a village called Poondi.

In Poondi village, there is a farmstay. However, since I was on a budget, I made some inquiries, and found a small hotel guy, who agreed to provide me with a bed and blanket for 200Rs. I would have to share the bathroom. I was quite okay with the arrangement. After all, I just wanted a bed, blanket, and a roof over my head to sleep for the night.

I parked my bicycle and walked around poondi village, taking some pictures.

I came back, and had a nice cold bath. I then had something to eat, and decided to get to bed. Tomorrow was going to be a long day.

Day 2: Lots of pushing and learning that my bicycle can really fly.

The idea was to get to Top Station and stay there for the day. I had a lot of time on my hands and wanted to relax on the entire trip. I started from Poondi village and my route was Nattampatti-Klavarai-The Jeep path-Koviloor-Top Station. I passed by some nice fields and birds.

I then reached the Nattampatti Village. As you reach the village, the road forks. Take the left fork. After you take the left fork, you would get to a bridge that is under construction. It seems that in monsoon, Klavarai village gets cut off from rest of Kodaikanal. You would cross this stream on which a bridge is being built.

A few hours of cycling got me to Klavari. Once you enter Klavarai, you would see a fork. A road to your left that is uphill and a road to your right that is downhill. Take the road to your left. After around 300mts or so, you would see a steep uphill path on your left. It seems that the recent November rains had destroyed the entire jeep path. The locals told me to be prepared to push my cycle till the end of the jeep path, a good 15+ kilometers. The locals also told me that it takes around three hours for them to get to Koviloor by walk. I estimated that since I stop frequently for pictures, it would take me around 5 hours. Once you start the jeep path, you need to hoist the cycle over your head and cross the path as it is extremely slushy and there is path just for one person to walk over. As soon as you start uphill, you reach a fork, where you take the right fork.

Over the next few hours, I would learn the difficulty involved in pushing the cycle over steep uphill slopes, and the difficulty involved in controlling your body and the cycle when you are negotiating a downhill slope.

However, the stunning views compensated for all the hard work that was needed.

I passed a few locals who told me that this path is soon (in the next three or four years) becoming a highway. They needed it badly as it would give them faster access to the towns, so that they can sell their agricultural produce. I then crossed over the border into Kerala. For the next few hours, I had no human contact. I was alone, enjoying the wind and the stunning views that I was able to get from the place.

After around three hours of pushing and pulling the cycle, I reached a jeep track. I cycled a bit and then found that the path was too steep, and my brakes were unable to control the cycle. Out of the 15+ kilometers for which I pushed the cycle, a better cycle (read with disc brakes) would have cut the pushing effort to 10 kilometers.

I reached Koviloor village at around 3.00PM. I had enough time to get to Top Station, as it was just 9 kilometers away. I was a bit hungry too, as I was unable to get anything for lunch. All that I had was some date fruits and some sweet bread. I was anticipating a nice bath and a large meal.

At around 4.00PM, I reached Top Station. It was covered in nice mist. And then disaster struck.

It was 31st December evening, New Year's evening. For some strange reason, there was no accommodation. I was told to get to Munnar, since the previous village, Koviloor, does not have any places to stay.

I weighed my options here. I can put my cycle onto a jeep and reach Munnar, or I can fight, and pedal my way to Munnar. I chose the latter.

I put my camera safely into its bag and vowed never to open it till I reach Munnar. I secured the bag and jumped onto my cycle.

For the next 75 or so minutes, I pedaled as hard as I could. The only target was to reach Munnar, around 35 or so kilometers away. The roads were quite good, but winding, and had enough ups and downs.

Luckily, the bicycle responded nicely. At around 5.15PM, I was steaming into Munnar town, totally drenched in sweat, and extremely hungry.

Day 3: I packed off my cycle on KPN parcel service. I had enough fun for the New Year.


PS: The rest of the pictures are up here.

PPS: The route in a nutshell: Kodaikanal-Observatory Road-Poomparai Village-Kaunji Village-Poondi Village-Klavarai Village-Jeep Path-Koviloor Village-Top Station-Munnar, totaling a distance of approximately 120kms.

Posted by Shyam Krishnaswamy at 10:25 AM


  1. Blogger Alexander posted at Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 3:12:00 PM GMT+5:30  
  2. Blogger The Talkative Man posted at Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 11:38:00 PM GMT+5:30  
    Amazing. Thanks for the lovely stuff!
  3. Blogger The Talkative Man posted at Friday, January 8, 2010 at 12:49:00 AM GMT+5:30  
    earth-shaking stuff indeed, felt the bay area earthquake accompanied by rattling furniture soon after I posted the comment!
  4. Blogger Vikas Jayaram posted at Friday, January 8, 2010 at 6:35:00 AM GMT+5:30  
    Good stuff dude! Well done. I wish I could've lent you my mountain bike for the disc brakes :D Your next resolution shud be to buy a bike with disc brakes ..they make a hugggee difference when handling rough terrain.
  5. Blogger Bharani Shivakumar posted at Friday, January 8, 2010 at 10:24:00 AM GMT+5:30  
    Very nice story and the pics are great.
  6. Blogger Hari posted at Friday, January 8, 2010 at 10:34:00 AM GMT+5:30  
    Excellent Depictorial and Pictorial excellence. Felt like was accompanying in the trip. Superb! Have Fun!
  7. Blogger Balaji posted at Friday, January 8, 2010 at 10:43:00 AM GMT+5:30  
  8. Blogger Santhana posted at Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 10:44:00 AM GMT+5:30  
    Superb ride... whatta way to start the new year... hats off...
  9. Blogger Ravi posted at Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 4:08:00 AM GMT+5:30  
    Excellent post. Very nice pictures. Well done!

    Any Marathon plans for 2010?

  10. Blogger Arudhra posted at Monday, January 18, 2010 at 6:37:00 PM GMT+5:30  
    You are the real Boss
  11. Blogger Arudhra posted at Monday, January 18, 2010 at 6:39:00 PM GMT+5:30  
    Man of Steel, guts, Passion, good photography.Keep it up.
  12. Blogger Nimish J Chackalackal posted at Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 9:59:00 AM GMT+5:30  
  13. Blogger stolenbikecardiff posted at Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 12:29:00 AM GMT+5:30  
    Sounds like a great trip - Good photos too!
    I will be in the Munnar area next month, do you know of any cycle hire offices ? I hear that the DTPC office no longer has bicycles.
    thanks, dafydd
  14. Anonymous Anonymous posted at Friday, November 12, 2010 at 1:30:00 PM GMT+5:30  
    Wat camera did u use boss ?
  15. Blogger Shree Kumar posted at Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 12:45:00 PM GMT+5:30  
    Shyam : Nice pictures !

    We did a similar route from Dec 17-24. Relived memories of this through your narrative. Thank you very much !
  16. Blogger indianskeptic posted at Thursday, March 3, 2011 at 12:45:00 PM GMT+5:30  
    good write up shyam...I am also planning to do same route this weekend.can you give me your ph no.. would like to ask for some clarification

    my email id is thekkedom@hotmail.com
  17. Blogger Sajeev Nambidi posted at Friday, June 24, 2011 at 11:04:00 AM GMT+5:30  
    Hi Shyam ,

    The Post is realy interesting and inspiration . Very nice

  18. Blogger snigdha G posted at Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 4:18:00 PM GMT+5:30  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  19. Blogger Tech Blogs posted at Tuesday, June 16, 2015 at 12:56:00 AM GMT+5:30  
    Excellent writeup. Can you please confirm whether this is the route from Kilavarai


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