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!

-Original Post-

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 of India in 2010 has been replaced by an Online Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) System as of 27th November, 2014.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.

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 :)

“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.

red

 

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

India Western Ghats Birdlife malabar-pied-hornbill-397125

Northern Kerala was always a place in my wishlist to visit and when I heard about the cycling event ‘Three States One Brevet’ , I never had to give it a second thought.

I started one day ahead from Kochi, along with other participants, to reach Vythiri in Wayanad district, which was the starting point for 200km/300km Brevet ride . The bikes were loaded up in the tempo traveller and we were off to Vythiri. We reached Vythiri by evening. At around 7:30pm, we had the Brevet briefing and other formalities being done.

Cycling events like brevet is also a good time to catch up with rider friend’s who may not be in touch for sometime. This time it was Dr.Nuveen, whom I met after quite a while. Dr. Nuveen is one of active bikers from Thrissur area in Kerala and I used to do morning group bike ride with him and other bikers, in the country sides of Thrissur. We had dinner together with Balu, a biker friend I made during this Brevet. It was 11:30pm and I was off to the bed, with alarm set for 4:00am.

I woke to a cool Vythiri morning with sun yet to rise. Had a Kerala plantain or “ethakka” (in malayalam), as the pre-ride food. I hope to last on this one plantain for another hour and a half of biking.

Soon the flag was off and Wayanad brevet had rolled out, with dozens of bikes coupled with its shimmering bike lights. It was very early in the morning and still dark. My front light was not powerful enough to see the road, at the speed I was biking. I didn’t want to slow down and so was riding alongside a rodie, with nice bright front light. He was showing me the way and I was pacing with him. Thanks to this unknown guy who showed me the way for a while.

tea-plant

It was dawn. The sights and scenaries of beautiful Wayanad were slowing unfolding with beautiful plantiontations of coffee, tea and many more. It was a pretty place to ride with very less traffic and well paved roads, most of the time. I crossed Tamilnadu border and reached Gudalur which had an unmanned checkpoint. Took out an ATM slip as instructed by the Brevet officials, for the proof of passing through Gudalur. Had some guavas and bananas and I started climbing the hills again. There was no mercy from the beginning of this brevet ride and we were climbing almost all the time.

I had lost contact with Balu in between and now I was riding solo from Gudalur. It was the best cycling stretch for me in the Brevet, starting from Gudalur towards Devarshola. For sometime now, there was a continuous tapping sound from my rear tire, but I didn’t care much. Soon I saw that my rear tire was slowly cracking up, with a deep cut on it. I stopped and  released bit of air, so as to slow down the tearing down process of the tire. I was able to ride for a while, soon to hear the blasting sound of the tube. Alright, now that’s the end of my 200km Brevet ride, I thought. It was only 55km and my tire was torn badly, with no tire bot with me.

I rested under a tree for some time and thought about how to ride from there. Although the tree was not a Bodhi tree and I was not the enlightened one, an idea popped up in my head, to create a temporary tire bot with puncture patch sheet I had with me. I cut the sheet into small rectangular patches and placed it under the tire, where it was cut. Took the spare tube I had and placed it inside the tire to inflate it to a level until the patches won’t pop out through the cut in the tire. In between, Balu joined me, to help fix the problem and left only after making sure that I could ride.

I started riding once again with minimal pressure in the rear tire. Had my objectives reanalyzed now; the game was to just finish the 200km cycling. If I finish it within the time-limit of 13.5hours, it will be a bonus. I kept riding, taking weight off the saddle most of the time, so as to put less pressure on the broken tire.

At the second check point, I was told that I had just enough time to cross the forthcoming one. I rode from there with a good pace to reach the next checkpoint just within time. It was a ferry crossing from there, across the river ‘Kabini’,with us and our bikes in canoe. Once we crossed the river, voila, I was in Karnataka and could hear people speaking in Kannada.

Kabini-crossing

Rest of the ride was through a reserve forest with lot of teak wood. Pacing up to reach the Kabini checkpoint, had made me tired and with the low pressure in the rear tire, things were supposedly getting tough on my legs. I took a break, pushed the bike for a while. It was getting dark and I was riding solo. My front light was not good enough for the ride in the dark. I kept on riding plus pushing the bike at times. Only thing that helped me to navigate was the intermittent white markings on the road. I kept on pushing myself and at 7:39pm I saw the finish line. I knew I was late by almost 9 minutes, but was really happy that I could finish the brevet.

Things I learned from this Brevet:

  • Have powerful front lights on the bike.
  • Check the tire for signs of wear and tear before setting off.
  • Carry a tire bot.

Having done brevets previously, this one left me with sweet memories of riding through one of the most beautiful part of Kerala and fulfilling my wish to ride through Wayanad.

All praise to the organizers ‘Cochin bikers club’ and ‘Happy bikers’ for conducting the ‘Wayanad- Three States One Brevet’. We at Art of Bicycle Trips were proud to support this Brevet as one of the official sponsors and help to continue to help more cyclists get out and about here 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.

With years of bike touring experience behind us in India, we thought it’s a good time to document some of the best cycling routes in India. This list also takes input from cyclists and cycle tourists who we have met along numerous journeys undertaken. The routes selected here are based on the following parameters:

  • Safety & security
  • Scenic beauty
  • Rustic villages
  • Culture
  • Heritage
  • Wildlife

India is vast and we still have a lot to cover and therefore, it’s possible that we have missed on some routes. We intend to keep updating this list as we discover more routes.

1. Gangtok (Sikkim) to Darjeeling
This route can be dubbed as a roller coaster ride. You get to ride through some amazing chain of mountains and witness the life around them. Monks, monasteries, children, lakes, rivers are some of the impressions of the ride.

Best Time to Cycle: March, April and October, November

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

2. Leh – Tsomoriri – Tanglang La – Leh
If you intend to witness wildlife and cross some high passes then this is the route for you. Buddhist monks and manasteries gives a depth to the tour. You get to see some amazing wildlife at Tsomoriri lake and ride through breathtaking scenery.

Best Time to Cycle: June to September.

 

3. Jodhpur to Udaipur
Here you get to experience the contrast between royal richness and royal poorness. The contrast is evident as you make your way from Jodhpur to Udaipur through small villages, big palaces, massive Forts and beautiful temples. The route has it’s fair share of wildlife. You get to see wild boar, deer, black buck, Asian antelope.

Best Time to Cycle: October to March

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4. Kerala (Kochi – Munnar – Periyar – Kumarakom – Kochi)
Beautiful scenery is predominant in this route. Be it seaside of Fort Kochi, tea plantations of Munnar, elephants of Periyar and backwaters of Kumarakom – the beauty is abundant all around.

Best Time to Cycle: September to March

Kerala tea plantation view cycling

 

5. Bombay to Goa via Konkan Coastline
Ride along the beautiful Konkani coastline and savour some amazing Konkani food. The ride is undulating and passes through beautiful seaside scenery and ferry routes.

Best Time to Cycle: October to March

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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.

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’.