Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A crazy trip to Nagerholay

The game of Cricket had brought me to the Nikams who owned a Handicrafts Shop.  It was in the very heart of one of Mysore's popular streets renown for shopping.  Girish had become a team mate in 1979.  Frequent visits to his shop to spend leisure time revealed our common interests.  One of them, besides Cricket, was Trekking.

Girish at "Mysore Curios".

Their little shop attracted many people in the form of customers or 'casual chatters'.  The Nikam brothers were so fond of 'meeting people'.  One such casual visitor was a certain Deve Gowda [we later shortened it as DG].  He was always clad in a full shirt, a towel on the left shoulder and a loincloth [panchay] up to the ankle, all in white cloth. It was a typical appearance of a neat villager.  His expression was blank and whatever he spoke seemed to carry no water.  His craziness stood out on various occasions.  It was 1981 and this post is dedicated to Mr.Deve Gowda because it was he who started it all! Read on.

DG seemed to have all the time in the world and he was visiting the shop one day.  A casual chat about wild animals and forests had somehow begun and turned serious.  Because it had drifted to the subject of tigers.  DG began boasting about his brevity and justifying it by showing some old injury marks on his person, relating stories to them about how he fought with a tiger in his village!!  He said he would take us to the forests and show us tigers.  We believed him.  A certain Dr.Gopinath, Girish's friend, who was also there, said he too would join the trip. A date and time was agreed and fixed by the four of us. Girish had two film cameras and he also saw an opportunity to take a few shots with them during the trip. He asked me to use the 'black and white' while he used the one loaded with colour film.  Both had 12 exposures each.

  Myself, Girish and Gopinath assembled at the Bus Stand as scheduled, at 7 AM, prepared with a light luggage for a couple of nights stay.  Deve Gowda arrived as casually as he had sounded and his arrival reflected it too, but he came.  All his luggage was on his person, which was the usual whites he was wearing!  When asked about his luggage, 'I can manage.' was his response.  The towel on the left shoulder serves many purposes!  Long later, when his older namesake, who also wears the same costume became the Chief Minister of our state, I recalled this 'tiger-DG'.

Our exact 'tiger-destination' was still a suspense because we had left it to our Mr.Deve Gowda.  He made us sit in some bus that was ready, saying it would go to Bandipur [Bandipur is a Tiger Reserve].  This bus was set to go to some place in the neighbouring state of Kerala, but certainly in another route!  He did not appear to have any knowledge of topography at all. The driver was ready to get the signal from the conductor who was already issuing tickets to the passengers.

This was the short exchange between DG and the bus conductor [BC] when he came to issue tickets:
DG: 4 tickets to Bandipur. 
BC: Bandipur?  This bus is not going to Bandipur. [We looked at each other.]
DG: Then where is it going?  "...." /some village name he uttered/
BC: It will pass through Nagerhole. [It is 100 km from here]
DG presented that famous look again.  
All of us agreed and decided to go to Nagerhole [pronounced - 'Naagarholay'] as we had no choice.  Four tickets were bought and we landed in Nagerhole before noon.  Nagerhole National Park has been renamed as Rajiv Gandhi National Park since.  As we approached, we saw a herd of deer.

Let us not forget that DG has brought us here to show us tigers.

The three of us had already decided that this DG character should stay separately.  Park's official lodging facility was soon allotted. Lunch was taken followed by a brief rest and imagining what our DG will do next. All our jokes by now revolved around DG and his antics. It was great fun anyhow.  In the meantime, we had booked for a short safari in the Forest Vehicle for the evening.  In the one hour safari into the jungle we came across many deer, bisons, wild dogs, elephants, langurs, monkeys, peahens and peacocks and wild hens.

Bisons - mother and calf, in fading light of the evening.

Peahens and Peacocks were abundant around the lodge and we spent the next morning watching them for some time and then came across during our loitering, some tamed elephants belonging to the forest department, eating the fed grass. 

Photo by Girish - Peahen.

 We already had our breakfast. We had come to a firm conclusion that Deve Gowda, the great 'tiger fighter' must be packed off by bus at the earliest. He 'unhesitantly' agreed to go by the next bus, as if he knew our plan!  We had enough of him already.  He never seemed to make any attempt to show us any tiger!!  He had given the  impression that tigers could be spotted like street dogs near our houses!  We came to know that in about 500 square kilometres of that forest reserve, there were only a handful of them living in that territory. 

In the meantime, Girish was interested in some adventure since this DG-tiger element was a total flop.  We discussed about how safe it is to risk walking along the road towards Hunsur.  There was total agreement.  

We saw an old tribal couple cutting firewood and went up to ask for their inputs about our plan. 

The man was Chella, a native having lived all his life there and he guessed his own age as 80. 

He took us to his hut also.

DG, Gopi, Girish, Chella and relatives at his hutment.  Chella filled us with courage that tigers, if at all we were lucky to spot, will not attack us.  Tigers were not the only fear.

Skipping lunch, we decided to leave, after settling the lodge bills by noon.  It was risky to walk without arms protection in a forest reserve, even if it is on the road leading to Hunsur 60 kilometres away. Our only weapons were a long stick and luck.  We also discussed our plan with some forest official and he left the decision to us.  Our plan was to hitch hike some vehicle that passes towards Hunsur after some miles.  The sky was overcast and there was a light intermittent drizzle.  I also had a slight cold as well. So Girish lent me his jerkin.

Finally we slowly and silently got the feet moving, single file by the side of the road.  At times, we stopped to enjoy the tranquility of the forest at its best.  Jungle sounds are amazing.  Even when a busy city sleeps, it will not be as 'tranquil' as a forest.  In the jungles, we can 'listen to tranquility'!  Distant sounds of some elephant breaking a branch or trumpeting far away, invisible little birds making their melodious calls high up on the trees, monkeys and langurs chattering and jumping the branches and the insects making their sounds, are all heard so clearly. No other sound mixes with that. It was such a soothing, calming feeling.  That was the lovely music of the forest.

Tranquility of the forest.

We were aware that even a little sound by us may alert some wild animal lurking behind the bush.  So whatever words we exchanged were with soft voice, almost a whisper.  One of us had to keep vigil at the bushes on the left, the other on the right and the lead man looked ahead.  Since it was the rainy season, the shrubbery was green and lush.  And that increased the chances of animals easily being 'unspotted'. Their 'camouflagiblity' was high.  

We came across our path a large pug mark of some cat in the soggy, puddled earth.  It looked fresh. We got frightened.  It was in the direction perpendicular to the road which meant that it had crossed the road.  Since it was overcast, the bushes appeared darker and the jungle silence added to our fright.  We trod even softer, all our senses in top alert.  After some time, the fear waned.

We had started at noon.  After just over three hours of non stop walk we reached a certain point where there was a curve in the road and a culvert.  The road ahead was obscured by the bushes.  We decided to have a short rest on the culvert and have a slice of bread which Girish had salvaged in his bag.  We were tired and hungry.    

There was no breeze. The sound of dry twigs on the forest floor crackling and the soft ruffle of leaves seemed to come from just a few metres away.   We looked in that direction for any clue, but there was nothing.  We feared that they were being created by an elephant nearby.  We had also noticed close to our path a few trees with slim trunks being freshly broken. The leaves were still green and 'unwilted'.  We also had crossed a heap of fresh elephant dung which had increased our heartbeats!

Girish posing at the culvert and curve before we continued.

Me in Girish's jerkin and my cricket cap on.  Photo by Gopi.

Now, we were really afraid to move further as the way ahead was obscured by the tall shrubbery. It does not look dark in the above photos. What if a tiger or panther [leopard] pounces on us from behind one of those bushes, we imagined. The bushes were so close to the road!

Gathering all the courage which Chella had given us, we resumed our trek extra cautiously now.  After about 10 minutes or so, we sighted a couple of cows with neck harness.  It was such a reassuring sighting!  That meant we were near some village and we felt somewhat safe from tigers but not pachyderms. And we were right.  Just at that time, we heard the sound of an approaching vehicle behind us.  Till now, not a single vehicle had passed from either side for all the three plus hours.  This was the first, going in the direction we were going.  It was a lorry.

We waved our hands and the driver kindly stopped.  "Hunsur?".  "Yes, he said."  He asked us to climb into the empty space meant for carrying materials. Our excitement knew no bounds.  We felt as if we were rescued from the jaws of great danger.  And it appeared it was so!  The lorry driver asked us if we were crazy to be walking like that!  He had seen a wild tusker uprooting small trees near that very curve and culvert .  We realized that it had come out of 'hiding' after we had moved ahead after the bread-break!   It was very angry and that we were extremely lucky, he added.   He said we were extremely lucky.  We then realized that those twig-cracking sounds that we had heard were made by that same tusker he was referring. What if it had spotted us?  What if we saw some animal ahead of us?  How do we react?   All this we had planned before we started the trek. We would have panicked had it literally appeared in front of us!

We might have been on foot for roughly 10-15 kilometres which we had covered in about 3 1/2 hours.  Another hour or so in the lorry took us to Hunsur. We thanked the lorry driver in such a manner that he had saved our lives.  

We did a couple of photography experiments also. A big spider web was spotted on our way.  The jerkin was used as background.  

We wanted to have a blur background but did not achieve, since it was only a box camera!  I took this picture in the moving lorry.

After reaching Hunsur, we returned to Mysore that evening in a bus.

We neither spotted any tiger in the forest, nor do I recall having spotted our DG thereafter in his shop. Reminiscing it after 30 years about how our 'carefreeness' and daring resulted in such a thrill, thanks to this mysterious DG.  I doubt if well planned trips give that much thrill!


Not to be totally disappointed with tiger sighting DG promised, let us have some consolation to see this tiger caged at the Darjeeling zoo:


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Vintage Sunbeam Bicycle

Bicycles were an integral part in our house.  My uncle's Robin Hood, my father's Raleigh and my grandfather's "Royal Sunbeam" decorated the veranda.  Let me share something about the oldest of them all, the Sunbeam. I will save stories about the other two for another post.

My grandfather Subba Rao was very fond and proud to show visitors his prized machine [the bicycle was also referred as 'machine'] and mention "1914 Royal Sunbeam".  It was a present from his father Mylar Rao in September 1914 for his marriage that year, when he was 18.  I can precisely say 'September 1914', because his father has recorded a total payment of Rupees 232 towards purchase of that bicycle, in two installments in his account book.  See his entries shown below.  

[See red-marked lines]

Sunbeam was a very famous English company. Click on Sunbeam.

Subba Rao rode his Sunbeam every morning to his office.  He disliked keeping it idle.  He never let it to be ridden by others, except when he went out of town for a few days. In that event, he would ask my father to take it for work or ask me when I was old enough to ride some distance and keep it back.  He gave such fine attention to his machine that it was always in top condition.  He knew his machine so well and had such a sensitivity to its feel that if I stealthily rode it, he would come to know that it had been ridden by 'someone'!

I can vouch that Sunbeam was the smoothest of the three bicycles at home.  All the bikes were fitted with Dunlop-'Rickshaw' tyres. They were expensive, durable and 'heavy duty'.

[Sunbeam taken out of second retirement, 2012]

Sunbeam was the tallest of the three at 24 inches.  The other two were of 22 inches.  Searching the web for some stuff for this post, about this particular model machine, I found this. [click]. The model has the most similarity with ours.

I really know not about the lamp used on it because no old bicycle lamps were found in our attic, junked.

Only once Subba Rao met with an accident while riding one morning on the way to his office.  It was not his fault.  Some scooterist [rare one in the late 60s!] had hit his bike.  He had fallen and sustained minor injuries. Fortunately, his head had not hit the road side curb stone. The Sunbeam also had been hurt and required some repair.  Perhaps that was the only time Subba Rao rested at home for a week!  Subba Rao rode his machine almost till the day he died in 1976 in his 81st year.

Soon after his death, it had to be retired to the attic for the main reason that its funny gear mechanism [2-speed] had been almost completely worn out to the extent that it was neither usable nor repairable.  Mechanics dreaded opening the complicated looking system.

I was now using the Robin Hood, which had become 'mine'.  The bicycle mechanic Shivaram whose shop was just 200 metres away used to do all the repair and maintenance of all our bicycles for many years. He was often pestering me "Why don't you sell your grandfather's bicycle?".  Since we had the lucky advantage of storage space in the attic, I never paid any heed to his pestering.  I knew it would be handy some day, besides having sentimental attachment.  

In the meantime, my father who was using his Raleigh bicycle died in 1981.  Around 1984-85, my maternal uncle once borrowed this Raleigh for some short errand and returned on foot with the bad news that it was stolen. I was also using the Raleigh in between. So I was now left with only the Robin Hood.  I thought, since the place in the veranda was now vacant, why not take out the Sunbeam and use.  I was also now in a job.

Never had this Sunbeam been kept idle and that too in an attic!  Despite good maintenance, rust had begun to attack its wheel rims even before it was put away 5 years before.  Now when I took it out in 1982, it had worsened.  Its 'mud guards' were rickety, "oil bath chain casing" was shaky and rusting, tyres and tubes needed to be replaced and its original leather 'Brooks' saddle had become brittle.  On the whole, this machine had started crying for serious service!

This machine is a unique model.  The width of the handlebar is a wee bit short, having its front brake lever on the left while the right was for the rear wheel and a special 2-speed gear mechanism at the sprocket.  Only now I came to know about 'oil bath', looking for some information for this post!  See image below.  It was probably dry for many years, hence worn out.

The tiny steel balls had rolled out out of it.  Both replacement and repair were out of question.  So a new idea was required to make it work, without the gears.  The two separate plates needed to be attached permanently.  So I got 4 holes drilled and put nuts and bolts to fasten them.  The mechanic at the workshop was amazed at the quality of that steel!  It was so hard to drill!  After this, it worked again without the original mechanism.

The 'oil bath chain casing' was replaced with a new one, but this is just a simple open system.  The mud guards were replaced with the ones from Robin Hood and Robin Hood was fitted with the new pair.  Brake shoes had worn out and I found 4 pieces of hard rubber for replacement.  Its pedals were good and so it remains.  I had to change the rusted rims and spokes.  The original hubs stayed.  A new saddle was fixed, handle bar holds which were wooden were replaced with plastic ones.  It was once again in riding condition.  Shivaram, did all the work.

This is the worn out gear.

One of the four nuts can be seen on the left side.  These pictures were taken before I cleaned the machine, hence very dusty. 

I had not looked at this head badge closely before.  So I was under the impression that "Royal Sunbeam" was printed, because Subba Rao was always mentioning 'Sunbeam'.  But for posting here, after I wiped it clean to take a photo, bafflingly, it showed "The Empire.. Extra Special Model"!  

Printed Head Badge.  

What is this? I thought.  He was saying it is Sunbeam and now it is Empire.  Since my web-searches took me nowhere, I contacted one Jim Langley in the US, a bicycle collector of 25 years standing, through his website.  He promptly responded guessing that this could be a model name by Sunbeam.  I tried to match the frame number also, but to no avail. But I'll keep looking.

Some pictures now....

Frame Number 119776 below the saddle.

Remnant of the rusted front mudguard.  See original 'gold lines'. 

Two 'Sunbeam' tools that have survived.  Screw driver and spanner.

Chain Lock.

Two-speed gear lever on the bar. High and low.

Rear brake at the rims.

Pedal and crank.

Rear and front hubs.

See the replaced mud guard and dynamo I have fitted.  Lamp clamp is missing because it broke off due to severe shaking of the lamp, in my time. Now I have again taken it out of its long retirement.  
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A wee bit off 'Sunbeam' before I close, let me tell a bit about Mylar Rao's bike, which I wildly guess was also a Sunbeam.  Let me show a few letters and his diary entries.  Keep a close eye on the dates in them.  There were no bicycle mechanics on the streets a hundred years ago. The machines had to be sent to the 'authorized centre' for any attention.  They would send the quotation for the work.  The following reproduction of the quotation letter from The Indian Cycle and General Engineering Co., Bangalore shows how much repair it required! The machine must have been in 'unrideable' condition!  Read the description.

Mylar Rao was posted at Kadur at that time and it appears that a certain T.A.V.Iswaram at Bangalore [most likely an acquaintance] coordinated in this job. 

After repair, it was sent back to Kadur from Bangalore, by train [see the R/R of Southern Mahratta Railway bill from 1906].

The following is the letter to the above. Very prompt.

This is Iswaram's letter to my great grandfather, written beautifully. Read and appreciate.  It is simple and legible. Click on all the images to enlarge.

My ancestor had also fallen from his machine once and he records it in his diary that day in 1899. What he writes is amusing.
"Beware of borrowing things from others. Had a fall from Cheluva Iyengar's machine.  The brake was a little bent."

Another mention of the bicycle.

'Bicycle out of order.  Repaired as nicely as I could.'

Read the next one!  He was on 'census leave'... miles of riding.. blisters...fever ....

This is the pump I have taken out of retirement.  Made of brass and in England by Dunlop. 

Hope you enjoyed the read-ride!
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