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Preparing for Your Cycling Holiday

As our guests get set for their multi-day cycling holiday, they often ask – What do I do after booking my cycling holiday? How do I prepare?

So here’s a handy guide that clearly outlines the steps involved in preparing for your cycling holiday of South/Southeast Asia.

This post includes information on insurance, visas, vaccinations and travel alerts to make things simple. Please use this a reference only and consult official guidelines for the final word.

Cycle Touring-Art of Bicycle Trips

 

Insurance

For a hassle-free travel experience, we strongly recommend that all our clients opt for travel insurance. Buying travel insurance ensures that you are covered in case things don’t go according to plan.

If you intend to tour with your own bike, then you are going to need bike insurance to cover bike theft and damage. On the other hand to reduce the risks associated with illness and injuries, you would need travel insurance.

Before buying travel insurance for your cycling holiday, be sure to check that cycle touring is covered by the provider. Shopping around in advance could bring down insurance costs.

In case you would like some recommendations on insurance specific to cycle touring, be sure to check out this post by Tom and this post by The Travelling Two.

Visas

Visa requirements vary depending on where you are from and where you intend to travel. Ensure that you have all the necessary documents and get in touch the consulate to verify before submitting your visa application. Don’t forget to factor in public holidays that apply in both the countries involved. Travel agents can help make this process hassle-free.

Bhutan

Bangladesh, Maldivians, Thai & Indian nationals do not require visa to enter Bhutan whereas all others do. To obtain a 28 day tourist visa to Bhutan, you have to submit documents as specified by the Bhutan Government through your Bhutanese Tour Company/Travel Agent.

The visa form can be downloaded from the Bhutan Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website or from the Bhutan Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs website. Allow at least three weeks’ time for the whole process after submission.

Note: Current Bhutanese visa norms dictate that you can only apply for the visa after having paid the Bhutan Tourism Council for your whole tour.

Cambodia

For Cambodia, single entry tourist visas can be obtained online for visits of 30 days or less. 30 day extensions are can also be obtained through the Government of Cambodia’s eVisa portal.

Laos 

Laos also keeps things simple with a 30 day visa on arrival available to people of most nationalities. Check out the official Laos’ Tourism Department’s website for more information.

Art of Bicycle Trips Cycle Touring Myanmar

 

Myanmar 

If you plan to travel to Myanmar(formerly Burma) for tourism, you can apply online for an e-Visa. This would allow you to enter Myanmar once for a duration of 28 days.  You can find out more about the e-visa offered by Myanmar here.

India

For short touristic visits to India, refer to the Indian Government’s e-Tourist Visa page. For long visits and multiple entries to India, you would need to apply for a regular Indian visa at an Indian embassy in your country. Both these processes require time ranging from 3 to 14 days or more.

We highly recommend that you prepare and apply (at least 4 weeks) in advance so that you have plenty of time available as a buffer in case unexpected issues arise. Travel agents and visa service agencies would be able to help you with this in your home country if needed.

Sri Lanka 

The internet has surely made things a whole lot easier as far as visas are concerned. The Sri Lankan Government has taken the cue as well and it provides visas online too. Sri Lankan Electronic Travel Authorization is valid 30 days from date of arrival and you can apply for this even before you book your flight tickets. Find out more about Electronic Travel Authorizations for Sri Lanka here.

Thailand 

Having established itself on the travel circuit decades ago, Thailand continues to attract visitors to this day. The 15 day long Visa-on-Arrival certainly helps and tourists can also choose to apply for a 60 day long Tourist Visa if needed. You and find out more about  visas offered by the Government of Thailand here.

Vietnam

Vietnam does things a bit differently. Although you apply online, you will then receive a visa approval letter which must be used on arrival for obtaining the visa at the airport. The processing time ranges from 4 working hours to 2 working days, doesn’t get any quicker than that really but as mentioned earlier, best to get visas done earlier. Read more about tourist visas for Vietnam here.

Published: May 2016 For reference purposes only

We recommend that you verify all visa related information with the Embassy or Foreign Office of the country you plan to visit. Alternatively, your Travel Agent might be able to streamline the visa process for you.

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Vaccinations

Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) for information about inoculations and health notices for travelers. You can also find country specific health related information at the US Bureau of Consular Affairs website.

Make an appointment with your doctor 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to get any vaccinations that may be needed. Talk to the doctor about your planned adventure activities so that you can follow any special health recommendations that might be necessary.

The handy CDC TravWell app will also give you destination-specific vaccine recommendations and help you keep records and reminders related to your medications, immunizations, vaccine booster doses etc.

Other travelers might also offer tips to avoid sickness while traveling. We suggest you proceed down that path only with advice and approval from your own doctor.

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Travel Alerts 

Refer to travel advisories of UKUSA or Australia for current information on travel alerts that have been issued. The UK Government offers further guidance for travelers as does the US Government with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) program.

This allows U.S. citizens traveling abroad to receive free updates about safety conditions in the destination country so that you can make informed decisions about your travel plans. These are a good reference in case your own country does not issue travel warning or alerts.

With that, we are at end of this post on how to prepare for your cycling holiday. You can find more of our blog posts here.

Cheers,
Ashwini

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Adventure Travel Destinations of India

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.

North

Leh

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.

Things to do: Markha Valley trek and the Manali to Leh mountain bike tour

Best time to visit: Between June and October

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Uttarakhand

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.’

Things to do: Hike to the Source of the Ganges

Best time to visit: From mid-September to mid-October

1200px-Bhagirathi_River_at_Gangotri

Bhagirathi River at Gangotri” by Atarax42 Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Rajasthan

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.

Things to do: Visit palaces, forts enroute, try the local cuisine and camp in the desert during your cycle tour through Rajasthan

Best time to visit: October to February

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South

Hampi

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.

Things to do: Try some bouldering or explore Hampi on cycles

Best time to visit: October to February

Hampi_aug09_56

Hampi aug09 56” by Dharani.prakash Licensed under CC0 via Commons

Kerala

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.

Things to do: Try Keralan food that offers great variety for both vegetarians and meat lovers; Walk through Fort Kochi and explore with Kerala cycling tours and multi-sport trips

Best time to visit: October to February

799px-Theyyam_Panayakkattu_Bhagavathi

Theyyam Panayakkattu Bhagavathi” by Maheshbabu.nair Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

East

Sikkim

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.

Things to do: Chase down mountains on your bike tour through Sikkim from Gangtok to Darjeeling

Best time to visit: October to mid-November or during April and May

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Sikkim again

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.

Things to do: Trek to Dzongri Peak and Goecha La Pass for an audience with the world’s third highest mountain

Best time to visit: October to mid-November

PS: If you are still wondering why we gave two spots to Sikkim, you might want to read this.

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Kangch-Goechala” by Ashinpt Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Arunachal Pradesh

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' in Arunachal Pradesh Photos.Doniv.Org CC-SA

“Wild Flowers” by Vinod Panicker Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

West

Konkan coastline

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

Best time to visit: October to February

1024px-Murud_Janjira_Fort_near_Murud_Raigad_Maharashtra_DPP_0093_(5)

Murud Janjira Fort” by Dr. Raju Kasambe Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Western Ghats

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

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Those are some of our top picks for an adventurous holiday in India. Which are your favorites?

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Meet Your Bike Tour Guide – Qutub

Name: Qutub a.k.a Qutbuddin Habshi

Role: Trip Leader & Accounting whiz

From: Udaipur, Rajasthan

Based in: Udaipur, Rajasthan

Rides: Giant

Eats: Indian food especially a nice, spicy Chilli Chicken and Paneer Masala which is a curry made out of Indian cottage cheese

Reads: About health, fitness and the human mind

Drinks: Nimbu soda – a refreshing cool drink made with lime juice and soda; Makhaniya lassi – a creamy yoghurt smoothie with a lot of sugar

Loves: Seekh kebabs – succulent grilled lamb skewers

Dreams: Of traveling around the world

Superpower: Hypnotism

Once upon a time: I worried about whether I was studying hard enough

Believes in:  Simplicity, innovation and change

Cycling bucket list:

Tips: Eat well, live well and throw your worries in the well

Ask me about: Bike tours in the Lake city of Udaipur

Contact: classic at artofbicycletrips dot com

Links: Facebook | Twitter

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Planning a Group Cycling Holiday

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.

Especially in places like India and Southeast Asia, no, three weeks are surely not sufficient to see Taj Mahal & Rajasthan & tigers in the wild & hike the Indian Himalayas & sail along the backwaters by houseboat. And if you reckon it can be done and done well, mind you, in that case, all we would like to say is that its a holiday and not a race and it most definitely should not be a to-do list like this one.

Photo by Ashwini Ravindranath - Art of Bicycle Trips Sikkim Cycling Tours

 

Reality checks and why you have got to have those

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!

 

Ensure the tour suits all group members

I mean, really, pause and think – ‘how active are we?’ before signing up for that exotic bike and hike mission through the Indian Himalayas?

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.

Its all in the details. If you have any preferences, let the tour consultants know in advance. There’s no harm in asking for information if its not specified clearly enough. The kind of hotels will you stay at – Will it be a hunting lodge out in the countryside or will you be on a houseboat that’s floating along the backwaters?

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips Kerala Cycling Holidays

Keep your mind open 

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.

Give back

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?

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips Kerala Cycling Holidays

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.

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Cycle Touring Laos

Southeast Asia, located South of China and East of India, also known as Indochina, comprises of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and  West Malaysia. Laos is one of our top picks for a cycling holidays in this part of the world. The reasons to visit Laos are many and avid cyclist, Pankaj Mangal, the founder of Art of Bicycle Trips, will highlight his Laos cycle tour experience here in this post.

Terrain:  Laos is home to mountains covered with lush tropical forests. The rolling terrain combined with gradual climbs from low-lying riverside valleys are just perfect – a cyclist’s delight.

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Rivers: If you are tired of Thailand’s crowds, head to North Laos. Here you will get to ride along the three beautiful rivers viz. Mekong, Nam Ou and Nam Pak. When you want to take a break, switch from your bike’s saddle to a seat on a slow boat. This is an excellent way to see and experience life along the rivers of Laos. The rivers are the lifelines here and you can soak up the beautiful vistas of this intriguing country, at a leisurely pace and meet its people too, only on the slow boats.

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips - Laos Cycling Holidays

 

People: Laos is less developed and less visited compared to other countries in the region and that makes it more appealing. Some of the people here, for instance, the hill tribes have yet to experience modern living and that what is reflected in their way of life and in their way of dealing with travelers. This friendly, down-to-earth culture embodies the hospitality that you will experience. Make sure you spend time with villagers in rural areas because the feeling that you are almost one of them is priceless!

Laos People 455249_1920 Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips - Laos Cycling Holidays

History and Culture: Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated alongside the Mekong and Khan rivers. Here, the Buddhist monasteries, royal palaces and ancient temples and shops lend a unique charm and make Luang Prabang one of the quieter and more soulful places of Southeast Asia. You can spend days here, walking or riding around, content and happy by yourself or with friends and family. If you are interested in knowing more about Buddhism, then this is the perfect place to do so. The temples and monasteries will welcome you and you can spend time watching monks, hearing their chants and contemplating life and all its beauty.

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips - Laos Cycling Holidays

Go on, experience Laos on a bike like a local – As they like to say in Laos – ‘Lao Syle’ i.e., Go for it! Start planning your Laos bike tour now.

 

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e-Tourist Visa for Visitors from 74 countries to India

Update: 11 May 2016

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 <indiatvoa@gov.in> 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!

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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.

More information on eligibility and the application process for ETA can be found on Indian Govt.  Visa Site.

Just as with your bike, double check before you send important paperwork to avoid unnecessary hassles. Cheers.

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Safety Guide: Braking Woes

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.”

Wilee, protagonist in the movie “Premium Rush”

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.

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Stay safe and Enjoy your ride 🙂

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Annoying Habits of Motorists in India

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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How safe is it to cycle in India?

Safety has always been the main concern of all tourists traveling to India. The recent rapes in the capital and around have only intensified the concerns. The global media has put things in perspective at a global level and have raised concerns about traveling to India for foreigners. Here we attempt to provide our, a bike tour operator, perspective on safety and security in India while bike touring. We hope that this would help you plan better and provide answers to your many questions.

Before we start talking about it we ought to look into the areas of concern particularly for a cycling holiday.

  • Stay
  • Cycling routes

1. Stay
Stay options around main tourists circuit are highly tourist friendly and safe at almost all the locations. If you tend to travel to unusual places then the best suggestion would be book your stay through an experienced tour operator in that area. India is vast and going alone or without much research to unusual and untraveled areas is not recommended. Though most of the areas are safe but the advise would be take some input either from your local well travelled Indian friend or a tour operator before you venture into unknown.

2. Cycling Routes
The safe, secured and traffic free cycling routes is highly important for a safe and hassle free ride. You would notice bad traffic, air and noise pollution on usual highways when you reach India. However, you would be surprised to see that the countryside routes connecting small villages and towns have almost no traffic, highly safe and regarded as the best routes for cycling and riding through inner India. They are commonly know as ‘village roads’ or ‘Gram Sadak’ and goes through beautiful small rural hamlets, are scenic, offer rustic environment and makes an excellent way for biking. Most of the local people would know these routes and are not difficult to find, however, the challenge here is that most of the times more than one route connect the villages and it’s become highly difficult to find out which one is a better route. Here the experience of a bike tour operator is very useful and an organized self-guided or guided bike tour is highly recommended. The research that goes into the selection of right routes is highly formidable and takes lot of effort and time. The experience of an operator should not be undermined here.

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The Best Way to Experience India

With it’s diverse culture, geography, religion and architecture India offers a challenging environment for tourists. Every state here is more like a country and unravelling this presents numerous challenges. Since the birth of tourism industry, India has always attracted all kind of travellers viz. spiritual, knowledge based, adventure, leisure etc. The one thing which is common among all travellers is that they all are here for local stories and anticipate a journey of lifetime. This imposes big questions – Is there an alternative way to experience such diverse India and provide a meaningful and memorable journey for travellers? Is there a better way to travel and unravel this country slowly? Is there a way to spend time with local people and listen to their stories? The questions could be many but all answers leads to only one alternative and that is your bike!

Cycling tour is one of the best way to experience this vast country. It presents numerous opportunities compared to other modes of travel. As you take the bike and traverse the countryside roads, you get to ride past small rural hamlets, temples and people. You get to stop by along the way or take some small offbeat routes. As 70% of India lives in villages, your bike presents an excellent way to experience the village life from close quarters and start a conversation. The kids here rush behind to greet you. You will be quite astonished to see that how hospitable the villagers are towards travelers. In Rajasthan, there have been an age old custom as per which villagers are supposed to build a platform (for sleeping) outside of house so that local travelers have comfortable stay and the hosts don’t have to worry about saying ‘no’ to the guest on the precursor of providing a bed inside the house for sleep.

Slow travel by your bike gives you a wonderful window to see the lives of people along the way. It also helps to organize your thoughts as you slowly pedal your way through the mountains and lakes. Knowing a right bike route is very important here. This is where an exhaustive research before traveling comes very handy. There is no cycling guide on India which is available now and as India is so big, knowing right cycling routes provide a big challenge without the availability of convincing source. Here the experience of bike tour operator and an organized bike tour comes very handy and helps in several ways.

Meeting local people along the way and listening to their stories gives a whole new perspective of looking at India. These stories could come from a farmer, priest, teacher, housewives, postman etc. that you meet along the way. Moreover, on a bike you are not watching the scenery, you are a part of the scenery and that adds to the contours of the same. The smell, sound and all other senses become alive and receptive to the surrounding environment. And in the end, you just don’t travel but you travel like a local and perceive things from a local point of view.

So, take a cycling tour and experience India like a local.

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Things To Do in Bangalore

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

MTR restaurant lunch
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.