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Cycle Touring the Western Ghats

I have had a great time recounting my bike tour from Bangalore and Chitradurga via Hampi and the beaches of Mangalore on the West coast of India.  Today we continue from the coast through the mountains on the fourth and final post of this series.

Having left the coastline behind, the ride from Kollur to Agumbe was lovely! I passed through the forests and wildlife sanctuaries of the Western Ghats and the entire route is well canopied with trees making it a very comfortable and enjoyable ride. The last climb to Agumbe was tough and I could manage only 10 km in two hours. But totally worth it as I saw Rat Snakes, Lion Tailed Macaques and Malabar Squirrels. I was seeing Lion Tailed Macaques for the first time in the wild as they are pretty rare and difficult to spot. What a win!

LTM panorama

By T. R. Shankar Raman (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Agumbe was cool and refreshing and the Hotelier I met there was a real friendly guy. I didn’t have enough money in my pocket and the nearest ATM was 20 km away. The hotelier said no problem! Pay me the next time you are here! Wow! The warmth and hospitality was incredible. This attitude of warmth and hospitality, I have experienced in India and also around the world from the most unexpected sources. It is a good reminder not to judge people by their looks and to have faith in the goodness of people. We have got to learn to look beyond what the exterior has to offer. But I digress.

Anyway, Agumbe is perhaps one of the most beautiful spots in the Western Ghats. The heavy rainfall it receives has created a unique micro-ecosystem, similar to that of tropical evergreen forest and a home for the King Cobras! – the world’s longest venomous snakes. They grow up to lengths of 18.5 to 18.8 ft (5.6 to 5.7 m). Fortunately these snakes dislike us as much as we might dislike them. Lucky!

Just outside town, there are some beautiful trails for trekking and are the waterfalls a worth a visit. After spending one night in Agumbe, I rode towards Chikmagalur district the next day. I passed the town of Balehonnur which is located on the banks of river Bhadra and entered the coffee belt of India. The coffee belt is an amazing trail to be riding on and apart from coffee, arecanut, paddy, vanilla and other spices are cultivated here as well.

The winding roads with the beautifully canopied trees makes the region cool and lovely. There is nothing but lush greenery all around you and the plantations stretch endlessly. In between the plantations there are patches of reserve forests with thick undergrowth and sometimes infested with Lantana bushes. And also amidst all the coffee plantations, you might see small patches of tea plantations too. Tea plantations appear like a lush green carpet, while coffee is more of a dense jungle. The coffee and tea plantation next to each other make a beautiful contrast and a touch of beauty to the already lovely landscape.

After travelling for a month and staying in budget places, I decided that a little bit of comfort was not going to do any harm. Hence, near Balur, I decided on spending the night in a lovely home stay called Villa Urvinkhan. Perched on top of a hill in the middle of a coffee plantation, they have a great pool from which one can see miles over pristine forests. I could not have asked for more! 

The cottages were amidst coffee plantations and I woke up early in the morning and at the horizon, I could mist covered hills that made the peaks appear as if they were snow capped. The luxury of being nowhere!  

I left after two beautiful nights at this homestay and then rode towards Chikmaglur town and headed to Halliberri Homestay. Around 20kms from Chikmaglur town, this home stay consists of two quaint cottages amidst an oasis of greenery. At times Halliberri is pronounced Halle Berry which I think is very funny! Outside the homestay on the main road, there is a simple coffee shop which also functions as a small restaurant. Here too I experienced great hospitality and I was well taken care of. From here, I decided to head towards Coorg.

As this is home terrain, I stopped for two nights at a friend’s place in Sakleshpur. I attended the annual car rally nearby, which was great and then bid farewell to my friend. Another two days of cycling and I reached safely at Siddapur where I finished this epic cycle tour that took me to across Karnataka and Goa.

Over all, it was a fabulous journey and I guess the finest moments of my ride was when I cycling through the Western Ghats. The roads were under the cool shade of trees and the landscape was breathtaking and bountiful. Just incredible!

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The Western Ghats must be seen and experience to be believed. When you spend some time here, you will realize how nature has shaped these parts of India and how nature continues to contribute to the unique customs, traditions and cuisines here as compared to the more exposed parts along the coastline on the other side of the hills. I’m certain I’ll cycle these parts again sometime. Come along. 

Author: Poonacha

Editor: Ashwini

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Cycle Touring the Konkan Coast

There I was in Karwar after cycling solo across Karnataka and through Hampi and Goa. On Entering Karwar you cross a huge bridge over river Kali as it enters into the sea. A spectacular view opens up and in the sea you see a couple of islands all thickly wooded and some even have resorts and beaches with restricted access. Again Karwar is a coastal city with nothing much to offer. The main highway divides the sea and the beach from the town and the beach is known as Tagore beach.

Apparently Tagore stayed here for many weeks and wrote very highly of the beach of Karwar. Tagore’s poetic description of the beach is a reminder of how beautiful it must have been once upon a time. You can still glimpse some of the beauty when you look into the sea and spot the lovely islands out there over the waters.

There is a small trek into the hills from the eastern side of the Karwar. On top of the town there is a village called Guddadahalli. Guddadahalli in Karwar is a village with no roads and is a 5km walk from the town. Around 80 families referred to as Hallaki Gowdas live here and they are all engaged in agriculture. Life is hard for these people as they have to walk 10 km up and down at least each day to access the town. However, the walk up the hill is beautiful offering great views of the sea and valley below. The view of top is even better as it overlooks the town below and you can see the sea clearly.

Arabian sea from Sadashivgarh fort

By Ayan Mukherjee (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I spent a good week in Karwar after which I set forth on next part of my South India cycle tour to the holy town of Gokarna. Once I reached Gokarna, I decided to spend some time here to enjoy the seascapes that us land locked city dwellers don’t often see. It is a great place to relax and I got a nice ‘ayurvedic’ massage while I was there to relieve my aching body.

The town of Gokarna is home to a major Shiva temple and is an important pilgrimage centre. So the beaches here attract conservative folks as well as hippies who are escaping the commercialism of Goa.

The beach here is beautiful beyond words and is naturally shaped in the form of an Om which in Sanskrit is written like this:   

A little slice of heaven!

Gokarna to Murudeshwar.

When I finally got going from Gokarna, the weather was quite hot and humid. Cramps used to set in when I cycled and had to keep hydrating myself with a lot of water and salts. Riding along the coast from Gokarna without getting on to the highway was beautiful.

Kodale beach at Gokarna

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

Having passed remote and isolated beaches, I used a boat to cross over from Gokarna towards Bhatkal and Kumta. Bhatkal and Kumta are home to fishing villages along the coastline and a lot of conservative muslim communities live here and you would be hard pressed to find tourists on the beaches here unlike at Goa or Gokarna. At Bhatkal, I saw many old-fashioned houses with beautiful wooden pillars and lovely verandahs.

I arrived in Murudeshwar and settled in for the night at a local hotel. This town attracts a lot of pilgrims thanks to the massive statue of Shiva near the beach. The coast was becoming too hot and the going was getting tougher and hence I took a diversion to the east and headed to the hills to the town of Kollur. Kollur is home to the 1,200 year old Mookambika temple.

The place was clean, the people were well-mannered and respectful and Mookambika temple was a worthwhile visit. There is a dignity of conduct found in this place and serious amount of devotion. Although I lacked the faith displayed by others here, I appreciated the sincerity and dedication nonetheless. I was itching to be on the move, hence I could manage only one day in this place and headed off to Agumbe!  More about my cycling tour through Agumbe here.

Author: Poonacha

Editor: Ashwini

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Cycle Touring through Hampi

Continuing from the first part of this series about Cycle Touring the Heart of Karnataka, we pedal on in Hampi after which I headed to Goa during this solo cycle tour.

Nestled on the banks of the river Tungabhadra, Hampi is perhaps the largest and most widespread archeological site in India. Excavations are still going on and relics continue to be unearthed here. There is a beautiful temple which is still functioning, where people conduct their daily rites and services. I spent a week in Hampi and I explored around some of the treasures there.

Dancing Girls Bath

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

It was one of the most prosperous cities of India under the Vijayanagar Empire which was founded by two brothers Harihara and Bukka. Hampi however attained its pinnacle under the leadership of Krishna Deva Raya and flourished for a hundred odd years before it was completely destroyed. Today as you go past Hampi and see the ruins, the stones narrate stories of the glamour and glory.

Unfortunately the Archaeological Survey of India rather than preserving and maintaining the ruins tried to reconstruct some of the dilapidated structures destroying its antiquity. Preservation and conservation of monuments is different from renovation. There is a lot to see here nonetheless. Across the river where there are a lesser number of ruins, there is more peace and quiet. Twenty kilometers away there is a beautiful and picturesque tank and fantastic loop to cycle which covers all the paddy fields.

Then away from the ruins is the town of Kamalapura and there you have Hampi University which is excellent and perhaps the best state university in Karnataka. The campus was unbelievable and the place was a real eye opener for me. Having studied solely in English medium schools, I was never exposed to richness of the languages in the heartland and I wish this was not the case. The Vijayanagara empire gave birth to the golden age of literature in southern India where writers produced  hundreds of works on all aspects of Indian culture, religion, biographies, Prabhandas (stories), music, grammar, poetry and medicine in four different languages – Kannada, Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu. I am completely won over and you can see why. 

Tungabhadra River and Coracle Boats

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

 I decided to rest and relax a bit at Hampi after which I continued deeper across the heart of this beautiful state on towards the sunny coasts of Goa. Initially I planned on cycling via Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal on to Goa. However, the heat was catching up with me. So I loaded my cycle on to a bus and off I left for Goa.

I arrived in Panjim, early in the morning, unloaded my cycle and didn’t know where to go. Asked a couple of people and they guided me towards the beaches and off I went towards Anjuna. During the off season, Goa is not crowded at all and cycling along the coast from place to place was fantastic.

Goa as a state is sparsely populated, hence people are not denied of space and there is greenery everywhere. The architecture here is also impressive as you see remainders of the Portuguese rule. The local food is varied and delicious and the seafood is definitely worth a try.

I rode along the coast and soon reached Arambol at the tip of Northern Goa. This place still attracts hippies by the hordes and I felt like an outsider. The crowds partying on the beach and the ambience of the place will surprise you despite how remote this place is. Plenty of Russians and Nigerians cater to the needs of hippies and party lovers.

That’s when I realized why people like Goa. Cops don’t stop you here for sitting on the beach and drinking beer. Here in Goa, liquor is not taxed heavily and that along with the scenic beaches and tourist friendly ambience is the selling point of Goa. I guess if other parts of India relax the rules and open up like Goa, it would be detrimental for Goa. Goa is profiting from the fact that other states have too many rules and regulations surrounding alcohol and partying. Hence, everybody heads to Goa.

Arambol beach 2009

By User:Ridinghag (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

From Arambol, I headed back to South Goa and visited a place called Martin’s corner. Spent two nights here so as to recuperate a bit and get my laundry attended to. The food was excellent and the management all nice and friendly. As I visited during the off season, the area around Martin’s Corner is pretty inactive. But suddenly during meal times the place fills up with lots of cars and people. It is as if they appear by magic! And the place is very lively thanks to the good Goan food, the music and of course all the people! Definitely worth a visit!

I had to leave Martin’s Corner shortly after as I was headed back to Karwar. This was one of the most beautiful stretches I have ever ridden. Sticking to the coast, I rode towards Margoa. It rained a little and the landscape took my breath away.

On one side you have the sea and on the other you have lush green tropical forests. If anyone asks me what you love of Goa the most, I would say this fabulous road between the sea and the hills. The hills were full of peacocks and at various places you had viewpoints overlooking the Ocean and it was absolutely stunning. Another beauty about Goa is that you can drink beer anywhere. Even small shops which serve fast food offer beer and it was nice to sip a cool beer after cycling for hours under the bright sun here.

Exiting Goa I rode along towards Karwar along the Konkan Coast but that story is for another day. Until then, ride on. 

Author: Poonacha

Editor: Ashwini

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Cycle Touring Karnataka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madhugiri Fort 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View of lake inside fort Chitradurga

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

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

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

Author: Poonacha

Editor: Ashwini

 

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Glimpses of Kerala

On a trip of a life time, the pictures you capture, the memories you take back home, are all special because each memory is linked to the people who were with you at the time. People are the soul of the Kerala cycling tours that are offered by Art of Bicycle Trips and there is no doubt that by cycling instead you can easily connect with the locals and their way of life at home.

What stands out for me personally is that the people we meet on the road are simple, warm and incredible! They are always happy to share their stories and will greet you with a smile even if they are busy, working hard. 

Meet the people who make our Kerala cycling tours picture perfect

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Seen here, a fisherman paddling his canoe in the backwaters of Kerala. He was gliding along purposefully to reach his destination quickly. With numerous waterways connecting many island villages, a canoe is common mode of transport here in the backwaters of Kerala.

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The women seen above, wearing colourful sarees, carrying religious yellow-white flags and decorated parasols, were all lined up for a procession as part Christian church festival in Kuttanad, Kerala.

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This enthusiastic group of school kids posed saying “Yo!” to one group of American cyclists as we cycled through a village on the second day of their Kerala cycling tour.

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Plenty of women work in the tea plantations of Kerala but this lady here was especially happy as she smiled for our cameras as we made our way to Munnar Top station during one of our Kerala cycling tours. Its not unusual for women here to stand and work in the outdoors for 8-12 hours a day as they move across hillsides cutting tea leaves with shears and collecting them in the baskets that are also supported with their heads. Cycling Kerala is a breeze compared to that!

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Girls taking a canoe transfer; they were happy and laughing out loud as they saw us. Those who live in the backwater regions in Kerala, use a canoe to go to work, to school, to grocery store and even to meet you friends the next door. Life here thrives along the water channels.

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A lady washing clothes in a Hindu temple pond. One would surely appreciate modern washing machines a lot more after watching someone wash clothes manually like this.

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Hello Kids! These lovely little girls are wearing little ear-rings and their eyebrows are beautifully done with ‘kohl’ a.k.a ‘kajal’ in India. Mothers in India draw black dots on forehead, chin, cheek, hands or feet of their young ones to protect them from the evil eye.

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A coconut tree climber is seen cycling to work here in Kerala. Take that, all of you people who do not cycle to work because you have things to carry! Here, this expert cyclist is riding his bicycle with a bamboo ladder on his shoulders. Have you seen a balancing act like this in traffic elsewhere? Have you?

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A lady walking up the hill with a bag full of tea leaves on her head. Life in the countryside still involves plenty of long arduous hikes yet, this lady was happy to meet us and have a quick chat as we passed through tea plantations on one of our Kerala cycling tours.

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Men drying coconuts under the sun. The dried coconut flesh is then taken to mills for extracting coconut oil. Coconut oil is an absolute essential in Kerala. It is used in food preparation, therapeutic ayurvedic massages and is even considered to have healing properties. Keralan ladies swear by coconut oil for their long, thick, black tresses.

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This lady here is a fisher-woman who sells freshly caught fish in the villages near the coast. Here she is returning after her morning rounds with the aluminium vessel, that is used to carry fish, on her head.

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Fisherman are seen visually inspecting and separating sardines here in this candid shot. Some fisherman who cannot afford to buy a boat improvise and venture out into sea on little more than Styrofoam boards that are held together with plastic sheets. On a good day, they might haul in large catches while at other times, they may not be so lucky. The realities of life here.

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Coir rope making is a part time job for many women in the backwater villages. Sheela here is showing us the traditional way of coir rope making using her hands. Nowadays, coir ropes are spun using mini motors too. The fibres extracted from of the husks of coconuts are available in abundance and this is the raw material for coir ropes. In this image, one can also see bundles of rope that have been made by Sheela in the background here.

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This friendly old woman was happy to shows us a door mat that is woven with a loom that uses coir ropes.

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Here the lady is shaving coconut leaves using a knife to take the stalks out. When she will have enough stalks ready, she will make a bundle and tie it at one end to make a hardy broom.  With coconut trees aplenty here, people have found innumerable ways to use the materials provided by this ‘life-giving tree.’

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A boatman steering a houseboat through the Vembanad lake in Alleppey – As captured by one of our guests during their Kerala cycling tour.

If you wish to go a cycling tour in India or Southeast Asia and meet and interact with locals along the way, then you are in the right place. Please have a look at the cycling tours offered by Art of Bicycle Trips and feel free to write to us classic at artofbicycletrips dot com so that we can get your dream holiday going.

Author: Dibin

Editor: Ashwini

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Cycle Touring Season Wrap-up

With the Winter drawing to a close as the summer heat kicks in here in Southern India, we thought it would be good to look back and give you a sneak peak at the Kerala cycling holidays that Art of Bicycle Trips has organised over the last six months.

Although Kerala is a relatively small state of India, it still offers a variety of riding for riders of all capabilities. From the amateurs to the pros, we feel happy to have shared this unique region of South Asia with everyone who cycled with us over the cycle touring season of 2015.

So, let’s jump into a time-machine and travel “Into the Past.”

1.  People are awesome!

People are really, really awesome and we are always very thrilled to host folks from around the world, from different walks of life.

Starting from the 6 year-old Nicholas to 80 years-young Liz, age was no matter and everyone we biked with had an exuberant ‘cycling spirit’ that is so inspiring!

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Nicholas leading the pack fearlessly during their Classic Kerala family cycling tour 

They championed all the different terrain that Kerala offered, from the low-lands(below sea level) to mountain ranges over 1500 metres tall, with a little help from friends. And anytime they needed that extra bit of support, the Art of Bicycle Trips crew was there for them, cheering them on always.

2.  Monsoon biking in Kerala

To bike in the rainy season almost never seems like a good idea. But hey, we rode during the last monsoons, with Richard and Nancy for the ever popular classic Kerala bike tour and Oh boy! Oh boy!  It was the absolute best cycling experience we have ever had!

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Through the cloudy-wormhole, searching for the windmills in the lowlands, after biking to Top station, Munnar

Cycling through Kerala’s lush tea plantations and spice farms, the scenery! The greenery! Unbeatable!

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Waterfalls often crop up along many hillsides during the monsoons and it is always a splash!

 3.  Cycling though Misty-Mighty Western Ghats 

The rains also bring with rolling blankets of fog and riding through the misty mountains in Munnar was thrilling and refreshing.

No words can express the feeling of riding in and out of the mist – we felt like we were in heaven!

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Liz and her friends are seen biking here to Munnar Top station

After riding on sunny coastal roads for most part of the year, the cool chill was more than welcome during this monsoon cycling holiday. Sometimes it became so nippy that we even had to put the windcheaters on and to do so in tropical Kerala feels very novel I must say.

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Downhill from the Misty mountains of Munnar – From the Central Kerala bike Tour in November, 2015

4.  Watching Elephants in the wild and along the roads

We were biking downhill in Munnar and voila! We saw a herd of elephants grazing in the grasslands just like that.

We got to see these big, gentle elephants up close as they walked up from the river after being bathed by their mahouts. Its really something to experience these giants at such close range!

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Bathing Elephants during a Kerala Cycling Tour

5.  Not-to-be-missed culinary treats

Food is a highlight of our trips and we make sure that people have enough options to satisfy their taste buds with the local cuisine.

Some of the best bits of our cycling holidays often occur at the table during long post-ride meals that nourish the mind, the body and the soul.

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A simple Indian lunch served on an island in the backwaters during a Kerala cycling tour

6.   Supporting the local traders 

Whether it is Sheela-Chechi who cooks and serves delicious lunch at the backwater island; Vinoth-ettan, the fisherman, who takes us on a canoe ride; Sajeeb, the tuk-tuk driver who assists our cycling trips; Kunjappan-chettan a traditional boat-maker; all these local men and women are an integral part of our cycling holidays and we are always amazed by their knowledge, their kindness and their warm hospitality and are very grateful for their service.

Your cycling holiday can impact many lives here & we try and involve the locals in tours often.

At a boatmakers shop-Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Kerala Cycling Holidays-

At Kunjappan-chetan’s boatmaking workshop

We hope you enjoyed this insider’s view of our Kerala cycling holidays. If you are thinking about going on a cycling holiday in South/Southeast Asia, then please do have a look at our cycling holiday itineraries first. Also, feel free to write to us classic at artofbicycletrips dot com so that we can get your dream holiday going.

Happy Biking!

Author: Dibin

Editor: 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

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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

 Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Cycling Holidays

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

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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

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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

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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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Cycle Touring from Bangalore to Goa

As somebody who has always loved cycling, I spent my childhood exploring Bangalore on my bicycle. While  eager to do long journeys on a bicycle, fear and hesitation always hindered my desires. What would happen if my cycle broke down? What if I get stuck in the middle of nowhere? Where would I sleep? How could I carry enough bags and supplies? Assessing conditions and limitations, implementing safety measures, choosing the right gear is a crucial part of any bike tour. At Art of Bicycle Trips, I got the opportunity to help others address these challenges. Now long cycling tours are a breeze!

My first cycle tour from Bangalore to Goa in 2011 is one of my most memorable trips. This was in the month of November and we set off with Scott Hybrid bicycles and a total of seven people. Two couples from Canada, Renuka Nayak(Driver) and Sriram and myself(Poonacha) multi-tasking as Bike Tour Guides and Mechanics.

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Stretched over a period of ten days, this journey was my first long tour and I was glad to have Sriram showing me the ropes. Starting from the outskirts of Bangalore we cycled an average of 60 km per day. We passed through various places of historical and cultural significance as our route was designed to showcase the best monuments and places of interest along the way.

Karnataka is one of the larger states in India and its topography varies beautifully as you traverse through it. The landscape is vivid and diverse and breathtakingly beautiful I must add. A large chunk of the Western Ghats is found in this state. This formidable chain of mountains runs parallel to the West Coast and in these mountain tropical rainforests, with a rich range of flora and fauna, are surrounded by spice plantations, tea estates, rice paddy fields, flowering farms, intricate temples and more. A traveller who has seen other regions of India is bound to realise sooner or later that the state of Karnataka is bountiful and distinct.

As we began our ride on the outskirts of Bangalore, the granite monoliths at Ramanagara offered dramatic panoramic views. It is amazing how with a bit of effort we can enjoy such beauty easily here in India. What a start!

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Cycling Holidays-Photo by Ashwini Ravindranath

 

In Mysore, The Palace is splendid and it blends together Hindu, Muslim, Rajput, and Gothic styles of architecture in stone with a clock tower and marble domes.

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Mysore Palace, India” by Jim Ankan Deka Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Cycling along the water near Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary, we caught glimpses that showed us the variety of bird life in India. The boat ride brought us in even closer to the wildlife as we watched the wild mugger marsh crocodiles basking in the sun lazily.

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Marsh crocodile india” by Hericks Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The statue of Bahubali at Shravanabelgola and the erotic sculptures at the Hoysala temples in Belur & Halebeedu seemed scandalous to our clients in the beginning but it also opened their eyes to the varying cultural norms and diversity in the subcontinent.

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Shravanabelgola si0928” by G41rn8 Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In Chikmagalur district the challenge began – but it was also the most enjoyable part of the ride as the beauty of the Western Ghats revealed itself. The ride to Mullayanagiri, the highest peak in Karnataka, offered breathtaking views of the verdant valleys below.

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Cycling Holidays-Photo by Ashwini Ravindranath

 

This was followed by the ride to iron-ore mining are of Kemmangundi skirting the fringes of the Bhadra wildlife sanctuary. This once bustling town is now a ghost town albeit one that we love thanks to the forest cover that surrounds it. We then rode on to Banavasi – Land of the Kadamba Dynasty and recognized as the first capital of ancient Karnataka. This temple from the 9th century is considered to be one of India’s holiest shrines and it showcases intricate stone sculptures of which some are made out of monolithic blocks.

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Madhukeshwara temple at Banavasi sirsi karnataka” by Ajaya.n.g Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The rural landscape here is a step back in time. The terrain is interspersed with ancient lakeside temples that have been kept alive to this day by people of different sects.  As we cycled through remote villages and smalls town enroute, we took the sights and sounds of this timeless place then descended to the coast towards Gokarna. The palm fringed waters, salt flats and temples then gave way to sun-kissed white sand beaches that hug the roads.

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Bharatha Gudi, Gokarna” by Daniel Hauptstein Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

At Karwar, the border town between Karnataka and Goa, the coastal landscape takes on a distinctly different flavour as Goa was a former Portuguese colony and its culture is starkly different compared to that of Karnataka. The temples gave way to churches and villas and the local cuisine packed in a punch with spicy Cafreals and Vindaloos paired with locally brewed Cashew liquor known as Fenny.

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India Goa Vagator Beach“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

With sunshine, blue skies, the cover of wilderness and cool waves gently lapping at our feet, the Bangalore to Goa bike tour is very special. It displays the multi-faceted nature of India and takes you through some of the most historically, culturally and geographically diverse terrain in the Indian peninsula. You can’t go wrong by choosing this spectacular cycle tour route if you are planning to cycle and travel through Southern India.

Author: Poonacha Cariapa

Editor: Ashwini Ravindranath

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Reviews for Art of Bicycle Trips

There are plenty of reasons why going on a cycling tour is a great idea. Here’s a look at the reasons why you should do one of our bike tours – as described by participants from past multi-day cycling tours organized by Art of Bicycle Trips. You can also find more reviews for Art of Bicycle Trips on the ‘Reviews’ page of our website.

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“We feel we have just experienced the trip of a lifetime! Thank you so much for graciously sharing Kerala with us.

You(Dibin*) are a great ambassador for this beautiful spot on our planet. We so appreciated your attention to details, your organization and focus on safety.

We return home with full hearts and many very special memories.

Wishing you all the best for continued success, happiness and health.”
Nancy and Richard, Classic Kerala – 16th to 26th August 2015

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“Dibin,

This has been an absolutely perfect trip. I have so enjoyed every part of it, the riding of course, the camaraderie, learning about India, Indian culture, Kerala, tasting a toddy!

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your kindness and patience. You are a great tour leader. I appreciate you good humor and openness to all our questions. I truly enjoyed getting to know you a little.

You have a wonderful, beautiful world here and it is a joy to find someone who has sought out what he wants and is happy. You did a great job with putting together the group of guys. A smile comes to my face when I think of you all.

I do hope our paths cross again sometime. I hope this is the first of many trips to India for me..”
Gina, Classic Kerala – 18th to 28th January 2015

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“Thank you for the wonderful trip!”
David and Susan, Classic Kerala – 11th to 21st January 2015
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“Art of Bicycle Trips,

All in all we feel we had a fantastic trip. Cycling is a superior way to experience Kerala!

Our guides as well as our driver were terrific. Very accommodating and informative. Well done!!

There were several highlights but outstanding for us was the Kerala backwaters on Day 2 and the houseboat on Day 8.”
Joe and Shelley, Classic Kerala – November 2013

Customer Reviews-Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Kerala Cycling Holidays

 

“Dibin,

Great tour, all round. Very good mix of cycling and sightseeing/activities.

Suggestions

  • Early morning start to cycle while cool
  • Finish cycle early; so can relax in hot time of day and then do other activity late afternoon
  • Try to keep max. gradient to say 10%

Driver – Excellent

Guide – Very good knowledge + explanation

Leader – Great all round”

– Bruce

“Dibin is an excellent guide – thoughtfully assessed how we rode and amended the program to suit. We like the mix of cycling & site seeing, riding 55 km then relaxing on a boat.

The day we rode along the coast from Fort Cochin then  stopped at the boat building yard, fish auction then took a canoe for lunch was excellent. The SGH Earth Hotel were all excellent. A great trip all round.”

– Lindsey
Bruce & Lindsey, Classic Kerala November 2013


Customer Reviews-Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Kerala Cycling Holidays
“Dear Dibin, Ramzan + Biju,

Thank you so much for everything! I have had such a brilliant time over the past week and now love cycling! Thank you for putting up with us(sorry we weren’t waiting outside the hotel at 6 a.m 🙂 )

Thanks again for showing me how beautiful Kerala is – I really hope to come back one day.

Yours,

Hannah

Thanks so so much for such an amazing experience and being such a fantastic team, you helped me a lot. I know I found it difficult at first but have had a great week and don’t find the uphills as hard any more! 🙂

I also have seen such a beautiful side of Kerala with great people! Thanks Dibin for telling us so much about Kerala and being such a wonderful guide. Hope to come back one day.

Love,

Emma

Dear all,

Thank you so much for an excellent trip. Sorry I occasionally had to walk uphill but I am very old we all very much enjoyed your calm command of the trip and for giving such insights into India.

Jon

Thanks so much for a fantastic experience, I had so much fun, even on the uphill! You were all so helpful and helped to make it so great.

Thanks,

Ben

Many many thanks for your good humour and patience. It was a memorable trip for all of us and we all appreciated so much your efforts. Kerala is such a special place and we hope to return again one day.”

With best wishes,

Suzanne
Suzanne and family, Classic Kerala – 22nd to 31st December 2013

There you have it. Check back often for updates to this page. You can check out our Classic Kerala cycling tour here that these folks so thoroughly enjoyed here and you can check out all our cycling tours here.

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My Dream Cycle Tour – Munnar

From a conversation(in malayalam) during a bicycle ride to Munnar –

Villager –  Ningal Munnarilekku cycle chavittukayano? (Are you cycling to Munnar?)
Cyclist – Athe athe (Yes! yes! )
Villager – Ningal adipoli! (You guys are awesome!)

Awesomeness aside, what is it that the hill station Munnar has in store for cyclists you ask?

Standing a 1500+ meters above sea level, with a cooler climate compared to the Keralan coast, conquering the tea carpeted mighty mountains of western ghats on pedal power give you a sense of achievement.
If you love cycling in mountains and you are in Kerala, Munnar is a must to be explored on a bike.

Lets take a virtual ride through Munnar, Kerala and you can see for yourself.

The starting point of the ride is the foothills of western ghats, near the small town of Neriamangalam, along side rubber and pineapple plantations. With an easy start and few downhills to begin with, we get to warm up our legs before slowly hitting the climbs. We cycle through a forested section with bamboo groves and tall trees on one side.

If you are cycling during monsoon or just after, you are welcomed by little waterfalls on the way. Stop by and wash your face and feet in this chilled water flowing from the mountains.

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A short break at the waterfalls and voila! You are completely refreshed and ready to hit more climbs leading towards Munnar.

Along the way you can see and experience, the Periyar River deep in  the valley, a hydro-electric project, churches, a basket weaving community settlement from neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, water gushing out through one or more open sluice gates of Kallarkutty dam (if you are biking in August) and few toddy shops serving spicy curries with tapioca. Toddy is a locally brewed alcohol made from coconut or palm flower bud sap. You have to try it when here to know why it is popular in these parts!

Soon you will reach Chithirapuram and that is when you will say “Wow! This is so beautiful.” This is the first stretch of tea plantation that you see. Munnar town is just 6 km away from here.

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Munnar is culturally very different from other parts of Kerala. It has a predominant Tamil culture due to the settlement of migrants from Tamil Nadu who came here to work in the plantations.

The story is that the British found it very hard to get people from Kerala to work in tea plantations, so they finally brought in people from Tamil Nadu who where ready to do the hard work and this changed the landscape of Munnar!

To this day, the women from these communities pluck the tea leaves in the estates here while the men work in tea factories that process the leaves. The town of Munnar is quite small and it is packed with people and shops. When in Munnar, you can visit tea museum and learn about the history of Munnar – which is intertwined with that of tea.

 

Another place you can visit is establishment called Srishti. Srishti was started by TATA group to rehabilitate the physically and mentally challenged children of tea plantation workers.

But hey wait, the ride to Munnar is not complete without cycling to Top Station. A steady climb that takes you to an altitude of 2000 m and to the highest point in Kerala.

If you wish to ride and explore this beautiful part of Kerala by bicycle, be sure to check out the link provided here.

With this third and final post, this series of blog posts that describe Dibin’s dream cycling tour route through Kerala now comes to an end. You can read the first part about cycling Fort Kochi here and the second part about cycling the backwaters of Kerala here.

DSCN1719-Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Kerala Cycling Holidays

If you are considering cycling through Kerala, feel free to write to Dibin our Kerala and Sri Lanka bike tour expert classic(at)artofbicycletrips(dot)com for inputs. Cheers!

Author: Dibin

Editor: Ashwini

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My Dream Cycle Tour – Backwaters

“Imagine this – A perfect blue sky above and coconut trees swaying gently along the serene backwaters below”

Kerala is famous for just that. The mesmerizing “Backwaters.”  A true gem of nature’s beauty, the backwaters here are a network of waterways which connect to the Arabian sea.  Its been in existence for over 700 years, having come into existence in 1341 AD when the longest river in Kerala, the Periyar river was flooded. The flood was destructive to the land in these parts but it also gave birth to the famous port city of Fort Kochi and the backwaters around it. With the flood now forgotten, the backwaters have been bustling with life for years and it is interesting to watch how people embrace and coexist with the backwaters.

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Rich in history, culture and traditions, exploring paths along backwaters on a bike is a great way to see and learn about the way of life here. Pedalling next to the water through small villages, meeting families of the fishermen who live in these parts, learning a bit about their lives and visiting family run ‘chai’ tea shops enroute is a unique and unforgettable experience, no doubt.

To start, we leave Fort Kochi and ride towards the south in this episode of my dream Kerala biking tour. After a long stretch on a nicely tarmacked  road, the first stretch of backwaters channels appear giving us glimpses of little mangrove islands. You may not believe, but what we is see is a huge prawn culture farm.

Here’s an interesting fact about backwaters – for 6 months of the year the backwater alleys are full of fresh water and for the other 6 months it is full of salt water. So, the people who live along the backwater channels use it for rice paddy cultivation when the water is fresh and then switch to prawn cultivation for the rest of the year.

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The adaptability of the people here is something that you will see time and again when you ride here in Kerala. As kids swim, the adults, boat, fish, cook and wash along the backwaters. Take it all in as we deviate from the tarmacked road to a trail in a fishing village. To me, it always feels like quite an adventure biking through narrow walking paths with fish farms on either side.

Smaller versions of Chinese fishing nets can also be seen in the villages here, and these nets are mostly functional at night. Sometimes during day, the women use these nets to catch some fish fresh for their lunch. Yes, seriously.

Canoes are a common mode of transport here in the backwaters. If you like canoes and boats, then you will enjoy this next bit a lot as we meet a man named Kunjappan who is a traditional canoe maker to learn about the art of traditional Keralan canoe-making. Kunjappan’s workshop usually has several country canoes at different stages of the build with some finished ones waiting for buyers.

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After this, the ride further takes us to the boarding point for our canoe ride. Here we enjoy a short ride in the backwaters as we canoe through with our bikes sitting idle in the canoe with us. Our boatman named Thankachan is a local from the village here and he will take us through some of the most serene coves hidden in these waterways. As you sit back and take it all in, you might see ‘brahminy’ kites flying high up above, cormorants drying their wings, hens, ducks, egrets and other birds clucking and cooing while the people here go about their lives.

Soon after, we will hop off the canoe, say bye to Thankachan and ride further on our bikes, capturing more of backwater. Want to add more flavor to this backwater ride?  Don’t forget to try some boiled tapioca with karimeen(pearl spot) fish curry for lunch. Finger licking good! That’s it from me for now, until next time.

Note: This post is second in a series of posts that describe my dream cycling tour route here in Kerala. Read the first post about Cycling Fort Kochi here and the third and final post of this series about cycling Munnar here.

Author: Dibin

Editor: Ashwini

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My Dream Cycle Tour – Fort Kochi

Someone asked me what’s your dream bike tour route like? I pondered for a while and couldn’t single one out. Its not because I don’t have a dream biking holiday in mind but because I had too many dream bike tour routes on my mind, so I struggled to come up with a single one.

What attracts me to bike touring is that it enables me to see and enjoy the everyday experiences, which might be missed out when travelling and visiting the usual tourist spots. So, to go on a cycling holiday where I get to take in the best experiences like a local is always the dream for me.

If I had to come up with my dream Kerala biking holiday, I will start from where all it started,  Fort Kochi. Once upon a time, Fort Kochi was a strategic port city. So much so that it was invaded by three different European colonial powers. Fort Kochi is now less contested, yet the European  are still here, in the form of tourists this time around.

I love the ancient port city of Fort Kochi for three reasons – the cultural harmony; the hidden by-lanes here that are bustling with life; and finally, the not-to-be-missed street-food joints.

Having lived in Fort Kochi for an year, if you ask me, Where would you take a friend if he/she has only a day to experience Fort Kochi? Well, here it is, the best bike tour of Kochi that I can think of, to begin this series of posts on my favorite parts of cycle touring Kerala.

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Wake up little early in the morning, say by 6:30am, to bike towards the Fort Kochi beach promenade. Near the River road, where the massive Chinese fishing nets emerge in front of your eyes, there is “Achu ikka’s” chai(tea) shop on four wheels, which serves only breakfast.”Ikka” means elder brother, commonly used among the Muslim community.

Have a chai and walk towards the most active area of this beach pathway, the “Fish auction center”. Its a great sight to see fishermen bring in fresh catch and auction it so quickly. You can even bid on fresh catch here and take it with you for a delicious seafood based lunch or dinner later.

We can then walk further along the beach, taking a loop next to the historic buildings, bungalows, oldest European church in India and huge Raintrees. We are now back to Achu ikka’s chai shop for the breakfast. Pick from Pathiri(fried rice cake) or Puttu(steamed rice cake) with meat curry gravy.

Then bike towards Mattancherry, snaking through inner lanes of Calvetty community, watching as the community comes to life in the morning hours.

Mattanchery’s Dutch Palace is up next, past traditional spice storehouses and the Jew town after which we reach the 400+ years old Venkitachalapathy temple.

Here in the mornings, it is common to see people from different faiths going to the temple, the church or the synagogue respectively. The faith that people have is admirable. After circumnavigating the temple walls and passing through little Brahmin communities, we ride towards Dhobi Khana to see the washermen wash, dry and iron clothes. After riding back to Fort Kochi, we reach an art café to have a black coffee and perhaps a second breakfast, if you have a big appetite. I always do.

Fort Kochi-Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Kerala Cycling Holidays

For lunch, we bike to Haneef ikka’s restaurant for the one and the only one item on menu – “Biriyani.”

This restaurant opens only for lunch and the Beef Biriyani here is my favorite. For me, a Biriyani here is never complete without a fruit ice-cream milk shake from cool-bar across the road. Cool bars are a popular phenomenon in India where the heat catches up with everyone come summer. Milkshakes & ice creams are consumed copiously to overcome this and hence, cool-bars!

Then, we bike to Dutch Palace and the Synagogue and take in all great history here. One thing that will stand out after biking through Fort Kochi is the thirst and we can quench our thirsts with a sweet, cardamom lassi from the Gujarati community corner. By evening, we cycle to the beach and catch a glorious sunset as we relax our weary legs. Afterwards, we can ride some more.

Fort Kochi-Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Kerala Cycling Holidays

Riding during the night is one of my favorite pastimes, especially in the brightly lit streets of Mattancherry where you can find people walking, shopping and chatting till midnight.

We ride to the Konkani community corner and savor delicious homemade dosas and idlis with hot, spicy chutney and a refreshing tea.

I’ll head off on a ride on that note for now. I will continue from Fort Kochi in the next post of this series where I will take you to countryside trails that surround the famous backwaters of Kerala.

Author: Dibin

Editor: Ashwini

Note: This post is first in a series of posts that describes my dream cycle tour route in Kerala. Read the second part on cycling around Kerala’s backwaters here and the third part on cycling Munnar’s tea gardens here.

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Beware of Unethical Bicycle Trips Operator in Kerala

Art of Bicycle Trips (ABT) has been offering bicycle trips in Kerala directly to visitors since 2012-13. Back then, there were no Indian companies offering day tours or classic tours for visitors who wished to cycle here in India.

Today, one can choose from many options from a number of operators who run tours in Kerala. If you are considering the cycle tour operators available in Kerala today, we suggest that you be highly aware of one other company with offerings similar to ours.

Our experience has shown that the person who owns and runs this one particular bicycle trips company in Kerala, got his start by stealthily using intellectual and digital property that belongs to Art of Bicycle Trips. The said former ABT guide exploited the goodwill in the industry for our company to further his own agenda and continues to use ABT property and imitates our every move to this day.

Imitation might be a form of flattery but we hope you watch out when it comes to choosing your cycle tour operator in Kerala, because as the American jazz musician, Wynton Marsalis would put it, “Ethics are more important than laws.”

For more information about cycling tours in Kerala, please write to us at classic(at)artofbicycletrips(dot)com or come, see us at the our store in Fort Kochi, Kerala.

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Wayanad: Three states One brevet

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.

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My Kerala Cycling Tour

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’.