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Cycle Touring Karnataka

Poonch - Art of Bicycle Trips

I awoke one morning with a sudden urge to just cycle all over around Karnataka, India. Over the years, I have met several people who have cycled at length all over the world. A friend’s cycle tour from Bangalore to Ladakh especially inspired me. So I decided to go on solo recreational cycle tour and started from Bangalore with an intent to see places that I had not seen before. In India, this is not a problem as there often is more than one route to the destination.

I had been contemplating a bike tour like this for a while but I did not have a definite plan or a fixed itinerary. However, I had spent time equipping myself and I knew my prior experience as a tour guide for Art of Bicycle Trips would come handy..

First in order to equip myself, I had to buy a bicycle!  What cycle to buy was a difficult challenge, considering that we are spoiled for choice! Fortunately budget constraints limit your options!  And in the end I had zeroed it down to having a Mountain Bike. While Mountain bikes are heavy and not the best in terms of speed and efficiency, given the condition of the roads in India, it is the most hardy and the least likely to have breakdowns. It is also versatile and it can absorb shocks better and go over trails and dirt roads without any hiccups.

Crank Meister Cycle Store located in Fraser Town was amongst the best when it came to bike knowledge and bike service. So instead of wasting plenty of time researching more bikes, I just went over there and did some test rides on a couple of bicycles.

Finally after much thought and consideration, I settled on a Giant Revel O series. It was pricier and way over my budget but I got a good deal! Lucky that it was on sale then. I was very happy to have picked up this 9 speed mountain bike with hydraulic disc brakes and 29 inch wheels! The big wheels helped with speed and stability and more or less compensated for the lack of speed on mountain bikes. I was off to a great start!

Soon after gathering other essentials for a life on the road, I started my cycling holiday from Doddaballapur, on the outskirts of Bangalore.  It was not en route to my destination- Hampi but it gave me the opportunity to visit a friend I hadn’t seen in a while.

After bidding farewell to my friend, I headed out to a town called Madhugiri. Madhugiri is home to the second largest monolithic rock in Asia and it towers majestically over this small little town. All around the hill are the remnants of ancient fort built by a former king called Madhugiri Nayak.

Madhugiri Fort 1

By Saurabh Sharan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Isolated and in need of more attention in terms of maintenance, Madhugiri is still wonderful and you can spend days and hours exploring the entire fortified area and admire the natural beauty and sheer size of the rock.

However, I was itching to be on the move and next day I headed towards Chitradurga. The roads in the plains of Karnataka are mostly flat and there are hills to conquer here. You can cover distances quite quickly and as you cut through small towns and villages, people look at you with utmost curiosity! Bicycle tourists decked up in lycra is almost always a spectacle for the average Indian. Here cycles are mostly used because there is no other choice and the idea that city folks spend time and money to tour the countryside is new and unusual to most rural inhabitants. This leads to some very curious conversations at times.

Fortunately the Bangalore – Pune Highway has service lanes throughout and cycling along there was a breeze with very little traffic around me. Cycling on highways can be boring as there is nothing to see but this particular route is not bad and around mid-day I reached the town of Sira.

Sira is a small historical town and like most historical towns, it is categorized by the existence of a fort, a temple or mosque. The size of the fort depends on how big or small the ruler was back in the days. If in the past there was a Muslim ruler, then most of the population of the town today would consist of Muslims, unless of course some recent events have caused changes. In India, there is culture and history everywhere even in the small towns.  

Villages and settlements dominate the landscape here except around mountains and jungles. While biking through innumerable such settlements, one can see that there is a pressing need for quality administration at the grassroot levels.

The State Government needs to address issues and improve things from the ground up.  There is barely any infrastructure here in the villages and residents are forced to face serious issues such as alcoholism, sanitation and education without any consistent support or knowledge from outside. Even the historical monuments managed by the State Government in Karnataka need to be better maintained. Miles to go..

Despite the flat terrain, the wind made it hard for me to cycle to Chitradurga. The last few miles were a real struggle. The energy of the wind is harnessed well here and you can see windmills dotting the panorama here. Yet the historic roots of this walled city are evident. The hills on which a major part of the fort and town belong to the oldest rock of granitic formation in the country.

The seven walls of the fort enclose the boulders and hills nestles on the Vedavati river. Built in the 17th and 18th centuries, Chitradurga Fort houses a citadel, masjid, warehouses for grains and oil, water reservoirs and ancient temples spread out over an area of 1,500 acres.

Although the origins of the fort date back to much earlier point of time, the feudal kings  ‘Nayak Palegars’ made the fort impregnable with 19 gateways, 38 posterior entrances, 35 secret entrances, four invisible passages, water tanks and 2000 watch towers to guard and keep vigil on the enemy incursions.

Three gates continue to be used by people to this day. And the hill fort now starts from the 4th gate onwards all the way up to the top of the hill.

Said to be India’s second largest military fort, tales of valour and bravery echo through time here to this day. There most commendable story is that of how of a soldier’s wife named Obavva used a pestle to defend the fort – while her soldier husband was on a lunch break during an attack. When Obavva heard the attackers attempting to sneak into the fort through a crevice large enough for just one soldier at a time, she picked up the pestle and hit enemy soldiers on their heads and dragged their bodies away quietly to continue the defence until her husband returned and raised an alarm.  

Chitradurga is very picturesque. The very name implies ‘picturesque fort.’ There are also beautiful caves around Chitradurga, which extend almost seventy feet beneath the rocks and where hermits and holy men used to live in isolation and meditate. Although off the beaten path, Chitradurga is a must-visit and is undoubtedly one of the many wonders in the state of Karnataka.

View of lake inside fort Chitradurga

By Pavithrah (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 I spent a day looking walking around and looking over the hillock and the next morning, I started my cycle ride to Hampi. This particular stretch was awful as the single lane road here was full of trucks. The tarmac conditions were alright but the amount of traffic made me wish I could just skip this bit as I didn’t have the luxury of a support vehicle.

I powered through and after Hospet, the massive Tungabhadra Dam is an impressive sight. This reservoir is at the confluence of the two of Karnataka’s major rivers – Tunga and Bhadra and I was lucky to reach at the correct time to experience one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. The town of Hospet like a lot of small Indian towns lacks vibrancy and substance and I was glad to leave the next morning to Hampi. Hampi on the other hand is so colorful and characteristic that it is hard to describe, see this post for my notes on cycle touring through Hampi. Keep on riding.   

Author: Poonacha

Editor: Ashwini

 

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