Meghamalai - The Hidden Paradise
It all started as a casual conversation couple of years back when a friend asked, "what was the last time you rode to a not-so-frequented destination?" - The sentence in itself had many meanings, We always tend to follow the herd, visit places that we see in Facebook updates or what people generally speak of. Little do we tend to think outside our routine. Days & Months & years passed i was still stuck to the routine. When ever i got leaves, I planned to ride to places i had either visited before or something some one else already visited to. But today its a different story.
Meghamalai - A little unknown hill station in Tamil Nadu bordered by the beautiful Western Ghats & its enchanting 7 Tea Estates. To begin with there are not much information available about the place - handful of blogs and thats about it. With the onset of Monsoons in June, It was time we visit this not-so-frequented destination.
The plan was to just ride - see some places & come back, and if the place looks good, we will go there again. Since it is just a two day ride and without any information about the destination - I did not want to ride with a bigger gang, and called in only a couple of my friends - Sai Karthik, (From Chennai) Who rides a Honda CBR 250R & Deepak D K (From Coimbatore) rides a Yamaha R15 V2.0.
It was a usual Hot Friday afternoon in Chennai, I was trying to complete some chores at work to leave early for the day. Called up Sai to plan up the ride, which we initially planned to start the next morning. Coincidentally, Sai was also leaving work early - Discussed few things about the ride plan and decided to start riding the same evening till Trichy (Tiruchirapalli) - 335 Kms away from Chennai, So that it would be easier to Sync with Deepak from Coimbatore and also to spend more time in Meghamalai.
Sai Karthik - Honda CBR 250R
Deepak D K - Yamaha R15 V2.0
Ananth T E - Kawasaki Ninja 250R
Day 0 - The Rain Ride :
Just around the Sunset, I left office - Went home, got into my riding gears, packed the camera and a spare teeshirt and left for the ride. My parents knew all about it, and wished me a safe ride and not to speed - I met Sai at the Vandalur Junction (Outskirts Of Chennai) around 6 00 PM, the traffic seemed to pile in and we did not want to waste any time. For the first 50 kilometers or so, we were dodging traffic and intermittent drizzles. And once the light went down, It became really tough to maintain good speeds, with heavy cross winds and constant drizzle (Its the onset of monsoons down south) - We crossed Thindivanam in about a hour and half - and the the rains unleashed its fury. I was sort of hallucinating that some thing is on the road and every now & then i used to reduce my speeds just to be sure that there is no stone / cattle or jaywalker on the highway - especially at the junctions (I have crashed about thrice already - hitting stones on the highways at speeds > 90 kmph) - So i was a little too cautious. We stopped on the layby to get on to our rain gear, and only to get pissed that i forgot to pack the rain coat. I decided to ride without a rain coat, as its close to impossible to find one on the Highway after 7 PM.
I asked Sai to lead this time, and we continued to maintain around the high 90's to 110's depending upon the traffic & rain. We reached Ulundurpet, close to 200 Kilometers from Chennai around 8 30 PM - By then i was totally drenched & shivering. I wasn't blaming, but started to enjoy the rain ride. Chennai was literally frying us with 40+ degrees every day all summer and this was a welcome change. After a quick dinner, we set out on our last leg of the night ride. The camera was packed in layers of plastic bags, but to be extra careful. The rain seemed to clear out and we started riding..
The next 100 Kilometers was absolute Bliss! The roads were not wet, it was cool and hardly any traffic. Our speeds increased up till 130;s constantly - thanks to the double 55W Headlamps, in some stretches we felt as though we were riding in day light. We hardly knew that 100 kilometers went by, it was around 9 45 when we entered Siruganur (Just before Trichy) - Took a short little break to let the bike rest. By now the drenched dresses were all warm & comfortable. Thanks to the beautiful weather. And another 30 more kilometers, we reached Trichy City.
It was 10 30 PM, The city seemed deserted. Checked out a couple of hotels and they seemed to be booked. I parked the bike in one of the hotels and went by foot to check out other lodges / hotels. As fate would have it, the next 12 hotels i went to are all booked. The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu is visiting Trichy and so the political affectionados have booked every hotel that were in the Trichy Bus Stand Vicinity. Nothing seemed to work out, i started searching local lodges & even the stinkiest ones were booked. at 11:15 PM, Some Alsa Lodge in some crappy corner has one room for 900 rs (which would normally worth 300 rs) - Happy that at least that was available & booked it. Walked all the way back to the hotel i initially went to & got back the bike and checked into the room.
The alarm was set to 6 AM & we crashed soon...
Day 1 - The Little UnKnown : Meghamalai
I did not have a good night's sleep, but Sai seemed to have. We woke up even before the alarm went on - and i wasn't feeling any good today. I rested for a little more while - Got up & freshened up. By time, We saddled up & started it was already 6 45 AM. The initial few kilometers were a little rough and we were slowly cruising around. The cross winds became evident right after we hit the highway. May not be a bothersome thing on the car, But on a Two Wheeler its a totally different ball game - May be that's what makes the Motorcycling more dynamic!
The 4 Lane road from Trichy to Dindigul was in a fabulous condition. We were able to maintain speeds of 130;s pretty easily & in tandem. We never stopped for the next 90 kilometers, except for a couple of instances where the winds gushed through - literally pushing us from one lane to the other.
8 AM, We were in Dinidigul and our friend Deepak was already in Dindiigul junction waiting for us. He had started from Coimbatore around 4 30 AM and reached Dindigul via Pollachi, Palani at 7:30 AM! After a round of greetings, we started riding towards Vathalagundu - where we intended to stop for breakfast.
The road from Dindigul to Theni is under construction, for widening the roads. There are numerous occasions where the roads are just cut off and the gravel path needs to be taken. So, this aint any joy ride, and we were to ride slow. The ride from Dindigul to Vathalakkundu took us close to a hour! The traffic was also evident with so many take diversions and slow moving trucks through the rough roads. We had heavy breakfast near Vathallakkundu and rode towards Theni. There are many sections after Vatthalakundu that are untouched, so you could maintain much better speeds. Theni to Chinnamannur had very little traffic, which we covered with ease. Reached Chinnamannur Village around 10 AM, and asked for directions to Meghamalai. We were asked to take a left right after the village and a right at the end of market road (There is some government office to the right)
10:30 AM, We were at the base of the ghat road. The right turn marked the beginning of bad roads. A group of cattle greeted us into the village roads. Few kilometers on, tarmac gave way for gravel and then onto mud trails. After riding on speeds above 100+ kmph on the GQ, this took some time to get used to. Tall Coconut Trees, Cheerful kids playing in the agricultural lands, and ever elegant natives of the land kept us company along the way. We reached a empty forest checkpost, so we simply rode through. The ghat section start after the checkpost and we better did not want to expect any tarmac any more.
There are about 18 Hairpin bends and many more corners to on the way to the top. There are some tarmac here & there but do not expect a joy ride, Meghamalai is a totally different hill station. It would bow you down with its elegance & hurt you bad with its roads! We stopped after the 9th Hairpin as Deepak's motorcycle started over heating due to constant gear shifts and sun was its peak. We spent some time relaxing at the viewpoint, gazing at the clouds and thinking about how bad the roads would be further up..
Further up the road, after some 30 more minutes of riding, we met a couple of forest officers relaxing by the road side (wonder why!) - Checked with them about the places to see and how to reach the meghamalai falls. The officer informed that the falls need to be accessed through the road to Theni and go ahead a little further to reach Meghamalai. He was least interested to give out any further info. We carried on, the rains showed up after a while. The roads or the lack of it started becoming slush fest for a while.
Just before reaching Meghamalai, the tea estates greeted us with a greenish grin. Such a soothing sight for the eyes. The private estate had well maintained roads, road into a open private road just to get deep into the estates. The view on the other side seemed to be even more greener (as always?) - so we turned back to the road towards the Meghamalai Village.
The Meghamalai village was a shocker. There was nothing but a small temple and a board. The village too went by, no sight of any people - but what was evident everywhere now, is the abundant tea plantations. The distinctive thing about the plantations is that - they are all cut to the same level, every where & to perfection!! the roads became worse and worse - asked a local about High Wavys Dam - which he said was some 20 minutes away (ofcourse with the inclement weather & superb roads we never know how long it is going to take.
The rain became worse and at times it was playing hide & seek with the mist. By time we reached High Wavys Dam, The rain went away and came the mist - so much that we could not even see the dam! We rode on, and what followed is one of the most unforgettable scenes of my life. A lake, and what a view. We almost dropped the bikes and ran into the tea plantations to get the full glimpse of this untold, unknown lake near the High Wavys Dam. We clicked some umpteen pictures, cherished ourselves for coming to this spot and it made my day. May be rain did not like it and started pouring down. We had to move on.
With more rain coming in, we rode a little more slow, cautious as slush and slippery rocks made the ride tougher. We sort of got synced with the roads now that it was not bothering us and we accepted the fact that the nature would be much preserved if the roads are in this way - with more tourist, more plastics & so more damage to mother nature. In that sense, Little damage to our vehicles were much OK.
Few more kilometers went by, and we were almost 'lost' in the middle of no where, and in one instance we did not even know which route we took as both roads look worse and with mist creeping in & out - it was making it more tougher. We reached a junction, 'Take left for Cottage' a board said and then there was a right turn with some office. We took the right and stopped near the office - there was no one in the office and there was a small tea shop next to it. What a relief to see people & a shop. We stepped in and ordered tea, the rain was pouring down - the temperature was going down and it was getting colder. Dramatic change in temperatures in the last 40 kilometers or so. After some 15 minutes, the rain had stopped & the officer came in - enquired about availability of rooms - Luckily some one had canceled the bookings and we got ourselves a room. A two bed room for 750 rs. The room was nice & clean with geysers & some furniture. We dumped our bags, ordered lunch in the tea shop and went for a stroll along the tea plantations.
The aura around the place was something different. There is hardly any one to trouble you nor help you. Everything is raw and seems so unadulterated. We were roaming around the plantations without a aim & taking pictures here, there & everywhere. A distinctive local passing by greeted us & offered us tea! Well, it took a while to understand why he would do that. He was happy that some one is actually present in their land and enjoying it. We normally don't get to meet such 'humane' characters everyday - I offered him some money - for his 'tea' and for the time he spent talking to us.
We came back to the guest house, rested for a while and went to have lunch. We came to know that it was the "Murugan tea shop" - one of the three food joints available in Meghamalai. Matter of fact, I called Mr.Murugan before leaving to check for accommodation and he mentioned it was all booked. Luckily some one canceled the bookings to let us enjoy the weekend. After a sort of heavy lunch, we ordered the dinner before hand and started around 3: 30 to check out other nearby places.
The dirt track leading from the guest house is the route to take towards Iravangalar Dam. Riding in dirt has its own fun. May not be at high speeds, but at manageable speeds we were taking turns and corners and enjoying it as well. The track runs parallel to a lake, which currently has very little water. The locals told us that the lakes would be full by the end of monsoons and adds to its own beauty.
We rode for another 30 minutes only to see that we have done only about 5 kilometers! The picturesque of the locations and the roads seemed to be inversely proportional. We reached another junction with two roads diverging. One goes to Iravangalar Dam & other goes towards Vattaparai. We wanted to first finish off with the Dam & then depending on time would check out Vattaparai or Manalaru. We reached Iravangalar Dam, in some 15 minutes - And as usual the lake surrounding it looks beautiful - There was not a soul around and it was so calm and serene out there! After some time at the lake, we continued towards Maharajamettu Viewpoint, which i guess is the highest point of the area.
There was a check post right after the dam, and Sai did manage well to convince the officer to let us pass. It seems like wild life trouble is evident around sun set and so he was not sure of letting us pass. The broken roads, the estates and some drizzle every now and then are of constant company. We kept riding on, some switch back roads made of concrete, we almost reached the top of a hill and the road abruptly ends and gave way for roads covered in grass - which looked like a slippery 4 x 4 terrain.
The Sun was directly opposite to us, and could hardly take any pictures. We walked around a bit and it was getting late already. There was no one to ask about where the road goes or if there is anything else to be seen that way. We rode back the same way through all the gravel and broken roads. With the sun light dipping fast, we did not stop much on the way back to the guest house. It was around 6 PM when we reached the diversion to Manalar - We decided to call it a day and decided to see the remaining places the next time. We some how felt at home on the return dodging pits & holes with ease - We got used to the terrain and our speeds were much more accommodating. With sun fall, we were finally back in the room. We felt bad that we could not visit Vattaparai or Manalar - But we decided for good that we would be back after the monsoons, more preferably around September with a bigger gang!
Back in the room, we chatted around for a while, the temperature went down and we were shivering without using the blankets. Sai / Deepak went down to get additional Pillows & Blankets - The Twin bed was more than enough for three thin guys and we rested for a while. By 8 PM, Dinner was ready. Super Hot Chappathi's in such superb weather. Food was good, and cost wasn't that high. Not costly at all at such a remote place! I borrowed Murugan's BSNL phone to call up back home to convey the message that i would be back home. Another round of tea to beat the cold and we retired for the night.
Day 2 - The Return: Back to Civilization:
We woke up around 6 AM, amidst all the mist and cold weather. Such a fresh & delightful morning. It was cold, but enjoyable. In the shivering weather, we could hardly take any pictures. We let the sun come out so we could ride in some what warmer weather. There was slight drizzle all along the night and continued till the morning. We checked out the room, paid another 200 bucks as "maintenance charges" for the people working in the panchayat office. Understandable, and the room was maintained properly. We sipped our morning tea from Murugan tea shop and informed that we would be back right after monsoons and asked Murugan to help out with the bookings at least next time.
The ride back was sort of fluent, we were confident of tackling the roads and rain did not bother us - nor did the terrain. We had to guess which route to take on the way back, for every turn seemed similar - with some marks or locations we saw on the previous day we managed to go back. We once again reached our favorite Lake View point, and to our dismay once again - the mist did not allow to view the lake properly. Would be a dream to see the lake with good sunlight and a clear blue sky! Mist crawled in and so was the High Wavys Dam that was covered. We rode on, through the tea plantations - stopping once in a while for photographs. We wanted to cover Ramakkal Mettu on the other side of Cumbam town, and may be ride till poopara and back to Theni if we have enough time.
We took a few group pictures, and spent lot of time around the tea plantations. The curious onlookers from the tea estates was a distinctive feeling. We passed through Meghamalai town, and exited the tea estates - back to our usual bad broken roads alas, there is some tarmac now. The experience sorta made the adrenaline kicking. We rode faster than we usually would - I slowed down since my front disk pads were a little too old to be risked upon. Deepak too was behind me. Sai was confident on his new tyre's and his new galfer disk-pads. Unluckily his bungee cord which was tied to his back pack unhooked by itself and clipped on to the tyre - locking it. He skid on a hairpin on speeds around 20 kmph and fell down. Riding gear saves lives, he walked off scratch less but his gear lever bent and scratches every where on the left fairing. We stopped for a while, relaxed and tried repairing the bent lever - But it was bent beyond repair. But, It was still ridable and so we continued, alas a lot more slower this time.
Soon, we reached back the foot hills of Meghamalai - There were some cars before the check post this time - and no one really bothered about us / to stop us. We rode till Chinnamannur - Sai was not uncomfortable nor was the bike after the accident - So we carried on. We stopped somewhere near Theni for breakfast. After a heavy breakfast, we rode on - The diversions on the Theni - Dindigul road was a piece of cake after the stint in Meghamalai. Deepak took the diversion towards Oddanchattiram, some 20 kilometers before Dindigul. We halted just after we reached Dindigul. My motorcycle now has completed 30,000 Kilometers! Chennai is not any farther. From here on it was all 4 lane madness. Thankfully the rain never came back, we rode around the 130's and the cooler climate never really made us to ride without stopping. Within a hour we were in the outskirts of Trichy - Some local traffic to dodge and before we realized we over shot Trichy.
We stopped some 30 kilometers after Trichy, in a place called Siruganur - to tank up and get some cool drinks in a nearby joint. We are just about 300 Kilometers away from Chennai and the heat is getting onto us. Wonder why Chennai is always hot! We tanked up and rode on, i was sort of feeling hungry, but did not want to stop. It was already 2 PM, and Chennai is atleast 4 hours away. We rode in our usual manner, in comfortable speeds - Open 4 Lane roads were forgiving the quench to reach the destinations early. We stopped in Ulundrpet again - refilled the tanks again (The CBR has limited tank range) and stopped by the A2B Uludurpet for some refreshments. The owner of Ulundurpet BP fuel station caught up with us after seeing the faired bikes and flashy riding gears. He greeted us and assured that the fuel station has 100% unadulterated fuel and any problem or complaints can be directly addressed to him. He even invited to have lunch with him, but we still had some distance to cover, so rode on.
The next 200 kilometers were usual, long boring straight highway riding. Reached the outskirts of Chennai by 5 45 PM - Bid adieu to Sai and thanked for the excellent company. Reached home around 6 15 PM - My first Monsoon ride of the season, covered about 1250 kilometers amidst some varied terrain and awesome landscapes. Meghamalai has all of a sudden become one of my favorite destinations to visit! Just to repeat again..
“Meghamalai is a totally different hill station. It would bow you down with its elegance & hurt you bad with its roads!”
Road Conditions / Things to Note:
1) Chennai - Trichy - Dindigul - 4 Lane GQ Roads
2) Dindigul - Theni - 2 Lane State Highway - Road widening in progress - Some sections are relaid already, But if you are on a car - expect delays in week days / peak hours
3) Theni - Chinnamannur (Take Left) - Vellayammalpuram Village - Decent single lane roads
4) There is a forest check post just after this village, There was no one available to stop us - so we rode through.
5) Vellayammalpuram to Meghamalai to Highwavys - Broken roads with some patchy tarmac here & there - Caution: The roads are tough and challenging - Most of the places, The roads are steep with no tarmac / only boulders to evade through.
6) Stay Options available are: Cloud Mountain Bunglow / Sand River Cottage - Costly resort sorta accommodation and Panchayat Guest House / Government IB are cheaper versions of the same.
7) There are only two places to get food in the whole 30-40 kilometer radius - To get food or book accommodations - contact: Murugan (Who owns the Murugan tea Shop) - +91-94427-81748
8) Best time to visit the place is after the monsoons (obvious) - August to January (In my Opinion)
9) We visited: Highwavys Dam, Maharajamettu View Point, Iravangalar Dam, Lakes Surrounding the Dams, Several tea Estates (there are totally 7)
10) We missed: Vattaparai, Manalar, Thoovanam Dam & Vanniar Dam (Due to very bad roads and Lack of time)
11) There is a forest guest house available - which can be the perfect place to stay for wild life lovers - Stay needs to be booked through forest officials (Not sure of contact Numbers)
12) BSNL works throughout the area and in some high hair pin bends, Airtel / Vodafone from Kerala works!
13) There are a couple of falls / dam surrounding Meghamalai - But needs to be accessed from Theni & not via Meghamalai
14) Accommodations are normally booked well in advance (before a month atleast)
15) This is not a regular hill station, It is un adulterated and has a soothing effect. Hope it remains so.
16) Contact details for accommodation:
Sand River Cottage / Cloud Mountain Bungalow - Shivakumar @ +919894055554 or +919487850508.
Panchayat guest house / Government IB @ 04554232389 or 04554232225
Best wishes for your travels. Route Map : Chennai, Tamil Nadu to Meghamalai - Google Maps
Ride hard. Ride Safe.
Ananth T E