In the last week of 2008, 50-odd cyclists embarked on a seven-day, 919km tour of the Nilgiris. Sameer Shisodia, 35 and co-founder of Ziva, a mobile search start-up, was one of them—and he’s already looking forward to the 2009 Tour of the Nilgiris
What persuaded you to go on such a gruelling expedition?
The thrill of slow travel had a lot to do with it, but a lot of cajoling from cyclist Ravi Ranjan—who along with Rajesh Nair conceived the Tour—was what got me into it. In fact, I’d got back into cycling only a couple of months before I signed up.
What did the prep involve?
Pedal pushers: The riders with their different cycling styles traversed the Nilgiris on a variety of bikes. Prashanth Kota
Once I signed up, I began going on long-distance rides over the weekend. I injured my knees early on, when I pushed myself too hard, so I had to unlearn everything I knew and study the right technique, proper food intake and the like. Soon, I could do a 150km ride, including a climb up Nandi Hills. I also modified my diet—taking in more proteins, sipping water every 20 minutes or so—and broke in the gear I’d be using.
Tell us about the organization of the trip.
Well, the organizers chalked out the route: Bangalore to Ooty, via Mercara and Sultan Battery, with the nights spent at youth hostels and homestays. The tour was sponsored by the Nilgiris supermarket chain and a few other corporates. The back-up was extremely well done: medical help, water, lots of snacks, juices, energy drinks, even spare bikes. In their own way, the support guys were our motivators.
Were you on your own?
I started off solo, but on different days found different riding partners who somewhat matched in speed and style. There were a few people I’d just about known a bit when we started on the tour, but plenty of friends at the end of it, cutting across age groups, geographies, professions, and even the kinds of bikes we were riding!
How was the trip?
Day 1 started out great but it became tougher, including the climb up Chamundi Hills at the end of a long, dry afternoon, and then a ride through Mysore to the youth hostel where we put up—170km in all! The next day was better all around—great roads, much less traffic, pleasant weather and the scenic route through Coorg.
On Day 3, we hit iffy roads into Wayanad, and the climb got steeper and steeper… It was a gruelling 150km of tough roads, much of it through a national forest. After every little downhill, there was a tougher climb ahead. It was totally a mental thing, completing this stretch—it demanded the most, and I derived the maximum sense of achievement out of that. To top it all, my bike, Merida SUB 40-V, a 24-speed mountain bike with semi-slick tyres, got a flat about 5km before Sultan Battery and I had to ride an auto into town.
Next up, Ooty?
Yes…Through the prettiest tea gardens on lovely mountain slopes. There were a couple of real tough climbs, especially the 25km from Gudalur, without a single break in the ascent. But it was so amazingly pretty, I was actually glad I couldn’t do more than 7-8km per hour!
Day 5 was supposed to be rest day at Ooty, but I had to catch a bus back to Bangalore because of personal reasons. The rest of the group biked back to Mysore the next day, spent the night there and returned to Bangalore on the seventh day.
What was a typical day like?
The day usually started between 7-7.30am and ended around 5pm. I used to ride hard for the first few kilometres to make the most of the benign weather early in the day, and then find myself increasing the frequency and duration of the breaks. The climb up to Ooty was a huge exercise in keeping oneself motivated, fed, hydrated and cheerful. At another point, riding up to Madikeri with a fellow biker, we ran out of water. At one particularly bad and dusty hairpin, we stopped and decided that we were not moving till we got support. That came in about 10 minutes and off we went!
I had a scary moment too—while riding alone through the Srimangala forest, I noticed some rustling in a bamboo cluster and one of the tall ones fell! The logical conclusion that whatever knocked that down couldn’t be too small or harmless inspired a sudden burst of acceleration and I didn’t slow down much till I joined another rider a little ahead!
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at firstname.lastname@example.org