My trips are mostly impromptu jaunts. Usually I’m bit by the travel bug the previous day, pack my rucksack and ride the next day. This has been the predictable pattern for a while since the time I started travelling.
I have been religiously following a lot of astrophotographers, who had a fair share of wonderful clicks of the milkyway and the night skies. Well what do I know, the next bug that bit me cried out loud for a starry night adventure. I was in Trivandrum, Kerala, South India, at that time. The light pollution of the city was a wet blanket, leave alone the stars I couldn’t see much of the sky. Some research lent me information on Vagamon, a highland in Idukki district of Kerala. I was assured of an entire galaxy of stars and almost zero light pollution.
I immediately made plans to ride all the way there along with a fellow rider pal, who, as well, swore by such unplanned plans. Vagamon was a 250km/ 5 hour journey from Trivandrum. I packed a set of clothes, a bottle of water and my camera equipment. Purpose of the trip was to spend a night there clicking the beautiful starry sky. We started exactly at 5.00 am the next day, all geared up and started riding with a full tank of petrol. The road was empty as it was early morning and we successfully managed to beat the impending traffic. As we crossed about 150+kms the sun was up completely and we were in vicinity of Pala, Kottayam district. We had a choice of selecting the road that directly leads to the fringes of Vagamon or another road which was a tad drawn out but greener, winding through thick forests. As our bikes were up for challenges and we loved the grind of off-roading, we opted for the adventurous route which piled up an extra 60kms to the journey.
It was a wonderful experience traversing the dense forests with large trees absorbing most of the sunlight. At 8.00 am it was a pleasant 21°c making the ride so enjoyable. We took a small break in the middle of the forest to take in the ambience and the freshness, stretched ourselves and continued. We kept riding and somewhere midway we took the wrong turn and were going completely in the opposite direction of Vagamon. We diligently went about 20km off route until we decided to ask a wayside shop keeper for directions. We were redirected to follow another route throwing google maps awry and off track. Thirst for adventure resulted in adding another 10kms to the ride and finally after 2 hours of extra riding we found ourselves stuck in thick traffic somewhere in a place called Kanjirapally.
We finally spotted a board reading Vagamon/Wagamon 24kms and that was a moment of jubilance despite getting lost and riding those extra miles. We realised we were finally there as we entered the hairpin zone leading to the hill station, a narrow hilly path with no sign boards but a lot of hairpins. We got a glimpse of the mountain range as soon as we crossed a 5 Kms stretch. Another 17kms to actually reach the top and we were very careful to keep our speeds down as it was a risky area for bikers. We continued, took a small break in between clicked a few pictures and in another hour reached the top just after 12.00 pm. It was one hell of a sight! I removed my helmet to just sit and stare.
The other tourists were already there doing what they were supposed to do – clicking selfies and gathering proof of their visit to this pretty hill station. We parked our bikes where there were fewer people, removed all our safety gear and just plonked on the grass below. Deep breathing exercises regulated and calmed our palpitating, exalted chests. After a bit we got our backs on the bikes and started riding further.
We came across a board “Motta kunnu” which literally translates to “bald hill” located about 2kms from where we were. The name sounded interesting so we decided to explore. As soon as we reached we could see larger crowds who had beat us to it and the place was filled with vehicles. Literally a bald hill and a quaint little place. As we couldn’t find a good place to park our bikes we decided to turn back. we stopped in between and planned further, whether we should check in to some place or explore a bit further. My friend, though a biker in spirits, was not used to such continuous strenuous trips and he was almost falling asleep. That helped us decide faster and we got ourselves a twin room in a resort nearby. This resort was located at a vantage point, on the edge of a hill. The view from the balcony was one which cannot be missed. We had lunch and decided to take a power nap and continue exploring later in the evening. My aim was to wait till night and see all those beautiful stars so I did not care much about the exploring part.
After we woke up, we had tea with local banana fritters and kicked off a conversation with the waiter about the place. He very enthusiastically suggested a few locations like the pine forest and others to shoot some good pictures. My focus however was still on finding an open ground for my starry sky. We roamed randomly for a couple of hours, clicked some pictures and parked on the side of a hill until it was night. I was ready with my equipment waiting for the stars to show up.
My friend and I have been buddies since grade 7. While waiting for the elusive stars to do their curtain raiser act, we helped ourselves to some store bought snacks, drinks and gossip from the yore. After almost an hour of chit chatting I could finally see those beautiful stars emerge. Breathtaking! My friend just lay there star gazing without uttering a word, so I decided to start my work. I took out my camera, fixed the wide angle lens as I thought it could get me a wider view of the whole sky and the landscape below, and as I was calculating and planning my frame, I realised I had forgotten to pack my tripod. A tripod was necessary for star photography as I need the camera on still mode for a few seconds, being a “Long-Exposure” shot. While I was cursing my carelessness, my friend suggested that I use my bike as a stand. Not a bad idea at all. I actually decided to wait till midnight so that the sky will be fully alive. I set my camera on the pillion seat and angled it properly, and without wasting another second started clicking. And yes I got the perfect click after 10-15 shots which called for for an hour of shooting. I felt bad for my friend as he could just stand there and stare and be the judge of those clicks, but thankfully he wasn’t bored and was still wonderstruck seeing all those stars for the first time. I got two beautiful clicks and I was satisfied that the purpose of the trip was complete.
We decide to call it a day. Our initial plan was to stay for two days, but we just decided to leave the next day and take a much easier route as we had no further plans to visit any other place. We packed and slept as we had an early start the next day.
We commenced the return journey at 5.00 am the next morning. We decided to take a different route which was much easier. The return journey was quicker hitting speeds of upto 130kmph and we reached back in about 4hours with short breaks en route. We took the scenic Pala-Alleppey-Trivandrum route. The roads were bad in Alleppey and we had a few close calls getting stuck behind trucks, sudden brakes applied and a few calculation mistakes but we reached back safely. The entire trip to and fro was quite an adventure but it was tiring than any other trip we ever did because of the route we took to reach Vagamon.
Despite all the hurdles throughout, it was one memorable trip that took its place in the favourites list.