“Why Gravel?” Recently, a fellow rider quizzed me about my sudden love affair with this cycling discipline. I guess, it’s the sheer delight of cycling amidst nature sans traffic that pulls me towards gravel. Plus, there’s that thrill of hurtling down single or double tracks.

We’ve known G R (G Rajasekar) for ages, and his passion for nature and uncharted routes made me reach out to him to join our weekend gravel escapades around Tellapur, Kollur & Mokilla. He led us to a hidden gem near Anantapur – Bush Camp @ Kalpavalli (past the Kia factory and close to the windmills on the right, en route from Hyderabad to Bangalore).

This spot boasted myriad double tracks weaving through tasty gravel, instantly capturing our interest. So, we set our sights on exploring it come the first weekend of December ’23, armed with GR’s meticulously planned routes and GPX files.

Off we went—Krishna Kunam, GR, and yours truly—loading our bikes onto the car from The Bike Affair, setting off around 2 PM on Friday, eventually reaching the camp by 9 PM. You could approach the camp via two paths: one from Penukonda Fort (with about 5km of gravel) or CK Pally (with roughly 10km of gravel). They even offer a pickup service for non-off-road capable vehicles, advising an arrival before sunset.

Post a homely dinner, we settled in for the night, gearing up for our first ride slated for 7 AM the next day. Just as I was about to hit the sack, I heard a curious swishing sound—turned out to be the windmills spinning away. GR reassured us they wouldn’t cease their song & dance. Under a moonlit sky filled with stars, we missed seeing the windmills in action but were treated to their sounds.

The cottages/huts, thatched were roomy enough for two but a bit snug for four, granted us a spectacular morning view of those dancing windmills, finally putting the mysterious noise into context.

GR had plotted three routes—west, east, and north. Our maiden ride kicked off towards the west. Kalpavalli, a conservation zone, cradled the bush camp, nestled amidst a landscape where the nearest village was a good 5km away. The camp is nestled at a lower altitude, encircled by windmills perched on small mounds or hills.

A stationary windmill near the camp became our guiding north star. The trail, predominantly double track, was far chunkier than anticipated. Our first pit stop? Deflating our tires slightly for better traction. Both GR & Krishna were on clincher tyres and would have been happier with tubeless wider tyres around 40mm in width.  

As luck would have it, Krishna’s pedal decided to come off. Not the entire pedal but just the pedal body. We found the missing part along the trail, and managed to reattach it, but it wasn’t locking and could slide out easily.

GR soon realized our absence and doubled back. With no immediate fix, we embraced the “ride carefully” mantra. Meanwhile, I mentally scolded myself for forgetting those zip ties.

GR joined us as Krishna acclimatized to cleating his right foot, ensuring the pedal body stayed snug and wouldn’t slide off. We journeyed past numerous windmills, marveling at their colossal size and dizzying speed.

Initially downhill, the trail gradually led us upward until we hit the road from our previous night’s arrival. A quaint chilli farm greeted us, the vibrant reds of drying chilies painting a picturesque scene. Opting to skip the final diversion to another windmill, we cycled the last 5 km back.

Post a simple breakfast and chai, we attempted DIY fixes for the pedal hiccup before embarking on the eastern trail. Notorious for getting lost in trails, I breathed a sigh of relief being in the company of navigation gurus (GR and Krishna) and GPX files.

We traversed paths near the windmills’ edge, offering panoramic views of the surrounding area—a habitat boasting cobras, Russell’s vipers, Indian pythons, leopards, black bucks, and sloth bears. Thankfully, our encounter was limited to admiring these creatures on the information boards and not face to face!

During a 3 km long climb, we encountered a pair of shepherds with goats, including an enthusiastic 12-year-old lad, Prashant, eyeing my bike. Regrettably, I couldn’t grant his wish for a ride—my flimsy excuse being the uncomfortably high saddle and lack of platform pedals. But Prashant settled for some photos with the bike and its grumpy owner, i.e., me.

Navigating toward what seemed like the Windmill office, we found ourselves descending a small section flanked by cows. The rustling of rocks startled the bovines, prompting a frantic dash as I encountered a confusing fork in the GPX map. Chaos ensued as the cows charged towards an open area crossing me. Seeking refuge behind a lone tree, I found myself playing hide-and-seek with an irritated bull. GR swiftly grasped the situation, halting Krishna from riding closer. 

Post-lunch deliberations led us to push our final trail conquest to the following day. The locals at the camp confirmed the bull’s disdain for two-wheelers. The herd belonged to the temple nearby.

We set off towards Penukonda Fort by car, indulging in an evening hike, followed by a pit stop at a Korean joint for a taste of Korean cuisine and a beer hunt. En route back after dinner, a female blackbuck gracefully crossed our path. With solar-powered lights dwindling at the camp and sketchy signal strength, more banter ensued before we called it a night. Despite a drizzle, we hoped the rain wouldn’t dampen our plans for the final trail the next day.

Morning work calls beckoned Krishna away, leaving GR and me to venture onto the trail a tad later, waiting for the fog to clear and visibility to improve. We were relieved to move in the opposite direction of the temple, bidding adieu to our bull nemesis. We did encounter a couple of male black bucks on our path.

Today’s route led us down to Gollapally reservoir, demanding a strenuous climb back up. Negotiating sandy patches near the reservoir and tackling steep sections proved to be a lung-busting challenge. After a simple breakfast and a swift shower, we reminisced about the trails, grumbling about the return to Hyderabad’s traffic.

Gear-wise, our trio of different metal-framed gravel/cross bikes—Surly Crosscheck with 700 * 30C tires (Steel, GR’s ride), Van Nicholas Rowtag with 700 * 36c tires (Titanium, Krishna’s ride), and Fuji Jari with 700 * 36C tubeless tires (Aluminum, my trusty steed)—kept us elated throughout the gravel rides.

Ideal for this terrain? Gravel bike with tubeless wheels boasting round 40C tires or a hard tail MTB setup tubeless with 2.25″ wide tyres.

Strava links for our three rides are below