As folks in Europe and US gear up for summer, here in southern part of India, I am enjoying the cooling effect of pre-monsoon showers.
Don’t get me wrong, I love summer in India. The delicious variety of fruits(mangoes, jackfruits, grapes, watermelons, lychees, guavas, casaba melons, cantaloupes), fresh fruit juices, ice-creams and milkshakes; the visits to the pool and the dips in streams on treks, the longer drives to the cooler hill stations and the sunnier beaches; the walks in T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops under endless blue skies, what’s not to love! I almost don’t want summer to end!
Yet, the monsoons are awaited here restlessly as summer passes by slowly, for the rain clouds bring breezes that soothe. And as we cycle along into the rains, that earthy aroma that rises up into the air as the first drops of water hit dry earth is pure and magical.
The monsoons rejuvenate parched forests, paddy fields, sugar cane farms, fruit orchards and tea, coffee and spice plantations and turn dry, monochromatic terrain into a vivid, lush, dense landscape full of vitality and life.
‘Clouds break over forested hills’ by Samyak Kaninde via SamyakKaninde.com
The ponds, backwaters, rivers and waterfalls surge and roar through the jungles, where old makes way for new. Some of the animals and birds take cover in their nests, while others shake the water off their fur, dance and dive right into the thick of it all, relishing the sheer joy of the monsoons.
Here in India, at Art of Bicycle Trips, we await the rains every June because –
We can soon head out on longer bike rides and just cycle without worrying about the heat draining us.
Deserted lanes by Anurag Agnihotri via Flickr
The joy of riding along roads that have been hastily abandoned by motorists hiding from the rain is unmatched.
Double Ride on a Bicycle by Palachandra M via Flickr
The rivers that feed the waterfalls are at their best during the monsoons and you will get to play tag with the sun, the clouds, rain, fog and mist play as you cycle through the heart of India when most other people stay indoors.
Hills in the Clouds by Abhinav Singhai via Flickr
The operators that support your journey along the route have fewer customers to deal with, giving you a much better opportunity to actually get to know the locals and their way of life.
Along the coastline, the seas wash away all the trappings of seasons past and leaving behind only a few people as you cycle along endless ribbons of beaches.
Higher up in the mountains, the mountain passes are finally open again and the crisp blue skies, snowcapped mountains and alpine lakes beg us to explore the expansive vistas in the Indian Himalayas at leisure.
Magical Ladakh by Art of Bicycle Trips via Flickr
The innumerable shades of green in the forested mountains, fields and farms that stretch around you, will nourish not just your eyes, but also your mind and your soul.
Mountains of Mangaon Bloom by Neelima Vallangi via TravelwithNeelima.com
“Imagine this – A perfect blue sky above and coconut trees swaying gently along the serene backwaters below”
Kerala is famous for just that. The mesmerizing “Backwaters.” A true gem of nature’s beauty, the backwaters here are a network of waterways which connect to the Arabian sea. Its been in existence for over 700 years, having come into existence in 1341 AD when the longest river in Kerala, the Periyar river was flooded. The flood was destructive to the land in these parts but it also gave birth to the famous port city of Fort Kochi and the backwaters around it. With the flood now forgotten, the backwaters have been bustling with life for years and it is interesting to watch how people embrace and coexist with the backwaters.
Rich in history, culture and traditions, exploring paths along backwaters on a bike is a great way to see and learn about the way of life here. Pedalling next to the water through small villages, meeting families of the fishermen who live in these parts, learning a bit about their lives and visiting family run ‘chai’ tea shops enroute is a unique and unforgettable experience, no doubt.
To start, we leave Fort Kochi and ride towards the south in this episode of my dream Kerala biking tour. After a long stretch on a nicely tarmacked road, the first stretch of backwaters channels appear giving us glimpses of little mangrove islands. You may not believe, but what we is see is a huge prawn culture farm.
Here’s an interesting fact about backwaters – for 6 months of the year the backwater alleys are full of fresh water and for the other 6 months it is full of salt water. So, the people who live along the backwater channels use it for rice paddy cultivation when the water is fresh and then switch to prawn cultivation for the rest of the year.
The adaptability of the people here is something that you will see time and again when you ride here in Kerala. As kids swim, the adults, boat, fish, cook and wash along the backwaters. Take it all in as we deviate from the tarmacked road to a trail in a fishing village. To me, it always feels like quite an adventure biking through narrow walking paths with fish farms on either side.
Smaller versions of Chinese fishing nets can also be seen in the villages here, and these nets are mostly functional at night. Sometimes during day, the women use these nets to catch some fish fresh for their lunch. Yes, seriously.
Canoes are a common mode of transport here in the backwaters. If you like canoes and boats, then you will enjoy this next bit a lot as we meet a man named Kunjappan who is a traditional canoe maker to learn about the art of traditional Keralan canoe-making. Kunjappan’s workshop usually has several country canoes at different stages of the build with some finished ones waiting for buyers.
After this, the ride further takes us to the boarding point for our canoe ride. Here we enjoy a short ride in the backwaters as we canoe through with our bikes sitting idle in the canoe with us. Our boatman named Thankachan is a local from the village here and he will take us through some of the most serene coves hidden in these waterways. As you sit back and take it all in, you might see ‘brahminy’ kites flying high up above, cormorants drying their wings, hens, ducks, egrets and other birds clucking and cooing while the people here go about their lives.
Soon after, we will hop off the canoe, say bye to Thankachan and ride further on our bikes, capturing more of backwater. Want to add more flavor to this backwater ride? Don’t forget to try some boiled tapioca with karimeen(pearl spot) fish curry for lunch. Finger licking good! That’s it from me for now, until next time.
Note: This post is second in a series of posts that describe my dream cycling tour route here in Kerala. Read the first post about Cycling Fort Kochi here and the third and final post of this series about cycling Munnar here.