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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!

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-India Western Ghats Birdlife starling-706732

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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Preparing for Your Cycling Holiday

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

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

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

Cycle Touring-Art of Bicycle Trips

 

Insurance

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

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

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

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

Visas

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

Bhutan

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

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

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

Cambodia

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

Laos 

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

Art of Bicycle Trips Cycle Touring Myanmar

 

Myanmar 

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

India

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

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

Sri Lanka 

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

Thailand 

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

Vietnam

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

Published: May 2016 For reference purposes only

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

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Cycle Touring Vietnam

 

Vaccinations

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

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

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

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

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Travel Alerts 

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

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

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

Cheers,
Ashwini

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Experience a Sri Lankan Cycling Holiday

Ayubowan! said the Sri Lankan lady, clasping both her hands together and bowing slightly towards me.

‘Ayubowan’ is a common Sri Lankan greeting, wishing for the long life of the person whom you greet. Later I found myself saying Ayubowan! to all the Sri Lankan people I met during my Sri Lanka bike tour.

Although, I have not covered the entire span of Sri Lanka by bike, the memories from this enchanting country are vivid and priceless. Let me show you a bit of it so you know exactly what cycling through Sri Lanka entails. 

Buddha, Drummers & 500 Concubines

Buddha statues scattered around India, South Asia and Southeast Asia are a sight to behold. 

The mesmerizing eyes of Buddha bring such tranquility that I feel at peace when looking into those eyes.

There are innumerable Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka and the influence of Buddhism is apparent in this part of the Subcontinent and the Buddha is revered to this day. 

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Leading the way through the giant lion paws carved out of granite at the ‘Rock Fortress’ of Sigiriya, I wondered about the mammoth task of building a palace on a large piece of Rock. The marvelous frescoes painted on the rock, depicting the concubines of King Kashyapa are remarkable.  

“King Kasyapa and his 500 concubines” sounds like an extravagantly embellished myth but its true confirmed our knowledgeable local guide.

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Sri Lankan dance forms, that were traditionally only performed for the kings, are now played at a few different locations in Kandy which is known as the cultural capital of Sri Lanka.

Out of all the performers, the drummers captured my full attention; they were energetic beyond words and unstoppable!

The high decibel drumming was hard on my ears initially, but slowly you get acquainted to the rhythm and fall into a rapturous trance.

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Warm Welcomes & Homecooked Meals

Lots of greetings were exchanged as we biked through this little island nation. Everywhere we went, friendly Sri Lankans came out to chat and look at our bikes and know more about where we going.

One of the highlights from my Sri Lanka bike tour was when our support vehicle driver, Lasanth, invited all of us to his home for lunch.

I was simply humbled by the hospitality of Lasanth’s family and the curry his wife made for all of us was absolutely delicious.

Beaches Oh So Pristine! 

As the warm waves continued to break on an endless stretch of golden sand beaches, staying on the bike and cycling became quite impossible.

The oceans beckoned again and again in Sri Lanka and who could resist a swim in a heavenly place like this? 

A Wild, Wild Paradise!

Sri Lanka wildlife road signs

Caution! Monitor Lizards Crossing (Photo credit: http://roystonellis.com)

With monitor lizards slowly crossing roads, peacocks flying around and roving elephants grazing on the greens, wildlife is plentiful in Sri Lanka. 

And, there are numerous interesting signboards along the roads asking road users to watch out for wildlife that might be making their way across the road. Haha! Jokes apart, Sri Lanka is home to some of the best National parks in the world and they are definitely worth a visit, even if you are not a wildlife safari enthusiast in particular.

The Art of Good Food

Imagine a banana leaf platter with an assortment of aromatic, spicy food eaten with steaming hot rice & crispy papadum!

If you have not tried a meal like this yet, let me tell you it is not easy to resist. I pondered if this could be one of the many places on earth where I may end up deciding “ Ah it’s time for me to live just to eat!

You just have to try the variety of piping hot curries available in these parts, not to mention the delicious vegetarian and meat accompaniments. And, we dare you to try and eat it all with your hands – without using cutlery.

We grant that eating food without cutlery is not for everyone but those who do try their hands at this particular art 😉 – Find that its worth the effort. Finger-licking good, you see what we mean? Yes, I know, I know, it does seem like I’m addicted.

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“Ayubowan Sri Lanka! May you live long so that many more cyclists can explore, indulge and appreciate just how serene and beautiful you are.”

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Credits:
  1. https://riceandcurry.files.wordpress.com/2012/06
  2. http://roystonellis.com/blog

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.

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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

 Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Cycling Holidays

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.

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Cycling Holidays India

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.

Madhukeshwara_temple_at_Banavasi_sirsi_karnataka
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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Snapshots from Sikkim

Sikkim – The mountain kingdom. The Land of the mighty Kangchendzonga.

Tucked away in a corner of India on the borders of Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal, this is a gateway to the Himalayas.

Here the birdsongs begin much before dawn and go on until after dusk frenetically, in contrast to the sense of timelessness that emanates in these mountains.

When the mountains call, you drop everything and go. I did just that recently and here are my notes from the road from the Art of Bicycle Trips mission to Bike Sikkim – from Gangtok to Darjeeling – over the course of ten days with ten impressive women.

Art of Bicycle Trips Sikkim Bike Tour

On arrival at Bagdogra, the greenery of the plains that surrounds is striking. We were getting tantalisingly close to some of the world’s tallest mountain peaks and the air was charged with energy and anticipation. The drive to Gangtok took us from the plains through to the hills where the valleys towered all around as the River Teesta snaked its way through. The jade of the forests and the emeralds of the waters enroute were mesmerising.

Soon enough, we were in Gangtok, walking on the highway to Tibet, under the cool shade of the poplars and oaks. Shortly after, we got on our Giant mountain bikes and went riding around Gangtok. The traffic was concentrated around the town’s main thoroughfares. The roads were an assortment of inclines; switchbacks started making their appearances right from the start.

The mountainous terrain brought with it dramatic weather – as always, and the peaks were truant at first – they remained hidden under a veil of mist initially. Then, slowly, as we went about organising the final details for this epic cycling trip of Sikkim, we were treated to majestic views of Mt. Siniolchu and Mt. Kangchendzonga. Breathtaking!

Art of Bicycle Trips - Gangtok Bike Trip Views

There is nothing that compares to cycling along on a seldom used forest road, only to be greeted, out of the blue, by the tranquil melancholy of these magnificent Himalayan peaks. The people of Sikkim consider Kangchendzonga as a guardian deity. The mountain provides everything they need and is worshipped – in line with their ancestral belief that all of nature is holy.

In Gangtok, the Enchey Monastery, the Do-Drul Chorten, the Institute of Tibetology and Directorate of Handicrafts and Handloom are well worth a visit. Having biked to Enchey Gompa, Ganesh Tok and Hanuman Tok, we left from Gangtok to Rumtek satisfied in the knowledge that we had conquered Gangtok’s highest point by bike. The ride was on!

Art of Bicycle Trips - Sikkim Bike Trip Views from the road - Photo by Ashwini Ravindranath

The route from Gangtok to Rumtek is all downhill with potholes more apparent than the road in several places. The landscape slowly transformed from that of the hustle and bustle of Gangtok to that of evergreen forests studded with gushing streams interspersed along which where splendid terraces of paddy fields – vivid in both appearance and hue.

Art of Bicycle Trips - Sikkim Bike Trip - Cycling Gangtok - Photo by Ashwini Ravindranath

Prayers flags fluttered in the breeze as we cycled on to the hotel where we our friendly hosts greeted us on arrival with glasses of delicious ‘lassi’ i.e., sweet yoghurt smoothies. The best day of riding so far!

Art of Bicycle Trips - Sikkim Bike Trip

At Rumtek, a visit to the Rumtek Monastery is highly recommended. The colourful prayer flags contrast the backdrop of the hills splendidly here.

The next morning, clear skies greeted us with the season’s first snow on the mountain peaks in front of us. Pumped, we set out early on towards Temi Tea Gardens. It was smooth going on the roads in this section and the downhill that followed was speedy and exhilarating.

Art of Bicycle Trips - Sikkim Bike Trip Switchback

We had the first flat tyre of the trip here in this section of the ride. It was patched up real quick as everyone took the opportunity to click away and before we knew it, we were on the uphill to Tarku.

Almost everyone’s’ appetite for riding was fully satiated by the time we stopped for lunch at Tarku. Three ladies from the group however were ready for more. So with them free-wheeling it up behind us from Tarku to Temi, we went on to visit the organic Temi  Tea Garden.

Shortly after the end of our tour at the tea plantation, the three remaining ladies accomplished their Peak to Peak ride having ridden all the way from their hotel at Rumtek to the hotel at Temi. The best day of riding, again!

Art of Bicycle Trips - Sikkim Bike Tour Peak to Peal conquerers

We got another early start to ride from Temi to Yuksom. With the lower part of the valley now far below us, we were surrounded by endless slopes of the tea gardens. The carpet of tea soon gave way to tropical and then alpine forests. The roads were woven through it all with vertical mountain faces hanging over us and dropping off below us at some points.

As we pedalled through, clouds rolled in around us over the peaks and valleys, parting time and again as the sun burned through the haze of morning. The route repeatedly climbed gently uphill after which it dipped nicely taking us through the lush countryside almost as if it were a joyride.

Art of Bicycle Trips - Sikkim Cycle Tour Countryside riding - Photo by Ashwini Ravindranath

Rain almost spoiled the whole show but it cleared up quickly and we got back on our bikes to zoom through quaint little towns where the children and the adults stopped to smile, shout even, and wave goodbye. The going got serious as we started the climb to Tashiding, the steep inclines challenging even the best. The best day of riding, yet again!

Art of Bicycle Trips - Sikkim Cycle Tour Monastery Loop - Photo by Ashwini Ravindranath

After a well-earned snack break, we visited the Tashiding monastery before driving over to our hotel at Yuksom. The next day being a rest day, we went out for a walk around Yuksom, up to Dubdi Monastery and also to the Coronation Throne and the Bazaar street before calling it a day and kicking back with some beers.

Not riding all day felt strange however and the next day we were all itching to go. With another early start we bid goodbye to Yuksom and headed on to Pelling wondering what lay in store for us there. Mt. Kabru gave us a glorious farewell although the other mountain peaks were hidden behind the clouds. The peaks made show-stopping appearances as we started gaining speed and heading downhill. The roads stretched on endlessly below our feet.

The mountain sides gave way to rivers and waterfalls that poured down from the higher slopes along the way. Those heading from Yuksom to Pelling should keep an eye out for Kangchendzonga Falls, it is an absolute treat.

The valleys gradually opened up as we cycled through on smooth terrain. As we approached Pelling it looked as if we had left the mountains behind. We finished our ride at the hotel and went on to visit Pemayangtse Monastery and Rabdentse Ruins, both of which are worth visiting if you happen to visit.

Art of Bicycle Trips - Sikkim Cycle Tour Views at Pelling

The next morning Mt. Kangchendzonga stood right ahead as we prepared for the final ride to Jorethang feeling incredulous that the mountain had been there all along and we had not been able to see any of it earlier due to the clouds.

Kangchendzonga – The World’s third highest mountain at 8,586 m/28,169 ft.

Kangchendzonga – The hidden land – From the snows of which the first(Lepcha) man and woman of Sikkim are believed to have been created.

In this ‘happy homeland’ in ‘Sikkim’ where snow leopards and even yetis are said to roam, we were happy and content just to be biking for days on end in great weather conditions on country roads.

The anticipation, the excitement, the effort, the camaraderie, the sense of accomplishment during and after such a mission is unparalleled and one can only hope that there’s more of this in store for us in the future.

Until next time, keep on riding.

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Meet Your Bike Tour Guide – Qutub

Name: Qutub a.k.a Qutbuddin Habshi

Role: Trip Leader & Accounting whiz

From: Udaipur, Rajasthan

Based in: Udaipur, Rajasthan

Rides: Giant

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

Reads: About health, fitness and the human mind

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

Loves: Seekh kebabs – succulent grilled lamb skewers

Dreams: Of traveling around the world

Superpower: Hypnotism

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

Believes in:  Simplicity, innovation and change

Cycling bucket list:

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

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

Contact: classic at artofbicycletrips dot com

Links: Facebook | Twitter

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Planning a Group Cycling Holiday

Planning a cycling holiday with friends or family can be an uphill task – especially if you are the one coordinating it all. One has to factor in the time and budget along with hotel, activity and commute options and balance all of that to suit your group’s tastes. Sounds simple enough but with large groups, it can quickly becomes stressful. It almost takes the fun out going on a holiday, doesn’t it?

So how does one overcome this bumpy bit and whizz past through to the fun part? Here are some pointers to help you do just that.

Don’t cram up your holiday

While this might seem like a good idea at first, its really not. Not only will it be a scheduling nightmare, do you really want to end up running from one point to the next, travelling for hours often by car, train, bus, plane or tuktuks and camels for that matter, to complete one string of things to see/do only to be faced by a new set the next day? Not the kind of vacation a lot of people will love, that’s for sure.

Choose a few interests and plan around that

Factor in a little time for contingencies. No point cutting it really close and stressing out about it. Slow down on your travels and we guarantee that you will be able to relax and enjoy yourself much more. You will reap the rewards of such an approach not just at the planning stage but also while on holiday at your destination after all that planning.

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

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

 

Reality checks and why you have got to have those

We get that you are stuck at a work, at a desk or at a computer, day in, day out. Ever been bored out of your brains in meeting rooms for days in a row? Yeah, we have been there too. Doesn’t mean that we would stand up and volunteer immediately if someone asked us if we would cycle the Artic tomorrow!

If you want a challenging cycle tour, sure, no problem, we are game. But don’t even think about forcing your normally sedentary friends or family members to accompany you AND also push themselves during the tour if they don’t usually do that because things might not work that way.

Okay, okay, so you agree to go easy of the softies. But then will you, really? Riding for days together in rainy season may seem like a great way of exploring a region during the off-season but is it really the right bike tour option for you and your two teenage kids on a weekend holiday away from the cozy comforts of home?

And sure your kid may say that he loves riding bikes off roads, so you think its only fair that we take him out for some trail riding through hilly back country terrain. Yeah? Naaaaaah!

See this is why reality checks are important before you get all excited about booking a cycle tour based on your imagination or just how pretty the pictures look!

 

Ensure the tour suits all group members

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

If the most you have exerted yourself is that looooong walk from the couch to the fridge to grab a beer, then at least say so before booking the tour. Nothing can be done after but there are plenty of different routes and we are sure we can find a bike tour that suits your fitness and comfort levels. You do want to enjoy yourself on holiday, right?

Look before you book

Before you book your tour, check the itinerary and note exactly what’s included and what’s not. Not all meals are included in multi-day bike tour itineraries. This is done deliberately to allow you to sample the locally available fare on your own. So, check to make sure there are no last minute surprises. Have a budget for miscellaneous expenses, you are going to need it when it is time to pay your tab after a few (or several) of your favourite post-ride drinks.

Looks for  trustworthy tour operators – one who is experienced, reliable and available to solve issues should any arise. While all tour operators may appear to be equals, a bit of smart searching and snooping with Google and social media platforms will give a better idea as you may find helpful reviews, comments and more. Also, how responsive is the operator when it comes to your queries? Ask them if they can refer you to former clients and gauge their response.

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

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Keep your mind open 

Talk to your tour consultant because really, they know the region much better than any travel blog or website. They can take away all the stress involved with planning a great holiday, if only you would let them do so.

Establish a dialogue, let them know what you prefer and then sit back and let them suggest options and do their job as they make your vacation happen. Be open to the possibilities. You never know what adventures await.

And, what is it that you really want from your next holiday? Familiar routines? Comfort? To go some place that’s just like home? To have plenty of options as to what kind of wine is available at each and every meal?

If yes, then move along please because India and Southeast Asia are not for you. These places are instead for those love to see people and things that are different from what you might be used to back home. So, go forth but only with an open mind.

Give back

And, here’s some food for thought say for instance, about the Bike Tour company and guide. Is a guide who speaks your language more important to you than a guide that can speak English and the local language as well?

And, is that international tour operator who offers some tours at your desired location really the better option when compared to a local outfit that gives more back to the communities in the region you will be visiting?

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Well, we hope this helps you before your next trip. In the meanwhile, you know where to find us if you if you want to go on a cycling holiday with your family and friends.

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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.

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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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Cycling Colorful Rajasthan

Rajasthan is defined by two major geographical features – the Thar desert and the Aravalli mountains. Our Colorful Rajasthan bike ride is a journey that is woven around these two – beginning at one and ending at the other.

Rajasthan literally means ‘The Abode of Kings’. Historically this has been the land of a warrior clan called the Rajputs who ruled over it and divided it among themselves into a complex feudal system of kingdoms and fiefdoms based on clan loyalty. Under the patronage of these kings, art and architecture flourished, flavored and defined by conditions imposed by the harsh and unforgiving climate. The exigencies of survival in severe conditions have led people here to evolve their own distinctive culture and traditions which resonate in the colors so vividly on display all over Rajasthan. Perhaps to counter the stark monotony of the landscape – an unforgiving desert yellow – the people of Rajasthan have sought to lend to their world an explosion of color. Thus Jodhpur is known as the Blue City, Jaipur as the Pink City, Jaisalmer as the Golden City, Udaipur as the White City.

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Vivid colors permeate every aspect of life in Rajasthan. Seen here is a folk musician getting ready to ply his trade.

Think Rajasthan, think Jodhpur. Jodhpur is the beating heart of Rajasthan. Geographically located in the centre of the state, Jodhpur embodies everything that Rajasthan is known for. However the cityscape of Jodhpur is dominated by the spectacular Mehrangarh Fort. Described by Rudyard Kipling as the work of giants, it is one of the grandest monuments you’ll ever see. Under the shadow of the colossal fort, the city of Jodhpur spreads out in a vein-like network of streets and lanes.

Udaipur, situated in the Aravalli ranges to the south, presents a stark contrast to the visitor riding in from the desert to the north. Where Jodhpur is rugged and spartan, Udaipur feels gentle and exquisite. Called the City of Lakes because of the numerous man-made lakes that dot the city – all built by damming rivers and mountain streams over a period of hundreds of years – Udaipur is in many ways the Venice of the East.

Udaipur - The Venice of the East - Renowned for its exquisite architecture and tranquil lakes. Photo credit: Taj Lake Palace Udaipur

Udaipur – The Venice of the East – Renowned for its exquisite architecture and tranquil lakes Photo credit: Taj Lake Palace Udaipur

Like all things royal, Colorful Rajasthan is a tour that exemplifies the finer things in life. And in the manner of things fine and beautiful, it grows on you slowly, with day each day bringing newer appreciation. Nothing exemplifies this refined character of the journey than the hotels. Each hotel along the way is a heritage property – which means that these are medieval buildings that served as former palaces and residences to kings and noblemen that have now either fully or in part been converted to hotels. Each hotel thus is a unique experience.

It is however unfair to look at as Rajasthan only as the land of kings and palaces. You don’t have to dig too far below the surface to discern the crushing poverty that many of its inhabitants live in. India, most travelers agree is a land of extremes. Rajasthan, as a perfect microcosm of India exemplifies these extremes. As you drive out of the big cities that are bustling centers of trade and commerce and traverse through the countryside, you understand how people live, in many parts barely surviving through subsistence level activity. With time you begin to understand how barriers erected by the ancient caste system still keep millions chained to unprofitable and physically demeaning occupations.

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Villagers often walk long distances to fetch water – Everyday life in the desert state is no easy task

Yet despite the harshness imposed by both man and nature, people continue to live through it all with smiles on their faces. Travelers are greeted by enthusiastic ‘hi’s’ and ‘bye’s’ by locals. People love posing for pictures. At the sight of a camera wielding tourist intent on clicking photographs, locals have been known to run inside their houses to put on their finest turbans and best clothes to pose for pictures. Kids especially, can at times get a bit too excited when they see foreigners on fancy bikes.

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Friendly locals often come out to greet travelers with smiles – Kids are especially curious

Motorists often express their excitement by incessantly honking the horns of their vehicles. For many tourists this can be a huge turn off. However you soon get used to the honking and learn not to mind it. What one must mind in India though are the cows. On Indian roads the cow is the king. Everybody makes way for the holy cow. Everybody. It doesn’t matter whether you’re riding a bicycle or a 3-tonne truck.

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Don’t forget to pay your respects to the holy cows of India – Indian cows love posing for pictures

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Meet Your Bike Tour Crew – Kamal

Name: Kamalpreet Singh

From: Chandigarh

Based in: Udaipur

Rides: Scott Sportster

Eats: Vegetarian food.There’s the live-to-eat and the eat-to-live types. I’m the latter.

Reads: Contemporary fiction

Drinks: Water mostly, doesn’t mind adding a dash of cheap Indian whisky now and then.

Loves: Books

Dreams: Write a book someday.

Superpower: Can bench press 150 kilos!

Once upon a time: Used to be a software engineer working in a depressingly gray cubicle of an IT company.

Believes in: A world without borders

Cycling bucket list:

  • The old Silk Route
  • Down the South American Continent to the Tierra de Fuego where the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans meet.

Tips: Slow is beautiful.

Ask me about: Cycling around the deserts of Rajasthan and over the mountains of Himachal Pradesh in North India

Links: Facebook | Twitter

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Meet Your Bike Tour Crew – Dibin

Name: Dibin Devassy

From: Thrissur, Kerala

Based in: Fort Kochi

Rides: Trek 6000 D

Eats: Finely sliced frozen mangoes with hot chocolate and vodka! 😉

Favourite Reads: Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha

Drinks: ‘Masala Chai’ tea spiced up with cinnamon and cardamom

Loves: Cooking and making up recipes on my own spontaneously

Dreams: I’m living my dream, doesn’t have a dream for now

Superpower: Inner-self

Once upon a time: Wrote database softwares for a living

Believes in: Freedom

Cycle-it list:

  • The mountain trails in Kerala – to begin with
  • North-east India
  • Bhutan
  • Mongolia

Tips: Lose everything to find what you need the most…

Ask me about: Bike tours in southern India and Sri Lanka

Contact: dibin<at>artofbicycletrips<dot>com

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Meet Your Bike Tour Guide – Poonch

Name: Poonacha Nadikerianda  a.k.a Poonch

From: Bangalore

Based in: Bangalore

Rides: Giant Revel 29″ MTB

Eats: Beef Vindaloo

Favourite reads:

  • Louis L’amour – The Last of the Breed
  • Frederick Forsyth – The Day of the Jackal
  • Dominique Lapierre – City of Joy

Likes to drink: Vodka martini – Shaken not stirred like Bond!

Loves: Cycling, swimming, outdoors and wildlife

Dreams: Of domestic bliss – Ladies, hint, hint!

Superpower: Super fun!

Once upon a time: Poonacha learned how to weave. Yeah, seriously.

Believes in: A collective conscientiousness

Bike-it list:

  • Traverse India’s length from Karnataka to Kashmir via the Western Ghats
  • Chile
  • Bhutan

Tips:

For cycling in India –

  • Bring your GPS
  • Don’t bring your road bike
  • Instead hire a hybrid/MTB here to enjoy cycling in India minus the airline charges and the risks of theft and damage.

Ask Poonacha about: Exploring India’s countryside on cycles and the culture, history, art and people that you would experience here.

Email: Poonacha<at>ArtofBicycleTrips<dot>com

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Cycle Touring Laos

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Cycling in India during the Rains

Photo by Stuart Gleave via Flickr

Riding in the Rain by Stuart Gleave via Flickr

As folks in Europe and US gear up for summer, here in southern part of India, I am enjoying the cooling effect of pre-monsoon showers.

Don’t get me wrong, I love summer in India. The delicious variety of fruits(mangoes, jackfruits, grapes, watermelons, lychees, guavas, casaba melons, cantaloupes), fresh fruit juices, ice-creams and milkshakes; the visits to the pool and the dips in streams on treks, the longer drives to the cooler hill stations and the sunnier beaches; the walks in T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops under endless blue skies, what’s not to love! I almost don’t want summer to end!

Yet, the monsoons are awaited here restlessly as summer passes by slowly, for the rain clouds bring breezes that soothe. And as we cycle along into the rains, that earthy aroma that rises up into the air as the first drops of water hit dry earth is pure and magical.

The monsoons rejuvenate parched forests, paddy fields, sugar cane farms, fruit orchards and tea, coffee and spice plantations and turn dry, monochromatic terrain into a vivid, lush, dense landscape full of vitality and life.

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‘Clouds break over forested hills’ by Samyak Kaninde via SamyakKaninde.com

The ponds, backwaters, rivers and waterfalls surge and roar through the jungles, where old makes way for new. Some of the animals and birds take cover in their nests, while others shake the water off their fur, dance and dive right into the thick of it all, relishing the sheer joy of the monsoons.

Here in India, at Art of Bicycle Trips, we await the rains every June because –

We can soon head out on longer bike rides and just cycle without worrying about the heat draining us.

Deserted lanes by Anurag Agnihotri via Flickr

Deserted lanes by Anurag Agnihotri via Flickr

The joy of riding along roads that have been hastily abandoned by motorists hiding from the rain is unmatched.

Double ride on a bicycle by Palachandra M via Flickr

Double Ride on a Bicycle by Palachandra M via Flickr

The rivers that feed the waterfalls are at their best during the monsoons and you will get to play tag with the sun, the clouds, rain, fog and mist play as you cycle through the heart of India when most other people stay indoors.

Hills in the Clouds by Abhinav Singhai via Flickr

Hills in the Clouds by Abhinav Singhai via Flickr

The operators that support your journey along the route have fewer customers to deal with, giving you a much better opportunity to actually get to know the locals and their way of life.

Along the coastline, the seas wash away all the trappings of seasons past and leaving behind only a few people as you cycle along endless ribbons of beaches.

Higher up in the mountains, the mountain passes are finally open again and the crisp blue skies, snowcapped mountains and alpine lakes beg us to explore the expansive vistas in the Indian Himalayas at leisure.

Magical Ladakh by Art of Bicycle Trips via Flickr

Magical Ladakh by Art of Bicycle Trips via Flickr

The innumerable shades of green in the forested mountains, fields and farms that stretch around you, will nourish not just your eyes, but also your mind and your soul.

Mountains of Mangaon Bloom by Neelima Vallangi via TravelwithNeelima.com

Mountains of Mangaon Bloom by Neelima Vallangi via TravelwithNeelima.com

If you are wondering where you can experience some of this monsoon magic, then take a look at the cycle tours we offer in Kerala, Ladakh and Sikkim, come rain or shine.

Images used with photographers’ permission 

– Samyak Kaninde via www.SamyakKaninde.com

– Palachandra M via www.flickr.com/photos/palachandra/4881675192

– Neelima Vallangi via www.TravelwithNeelima.com

Photo Credit

Anurag Agnihotri via www.flickr.com/photos/agnihot

Abhinav Singhai via www.flickr.com/photos/ilovewalkman/

Stuart Gleave via www.flickr.com/photos/the_defiance/7313693914

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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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Meet Your Bike Tour Crew – Muthu

Name: Muthu Mani Raja

From: Bangalore

Based in: Bangalore

Rides: KHS Lite 150

Eats: Ice-cream, all day, all night, yummy!

Reads: About cricket and movies religiously

Drinks: FLS – India’s favorite cooler – Fresh Lime Soda

Loves: Bike rides and hikes

Dreams: To become a boxing champion

Superpower: His hulk-like strength

Once upon a time: He was thinking about becoming an insurance agent

Believes: In the power of self

Cycling bucket list:

Tips: Never fear, when Muthu is near!
Ask me about: The best rides in southern India
Contact: Muthu (at) artofbicycletrips (dot) com

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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.

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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.

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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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Meet Your Bike Tour Crew – Pankaj

Name: Pankaj Mangal

From: Jaipur

Based in: Bangalore

Rides: Surly Long Haul Trucker

Eats: Ker Sangri, a spicy Rajasthani delicacy made with yoghurt, beans and berries

Reads: William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, AF Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful

Drinks: Barley beer unique to Sikkim in North – East India

Loves: Having piping hot ‘chai’ tea at villages along Indian roads

Dreams: To make villages self-sufficient

Superpower: Crayons! Go figure!

Once upon a time: He suffered through the pains of studying Engineering and oh wait, a Masters of Business Administration too!

Believes in: Ethical living

Bucket list: Arunachal Pradesh in North East India, Bolivia and wait for it… Turkmenistan

Tips: Play by the rules

Ask me about: India and South East Asia bike tour expert

Contact: pankaj(at)artofbicycletrips(dot)com

Find me on: Twitter | Facebook

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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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Sands of Time: Cycle Touring Rajasthan

ABT Trip Leaders Poonacha and Kamalpreet cycled 700 kilometers in 6 days across Rajasthan in 2014-15. From the beautiful valleys of Aravallis in Udaipur to the sand dunes of the Thar Desert in Osian, it was a journey in which new landscapes unfolded each day like layers of a rich, complex story. Avoiding major highways and travelling only along little known back roads, they encountered facets of Rajasthan that only a bicycle journey can reveal. The high point of the trip however was the little desert town of Osian.

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As you start riding from Jodhpur, the terrain is flat. The roads are excellent though, the kind of surface you want to let rip on, burn some rubber, push down hard on those pedals. You can see the countryside getting drier as you move on. The Bluebull or the Neelgai is a common sighting in these parts. Considered the largest member of the antelope family, the male has a slightly bluish tint to its body and hence the name. The female is brown in color and resembles a cow more than an antelope. Blackbucks are not uncommon either. And if you’re lucky, you just might spot a Chinkara, also called the Indian gazelle. Extremely shy and hard to spot, the Chinkara is easily the most graceful of the antelopes. Seen here below is a female Asian Antelope a.k.a. Nilgai i.e., Blue Bull.

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Osian is 70kms North West of Jodhpur. While Jodhpur city sits on the edge of the Thar desert, Osian is where the Thar proper begins. Approaching from the east, Osian is where a traveler would get a first view of the sand dunes characteristic of the Thar desert.

Osian is a sleepy little hamlet lost in the Thar desert.The sort of town you’d see in a Clint Eastwood movie or a Spaghetti Western, a town where nothing ever happens, until a mysterious man with a haunted past walks in one day with a gun slung over his shoulder. But this nondescript place hides the rich history of this ancient town. Like the anecdotal mystery man, Osian has it’s own past, at once both beautiful and terrible. It is a place with more history packed into its few square miles than many nations in the modern world!

Osian derives its name from the Oswal clan, believed to be Hindu Rajputs who converted to Jainism. Like the Oswals, Osian is a syncretic blend of Hinduism and Jainism with both communities worshiping freely at each others’ temples.

'Osiya temple and Architecture' by Schwiki via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0

‘Osiya temple and Architecture’ by Schwiki via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0

 

Two beautiful temples –the Sachiya Mata temple and the Jain temple have collectively earned it the moniker of Khajuraho temple. While the Jain temple dates back to 783 A.D, the Sachiya Mata temple is said to have been built in 10th century AD. The town itself – like so many other places located in the Thar desert – was an important centre of trade and commerce in the ancient and early medieval periods. However repeated invasions left it impoverished and its once flourishing population eventually abandoned it.

Osian is believed to be the result of a flowering of art and architecture under the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty. With their capital at Mandore near Jodhpur, the Gurjara Pratihara kings – the predecessors of the Rajputs – built up a large empire between 700-1000 AD that not just successfully resisted repeated Arab invasions from the West but even took the fight to the enemy’s doorstep, eventually routing the Arabs completely from the Western flank of the Indian sub continent.

With their dominions extending from Sindh in the west to Bengal in the east, the Gurjara-Pratihara kings became great patrons of art and under them Indic culture flourished and found expression in beautiful works of art, like the temples at Osian. Turkic and Mongol invasions eventually broke the Gurjara Pratihara empire up and with them the sun went down upon the glory days of Osian as well. No longer did Camel caravans, miles long, laden with the most exotic silks and spices traverse the desert. Today Osian is a blink-and-you-miss-it town on the way to Jaisalmer/Bikaner from Jodhpur. Cyclists are some of the few who have the time stop and listen to its whispers. And if you listen hard enough, sometimes you can hear, carried on the desert sands, stories of travelers and caravans and places far away.

Contact us today to start planning your next adventure in Rajasthan or browse our Colorful Rajasthan Bike Tour itinerary to get some inspiration.

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