Whenever I would look at the map of South India, there was a big gap towards the North East. Me and my bike had never been there!!! Hence, Visakhapatnam was marked as the last in my list of places to bike. Also, it turned out to be the farthest from Bengaluru. Pavan and my CBZ was ready as ever and we started planning from Oct 2004. After couple of advancements, around the christmas day in Dec 2004 we finally made it. Here is the trip log from my longest and most eventful bike trip and most probably the last one!!!
Service and after effects
A day before the trip I found myself in the Oriental Insurance company office and Indiranagar police station. After giving the bike for service, the bike documents were missing!!! We searched everywhere in the service station, but couldnt find them. Already around noon time, I had no option but to run to the insurance company office and get a duplicate copy of the insurance paper. And, then to the Indiranagar police station and give a complaint about the missing RC book and get it attested by them. That should see us through any police guy in Karnataka. But not so sure about AP police!!!
Fog and Woody's
A red Hyundai Getz was right in front of us, but barely visible. Red is the color which disperses least and most visible in fog. I had my right indicator on and so was most of the vehicles coming from the opposite direction. The Reddy Getz fitted with a fog light doesnt seem to have much of a problem in the thick fog, but for me anything beyond 10 meters was barely visible. Closing the visor was out of question and would have made me almost blind. Keeping it open was also difficult since my nose had already froze and water was dripping all over my face. I had only a thin jacket and jeans trousers for protection and started shivering. The only good thing that happened to us there was the Reddy Getz. The picture of us riding through the Bangalore - Chennai NH4 around 7 in the morning will never fade. I started before 6 from my place and picked up Pavan near Indiranagar 100ft road near 12th main signal, then covered KR Puram and Hosakote in good time through good roads and partial fog. It is after Hosakote that the Fog became really thick and for most of the journey till Kolar it was on. By 7.30, sun started coming up, but was ineffective in the fog. Past Kolar bypass the fog became thicker. Previous day Nagaraj and Vijay had suggested to Pavan a nice restaurant past Kolar and we started looking for it. Around 72kms from Bangalore, in the thick fog we spotted the "Woody's", parked the vehicle outside along side many other cars and jeeps, got out of the bike jumped around to warm up and ordered an Idly Vada. The food was really tasty and we followed up the Idly Vada with a Masala Dosa and Coffee. Gave a call to Bharat and recommended an early morning foggy ride till Woody's. He shud love it with a fog light fitted Ford Ikon.
By the time we finished breakfast and continued, the fog had subsided. We covered Mulbagal, crossed the border (around 115kms past Bangalore), past Palamner (called Ooty of AP) and reached near Chittoor. Before Chittoor, we had to take a small bypass to reach the Tirupati road. The bypass road was bad and the ride was bumpy. Couple of kms away from the NH4, I spotted a nice view on my right - a small hill covered with palm trees and clear blue sky in the background. I reached for the camera and with a shock realized that it was not there!!! We had taken Pavan's Canon Powershot A40 for this trip, used it just past the border, where we had a coconut water break and put it inside my camera bag. The zip of the bag wasnt functioning well and it looks like the camera popped out. We stopped the vehicle and by this time a police guy came near us and asked for the license. Pavan showed his license and the response was "Where is the engine number?" We realized he was drunk and looking for money. He too realized that he asked something stupid. I was about to open the bag to take the copy of the attested police complaint, which should serve us instead of the RC book, and this guy told "I dont want the papers, just gimme money". Pavan responded "Why shud we pay u when we have all the papers" and he responded with "Am really a police man and need petrol to roam around". We almost ignored him after this! The area to search for the camera was too vast. Finally, we decided to go atleast till the NH4 and found nothing on the way. Turned back just before the NH4 and when we both had almost given up on retrieving it, I saw something shining in the road side. Voila ... in spite of lots of people moving around, it was still there! In spite of few scratches, the camera seemed to be working fine, view mode was fine, so was the zoom. But, when I tried to take a pick the button didnt work. We decided to check it up at some place on the way, but knew it wouldnt be possible to get it back to work, until we reach Bangalore.
Speed limits on SH61
I stared at the speed limit, blinked my eyes and looked at it again. Yes ... it read 100. Did they really mean 100 km/h? looks like. The road was perfect, one of the best I've seen. With nice yellow lines on both sides and a clear white dotted line for divider ... smooth. We were on the AP State Highway #61 (SH61), connecting Putalapattu in NH18 and Nayudu Peta near NH5. We entered the NH18 (Chittoor - Cuddapah - Kurnool) from the Chittoor bypass and entered SH61 at Putalapattu, 18kms from Chittoor. Generally a speed limit here is treated as the minimum speed indicator and ignored. A speed limit like 100 looks very real in this context. But the placement was not really right for them. For, most of the 100 speed limits were near some villages, where pedestrian crossing is a good possibility. Only if it was placed with some more care. Anyways, the road was really good and it took us past Chandragiri fort and till Tirupati in no time. At Tirupati, since the petrol tank was getting empty, we had to get into the town for a filling. The SH doesnt seem to be contiuous here. We entered the NH205 (between Chennai and Anantapur) till we got to the SH61 again at Renugunta. Once on SH61, we went past Srikalahasti in no time and soon found ourselves having lunch in Nayudu Peta.
A Dream Ride
Green paddy fields on both sides extending upto the horizon, occassionaly dotted with palm trees. Smooth 4 lane roads divided with a huge divider. Clear marking of lanes with white dotted lines in the middle and thick white lines on the edge. It was indeed a dream ride!!! There were hardly any interruptions, since flyovers were built to avoid railway crossings and small towns. Apart from the normal road there were bus and truck lay byes. The road was as straight as it can be. Few cross roads were marked properly and could be seen from a distance. Occasional fencing is also there where cattle movement is likely. limits here too was 100 km/h like SH61. This is what we found after getting in to the NH5 connecting Chennai and Kolkata, near Nayudu Peta, about 120kms north of Chennai, about 1600 to go for Kolkata, 700 to Visakhapatnam and 300 to Vijayawada. The stretch was a beauty and we went full throttle past Gudur and reached the Nellore bypass in no time. There were couple of deviations to go to Nellore and flyovers were constructed to provide level crossing. It was only 4 by then, we did another assessment and decided we have enough time to get to atleast Ongole and continued.
The elephant crossing the road stopped midway and stared at us. Then turned around and walked towards us. The Mahot made no attempt to stop it and seemed to have a derisive look in his eyes. I went around the huge mammal and sped away. Naaa .... we didnt get lost in any jungle or village. This was soon after the Nellore bypass in the Golden Quadrilateral! The completed section gets over after Nellore bypass and from here on the lack of maintenance was evident in the road. Few diversions into the other side, couple of incomplete bridges ... so bad for people who may have got used to the beautiful stretch of road just before this. At Kavali, things turned really bad. Some bridge in the GQ was not finished and we took a diversion, which takes you inside Kavali. Wriggling through a small traffic jam created by huge volumes of vehicles (majorly trucks) moving through a very small road. Just felt that this makes everybody feel what GQ really gives you. After Kavali, we entered the Prakasam district, of which Ongole is the head quarters. Another diversion and tea break at Singarayakonda, followed by some 'work under progress' stretches in GQ we came close to Ongole town. After riding all the way through the bypass, looking for a hotel, we finally entered the town from the other end. The bypass itself was congested, since a flyover construction across a state highway towards Kurnool was still not complete. We wriggled through all this, went in to the town and finally entered the so called 'Kurnool Road', where we located a lodge.
Ongole Special Joose
After handing over the Lassi glass to me and Banana Juice to Pavan, the boy in the shop labelled 'Joose Shop', opened up a Horlicks bottle, took a spoonful of a brown powder and offered it to me. Out of skeptism I said 'No' but Pavan accepted, still not knowing what is that. A sip of the Banana Juice and he almost burst in to laughter. The powder was nothing but 'Horlicks'. Pavan came up with ideas to start up an 'Ongole Special Joose Shop' in Bangalore, which provides with Joose and Energy toppings, specifically Horlicks. Who knows? It might become a big hit!!! Ongole was a busy/crowded town, albeit a small one with only a few major streets. We had an Ok dinner there, just before this Juice session and sound sleep by 9, just after that.
An Airy Episode
We got up early and were ready to continue our drive by 6.30. Out to the NH5 through the Kurnool Road and past some bumpy roads the road became smooth once again. Zooming through this road, I felt lack of enough air pressure in the front tyre. Also, the fuel meter had gone down the half way mark. So, we started to look for the next petrol pump, which came only after some 10 kms. After filling petrol, we moved to the Tyre Inflator machine to pump air. And there ... the front tyre went almost flat. The person there checked up with somebody else and declared the Tyre Inflator machine as faulty!!! He pointed to some tyre shops on the other side of the divider to check up the tyre. With an almost flat tyre, we had to travel about 100m, cross over to the other side and get the air checked. The person there didnt have an automated machine but a manual one. Finally, after some jugglery he filled air in both the tyres, but obviously the pressure was in excess of the correct 25 psi and 33 psi. Never the less, we could ride the bike. Couple more kms, it was time for another diversion. This time around a town called Medarmetla, where we checked up the air and found that the pressure in the back tyre was something like 50 psi!!! Getting out of the town, we confused the NH with some major state highway and took the wrong road. Only to find ourselves, crossing over the GQ at some point. We had to come down the track and do some circus to get into the main road once again. Soon after this point the actual NH5 joined us from the right. We had taken a road to the left, when we should have gone to the right. Next major town, Guntur, was more than 80kms from there, the roads looked like 'Under Construction' for some more time and the time was about 7.30. Another 500 kms to go for Visakhapatnam and we had to make it today. That meant we were getting late.
Bridge over Krishna
63 kms from Ongole, before Chilakaluripet, the road became smooth once again - rather excellent. Another peculiarity of this stretch was the presence of hill ranges (the Eastern Ghats) on both sides. By 9.30 we were having breakfast in Guntur bypass. We remembered that Vijay's town is between Guntur and Vijayawada and tried to call him to find out the name of his home town, but the range was not good. Anyways, Pavan remembered that it was Mangalagiri. About 13kms from Vijayawada, we saw a diversion for Mangalagiri. As the name indicates the town was on the foothills of a hill by the same name and looked beautiful from a distance. Another 10+ kms and we were in the front of a huge bridge built across Krishna river. There were hill ranges on both sides of the river and midway past the bridge to your front was the city of Vijayawada. Extending all the way along the banks of Krishna, it was a wonderful site. After crossing the bridge we were right in to the city of Vijayawada. The giant river also is the boundary between Guntur and Krishna districts. The city of Vijayawada looked big and neat. The GQ goes around it through a 'Ring Road' of sorts, but neverthless looked like a part of the city. There were huge junctions and traffic signals. A major highway coming from Hyderabad (NH9), crosses with NH5 here and then branches off towards Machilipatnam, a major port town and head quarters of Krishna district.
Over to Godavari
We stopped after some 20kms from Vijayawada, called up Vijay, spoke to him and continued ASAP. Soon we were in the West Godavari district and near the Eluru bypass, its head quarters. This was kind of a personal record for me, Eluru being the 50th district head quarters in South India, I've driven to. Eluru, also is the furthest among them, being around 700 kms from Bangalore, slightly more than Nagercoil, the head quarters of Kanyakumari district. The road was really good all through, until we reached Tadepalli Gudem, where another deviation awaited us through the town. After another town, Tanuku, we came across another huge river, the Vasishta, one of the two major branches of Godavari. Godavari seems to be a huge river, splitting into two branches Vasishta and Gowthami, near Rajahmundri. Soon after the Vasishta bridge, we encoutered the Gowthami bridge, which seemed to be even bigger than the former. The Godavari river and the Vasishta branch forms the border between East and West Godavari districts, hence the names! After Gowthami bridge, the NH5 changes direction and goes towards the west towards Rajahmudri. We reached Rajahmudri by around 1, went past the bypass and stopped near a Petrol Pump Dhaba for lunch.
The bus just behind us honked and I wondered why he did. There was no space and no way it could have gone, even if I moved away. Slightly ahead, the bus honked again, this time also with no reason. Then it was another bus, then an Ambassador car ... and as the crowd grew, it was literally everybody around us. In the city of Visakhapatnam (Vizag) everybody seems to be honking, most times without any reasons. I got irritated, then got used to it and started contributing myself. Couple of hours back, about 2, we had around 200kms more to cover. Speed was a necessity here - we had to reach Vizag before its dark. The road still had frequent deviations, but we finally managed 79kms in the next hour!!! Soon, another deviation came through the town of Yelamanchili, where we had another coconut water break. By then we were somewhat comfortably placed, with more than an hour and about 60kms to go for Vizag.
The city limits and the honking started almost 25 kms from the city. There was a toll point, followed by a turn towards Vizag steel plant. Soon it was dark, and driving through the highway, the fully lit Vizag city looked beautiful. We stopped at one of the major junctions and enquired couple of people for hotels. They directed us towards the city and gave us directions for Kailashagiri, Rishikonda beach and Dolphin's Nose, major tourist attractions in Vizag. We happily forayed into the city, searching for a good hotel.
A Bengali Barrage
The first hotel we checked out was a star hotel in the middle of the city, called Dolphine's Hotel. They had rooms but too costly for us to spend for just a night's sleep. Anycase, we parked the bike inside the hotel complex and roamed around looking for a hotel. Enquiring in a couple of hotels for rooms, we got almost the same answer. That a lot of people from Kolkata have come down to Vizag for vacation and almost all the hotel rooms are booked. Some people were ready to give us accomodation, on a condition - that we should vacate by 6. Finally, we settled down in one of the hotels, on the same condition, just that the deadline was 6.30 this time.
Haggling at Singapore Plaza
First thing we did after checking in to the room, was searching for a camera service shop. We almost found one, but it was closed by the time we reached there. A trip of this magnitude cannot be done without some snaps. So, I checked up some primitive aim 'n shoots cameras in a studio. A fully manual, Kodak KB10 will cost only Rs. 499. So, atleast it was decided that am going to buy a camera. Next, we went to some other electronic shops. I was specifically on the lookout for Canon BF800, an aim 'n shoot I've used for a long time. But the prices these people quoted was exorbitant. For a camera I bought for Rs. 900, they were asking 1400. Finally, in a shop called 'Singapore Plaza', I bought the same camera. Even after haggling for a while and literally fighting with the shop owner, we got it only for Rs. 1250. Nevertheless, we now had a camera for the rest of the trip!!!
A Bird's Eye View
It was awesome, from the top of Kailashagiri, which is encircled by Vizag city on 3 sides and the Bay of Bengal on East. VUDA (Vizag Urban Development Authority) seems to have big plans here. They already have installed a ropeway and planning to start a toy train service on top of the hill. But what was most impressive was the awesome bird's eye view it offered of the city ... and also the Bay of Bengal. We got up early morning, checked out from the hotel and took the NH5 towards Kailashagiri. One can see lot of hills all around Vizag, Kailashagiri being to your right after the city. After taking a deviation to the right we entered a toll gate and a neatly maintained road followed, which will take you to the top of the hill. The place was impressive and we spent time checking out almost all the view points available there and making good use of the newly bought Canon BF800. From the top of the hill, a beach road was visible, again very well maintained. We checked out some maps on the hill top and decided to get to the beach road.
Riding the Waves
Getting out of the Kailashagiri road, we took another right turn and continued towards the beach road and the sea. Upon hitting the beach road, we continued to the north along the beach towards Rishikonda beach. Rishikonda is another hill couple of kms from Kailashagiri and the beach there is famous. But, I didnt quite like the beach, wasnt very clean, with lots of coconut shells and other food items littering the whole place. The beach had facilities for boating and an artificial walk to allow you to walk into the beach for some distance.
Tsunamis and a Tragedy
We were soon back in the beach and moving towards the south this time ... till we saw a lot of crowd and parked vehicles around a smaller beach very near to the city. This was the Visakhapatnam main beach (I guess, its called Ramakrishna beach) and was not very impressive again. But, there was something different in this beach. The water level has wet the coast line up to an unusual level, but we ignored it as tidal effect, especially since it was full moon time. But, as we were getting out of the beach and moving out, more and more people were approaching the place and looking at the sea. All the window panes in the apartment opposite us had heads popping out. Pavan enquired somebody and heard that the sea level has rose and thats why everybody is looking at the sea. Again ... we dismissed it as a rumour and scoffed at people ... who r so vulnerable to these silly rumours. Little did we know ... what had happened is one of the worst tragedies of South East Asia and Independent India ... We were busy trying to locate the "Dolphin's Nose" until we approached a policemen for directions. "Dolphin's Nose? Get out of this place ..." he shouted. Though we didnt realize the gravity of the situation, we did exactly the same. After around an hour Pavan got a call from his mom and obviously sounding worried, she asked if something had happened in Vizag. Pavan said "Nothing ... its all rumours"!!! Even after lot of unreached calls and follow up SMSs by worried people (one of them reading 'Where are you atrocious fellow... ? Heard tht sea s rough on all coastal areas... Tk care..'), we still didnt realize the gravity of the tragedy. It sunk in only after we switched on the TV that night ... and was shocked to see what had happened. We should have been riding along the beach road when the Tsunami struck Vizag ... Fortunately, the waves were not so strong here ...
Kakinada and Yanam
By 10.30 we stopped at a small shop outside the city, bought some bananas for breakfast and continued back. We had a small detour to take, near Kathepudi, close to 130kms from Vizag, where another NH (NH214) goes towards Kakinada. At around 1, we were near Kathepudi, having lunch at another Petrol Pump Dhaba (which was by the way very good food), then took the NH214 towards Kakinada. Just before Kakinada town, there was a junction, with Kakinada Port on the left and a road to Rajanagaram to the right. Rajanagaram is another small town in NH5, past Rajahmundri towards Vizag. We didnt really know what to look for in Kakinada. After reaching Kakinada by 3.30, we drove through the city, crossed couple of big bridges inside the town and continued through some highway ... till a place called Ramachandrapuram. This road was not the continuation of NH214 as I thought before, but some state highway. At Ramachandrapuram, about 4.00, after roaming around for a while, we figured out that the road we have taken is going towards Yanam, one of the old French province and now part of Pondicherry Union Territory. It was about 20kms from there and after enquiries in the nearby tea shop, we got to know that there is a road from Ramachandrapuram, going to Rajahmundri. We did some more assessment and decided we had enough time to go to Yanam and then get back to Rajahmundri. The road to Yanam was very bad initially, but improved slightly later on and the sign board also started showing more distance. 20 became 25 soon!!! But, the views were nice on both sides, with sun coming lower, directly above lush green paddy fields. Just before Yanam, there was a junction with a major road looking like a National Highway. being the only NH around this area, it had to be NH214. Finally, we reached Yanam before 5, which was a very small town and congested streets. We both thought that Yanam was a beach town and upon enquiries about the beach, we were directed towards something which looked like a river bank or back waters. There was a huge bridge running across this river. Later on, with the aid of Google and some maps, we figured out that the NH was indeed NH214, and the river we saw was river Gowthami (the major branch of Godavari) and the bridge, called the Balayogi bridge, is a major construction in the area. We started back and Pavan took charge. In spite of some excise police checkings on the way (Yanam being a UT) we managed to reach Ramachandrapuram before 6, found out the Rajahmundri road and continued.
By 6, it was getting dark and one of the sign boards said, Rajahmundri is still 33kms from where we were. Again, from the map, we had apprehensions going there. Since, NH5 had a west-ward turn before Rajahmundri, and getting to Rajahmundri, will mean we are travelling extra distance. There should be another road to take us to some place further ahead. Some more distance we reached a small town and enquired some locals there. They confirmed what we had thought. Rajahmundri is about 30kms from there, but the road we had taken will touch NH5, 10 kms before Rajahmundri. Besides, if we go south wise, we can reach NH5 earlier. Most heartening piece of information was that we were in a decent town called Mandapeta and we could get lodges there. We decided to check it out, entered Mandapeta town and finally got to a hotel.
Next morning from Mandapeta, we took a small road towards Alamuru in GQ/NH5. By 7, we entered the GQ, just before the mammoth bridge across Gowthami. A board just before the Gowthami bridge read, Length : 2337 M, and I could not believe it. We noted down the trip meter reading and started crossing the bridge, only to verify that the bridge length was indeed about 2.3KMs!!! Immediately after the bridge, there was another road towards the left (Eastwards) going to Amalapuram, in NH214, 36 kms from Alamuru. There were more connecting roads between NH5 and NH214 all the way till Vijayawada. We also measured the Vasishta bridge, which was just under a KM long. Then, stopped at a place near Eluru for breakfast and had Idlies, Omlette and Pesarettu (something similar to a Dosa that Pavan suggested). After breakfast we quickly covered Eluru and Vijayawada, to reach another mammoth bridge across the river Krishna. Being in close proximity to Vijayawada it was a busy place, measuring about 1.8KMs and looking even bigger.
After a nice and quick lunch at Ongole, while sipping the curd, I was smiling to myself. We were looking good to reach atleast Guduru by evening. My smile broke, when Pavan came and told "Lets go?". "Its too short a break" I complainted. "Just 15 minutes". Pavan just smiled and told "We'll stop somewhere in between" and I gave up. From Vijayawada till Ongole, the only problem we faced was an almost broken exhaust pipe. I had put a bigger (and noisier) exhaust pipe recently and the screws had become loose by the second day itself, producing big vibrations and sound. Past Vijaywada, we noticed that the pipe had almost fallen off. At Medarmetla deviation, 20-30 kms from Ongole, Pavan reported the vibrations to be intolerable. We picked up a rag cloth from the road side and used it to tie up the exhaust to the footrest and suspension. The vibrations continued but subsided to a tolerable level.
Beating the Targets and a Fall
Our initial plan was to stay at Kavali on 4th day night. At Vijaywada itself, Kavali looked very near ... too easy. So, we extended the target till Guduru, later Nayudu Peta and then Srikalahasti. By 5, we said good bye to GQ/NH5 and took the deviation for Nayudupeta and after a brief coffee break, continued on SH61 to Srikalahasti. On good and empty roads, the 30kms to Srikalahasti looked very small. Sun was still high up when we reached the Srikalahasti bypass and we didnt even stop. Another half an hour we reached Tirupati, just 250kms from Bangalore and about 150kms from Kavali, our intial target and decided its enough for today. Stay in Tirupati was a big fight. Being a famous temple town, the room charges were really high and the rooms were not upto the standard. Finally, we settled down in an Ok hotel for Rs. 400, very much on the higher side. The only fall I had during the entire trip was also in Tirupati, while roaming around the town for dinner. An auto came and hit me by the side and knocked me down. Nothing serious, yet it was a funny instance. Guess, something was in store for us and it went away like this!!!
Last days drive was just trivial. Starting by 6.30 again, we drove slowly around the Tirumala and later Chandragiri fort, to click some photos. But, the road was too good to go slow!!! By 8 we found ourselves near Chittoor in the NH18, then taking the bypass to enter NH4. By 9 we were at the AP - Karnataka border and 9.45 at Woody's near Kolar bypass. After another excellent breakfast at Woody's - Masala Dosa, Idly, Vada, Coffee repeated and Thair Vada added by Pavan - we continued toward Bangalore by 10.30, to reach Indiranagar 100ft road by 11.30, in spite of some heavy traffic around Hosakote and KR Puram. Soon we were greeting our colleagues in the office.