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  • Writer's pictureayush pant

Vagamon- A solo trip

Updated: Jan 20, 2022

(This is taken from an old blog post of mine from ca. 2017 when I used to live in Chennai.)

How we wish for waking up to views like this everyday


I have.divided this trip into five parts.


Part 1: Chennai to Kochi

About a couple of months ago, I read a blog on Team-BHP website by Ms. Nandita about her trip to Vagamon hill station with her friends. I admit to not reading it full in one go, but surely the pictures had me transfixed. And there itself was born an instant urge to travel there immediately. And possibly take a few friends along.

Now, I stay and work at Chennai. And the distance from here to Vagamon is about 600 kilometers. Travelling by car/ bus/ train seemed to be the logical choice. I wanted this to be a road trip of sorts and my heart wanted to do this in a car. The problem is, neither of my friends or I own a car. Yet. So, I checked on Zoomcar and other car rental websites. Alas, the roundabout cost was coming around twice for what I pay as my monthly rent ! I tried convincing my friends to travel with me to there. This way, we could have shared the costs. But on any given weekend, either they got busy or I got some other work. Sadly, this idea was dropped (read delayed).


Long story short, as further time got delayed, realisation dawned on me that I would have to go there alone only.


So, in the last week of August I booked an onward and a return journey bus ticket from Chennai to Kochi. I chose Kochi as it is a big city located just 100 km from Vagamon hills. And also that there are no direct buses from Chennai to Vagamon. Now to satiate my hunger for a self-driven road trip, I rented a motorcycle (Royal Enfield Thunderbird) online for a day from Caferides, Kochi. I had read a lot of reviews and testimonials from other people praising the quality and good maintenance of the bikes on rent, and also, it seemed to me a very customer friendly place.


So, come 8 September 2017, and I hopped on to my overnight journey bus at Chennai. Unfortunately, due to traffic jams at broken stretches of NH44, I could reach Kochi with a delay of 6 hours ! I got down at pipeline junction in the afternoon next day ( just 5 minutes walk away from Caferides shop) and went straight to meet Alok at Caferides and picked up my bike.


Part 2: Kochi to Vagamon

I had planned to start my trip from Kochi at 12 noon. But due to bus delay I could only start by 2.00 pm. It takes around 3 to 4 hours from Kochi to travel to Vagamon. I filled fuel and checked tyre pressure in the bike at Kochi and took off. I faced heavy traffic at the start in Kochi which wasted around 45 minutes there itself.

Took the NH66 from Padivattom and switched over to NH85 after reaching Audi, Kochi. After about 20-25 minutes of riding, switched to SH15. Quite frankly, had no idea of the route. I was just trying to follow google maps. I hadn’t done any pre study of the routes. No planning at all. Just had rough time schedules kept in mind. And since I couldn’t charge my phone since a day, had roughly 20% of charge left in cellphone when I started for Vagamon. So had to use GPS and data sparingly, to save the battery for four hours on the unknown route. Therefore, as I wasn’t using maps in real time, got lost a few times and missed critical turns on the route. This again wasted a lot of my time. And I could reach my destination after five hours only.


Important learning: it’s a good idea to use real time navigation and to get a mobile holding bracket for bikes. Also, always carry a portable charger for long trips.


From SH15, I just followed the route suggested by Google maps. In between, found it more convenient and faster to stop and ask locals for directions to Vagamon than to check the phone. Some local village folk on the way told me (in very fluent English) to take the same road straight and reach Paala, which is a fairly big town. From Paala, there’s a roundabout after which the road cuts left to Vagamon. After about an hour and a half of riding, I reached a place called Piravom. Now, I hadn’t had any breakfast that day. So stopped for a quick bite at a bakery which seemed nice and appealing, albeit a bit incongruous for the location. Had some juice, egg puffs and sandwiches. I asked the bakery owner for directions to Paala, which he also reiterated, is pretty straight. It was about 32 km from there. On hilly roads, this would take me an hour to reach.


Somewhere at the foothills before Piravom


Now it was already four in the evening, sun was ready to set (it seems to set a bit early in the hills) and I still wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it on time. I did not want to ride in the dark in an unknown place with an almost dead cellphone battery. It gives you chills, really! So started off real quick from the bakery, put faith in the bakery guys words (that road to Paala was straight, and that I need not make any turns) and rode as hard as possible. I think I surely broke the speed limits. In between, when I took a glance at Speedo, I was well above 80 kmph (that too on those hilly sections). Even I couldn’t believe whether these were adrenaline filled guts or fear of the dark which was egging me to ride hard. Nonetheless, I slowly began enjoying it. The fear of dark gradually started to fade away and I was soaking in every moment of the ride since. I initially had doubts on the pulling power of the 350 cc engine of the Thunderbird. But once you cross the mid rpms, the engine starts to come alive. The throaty exhaust boldly announces its arrival to oncoming tarmac and traffic. You then don’t feel as if you are riding alone, the bike becomes your companion. It talks to you (shouts, actually). The loud exhaust plays a large part in this. I wouldn’t have felt the same in a silent Yamaha, Honda or Bajaj engine of similar capacity. Maybe this was the reason my fear started fading away. And once it is in motion, the thunderbird doesn’t feel as heavy as it actually is. However, it may break your back when you try to reverse it on foot.

At about quarter last five, reached Paala. Felt insanely proud of myself. I had managed to beat google maps. However, there was no time to celebrate. I quickly got on to SH32. Next destination was Bharangram, then from there had to reach Erattupeta. With the newfound confidence, rode harder still and managed to reach Erattupeta just before six and congratulated myself. A kind gentleman somewhere in SH44 near Erattupeta central junction pointed me in the direction to Vagamon, which was twenty four kilometres ahead, straight. I estimated my time of arrival as six thirty with the fast speeds that I was already doing. However, when I had barely done ten kilometres, the road became really narrow, potholes and loose mud started to appear and the climb became more steep; and as luck would have it, heavy rains also started. I hadn’t taken into account the fact that the ‘misty’ Vagamon is in fact situated right in the middle of clouds. From eighty kmph, I came down to thirty kmph max. And on top of it, I got completely soaked. And of course, the sun set and it became dark. Couldn’t take the phone out from bag to check the route as it was raining heavily. So In an instant came face to face with all the things I had feared to encounter! Now, I wanted to wait under a tree, for a while, but the thought of getting further late pushed me to continue riding.


I must compliment the thunderbird for its grip even in wet conditions. In motion, it feels as nimble and light as my Avenger. So with this dependable bike, I rode on, and on. At around seven, reached a T-Point junction. Fortunately the rain had stopped and since I had done a lot of climb, was able to see a bit of sunlight as I was fairly above clouds. So took out my phone to check where I was. And what I saw brought a wide grin on my face. I had finally reached Vagamon !


Destination reached, almost


Part 3: Stay at Orma farm resorts

The left turn from that junction takes you towards the Vagamon town and lake. Turning right (which I did) takes you towards the meadows and pine forest, and this is where most of the resorts are situated.

From internet reviews, people had recommended Winter Vale resort. But all the rooms had already been booked when I was searching the previous week. I had happened to stumble across another resort called ‘Orma farm resort’ and from the pictures posted online, it looked pretty fine to me. Even the reviews were decent. The manager, Mrs. Preethy had already got in touch with me over last week to confirm my stay and the menu of the dinner/lunch also had to be decided in prior as the resort does not have any functioning restaurant, yet.

Yet again, I missed one critical left turn on that road while going towards Orma, and almost reached the pine forest. Had to turn back around when I realised. At around 7.15 I managed to reach Orma. A steep downward slope takes you to the gates of the resort, which is nothing but ten well maintained and functional cabins spread over a large tea estate. Alenti, the caretaker of cabins, warmly welcomed me. Since it was already too late and dark, I put off my plans to do sightseeing and decided to retire for the day. Alenti pleasantly guided me to my cabin.


Cabin


Cabin


There are a total of ten cabins spread over an entire tea estate. Two cabins are at the top of a hill. A cluster of 3 is at middle, and amongst them, one has been built atop a tree. I was given one in this cluster. Sadly, since I was late I had missed the one at the tree top. Another bunch is down the hill. The build, fit and finish is top notch inside. The bed is very comfortable. Inside the cabin, you would hardly realise that you are right in the middle of nowhere. But yeah, there is no TV or WiFi facility. Even the cellphone signal was unavailable. Luckily I had connection on my secondary sim. After a quick shower I slid into my bed and waited for dinner, which was served after about an hour. After that I dozed off. I got up at morning and by the time I was ready, breakfast was served along with fresh tea. It was a traditional Malayali dish called puttu and kaladai.

It was wonderful. And the view from the window was heavenly. It was total bliss!


Cabin built right in the middle of this


The cabin


Up above the world so high



The Pine forest is about 3 km from the resort which I managed to reach in about fifteen minutes. The pine forest is good for people looking for a mild trekking adventure. A rocky and somewhat slippery path runs right through the middle of the forest. You start at the top of the hill and walking this path takes you downhill. Some really adventurous people take their bikes on this path down and climb on return. I made a mistake while parking the thunderbird here on entering the forest. I parked it down a steep section on the rocky path. I did not realise, until I returned from trekking, that how heavy the bike really is to turn around and manoeuvre here. Luckily some fellow trekkers pushed the bike up the steep climb and helped me come out.

So while doing the little ‘trek’, i had went a bit down the hill for exploration. After a while, rested at a place somewhere in between where there were no people and I then drowned myself in the silence. The only sounds were of winds rustling the leaves and the occasional ringing of bells on some cows grazing nearby. The pine forest really is very enchanting. And luckily it was a bright sunny day also which helped uplift my mood.


Pine trees forest


From there I went to Vagamon town which has also got a beautiful lake within. Vagamon is essentially a tea estate; like a smaller version of Munnar hill station. Almost all of the tea estates are privately owned. On entering the town, I found a lot of shops selling tea and spices. Also, it is in this part that you see a town like hustle and bustle unlike the area near the meadows and the pine forest which is much quieter. Still Vagamon is a very quite hill station. So the charm is multiplied as compared to other hill stations which have became merely namesake ‘tourist attractions’, where there is nothing left to enjoy in peace. The lake is probably the most visited tourist attraction there. It is surrounded by little meadows. A bridge has been built to connect two little hills on either side of the lake. One one side, there is a boating facility, while on the other there are some adventure activities like water balling. Advisable is to stand in between the bridge on the lake and just soak in the beauty surrounding you. It is also where I stopped for some photographs. While returning from the lake I stopped at one of the tea shops in town. Got some flavoured teas and home made chocolates to take back home. Then decided to return to kochi.


Vagamon lake




Bridge on Vagamon lake


Part 5: Return to kochi and back to Chennai.

While starting from Vagamon, I just prayed for no rain and luckily got sunshine all throughout the return. Since now I was familiar with the route, I did an exciting and spirited ride down the mountains till Paala which is a fairly straightforward route. You don’t need to keep an eye for sign boards for directions till you reach there.

Another interesting thing happened on the way. I hadn’t realised that the pressure in rear tyre was low. Probably I had been careless while filling air at Kochi. I only got to know when I was midway between Vagamon and Paala. Luckily, a car mechanic was following me and he noticed that. He signalled me to stop and check. I did that. He was also carrying a portable Tyre inflator in his car and offered to help. I gladly accepted, of course. I thanked him and continued till Paala. Now it is from Paala to kochi where I took a different route than the one while coming a day before. And I really thank myself for choosing this one. I can safely say that this is one of the best roads that I have ever ridden on since a year or so when I began motorcycle riding. IT REALLY WAS SPECIAL. Kerala is undoubtedly God’s own country. Unfortunately I did not stop to click any pictures. I really did not want to stop riding. Moreover I had to reach Kochi by the next an hour and half or so to return the bike, so really had no time to stop. I reached Caferides by 3.40 and handed over the bike to Alok.

Pack-up and back to Chennai:


I spent some time at Lulu mall in Kochi. Had a nice lunch at Paragon hotel. In the evening, took a cab to the bus stand. The cab broke down on the way. The driver, Akhil was so helpful; he called an auto for me and directed him to the bus stand. The bus arrived half an hour later. I climbed up, spread myself on the bed and slept off. In the morning when I opened me eyes, I had already reached Chennai. Went home, showered, made myself breakfast and started writing this post. And completed it today, exactly a month later :).

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