Freewheeling in the Western Ghats

by Balu Ramananda

Posted on 7th Mar, 2015

Bicycle Trip Western Ghats

One of my favorite bicycle rides is through Karnataka’s Malnad region, covering the slopes of Western Ghats. Malnad is a bicyclist’s paradise offering scenic routes, traffic free roads through coffee estates and challenging climbs. The best way to experience this region is on a well maintained multi-speed bicycle in monsoons!

Day One

We started our ride from Chikmagalur which is about 300kms North-West of Bangalore. Chikmagalur is a small town with plenty of boarding and lodging options making it an ideal getaway to the Western Ghats. The plan for Day one was to cover 85kms from Chikmagalur to Koppa. Once you leave the busy roads of Chikmagalur behind, you are surrounded by lush green fields, plantations and coffee estates.

Black Top Chikmagalur
Black Top - perfect for road trips

The road winds its way to Aldur followed by a pleasant 1000ft descent and then a flat fast ride to Balehonnur. Here you cross Bhadra river which is in fine form in monsoons. Bhadra coffee shop offers some excellent snacks ranging from sandwiches to “paddu” and “kashi halwa” and hot filter coffee.

Bhadra Coffee Shop
Bhadra Coffee Stop

After a brief stop we continued north along the Tirthahalli road. Undulating roads, quiet sleepy villages and lush greenery broken by an occasional vehicle – it was truly biker heaven! A brief climb crested into the tiny town of Koppa.

We stayed overnight at a charming homestay called Ammadi. Ammadi is Kannada poet Kuvempu’s mother’s house. It’s a beautiful 300 yr old “thotti mane” with clean rooms and attached bath. Traditional Malnad fare, “akki rotti” and curry with chilled beer made for an excellent recovery meal.

Ammadi Totti Mane
Ammadi - Totti mane

Day 1 Stats:
Distance covered: 85 km
Elevation gain: 3000 ft
Difficulty level: Moderate
Traffic: Low

Day 1 Elevation Profile
Day 1 Elevation Profile

Day Two

Day 2 started with a gourmet breakfast of “neer dosa” and chutney – after filling ourselves for a grueling day ahead, we set off towards Sringeri. The plan was to ride to Kalasa via Sringeri and Kudremukh. A distance of 110 km with plenty of climbs thrown in for good measure. The road from Koppa to Sringeri winds its way through dense forest and tree plantations with plenty of shade; after a brief descent, we settled down to a steady cadence and rode into Sringeri, situated at the banks of river Tunga, site of the first “matha” established by Adi Sankaracharya and one of the central seats of learning on Advaitha Vedanta philosophy. The town plays host to a number of temples and the “matha” but is itself unremarkable and crowded. Leaving Sringeri, we were stuck with pilgrimage traffic; a number of over-crowded jeeps, vans and mini-buses with blaring music were making a quick buck ferrying pilgrims from various parts of the state into Sringeri. Bad roads added to the experience and the going was rather slow till the South Karnataka border (SK Border). Here one takes a right to get to Mangalore and left to get into the Kudremukh forest range. This is also the point where some earnest climbing gets done – it’s a steady slog up to the Kudremukh peak at some 3,700 ft.

Kudremukh Peak
Kudremukh Peak

The view is astounding with lush green hills and tiny streams flowing down the mountain sides. Once the peak was crested we set off on a nice clip through the forest reserve to arrive into Kudremukh town. Once upon a time this was a bustling mining town – today it is a deserted ghost town with rusted fading mining equipment scattered around. The mountain sides surrounding the town are brown and dusty, legacy of decades to iron ore mining that was carried out in these parts. Nature is, however, steadily making a comeback with patches of forest cover creeping over the open mines.

Kudremukh Ghost Town
Kudremukh Ghost Town

We were famished by now and came across an old lady selling guavas at the town bus stand. This was pretty much our only food source since Sringeri barring a tea stall at SK Border. A guava or two later we were sloping our way to Kalasa – flat uneventful ride except for a brutal 10% grade mile long climb just before Kalasa. We had planned our overnight stay at a place called Thangaali (cool breeze!) at Gaaligandi about 12kms past Kalasa. Not too bad – we were in fine form and kept going till the Thangaali estate road. The last 6km was a steady climb on gravelly broken roads to a home stay atop a hill.

Estate Entry Thangalli
Estate Entry - Thangaali

Our slog uphill was rewarded with a beautiful view of the hill ranges on all sides. Interestingly Thangalli was situated in a tea estate! Chikmagalur seems to be one of the few region where you find coffee and tea estates rubbing shoulders!

It had been a very tiring day and we were grateful for a wash followed by chilled beer, chili chicken, “bajjis” and a cheery bon fire. Another gourmet Malnad meal followed with hot steaming rice topped with delicious “gojju” and “kutu”.

Day 2 Stats:
Distance covered: 110 km
Elevation gain: 7000 ft
Difficulty level: Tough; Gut bursting in parts!
Traffic: Low for most parts; Moderate from Sringeri to SK border

Day 2 Elevation Profile
Day 2 Elevation Profile

Day Three

Day 3 was an early start – we aimed to get back to Chikmagalur by 3pm; so it was up bright and early at the crack of dawn followed by yet another delicious breakfast of “sanas”, saagu and chutney. As any biker worth his salt will tell you, a tour is ridden on his/her stomach and this tour was already a wild success!

Morning at Thangaali
Morning at Thangaali

A bone shaking, teeth rattling 6km descent later we set out towards Chikmagalur on the Kotigehara (Route 106) road.

Winding Roads
Winding Roads of Western Ghats

The route to Kotigehara was yet another rolling, winding ride with plenty of short climbs and quick descents thrown in. We were riding in the heart of the coffee estate region now – the famous Coffee Day café chain sources coffee beans from this region. Interestingly there are several tea estates here as well!

Tea Estates

On reaching Kothigehara, one comes across thousands of devotees making their way to Dharmasthala – on foot! These folk have been walking several days and many of them have heavily bandaged feet and are in obvious agony but their faith spurs them on…

It was a quick flat ride to Mudigere where we turned north to Chikmagalur. From here it was an uneventful ride into the town.

Day 3 Stats:
Distance covered: 85 km
Elevation gain: 4000 ft
Difficulty level: Moderate for the first 40km; easy thereafter
Traffic: Low for most parts; some pilgrimage traffic around Kothigehara

Day 3 Elevation Profile
Day 3 Elevation Profile

Three days, 280 kms, 14,000 ft elevation gain, well maintained black top roads for most part, low traffic, great food and friendly home stays – well, as I said it’s my favorite ride!

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About the Author: Balu Ramananda

Balu Ramananda

Balu enjoys running, bicycling, reading and music in equal parts. He indulges in “credit card” bike tours which include hot water baths, beer and hearty meals at the end of the day!


Bicycle rides, Road Trips, Chikmagalur, homestay, Kudremukh, Malnad, Western Ghats