[This is a story which I did for freeridermag.in which was published in their May edition. You can download the entire issue here. Due to whatever editorial considerations, it didn't quite get published the way I expected, with the images intended for it. This post will contain the story and the images shot for it, as originally planned. The rider in most of the pictures is Nilesh 'Nelly' Dhumal]
Stand up on the pedals and feel the rush as you roll six-and-a-half feet down the rock and lean into a long left-handed curve. You want to crank harder but the dry, dusty track has you wary as you stick that left leg out for balance. Switchback left and head straight for the crack in the rocks.
As you squeeze through, you realise you’re going too fast. Your brain screams, “STOP!” You battle the reflex that makes you want to grab those hair-trigger brakes and, instead, gently tease it with a finger. Take the switchback to the right and the urge to stare at what’s immediately in front of your wheel is overwhelming as you dodge rocks and struggle to keep from skidding through a rut. The trail banks right around a massive rock. You fight the sand which threatens to fling you headfirst into a little stone – a stone so inch-perfectly placed to split your skull that it has to be work of some diabolical entity.
Slip and slide your way around the rock and you’re greeted by the welcome sight of a long straight sloping upwards to a crest. Excited at finally regaining control over your fate, you crank away and burst over the top only to be brought down to earth. The trail banks hard right and then left immediately. You overshoot. If you’re lucky, you slow down enough to take the second turnoff.
Blitz down the long, pebble-strewn straight at breakneck speed and shred your way up a short rise to hit the last of the straights – dusty, sandy and deceptively easy.
Stay off the brakes and grimly pray you sussed the right pressure for the tyres to be able to do their job.
Hit the bottom at full pelt, jink left, take the chicken line and hang on. The trail dips and lifts as it slingshots you straight towards an obstinate outcrop.
Something’s wrong! Pedal spin’s shifted your left foot off kilter. You’re moving too quick to shift back and that rock is coming up fast. Bank right!
First line missed. Your rear brake sends you into a sketchy skid as you make the second line. Barrel down the last stretch still balancing the bike with one good leg, dodge the tree and as you come around the last curve, a smile begins to spread.
You’ve made it.
Without a fall.
And you were pretty quick too.
Only wind beneath your feet.
You bite the dust with sickening crunch and lie there in the swirling dust trying to breathe. Trying to figure out where your bike is. It’s done a couple of flips and lies forlornly in the dust, ten feet away. You hope like hell you haven’t broken anything – on you and your ride. As you painfully pick yourself up, people come running up – walkers, bird-watchers and random strangers. They all wear a curious mixture of expressions on their faces – concern (for soundness of body), amusement (at obvious unsoundness of mind) and bewilderment (over what would possess someone to do something this idiotic).
The diabolical entity which is the life-force of Turahalli looks on and smiles – a hard lesson taught.
Note to self: It ain’t over until the wheels stop spinning!
In the sport of downhill mountain biking, tragedy lurks behind the most innocuous-looking corner. Just ask the two who broke their collar bones at last year’s downhill race at Turahalli – one a noob (in practice), the other – the man who came in second only to take a toss while having a little fun after.
You trudge home with your bruised baby in tow, sights squarely fixed on the next ride.
Turahalli – yesterday, today and tomorrow
Sometime in April of 2009, I stepped out of the house in the wee hours of the morning to make what seemed like a loooooong trip out of the city. I was accompanying a couple of climbers to a place locally famous for great bouldering action.
Spread over a number of little hills, Turahalli turned out to be a reserve forest filled with rocks off all shapes and sizes each of which was being sized-up by a motley crew, all with the same gleam in their eyes – climbers eyeballing the day’s challenges.
Somewhere around the same time, a young man from a related tribe spun his crank down Kanakpura way on a quest of his own. As he made his way towards the outskirts of Bangalore, Nilesh ‘Nelly’ Dhumal kept asking puzzled locals if they knew of a hill with a mandir on top. Why a hill with a mandir? Well, he knew something known only to members of his tribe. And when he finally passed a curve in the road and spotted the hill, he knew he had been right. For as only members of the Indian downhill mountain biking tribe know, where a mandir sits on top of a hill, there awaits a course begging to be shredded.
The next time I went bouldering at Turahalli, I was presented with the somewhat curious spectacle of three helmeted men lugging bikes up the hill while a fourth dragged rocks off the trail. Word had gotten out and Tribe MTB had begun their infiltration of Climber Central.
Riding with the man who opened up Turahalli to mountain bikers, one learns to view things in a different light. You learn to memorise the course, begin turning before you actually see your destination, work up the nerve to take a few drops and keep coming back after a faceplant (as I did). It’s been a while since that first sight of the hill with the mandir and, over time, Nelly’s come to know it well enough to roll ol’ Faith(ful) back down the hill in the dark, riding the trail from memory.
Turahalli is now a favoured venue for the offroad races of the hugely-popular Bangalore Bicycle Championship, hosting XC, downhill and even cyclocross races. Last year’s downhill races saw participants from across the country shooting it out on the slopes. The last XC race which took place barely two months ago saw a monstrous turnout.
Weekends see Turahalli thronged by riders of all levels, from noobs eager to get out of town and experience a break from their humdrum lives to experts trying to build jumps, take drops and up the ante in general. When Tribe MTB Chieftain Nelly calls out to the Bangalore Bikers Club to enlist help to build a trail, people enthusiastically respond and pitch in. The downhill line has metamorphosised over the years. Erosion has smoothed some of it, the forest rangers have blocked them with rocks, plants have grown and things have shifted, ramps have been built and mud cleared. Each new change throws up a new challenge and keeps the rider sharp.
But, every story has to have a darker side. Multi-storey apartments are beginning to form the backdrop of the trail and in the not-too-distant future, Turahalli might become something of an island in a concrete sea.
This isn’t the first time Turahalli has been under threat however. Climbers talk about how Turahalli was under threat more than a decade ago from land-grabbers. In a bid to save what was then an arid land, fast-growing trees were planted and the area was declared a reserve forest. These trees now form neat rows and a beautiful green cover – the same trees through which bikers now fly in headlong pursuit of a rush.
The government is toying with the suggestion of making it a park but this isn’t the greatest of news for us as it’s hard to imagine a rider shredding his way through a trail dotted with lost lovers.
For the moment though, Turahalli’s trails continue to provide endless days of great riding, climbing and other outdoor activities. The local biking community is hard at work building some great ramps and opening up new lines for this year’s downhill championships. So, if you’re in search of a rush and like to live life on the (t)rails, come on down to Turahalli this July and put your body where your mouth is.