Gokarna was one place that I had always wanted to visit by bike, simply because the route from Bangalore passed through some great country. A friend of mine, Abhishek (also themadman, or TMM) had some time off and agreed to accompany me. The initial plan was to do the whole distance out and back by bike (900+ km), but half of that distance would end up being on heavily-trafficked National Highways. We decided to take our bikes to the half-way point by bus, ride to Gokarna via a longer and more scenic route, and take a bus back to Bangalore.
We would be taking the bus to Chikmagalur, staying there for the night (setting up bikes, etc) and riding to Koppa from there on Day 1. Day 2 – Koppa to Sagar. Day 3 – Sagar to Gokarna. The return journey was tentatively back to Sagar and then on to Shimoga from where we planned to take a bus back to Bangalore (return plan changed later on).
Here is a map of the plan from Chikmagalur to Gokarna, and one of the planned return route.
Day 0 – Bus ride to Chikmagalur
I managed to reach the Majestic KSRTC bus stand early, tied my bike up in the luggage compartment and settled down to wait for TMM. The bus was at 2:30, and he reached at 2:25 – a botched rack installation had delayed him. We quickly put his bike into the bus and settled into our seats. Tip: For those who have a choice, take a Volvo over a Mercedes. The one we took was used, probably an older model, and not as fancy as you may imagine. The suspension, Abhishek pointed out, was not as good as The B7Rs either. Luggage space seems identical, though.
We reached Chikmagalur at night and set out towards our hotel, Planter’s Court. We had to push our bikes there since we had no time to mount our racks. A kilometer away, all downhill, no problem. On the way, though, I felt severe brake rub on my rear wheel. I later found out that it was a broken spoke, probably one that had snapped on the bus ride. Too tired and too late, we decide to defer all our setting-up to the next morning and hit the bar for beer and food. There was a cricket match on (I don’t remember which countries – probably Mozambique and Kentucky) that was fun to watch. Madman explained various cricket rules to me like offside, free kick and black belt. Food was passable, probably the worst on the trip, but the place was alright.
Day 1 – Chikmagalur to Koppa: A Gentle Start
Early next morning found us wandering around town looking for screws, nuts and washers (and breakfast too). By the time we were finally set up, it was 11. I was going to be riding with 35 spokes instead of 36, thanks to some great truing work by Abhishek. I had also worn out the threading on my seat-stay where the rack attached, so it was fixed only at 3 points instead of 4. Abhishek had problems of his own too – he was tying his bag onto the rack using Nylon rope, which seems to be really hard to get tension on. So… Shaky start.
We set off, and had a few minor hiccups (loose crank, rope coming loose) that we soon sorted out. Ten kilometers out, we were on really pretty roads outside Chikmagalur. The road started to descend gently – an easy start. Pretty soon, we had crossed our first ghat and were on rolling terrain.
Chikmagalur to Koppa
Abhishek perfecting his knot-tying skills
Pretty much our only major stop was for lunch, at a Muslim fish/chicken restaurant called Karavalli IIRC. Surprisingly good food of rice, sambar and chicken curry. They even had some popcorn on sale outside the restaurant – for all those BZ discussions.
We were a little worried that we would have to ride in the dark, but thankfully there was a direct road to Koppa from Jayapura that avoided Shringeri (a good 20 km saved). One last ghat greeted us as we were ready to stumble into Koppa, but we dismissed it quickly enough and reached in daylight (by around 6:15). Koppa is a fairly small but pleasant town and has a few hotels right next to the bus stand. We chose the best looking one, and the managar let us carry our bikes into the hotel. Friendly service, good food, and clean air-conditioned rooms. We had covered 90 kilometers on our first day.
Abhishek performing relaxations
Day 2 – Koppa to Sagar: Plantation Country
We woke up to a bit of mist and Idli for breakfast. Originally aiming for a 7 or 8 AM start, we ended up leaving at 10. First stop was Thirthahalli, and the road to it was a very beautiful descending ghat. We saw many estates near town, and as we got further away, plantations turned to (reserve?) forests. Never any traffic, but there was enough civilization on the way that we could stop for juice, water and snacks. We stopped for a second breakfast at Thirthahalli (Khara Bath and Mangalore Bun), and continued on. On our way, we came across the turn to Kuppalli, birthplace of Kuvempu. We rode down to the museum and back. We weren’t really in a mood to visit, but we stopped for a bit and took in the surroundings. Extremely scenic and quiet roads in this part of the world.
Madman practising 'The Look' on a nonexistant opponent
Did I say scenic and quiet? That reminds me – by now, my drivetrain was going mental. It was noiser than many trucks, and spinning up hills was embarassing. Things needed to be done at the next town.
We rode on. At some point, I got a flat and was disappointed that my so-far-excellent Panaracers had given in to the puncture gods. Turns out it was a pinch flat, probably from all the load I was carrying and the low-ish pressure I was running. We swapped out tubes and managed to pump the tyre up to 70 PSI using borrowed musculature from a helpful local. Another kilometer on, and pressure was dropping again. Luckily, had reached a major rural intersection, and there was both a bicycle shop and a lunch place. I gave my tyre (and plastic tyre levers) to the puncture-walla, and we went in to the lunch-shack for some rice, chicken gravy and kabab. Again, I was surprised at how good the food was. And we visitors were given special treatment by the owner, of course. Always nice.
By the time we were done with lunch, puncture-man had patched up the tube with a motorcycle patch, and we were good to go. The ride from here on was mostly uneventful, though through some extremely scenic land. We made up for lost time by not stopping, and managed to save 7 km by taking a (newly-built?) bypass to Sagar.
After a 20km or so stretch of lonely road, we joined a more populated highway. School boys gave us chase on their roadsters (we sprinted away, of course) and school girls giggled and pointed. There was one particular section where we had to climb, and then descend, a small hill on the road. As we descended, to our left there was this huge mass of screaming school kids converging with our route. What a sight.
We finally met the electric cables Akshay talks about in his ride to Goa and followed them all the way to Sagar. Madman registered a 100+ top speed on his wireless computer, and I found it quite fascinating how loud they were. We finally reached Sagar at around 6:30, having ridden 115 km on the second day. We checked in to the first decent lodge we could find.
At Hotel Varadha Shree
After washing up, we walked into town to find diesel and oil for my chain. Turns out 40:20 oil (diesel engine oil) works well with chains. It is extremely messy and attracts gunk, but it made my chain absolutely noiseless. We also found a distant relative of Pedals & Wheels. We asked around for a decent restaurant to eat in and unknowingly ended up back at our hotel. Oh well. Soup, Naan and vaguely Indian chicken dish for dinner. And beers were had.
Day 3 – Sagar to Kumta: Passive-agressive Roads
We left at 9:30ish, and barely 2 km from our hotel, Abhishek rode over some broken glass and ended up with a huge gash on his tyre. I heard a huge hissing noise behind me, but it was so loud that I was sure it couldn’t be our bikes. Well, it was.
After a good half hour spent installing a boot (hat tip to GR and the BZ gang), we were off again. We stopped at a nearby town to get ice cream and top up water, just in time to see a guy have a heart attack right in front of us (no kidding). Ah well, life goes on. A short discussion with the shop-keeper about possible routes later, we started off again. I rode some distance with school kids. Invited some to ride along to Jog Falls and they refused saying they had to get to school! Man, kids these days.
Once we were out of town, the road was superb, again. Our original plan was to ignore Jog Falls and push on towards Kumta, but the bridge to Jog was so tempting that we just had to explore it.
Bridge to Jog Falls
Not a soul to be seen, either. We saw a resort in the distance and thought we’d pay a visit. Reached Jog and was disappointed at the quality of accommodation. The place was fine enough, but there was no water in the falls, and the lodge was unreasonable. So we had coffee and bread-omlettes and left after about an hour. The highlight of the detour to Jog was being able to ride on that bridge again.
The Jog Falls, dry at the time
There was primarily rolling terrain from there on, and a decent climbing ghat to Siddapur, by which time we were hungry. Stopped for lunch at a small roadside restaurant. This was the only town I didn’t like on the tour, or maybe it was just an off day. After a bit of consulting for routes, we head off again towards Kumta. The first 30-odd kilometers were gently rolling through some lovely countryside, and then out of nowhere, this bloody insane descent started. What a road! First off, the blacktop was in great condition, well designed and perfectly banked. Next, there was no traffic. I think we saw one bus and one car the whole way. Most people take the Honnavar route which we were avoiding. The scenery was also gorgeous – at some sections, you couldn’t even see the sky, it was like riding along a corridor with trees for walls. And then there was this chorus of crickets cheering us on. Surreal.
After a breathless descent, we were on level ground again, and the road started showing signs of being Incredibly Indian. The freshly laid blacktop disappeared, and potholes and craters crawled out from underneath. The scenery was still charming, though, so no complaints. We were riding along a river and were tempted to stop and explore, but riding in the darkness in this sort of country wasn’t very appealing. Besides, we had no idea how the road ahead was.
Good thing we pressed on, because from here to Kumta, road conditions worsened and there was considerable rolling terrain. We avoided breaks, and finally reached the Kumta highway by 6:30. Both our bikes had passed their respective tests (one with a broken rear spoke and one with a booted rear tyre). After inquiring at a couple of places, we finally found a passable air-conditioned hotel called Vaibhav palace. Beers and Tandoori Chickens ensued.
We had covered 128 km on Day 3.
Day 4 – Kumta to Gokarna: Unexpected Climbs
We expected to do this day without much drama. Just 37 km to Gokarna. How wrong we were. We were so unworried that we didn’t even pick up water. We had 800 ml each and thought it would suffice. The ride from Kumta to the Gokarna turn-off was highway, slightly rolling and hot, but we did okay. The turn-off from the highway took us through false flats (all fine so far), villages and markets, past salt farms and regular farms, and finally to a town. All good. And then there was the turn to Om Beach. There was a monster of a climb that led from Gokarna town to Om Beach. I don’t remember this incline from when we drove up last time. Granny-ring, your time to shine. Slowly but steadily, we pushed through searing heat (fast emptying our water bottles) over the last few kilometers. Looking back, the climb wasn’t all that bad. It was just that it was unexpected. Finally, we reached the top of the hill and could see Kudle beach down below.
Now we had to descend the same hill we had just climbed. Reached a small shop selling lassi, had some, and carried our bikes down one last staircase to our destination – Om Beach.
The first place you find, and probably the most well-known, is Namaste Cafe. We parked ourselves at a table and settled down for rehydration, beer, and lunch (in that order). What a feeling to finally reach. Buddha approved and smiled for us. We checked-in at Namaste and spent the rest of the day and two days after that doing absolutely nothing and enjoying the hell out of it.
A lot of beer, food, walking around, jumping into the sea, shopping, visiting town, sleeping, talking, lazy tropical yawning, dog-petting, cat-catching, fly-swatting, mosquito outwitting, volleyball watching.
Standard table at Namaste
One view of Om Beach
Our room, with Madman photobombing
Table at Breakfast
A lot of boats around. The place is busier than I remember it.
Same boat, more rocks
Wannabe lighthouse. Reminded me of Tintin's 'Black Island'
Crabs were a constant scare for me. This one is dead.
A Croatian cyclist on tour on an old Kona MTB. Looks like he's using an Xtracycle
Look closely at his rim. He's worn it down so much that it's bulging outwards. He was looking for a replacement rim/wheel in Goa, where he was headed next. Passed him Escapade's number from BZ.
Another view of Om Beach, from the opposite side. Lot of sensor dirt in my DSLR; I haven't used it for years.
Dawg chillin' on da waves
My chain, lubed with 40:20 and filthy
Another view of our room
1.25 Panaracers on the left, and 1.75 Contis on the right
Volleyball on the beach
Madman taking in aforementioned sunset
Coast towards Kudle beach
Rocky coastline on Om beach. This is also visible on the satellite imagery
The breakfast of champions. Or something.
Day 7 – Gokarna to Karwar: All done
The original return route to Sagar and Shimoga was cancelled. 125 kilometers of overlap just seemed like too much. Instead, we thought of heading along the coast to Karwar and then taking a bus back. Karwar was some 60 km from Gokarna. As soon as we hit the highway, we got a mini-ghat. Basically, all along this route, though it isn’t very apparent when driving, you are climbing hills and descending them, even along the coast. Abhishek’s bike lost a front ring thanks to a broken barrel adjuster, so he had only rings 1 and 3.
Fairly scenic road and climbs for the first half, and then it settles into monotonous small townism for the rest of the way. Just before reaching Karwar, the scenery improves. We passed by a huge naval installation for Project Searbird, two fairly short ascending ghats, and entered Karwar just before lunchtime. There was some confusion on our bus bookings, so we sorted that out first. Headed to a restaurant on the bus agent’s recommendation – Hotel Amrut. Amazing food, and a great way to finish our tour. We had rice, fish curry, and two different fried fish. Among the best seafood I’ve eaten. The place also seems to be undergoing a facelift, and seating area is nicely done.
Estuary fish - it was called Rous (sp?)
After lunch, we spent some time chatting with the owner, who was quite taken by the fact that we had ridden down. He showed us around the kitchen and gave us some inside info on how the restaurant business works. Then, by 2:30, we were off again, with no plans till our bus at 10:15. We sat at the beach for a bit lazily watching some guys put up chickenwire. Watched a huge-ass ship take an hour for a tow out to sea, saw some kites fight dogs for fish. Rode around town, got thrown out of the Maritime Museum for having the gall to carry bicycles in, said ‘fuck you very much’, rode around on the beach, and finally found a shady place where we relaxed till it was time to go back to Amrut for dinner. 79 km on day 7.
On Karwar beach
Damn kites, always eyein' our foods.
That huge ship (Tom Swedishsomethingsen) took more than an hour to turn around and head off
Light dinner done, we headed towards Seabird travels and fell asleep waiting for the bus. Somehow, we woke up the next morning in Bangalore.
Total distance on saddle was 467 kilometers.
90 (to Koppa) + 115 (to Sagar) + 128 (to Kumta) + 37 (to Om Beach) + 18 (around Gokarna) + 79 (to Karwar and around)