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HEAD OUT ON A SHORT WEEKEND TRIP.

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Day I, 10am: I’m riding pillion down a flat road lined with tamarind and copper pod trees. Behind me is a 500 cc Royal Enfield Thunderbird. Jacket clad riders in boots and Darth Vader style helmets sit astride more big bikes up ahead. We make a quick breakfast stop for idli-vada at Doddaballapur and then set off again past blood red gulmohur trees (flame of the forest) and yellow laburnums.

11am: We ride through rocky outcrops, past sand mining pits, brick factories and vineyards and get onto a village path loosely paved with stony pebbles and slush. Thatched hut roofs are ruffled. Chickens squawk out of the way. Children gape. Jaws drop on aralikattes. It’s a testosterone filled moment. I’ve been getting powerful insights into the biking brotherhood ever since we left Bengaluru on the Galactic Quest Motorcycle Boot Camp a while ago.

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The weekend boot camp for bikers has been organised by road trippers, Vijay and his wife Ronita Das who run Welcome2India Entertainment. It is being facilitated by Vijay and Kalyan, rider and founder of Spirited Stallions, the go-to-place for bikers and their machines. The itinerary says we will camp under the stars, eat great food, and bond over bikes as we understand them from head to tail (lights). We will also receive advice on preparing packing and troubleshooting for long distance road trips. I’m wondering if this weekend is going to make a man out of me.

The campsite
The campsite near Makalidurga is located on a private property.

The chain of boulder strewn hills we are heading towards shield the valley effectively. Our destination is Makalidurga, a peak that rises approximately 1350 mtrs above sea level around 60 kms from Bangalore. It has an old fort with ramparts and a crumbling temple dedicated to Shiva as Lord Malleshwara on top. We hope to trek up there tomorrow.I see a flash of shining indigo. A full grown peacock lopes past. Spotted blue and purple butterflies flutter into my face..

But the area has historically seen much more than just thundering bikes; it was governed by the early Gowda chieftains, palegars of the Vijayanagar dynasty whose mud forts still dot the area. It was then owned by the Adil Shahi’s of Bijapur.The Marathas rode their horses into skirmishes here before giving way to a brief period of Mughal governance headquartered at Sira. Villages here still bear names that are a throwback to these times of war and valour; Singanayakanahalli, Rajanakunte, Virapura…

The mud forts high on the hills were reinforced in stone around the 18th century by Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan as they fought the East India Company across the Deccan. Haider’s father, Fath Mohammed was also stationed at Doddaballapura when in the service of the Nawab of Sira. Locals say Makalidurga was once a canon training ground in the 18th century and the numerous little ponds dotting the landscape are actually craters caused by falling cannon balls from the fort!

Pitching tents
Pitching tents

12 noon: We head off road to make our way to the camp. Tents are pitched, a fire is lit and hot water boils in a large aluminium vessel for the pulao. Vegetables are cut and added to it. It’s great to get back to the basics and stop being spoilt city dwellers for a while. Lakshman, the local guide takes some of us off for a walk. The group returns with a handful of vegetables, one rotund mango and photographs of flora-fauna encountered along the way. Before we know it, lunch is ready. We talk and get acquainted while a surprise visitor, a motionless Nilgai, India’s largest antelope, watches us from high up on the hill.

Getting ready for lunch.
Getting ready for lunch.

5.30pm: It begins to drizzle. Raindrops attack the tarpaulin viciously while a snarling wind threatens to tear it off. We sit close, teepee style, in the community tent at sunset. Travel stories are exchanged over hot tea; tales of do’s and don’ts and the inevitable epiphanies experienced by those who live life out on the road.Vijay completes a session; signalling protocols, biking etiquettes and riding hierarchies. A whole new world opens up for me. I don’t own a bike but I’m beginning to feel the love.

The community space.
The community space.

8:00pm: The barbecue is lit with much fanning and willpower despite the thunder and lightning forking into the ground. We are determined not to give up our dinner without a fight. The tarpaulin gets pulled over the coals and food soon begins to sizzle under cover. The group is in high spirits. Songs are sung merrily till way past mid-night. The rain stops briefly and we step out for an impromptu star gazing session with Kalyan. Someone discovers that Taurus is a triangle. Ronita tells me the camps are always held on the night of the new moon. It’s not called the Galactic Quest for nothing. A happy, well fed torch lit group then gropes its way to tents sitting in the shadows. Crickets and toads take over, singing with joyful cacophony. Getting drenched is just a state of mind.

Day II, 8am: We wake to plaintive peacock calls and a rain soaked landscape. I do some Arthopod spotting; a metallic green Dogbane Leaf Beetle scurries past while an ungainly Giant Red Velvet Mite (Dinothrombium magnifcum) clambers onto a leaf. Two Brahmini Kites drift lazily overhead. We follow their cue. The night of revelry has made the hill trek daunting by daylight. Lakshman is disappointed when we (literally) take a rain check on the trek (optional). Briefing begins for those riding up to Ladakh this season. Everyone has a tip to add to the checklist. Total strangers now find themselves connected. We are all travellers on the road to self- discovery.

The other beetle model.
The other beetle model.Dogbane Leaf Beetle.Pic credit: Rahul Keshwarwani.

11am: Boot camp Session II is continued over fruit, biscuits and tea. We are immersed in nuts and bolts for a while and I figure that nothing really comes between a boy and his bike. The way to a man’s heart is best traversed on a mighty two-wheeler. The hill however, continues to be conquered by innumerable trekking companies, adventure and bird watching enthusiasts. The trek begins near the Makalidurga Railway Station and ends with a great view of the valley at dawn and sunset. Gunjur Lake nearby has given rise to the hot selling `South America Viewing Point’ because it bears a vague resemblance to the continent when seen from the hilltop. I am told there are Virakallu’s (hero stones) embedded on its shore. They are ancient memorial stones that mark the place where heroes fell in battle.

Bikes come to rest at the camp.
Bikes come to rest at the camp.

12 noon:The session ends with brunch. The thunderous evening before acquires a hallucinatory edge as we sweat and burn under the mid-day sun. The camp is dismantled and bikes are checked. The ground is scanned carefully. Every bottle cap and wrapper goes into a garbage bag. Organic waste is left for the cows and four over-friendly sheep dogs. We say a silent goodbye to the hills and breathe deep before heading back to a smog filled city. I hear the unmistakable roar of a motorbike engine and my heart begins to race. It seems I went on an outdoor bike camp and got bitten by the bug.

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GET IN TOUCH: Connect with Welcome2India on Facebook. Call: 8147193269 for any queries or whatsapp on 9742606745.
Spirited Stallions is on Facebook and can be contacted for more information at 9980632390.
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GETTING THERE: Makalidurga is in Doddaballapura district about 60 km north of Bengaluru. It is 20 km from Doddaballapura town en route to Gauribidanur. By Bus: Regular buses to Gauribidanur and Doddaballapur ply from the Majestic Bus Station, Bengaluru. Nearest train station: Makalidurga. Trains 56503/56504 to/from Vijaywada and 56523/56524 to/from Hindupur. Road Trip: Take the N7 To Hebbal. Turn into Yelahanka New Town at Yelahanka Cross. Get onto Dodballapur Main Road, pass Rajanakunte, Singanaakanahalli, Palajogenahalli towards Hosanagenahalli, till you reach Gunjur village. Ask for directions thereafter.
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NEED TO KNOW: Best time to visit: May end-February. On the Way: Doddaballapura: Visit the famous Ghati Subramanya Temple in Tubagere and Venkataramanswamy Temple, Doddaballapura. The town also has other temples of historical and religious interest.Examine the 17th century Mughal era stone inscription at the Taluk Office, the 18th centry Shia Muslim Ashurkhana built by Abbas Quli Khan, the Nawab of Sira, and the old stone well nearby. The town also has seven Sufi Dargahs of which the one dedicated to Mohibuddin Allah-ud-din Chisti is well known and has an annual Urs. Food and supplies: Doddaballapura is the last food and supplies stop on the way. It is preferable to carry all camping, personal and medical supplies from Bengaluru.There are no restaurants and shops in Makalidurga. Fort trek: The trek is not an easy one for first timers. Arrows mark the way but you can get lost. It is advisable to go in a guided group only. Night treks have been banned by the authorities so breaking the rules is not a good idea, no matter how beautiful the dawn.

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