If you are looking to travel around this part of the world, you might wonder what is it that makes India special. The things that come to mind are likely to include the Taj Mahal, the beaches of Goa and the hustle and bustle of Indian cities.
Alternatively, here’s our list of must-visit places in India, guaranteed to help you discover this beautiful country, its people and its culture while maintaining the thrill of an adventure.
Often people ask me, where should I go and what should I see in India? The thing is there are so many options that the list is quite endless.
The more time you have, the better. Same applies for the budget as well as this gives you the freedom to move quickly in this large country. Keeping these factors in mind, the next step would be to pick a region and then plan around it. So we have categorised our picks that way – North, South, East and then the West.
Cross some of the world’s highest mountain passes and make your way from Manali in Himachal Pradesh to Leh in Kashmir. Nestled along these Himalayan peaks is the dramatic high altitude desert of the Tibetan plateau. The dunes here are in stark contrast to the lush green mountains, fields and orchards that are spread on the rain-fed slopes.
Join pilgrims along the banks of India’s holy river, the Ganges, up to its source in the glacier ridden valleys of Uttarakhand. This is the backdrop to some of Hinduism’s most revered mythologies and is considered to be the ‘Abode of God.’
Take a step back in time to an era where bazaars, hill-top fortresses, hunting lodges, herds of gazelles, camels and sheep surround you as you camp in the Thar Desert in front of a campfire with locals who are happy to share their way of life with you.
Time travel to an alien land where boulders stretch out in every direction interrupted only by vivid green paddy fields and statuesque palm trees. Here in the enchanting palaces, temples and pavilions, noblemen once rubbed shoulders with poets, sculptors, danseuses, writers and artists who surely found all the inspiration they needed.
Picture perfect Kerala is the perfect remedy for sunshine-starved souls. Awaken every day to clear blue skies below which the spice plantations, the tea clad slopes, the sun kissed beaches and the peaceful backwaters encapsulate a culture, a cuisine and a way of living, that’s all of its own. Seen here below is a capture from a religious ritual known as ‘Theyyem’ during which performers wearing elaborate costumes, body paint, make-up, and jewellery, embody spirits of the guardian deity being invoked.
Sikkim – The Happy Homeland, The magical kingdom, The Land of the Thunder God and the Nature Goddess. Tucked away in between Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan, Sikkim is a melting pot where cultures and cuisines merge to capture your imagination and tingle your taste buds as colourful prayer flags flutter in the breeze around hilltop monasteries that exude serenity.
Best time to visit: October to mid-November or during April and May
This time it is for the Goecha La Trek. This high altitude trek is for trekkers who wish to pay homage to Mount Kanchendzonga, the Guardian deity of Sikkim.
The Kanchendzonga is revered by Sikkimese people and it plays such a significant part in their lives that climbing Kanchendzonga is not permitted. You can however climb up to Goecha La pass at a height of 4,940 metres from where you could have royal views of the Kanchendzonga range along with that of the Singhalila range as well.
We just cannot wait to go explore more in a region that encompasses some of India’s least explored terrain. While all of the ‘Seven Sister’ states of North-eastern India appear to be very alluring, Arunachal Pradesh, the land of the dawn-lit mountains, holds a special place in our hearts.
Perhaps it is because of its astonishing bio-diversity(over 500 species of orchids!) or maybe it is because Rhinoceros, Tigers, Leopards and Gibbons still roam here in the wild. Or maybe it is because of the confluence of Burmese, Tibetan, Indian and Bhutanese people and their religions, languages, traditions, arts, crafts and cuisines that have evolved over a millennium.
Things to do: See Rhinos in the wild, travel to remote settlements where the indigenous hill tribes dwell or bike through Arunachal Pradesh to experience it at your own pace
Best time to visit: Between October and April
“Wild Flowers” by Vinod Panicker Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
From the mountains of the North, we head to the South-west – where the sunshine beckons us over the lush rainforests down to the coastline. Here along strips of golden sands, you can discover fishing villages in the cool backwaters or look out to the sea where indomitable sea forts have withstood the test of time along the Konkan coasts. Don’t forget to have at least one post-ride drink with the locals at a ‘Cool Bar’ and not to forget, a local meal too.
Things to do: Watch fishermen bring in the fresh catch, climb over forts at sunrise and sunset and swim in the warm waters afterwards; ride along the coast for days as you get a good tan on
And in case you want to earn your relaxed beach holiday, then the Bangalore to Goa cycle tour is made for you. This sportive ride will take through the heart of Western Ghats on curvy forest roads past fields and temples through riverside lodges in the mountains on to coastal settlements along endless ribbons of sandy beaches.
We can’t think of a better way to make your way through the Western Ghats, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Come wander through lands where Tigers, Leopards, Elephants, Sloth Bears and Wild Boars roam and Parakeets, Hornbills, Flycatchers, Babblers and Barbets fly.
Things to do: Stay an extra day at a Jungle Lodge for a chance to hike and spot wildlife
Best time to visit: October to February
Those are some of our top picks for an adventurous holiday in India. Which are your favorites?
Sikkim – The mountain kingdom. The Land of the mighty Kangchendzonga.
Tucked away in a corner of India on the borders of Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal, this is a gateway to the Himalayas.
Here the birdsongs begin much before dawn and go on until after dusk frenetically, in contrast to the sense of timelessness that emanates in these mountains.
When the mountains call, you drop everything and go. I did just that recently and here are my notes from the road from the Art of Bicycle Trips mission to Bike Sikkim – from Gangtok to Darjeeling – over the course of ten days with ten impressive women.
On arrival at Bagdogra, the greenery of the plains that surrounds is striking. We were getting tantalisingly close to some of the world’s tallest mountain peaks and the air was charged with energy and anticipation. The drive to Gangtok took us from the plains through to the hills where the valleys towered all around as the River Teesta snaked its way through. The jade of the forests and the emeralds of the waters enroute were mesmerising.
Soon enough, we were in Gangtok, walking on the highway to Tibet, under the cool shade of the poplars and oaks. Shortly after, we got on our Giant mountain bikes and went riding around Gangtok. The traffic was concentrated around the town’s main thoroughfares. The roads were an assortment of inclines; switchbacks started making their appearances right from the start.
The mountainous terrain brought with it dramatic weather – as always, and the peaks were truant at first – they remained hidden under a veil of mist initially. Then, slowly, as we went about organising the final details for this epic cycling trip of Sikkim, we were treated to majestic views of Mt. Siniolchu and Mt. Kangchendzonga. Breathtaking!
There is nothing that compares to cycling along on a seldom used forest road, only to be greeted, out of the blue, by the tranquil melancholy of these magnificent Himalayan peaks. The people of Sikkim consider Kangchendzonga as a guardian deity. The mountain provides everything they need and is worshipped – in line with their ancestral belief that all of nature is holy.
In Gangtok, the Enchey Monastery, the Do-Drul Chorten, the Institute of Tibetology and Directorate of Handicrafts and Handloom are well worth a visit. Having biked to Enchey Gompa, Ganesh Tok and Hanuman Tok, we left from Gangtok to Rumtek satisfied in the knowledge that we had conquered Gangtok’s highest point by bike. The ride was on!
The route from Gangtok to Rumtek is all downhill with potholes more apparent than the road in several places. The landscape slowly transformed from that of the hustle and bustle of Gangtok to that of evergreen forests studded with gushing streams interspersed along which where splendid terraces of paddy fields – vivid in both appearance and hue.
Prayers flags fluttered in the breeze as we cycled on to the hotel where we our friendly hosts greeted us on arrival with glasses of delicious ‘lassi’ i.e., sweet yoghurt smoothies. The best day of riding so far!
At Rumtek, a visit to the Rumtek Monastery is highly recommended. The colourful prayer flags contrast the backdrop of the hills splendidly here.
The next morning, clear skies greeted us with the season’s first snow on the mountain peaks in front of us. Pumped, we set out early on towards Temi Tea Gardens. It was smooth going on the roads in this section and the downhill that followed was speedy and exhilarating.
We had the first flat tyre of the trip here in this section of the ride. It was patched up real quick as everyone took the opportunity to click away and before we knew it, we were on the uphill to Tarku.
Almost everyone’s’ appetite for riding was fully satiated by the time we stopped for lunch at Tarku. Three ladies from the group however were ready for more. So with them free-wheeling it up behind us from Tarku to Temi, we went on to visit the organic Temi Tea Garden.
Shortly after the end of our tour at the tea plantation, the three remaining ladies accomplished their Peak to Peak ride having ridden all the way from their hotel at Rumtek to the hotel at Temi. The best day of riding, again!
We got another early start to ride from Temi to Yuksom. With the lower part of the valley now far below us, we were surrounded by endless slopes of the tea gardens. The carpet of tea soon gave way to tropical and then alpine forests. The roads were woven through it all with vertical mountain faces hanging over us and dropping off below us at some points.
As we pedalled through, clouds rolled in around us over the peaks and valleys, parting time and again as the sun burned through the haze of morning. The route repeatedly climbed gently uphill after which it dipped nicely taking us through the lush countryside almost as if it were a joyride.
Rain almost spoiled the whole show but it cleared up quickly and we got back on our bikes to zoom through quaint little towns where the children and the adults stopped to smile, shout even, and wave goodbye. The going got serious as we started the climb to Tashiding, the steep inclines challenging even the best. The best day of riding, yet again!
After a well-earned snack break, we visited the Tashiding monastery before driving over to our hotel at Yuksom. The next day being a rest day, we went out for a walk around Yuksom, up to Dubdi Monastery and also to the Coronation Throne and the Bazaar street before calling it a day and kicking back with some beers.
Not riding all day felt strange however and the next day we were all itching to go. With another early start we bid goodbye to Yuksom and headed on to Pelling wondering what lay in store for us there. Mt. Kabru gave us a glorious farewell although the other mountain peaks were hidden behind the clouds. The peaks made show-stopping appearances as we started gaining speed and heading downhill. The roads stretched on endlessly below our feet.
The mountain sides gave way to rivers and waterfalls that poured down from the higher slopes along the way. Those heading from Yuksom to Pelling should keep an eye out for Kangchendzonga Falls, it is an absolute treat.
The valleys gradually opened up as we cycled through on smooth terrain. As we approached Pelling it looked as if we had left the mountains behind. We finished our ride at the hotel and went on to visit Pemayangtse Monastery and Rabdentse Ruins, both of which are worth visiting if you happen to visit.
The next morning Mt. Kangchendzonga stood right ahead as we prepared for the final ride to Jorethang feeling incredulous that the mountain had been there all along and we had not been able to see any of it earlier due to the clouds.
Kangchendzonga – The World’s third highest mountain at 8,586 m/28,169 ft.
Kangchendzonga – The hidden land – From the snows of which the first(Lepcha) man and woman of Sikkim are believed to have been created.
In this ‘happy homeland’ in ‘Sikkim’ where snow leopards and even yetis are said to roam, we were happy and content just to be biking for days on end in great weather conditions on country roads.
The anticipation, the excitement, the effort, the camaraderie, the sense of accomplishment during and after such a mission is unparalleled and one can only hope that there’s more of this in store for us in the future.
Planning a cycling holiday with friends or family can be an uphill task – especially if you are the one coordinating it all. One has to factor in the time and budget along with hotel, activity and commute options and balance all of that to suit your group’s tastes. Sounds simple enough but with large groups, it can quickly becomes stressful. It almost takes the fun out going on a holiday, doesn’t it?
So how does one overcome this bumpy bit and whizz past through to the fun part? Here are some pointers to help you do just that.
Don’t cram up your holiday
While this might seem like a good idea at first, its really not. Not only will it be a scheduling nightmare, do you really want to end up running from one point to the next, travelling for hours often by car, train, bus, plane or tuktuks and camels for that matter, to complete one string of things to see/do only to be faced by a new set the next day? Not the kind of vacation a lot of people will love, that’s for sure.
Choose a few interests and plan around that
Factor in a little time for contingencies. No point cutting it really close and stressing out about it. Slow down on your travels and we guarantee that you will be able to relax and enjoy yourself much more. You will reap the rewards of such an approach not just at the planning stage but also while on holiday at your destination after all that planning.
We get that you are stuck at a work, at a desk or at a computer, day in, day out. Ever been bored out of your brains in meeting rooms for days in a row? Yeah, we have been there too. Doesn’t mean that we would stand up and volunteer immediately if someone asked us if we would cycle the Artic tomorrow!
If you want a challenging cycle tour, sure, no problem, we are game. But don’t even think about forcing your normally sedentary friends or family members to accompany you AND also push themselves during the tour if they don’t usually do that because things might not work that way.
Okay, okay, so you agree to go easy of the softies. But then will you, really? Riding for days together in rainy season may seem like a great way of exploring a region during the off-season but is it really the right bike tour option for you and your two teenage kids on a weekend holiday away from the cozy comforts of home?
And sure your kid may say that he loves riding bikes off roads, so you think its only fair that we take him out for some trail riding through hilly back country terrain. Yeah? Naaaaaah!
See this is why reality checks are important before you get all excited about booking a cycle tour based on your imagination or just how pretty the pictures look!
If the most you have exerted yourself is that looooong walk from the couch to the fridge to grab a beer, then at least say so before booking the tour. Nothing can be done after but there are plenty of different routes and we are sure we can find a bike tour that suits your fitness and comfort levels. You do want to enjoy yourself on holiday, right?
Look before you book
Before you book your tour, check the itinerary and note exactly what’s included and what’s not. Not all meals are included in multi-day bike tour itineraries. This is done deliberately to allow you to sample the locally available fare on your own. So, check to make sure there are no last minute surprises. Have a budget for miscellaneous expenses, you are going to need it when it is time to pay your tab after a few (or several) of your favourite post-ride drinks.
Looks for trustworthy tour operators – one who is experienced, reliable and available to solve issues should any arise. While all tour operators may appear to be equals, a bit of smart searching and snooping with Google and social media platforms will give a better idea as you may find helpful reviews, comments and more. Also, how responsive is the operator when it comes to your queries? Ask them if they can refer you to former clients and gauge their response.
Talk to your tour consultant because really, they know the region much better than any travel blog or website. They can take away all the stress involved with planning a great holiday, if only you would let them do so.
Establish a dialogue, let them know what you prefer and then sit back and let them suggest options and do their job as they make your vacation happen. Be open to the possibilities. You never know what adventures await.
And, what is it that you really want from your next holiday? Familiar routines? Comfort? To go some place that’s just like home? To have plenty of options as to what kind of wine is available at each and every meal?
If yes, then move along please because India and Southeast Asia are not for you. These places are instead for those love to see people and things that are different from what you might be used to back home. So, go forth but only with an open mind.
And, here’s some food for thought say for instance, about the Bike Tour company and guide. Is a guide who speaks your language more important to you than a guide that can speak English and the local language as well?
And, is that international tour operator who offers some tours at your desired location really the better option when compared to a local outfit that gives more back to the communities in the region you will be visiting?
Well, we hope this helps you before your next trip. In the meanwhile, you know where to find us if you if you want to go on a cycling holiday with your family and friends.
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
The Government of India has further extended the e-Tourist Visa scheme for citizens from numerous countries. We suggest that you apply online directly and get this document up to 4 weeks before your departure for a stress free holiday.
For more information on eligibility and the application process for e-Tourist visa to India, please head to the https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/tvoa.html. For clarifications, please email <firstname.lastname@example.org> or call +91-11-24300666.
e-Tourist Visa Facility is available for nationals of following countries/territories
Albania, Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Cayman Island, Chile, China, China- SAR Hongkong, China- SAR Macau, Colombia, Comoros, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cote d’lvoire, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, East Timor, Ecuador, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Laos, Latvia, Lesotho, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Montserrat, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niue Island, Norway, Oman, Palau, Palestine, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, Saint Christopher and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos Island, Tuvalu, UAE, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA, Vanuatu, Vatican City-Holy See, Venezuela, Vietnam., Zambia, Zimbabwe.
End of update.
We look forward to having you here on one of our India bike tours soon!
The Original Visa on Arrival Scheme introduced by the Govt. of India in 2010 has been replaced by an Online Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) System as of 27th November, 2014.
Travelers belonging to any of the 43 countries (given below) listed in the first phase of ETA implementation can now apply for a Tourist Visa online. The visa shall be valid for 30 days from the date of approval and costs $60 (US) that must be paid online at least 4 days before the date of travel. Application for your tourist visa can be made twice a year, at least 5 days and up to 30 days before the date of your travel.
The 43 countries listed are(alphabetically) :
Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, Cook Islands, Djibouti, Fiji, Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Laos, Luxembourg, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia ,Myanmar, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue Island, Norway, Oman, Palau, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Russia, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands,Thailand, Tonga, Tuvalu, UAE, Ukraine, USA, Vanuatu, Vietnam.
Having sustained an injury recently, owing to the innocent and earnest over application of my bike brakes, an article on braking safety seems to be the order of the day… And like all, (speaking broadly) essays covering weighty subjects, an opening quote on the matter, spoken by a renowned philosopher will undoubtedly serve to shed some light on the matter.
In response to the accusation by Vanessa – “No, I ride, but not like you, Wilee. I put a brake on my bike and I use it.”
“Yeah, and that brake’s gonna get you killed. You should get rid of that. The worst shit that ever happened to me happened when I had a brake. Brakes are death.”
It pretty much is poetry. A few more quotes selected at random will really help you appreciate the depth of this character.
– “ I like to ride. Fixed gear. No brakes. Can’t stop. Don’t want to, either.”
– “I do not carry drug shit, or whatever the hell this is!”
– “Douchebag! Have a nice day!”
– “Just runnin’ reds and killin’ peds.”
– “Suck it, douchebag!”
As inspiring as he is, one must take into consideration the fact that he rides a fixie – a bicycle which skids to a halt as soon as you stop pedaling.
If you are riding a free wheel, which might easily be the case for over 95% of Indian bicyclists, brakes are more than ‘recommended’, they are compulsory, despite the great one’s words. Bike brakes, whether operated through cables or hydraulics are primarily of three types – the common V-brake, the disc brake and the drum brake.
The V brake, being the most common is surely familiar to most, if not all, Indian cyclists. The mechanism is simple and the rubber pads are forgiving. In fact, with the inevitable wear brought about by use, it becomes so ‘forgiving’ that it is the closest most of us will have come to achieving the ideal of using no brakes.
The disc brake, has been gaining popularity over the past decade, especially with the influx of phoren bike manufacturers in the market. They are precise and powerful, almost to the point of being deadly, and that brings us to the nub of this article, which simply is – always press the back brake first, and never press the front brake alone. Now this is an easy enough convention to follow but it will help you to go over the ‘why’s’ and ‘how’s’ of it.
Why – The rear brake is your primary brake. The front brake isn’t your primary because quickly engaging only your front, with the ‘precision and power’ of the disc will send you toppling over even at low speeds. Another factor that adds to the probability of toppling is your seating position. Excepting cruiser bikes where the bulk of your body weight is placed directly on your seat, on most bikes, your weight is thrust on the handlebar and thus an immediate halt will send you flying headlong due to that high forward momentum.
How – The usual convention is that in countries that drive on the left, the front brake is on the right and for those that drive on the right, it is a “rear right” set-up. This guideline stems from the reasoning that when providing hand signals to vehicles behind you, the steering hand can still operate the brake (provided it is the rear one) without concern of hurting oneself in the process.
Additionally, it is also advised that your bell is placed on the same side of the handle bar as your rear brake as ringing it does not require you to release your grip on the handle. This also leaves room on the other side of the handle for additional accessories, such as front – lights which may require letting go of the handle to operate.
“Traffic on Indian roads” is a phrase synonymous to the noun ”chaos”. Rules aren’t followed unless they have to be, which means only when there is a policeman clearly visible around, lanes are arbitrary, all road-sides double as parking spots, footpaths are motorbike paths if they can get away with it and bicycle lanes are few and far between even in the handful of cities that have made allowances for them. In this environment, where everybody needs to get somewhere fast (to the point that you’d begin suspecting the whole world to be playing out car chases and time trials straight out of of action movies) cyclists have been reduced to secondary citizens who belong neither on the road nor the pavement.
One of the causes for this disregard is the long standing ”superiority – bias” in society that the rich foster against the poor; which in today’s terms is rather more relative and reduced from the extreme contrast of older times to, “My vehicle is motorized so my need to get where I’m going has definitely got to be greater than yours.” In the busier, more congested roads of cities around the country, cyclists have been well squeezed out and wherever they do venture, they are bullied into giving everybody else the right of way.
In order to stay safe cycling on Indian city roads, you need to have the mental preparation a fighter entering the ring or a batsman stepping onto the pitch has. Stay alert and keep a look out for these common nuisances.
1. The Obnoxious Flipper : They lay in wait, within parked cars, speaking on the phone, finalizing grocery lists, anything that kills time until a bike comes along. Then, it’s time to open their door and present a large obstructive plane at point blank range. Also beware of it’s derivative, the hurried flipper who owing to an allergic reaction to staying inside stationary cars will throw open their door as soon as their car halts, which is the one point of time when car passengers would usually be expected to pay attention before getting out. It is best to ring your bell when passing a parked vehicle that may have a driver or a passenger in it.
2. The Silent Slicker: This species of road animal is usually found in suburban – neighbourhood streets where walls block road visibility around curves and junctions. Like ninjas on the hunt, they travel silent and fast, mostly passing by unnoticed. Their abhorrence toward extravagance and inherent eco-sensitivity prevents them from acknowledging the usefulness of that very valid old instrument called the ”horn” in preventing pile-ups. Always expect one of these to be creeping up on you from around a blind curve even if you are doing a left turn, especially on smaller roads where the right side and left side of the street are one and the silent slicker’s sense of economy forces them to stick to the inner curve to save that much more time, fuel and money. Again, ringing one’s bell before turning blind curves can prevent mishaps.
3. The Auto Weavers: This class of road warrior is undoubtedly one you are well wary of. Nothing says ”Indian Roads” as much as the high tempo-ed thump thumping of the Autorickshaw engine. The auto, much like it’s black and yellow cousin the bumble-bee, is a pollinator, it sucks the nectar of the footpaths. As it flies from footpath to footpath, buzzing it’s distinct buzz, it drops some nectar on the footpaths it visits and thus performs – cross pollination. Since this act of cross – pollination is vital for the city in it’s day -to – day running, the Auto Weavers are here to stay and thus need to be preemptively cared against as a cyclist. The most important point to be kept in mind when you spot one of these on your path, is that due to it’s extreme dependence on the nectar of the footpaths, the Auto Weaver may at any random point swoop towards the side of the road to reach those footpaths. While this may be expected of any kind of car, the reason why Autos are so dangerous is that they have a very small turning radius and thus, while a movement toward the side by a car has to start from at least 5mtrs. away and progresses slowly, a movement by an auto to the side of the road only needs to start 1mtr. before the stopping point and is completed in rapid motion. A cyclist should always pay particular attention to auto’s by street-sides.
4. Passenger Rallies: A visible threat is easily avoided and something as large as a bus is easily visible. However, when they come at you from behind, it is a different matter altogether. If you see a bus throttling away ahead of you, do not take it as a sign that you can accelerate because buses are on a constant time trial lap during which they have to stop at given check-points(bus stands). Thus every small stretch from bus -stand to bus – stand is nothing less than an opportunity to achieve top speed, and stops and starts are always sudden. Buses, with their high momentum are always loathe to slow down for cyclists. It is best to stick to the extreme side of the road, and in narrower, smaller roads even stop outside the road to let them pass. When overtaking a bus parked at a stand, remember that once they start again, they will most probably overtake you again and then stop at a stand right ahead of you. This could carry on to become a pattern.. It is best you allow them to put a gap between itself and you, or if willing to dash ahead past a few bus-stops, do so yourself.
5. The Artful Beamer: The beamer is the yang to the silent slicker’s yin, they are opposing forces that reside side by side with each other. While the slicker takes pride in confronting you head on, the beamer does the opposite. Every once in a while, especially in the less noisy areas of town, you find yourself cycling lackadaisically and in peace with the universe, enjoying the ride and the breeze on your face when suddenly the thunderous noise of a bellowing 18 wheeler’s horn resounds from right behind you. Next thing you know, you have veered yourself into the gutter and a tiny Maruti -800 is passing you by. Artful Beamers are exceptional individuals of society who take pride in their humility, arming their commonplace cars with horns originally meant for steam boats and trains, not worried about the untoward attention they may garner by its use. Unfortunately there is no measure one could take to rid themselves of the probabilities of being jumped on by a Beamer.
6. The Red Burner: The angular parking cousin of the parallel parking obnoxious flipper, the red burner’s vice is usually a lack of patience. When this evil is paired with a lack of vision due to vehicles parked on both sides of it, a dangerous scenario arises. For the average cyclist moving forward along a row of angular parked vehicles, the red burner appears as one random car among them being turned on. The brake lights burning bright put the cyclist in a conundrum. Should I ride past or wait till he backs out? The cyclist then slows down, but seeing no movement from the car, decides not to waste anymore time and dashes straight ahead . This is usually when the red burner finally backs out. A guideline to follow in case you encounter a burner is to pass it only if there is more traffic on the street passing it, as red burners, thought disregarding of cyclists, usually watch out for larger vehicles on the street.
What exactly is a cycle tour with Art of Bicycle Trips like?
On November 6th, Art of Bicycle Trips conducted a demo tour for the H.O.D’s of Marar Beach Resort. The tour, also offered by Art of Bicycle Trips, Kochi under the name ‘Passage to India’ is a half day program that includes Cycling, Canoeing and a Village walk.
When you first register for a tour with ABT , you are given a location to report to at the designated time. As refreshments are provided for by ABT, you are not required to carry anything with you, unless you are particularly inclined to do so. If you are ready to cycle and are dressed practically, you are ready to go.
Before the ride, you are provided a few basic instructions on handling the bike and riding on the roads. In a country where traffic can be categorically chaotic, safety is paramount. The ride began at 7:30 a.m, starting at the Marar Beach Resort.
The cycling route covered a distance of 24.8 km; a figure that initially seemed ‘daunting’ for our riders, as they were not folks who cycled regulary. We took a left right out the gate and headed up the ‘beach road’ to Andhkarnazhy Beach, 8 kms away. The first few minutes, was arguably, the most strenuous part of the journey, as the riders were only getting used to the bikes and establishing their pace. Less than a kilometer into it, we had formed a steady single file, moving at a comfortable pace.
Morning on the beach road was comparatively calm, relative to the city. The warmth of the sun was far from intense and while the beach wasn’t always in direct view, owing to the clustered countryside houses between the road and the open water, the western sea breeze was constant.
By the time we took our first 5 minute break, 10 kms in, the riders had all gotten well into the spirit of the ride and were ready for more. As they took nibbles off fruit and chatted away, the energy about them was clear – they were appreciating the change of environment from their usual air conditioned hotel lobbies and offices.
The remaining stretch of 15 kms was completed with no breaks being required by any of the riders. We traveled east, away from the sea and crossed the national highway to reach Vayalar for a taste of the backwater life.
The riders were received with great fanfare at Vayalar. After a quick dose of coconut water (served with lotus stems for straws) to refresh those electrolytes and cool ourselves from the rays of the sun, which had now grown positively warm, it was onto the canoe and into the backwaters.
The canoe, took us to a backwater village where we were given a chance to observe the local people at their work. Most of these jobs have been traditionally passed down from generation to generation and they all involve working with indigenous natural resources.
The village walk took us to a toddy shop where we enjoyed some well appreciated rest and were served a lunch made with the local produce. On the way back, we were canoed over to a breezy island pit stop, for coffee, and then we took everyone back to the resort in the support vehicle after a day well spent.
Wake up at 6 a.m, brush your teeth, comb your hair. Endure a breakfast at 7.30 a.m, enjoy a chai(tea) at 10.30 a.m, look forward to lunch at 2 p.m and finally look ahead to sundown when you can be back home to loosen your tie and take off those biting shoes. The numbers give us some security in their predictability, cutting up the day into safely manageable chunks of time to measure productivity by; but what do they mean outside of roofed four corner walls?
When the weekends came, even though a part of me would have been content to stay indoors, whiling away the hours of the day in repose and matching those comforting numbers we assign them to television schedules, I would get on my bike and head out into the country. My initial outings taught me more don’ts than do’s – don’t underestimate traffic, don’t forget to bring water, and don’t expect the sun to voluntarily show mercy. But these restrictive lessons didn’t stop a few ‘do’s’ from making themselves apparent – do travel as far as you can, do not overlook the usefulness of google maps combined with a simple distance calculator and then, almost obviously, do be prepared for the occasional flat tire. Like any other exercise, or rather, more fittingly, like some mind altering substance, the more you cycled, the more you wanted to.
Eventually, the 2 days of my weekend was steadily reduced to a 30 hour window of opportunity. The town petered out into suburbs and paddy fields, then villages and further on, low hills and the hours of the day meant something different in all of these places. Where the fields would only acknowledge the advent of the sun in sleepy hesitation, the woods turned alive at the crack of dawn, with the songs of a hundred birds celebrating a new day. the chai shops would be filled at first light, it walls all supporting clumps of agricultural tools. This was the time when the day was made, its rhythm set – like the all important coin toss before a cricket match or that broad first stroke of color splayed across a white canvas. The saying, “You’ll have to get up earlier in the morning…”, now made perfect sense.
As the day went on and the sun trudged on to the western extreme of the sky, it’s light, shining through all the filters across its journey of a million miles, turned gold from white, and then red and pink and blue. I was there when that soft light, calmed of its midday heat, played upon the expansive fields of grass swaying under the gentle hand of the cool east wind. That was 6.04 p.m – the only 6.04 p.m there was in the day and I was lucky to have spent it there. Later on, I’d tuck in for the usual 8 hours of the dreamless with an aching back and tired legs. There’d be no medal to show for it, just a peaceful appreciation – a change of perspective.
I held a snapshot of Kerala in the month of November last year. It started in Munnar where the air was suspended with chill, and I spent my day walking around the town and hiking up the tea hills. My friend Pankaj and his tour guests, BJ and David arrived that evening, cycling their way from Cochin.
The next day, we started rolling down the curvy roads of Munnar when the morning sun was relentlessly intense, as were the drivers on the road – honking to remind me of the slack that I was leaving behind with each push of the peddle. A decision had to be made and I told my friend I would take my time and understand the bicycle, the twitching of the gears and its effect on forward movement. As planned, I reached the tea museum alright to join the rest of my bicycle-mates. When we started cycling again after spending time at the museum, I was relaxed but didn’t anticipate the journey of 25 kilometers to Chinnakanal to take as long as it did.
The route was scenic as if adorned to charm the tourists passing through them. The locals were in the early stages of familiarizing themselves with these leisure cyclists in specialized gear (not mine though), traversing their everyday paths. I have a fond memory of being enveloped in a canopy of aged dark-green trees from this early ride. It felt intimate.
As we arrived in Chinnakanal, we learnt that a mild-mannered protest against a court order regarding the preservation of Western Ghats that broke-off the previous day had grown in size. Locals decided to get serious about the strike, leaving us with a completely empty day in Chinnakal. We however set out to cycle around in that unassumingly beautiful place. Starting at the head of a terraced hill, we wheeled down the road occasionally at speeds where we were risking it. Spinning around a faraway lake that seemed to be at the center and the road resembling a peel of orange layered in a conical shape. Some while later, we reached the waterfront where two buffaloes were grazing with abandon. Smooth was our time there, only to be shaken by the threat of a shower. When we decided to hike back on our bicycles, we asked around for the right way out from the tea workers who were not to have their day off from work even on a ‘bandh.’
The prevailing strike carried on to the next day leaving us with very little to do. Apart from switching our accommodation from a 3-star hotel to a home stay (less expensive and more comfortable even), we ambled around in the streets of the bandh-stricken town. I recollect I managed to go a little further into the book I was reading – Endless Love, by Ian McEwan – sitting in a café the name of which I don’t recollect. And then, BJ and David turned the table on us by hosting a dinner at a restaurant in Cardamom County. These two people drew me close to them as the conversation circled around all-too-familiar topics of family, friends, adventure, and holiday and more.
Ending our stupor in Thekkady, we geared ourselves for an intense day of cycling. I was dying to get into the cycling shorts that BJ generously gave me, after finding out about my cushion-less ride up the previous days. We filled our water bottles, squeezed into our pockets a little something to munch on. The road to Vagamon seemed as though it was particularly designed to challenge, engage and amuse in parts. Left far behind by the rest of them, I was briskly peddling on the flat roads that threw enough breeze on my face. There were the uphill stretches where I decidedly overcame the gradient without breathing through my mouth. So much poise I thought.
The words, ‘Jesus is coming. Are you ready?’ painted on a local church, went so many levels deep that it cracked me up and energized me for the rest of the time. Jesus, as you come, keep the weather as pleasant as it is now, roads as free as they can be, maybe even sprinkle few more people on the lonely roads. Amen. The thought of the end nearing on this continuum of a ride was a bit of a dimmer. We crashed out at a hotel in Vagamon waiting for tomorrow’s adventure.
Starting from the very top of the hills at Vagamon, it was down, down and down. A bit unnerving for me – I perpetually squeezed the breaks to remain in my orbit around the hill. And there we were, hitting the coast a little past noon. Over the course of the 4 to 5 days, I felt my endurance increase remarkably; I had a greater feel for the road and shed my clumsiness much to my own surprise. Where I was playing catch-up previously, this time I was ahead and waiting for the rest of them to join me.
The trip already felt full, but Pankaj caused a change of plans when he bargained for a good deal to spend the night in the houseboat along with BJ and David. Gliding on the backwaters of Vembanad Lake, beauty and magnificence were there for the asking. Schoolchildren boarding their boats to get home, boat stands instead of bus stands, few fishermen wading through, paddy fields, so green that it’s wild, sounds from the church. All of us silently agreed that words would pollute our shared space and time, and basked in the creation of our own collage of the scenes.
Time to hop out of the houseboat and start riding again. The last stretch of the ride to Kochi felt like a reward with flat roads sending ample breeze our way. Wind caressing every part of my body, my senses filled, I started to get an ominous feeling that this holiday had been too good to go on for even few more minutes. With the leaving of our bicycles at the Art of Bicycle shop-cum-garage, it did indeed end.
A vivid picture now comes to mind – a rush of red hibiscus occurring every now and then, marking my milestone as I went past. And just when the road had been let up by buses, cars, bikes, scooters, there was the whizzing sound of the four bicycles as if to say, ‘drink in this moment’.
The essential quick guide for discerning travellers by inflight-magazine of Singapore Airlines WRITTEN BY CHARUKESI RAMADURAI
1. SEE GREEN
Bangalore – also known as Bengaluru – has been described as having an Elvis-like flamboyance, perhaps due to its image as a fast-paced technology city. But in reality, the heart of the city is quiet and green. Known as the garden city, it is one of India’s greenest areas, with numerous parks and gardens. Lalbagh Botanical Garden (right) and Cubbon Park, the two largest parks, are practically Bangalore institutions. Bird watching, nature walks, people watching – take your pick of what you would like to do on a cool morning or late evening. Or just take a book with you and relax on one of the benches.
2. USE YOUR LEGS
Bangalore is full of hidden nooks of history, and organised walks are an excellent way to uncover them. Try Bangalore Walks or INTACH, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, for walking tours that spotlight the culture and heritage of the charming city. For a different mode of sightseeing, Art of Bicycle Trips offers cycling tours beyond city limits. Try the Nrityagram Dance Village Safari, a leisurely pedal along the countryside that brings you to Nrityagram (above), a school for Indian classical dances.
3. BEER CHEER
While New Delhi and Mumbai have their share of watering holes, the arrival of new beer spots on Bangalore’s landscape has firmly established it as the beer capital of the country. The Biere Club (above) on Vittal Mallya Road, the first microbrewery in the city, has garnered many loyal admirers in the few months it has been open. Toit Brewpub is where the young and restless of Bangalore gather to drink and be seen. There are also old favourites like Windsor Pub (7 Kodava Samaja Building, 1st Main Road, Tel: 91 80 2225 8847). But be warned: This city shuts down early, so you are likely to be out on the streets by midnight.
4. STYLISH INNS
Minimalism as a design concept is fairly unknown in India but several new hotels, showcasing clean lines and large white spaces, have brought a new aesthetic sensibility to the city. At Svenska Bangalore – in the heart of the information technology belt in the south Bangalore area – you can enjoy an authentic Indian meal at Soul, their signature Indian restaurant, or have Japanese cuisine at their rooftop restaurant Sensen. Aloft Bengaluru Whitefield boasts bright and airy rooms, close to the business hub of International Technology Park Limited. The hotel also has a funky lounge, Re:mix(SM), and a fine Mediterranean restaurant, Estia, perfect for entertaining friends and business contacts.
5. GOOD EATS
Masala dosa served with coconut chutney is one of Bangalore’s original eats. Residents like to argue over the best place to have them, but one option is Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (MTR) which has been serving them since 1924. Other eateries to try are Vidyarthi Bhavan (32 Gandhi Bazaar, Tel: 91 80 2667 7588), where political bigwigs are often spotted, and New Krishna Bhavan (33/39 Sampige Road, Tel: 91 80 2344 3940), also known for their ragi (millet) and akki (rice) dosa. For the health conscious, there is the option of idli (steamed rice cakes) found everywhere.