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!
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!
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.
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.
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: ॐ
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 namedObavva 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.
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.
On a trip of a life time, the pictures you capture, the memories you take back home, are all special because each memory is linked to the people who were with you at the time. People are the soul of the Kerala cycling tours that are offered by Art of Bicycle Trips and there is no doubt that by cycling instead you can easily connect with the locals and their way of life at home.
What stands out for me personally is that the people we meet on the road are simple, warm and incredible! They are always happy to share their stories and will greet you with a smile even if they are busy, working hard.
Meet the people who make our Kerala cycling tours picture perfect
Seen here, a fisherman paddling his canoe in the backwaters of Kerala. He was gliding along purposefully to reach his destination quickly. With numerous waterways connecting many island villages, a canoe is common mode of transport here in the backwaters of Kerala.
The women seen above, wearing colourful sarees, carrying religious yellow-white flags and decorated parasols, were all lined up for a procession as part Christian church festival in Kuttanad, Kerala.
This enthusiastic group of school kids posed saying “Yo!” to one group of American cyclists as we cycled through a village on the second day of their Kerala cycling tour.
Plenty of women work in the tea plantations of Kerala but this lady here was especially happy as she smiled for our cameras as we made our way to Munnar Top station during one of our Kerala cycling tours. Its not unusual for women here to stand and work in the outdoors for 8-12 hours a day as they move across hillsides cutting tea leaves with shears and collecting them in the baskets that are also supported with their heads. Cycling Kerala is a breeze compared to that!
Girls taking a canoe transfer; they were happy and laughing out loud as they saw us. Those who live in the backwater regions in Kerala, use a canoe to go to work, to school, to grocery store and even to meet you friends the next door. Life here thrives along the water channels.
A lady washing clothes in a Hindu temple pond. One would surely appreciate modern washing machines a lot more after watching someone wash clothes manually like this.
Hello Kids! These lovely little girls are wearing little ear-rings and their eyebrows are beautifully done with ‘kohl’ a.k.a ‘kajal’ in India. Mothers in India draw black dots on forehead, chin, cheek, hands or feet of their young ones to protect them from the evil eye.
A coconut tree climber is seen cycling to work here in Kerala. Take that, all of you people who do not cycle to work because you have things to carry! Here, this expert cyclist is riding his bicycle with a bamboo ladder on his shoulders. Have you seen a balancing act like this in traffic elsewhere? Have you?
A lady walking up the hill with a bag full of tea leaves on her head. Life in the countryside still involves plenty of long arduous hikes yet, this lady was happy to meet us and have a quick chat as we passed through tea plantations on one of our Kerala cycling tours.
Men drying coconuts under the sun. The dried coconut flesh is then taken to mills for extracting coconut oil. Coconut oil is an absolute essential in Kerala. It is used in food preparation, therapeutic ayurvedic massages and is even considered to have healing properties. Keralan ladies swear by coconut oil for their long, thick, black tresses.
This lady here is a fisher-woman who sells freshly caught fish in the villages near the coast. Here she is returning after her morning rounds with the aluminium vessel, that is used to carry fish, on her head.
Fisherman are seen visually inspecting and separating sardines here in this candid shot. Some fisherman who cannot afford to buy a boat improvise and venture out into sea on little more than Styrofoam boards that are held together with plastic sheets. On a good day, they might haul in large catches while at other times, they may not be so lucky. The realities of life here.
Coir rope making is a part time job for many women in the backwater villages. Sheela here is showing us the traditional way of coir rope making using her hands. Nowadays, coir ropes are spun using mini motors too. The fibres extracted from of the husks of coconuts are available in abundance and this is the raw material for coir ropes. In this image, one can also see bundles of rope that have been made by Sheela in the background here.
This friendly old woman was happy to shows us a door mat that is woven with a loom that uses coir ropes.
Here the lady is shaving coconut leaves using a knife to take the stalks out. When she will have enough stalks ready, she will make a bundle and tie it at one end to make a hardy broom. With coconut trees aplenty here, people have found innumerable ways to use the materials provided by this ‘life-giving tree.’
A boatman steering a houseboat through the Vembanad lake in Alleppey – As captured by one of our guests during their Kerala cycling tour.
If you wish to go a cycling tour in India or Southeast Asia and meet and interact with locals along the way, then you are in the right place. Please have a look at the cycling tours offered by Art of Bicycle Trips and feel free to write to us classic at artofbicycletrips dot com so that we can get your dream holiday going.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
“Ayubowan Sri Lanka! May you live long so that many more cyclists can explore, indulge and appreciate just how serene and beautiful you are.”
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
A simple Indian lunch served on an island in the backwaters during a Kerala cycling tour
6. Supporting the local traders
Whether it is Sheela-Chechi who cooks and serves delicious lunch at the backwater island; Vinoth-ettan, the fisherman, who takes us on a canoe ride; Sajeeb, the tuk-tuk driver who assists our cycling trips; Kunjappan-chettan a traditional boat-maker; all these local men and women are an integral part of our cycling holidays and we are always amazed by their knowledge, their kindness and their warm hospitality and are very grateful for their service.
Your cycling holiday can impact many lives here & we try and involve the locals in tours often.
At 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sikkim – The mountain kingdom. The Land of the mighty Kangchendzonga.
Tucked away in a corner of India on the borders of Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal, this is a gateway to the Himalayas.
Here the birdsongs begin much before dawn and go on until after dusk frenetically, in contrast to the sense of timelessness that emanates in these mountains.
When the mountains call, you drop everything and go. I did just that recently and here are my notes from the road from the Art of Bicycle Trips mission to Bike Sikkim – from Gangtok to Darjeeling – over the course of ten days with ten impressive women.
On arrival at Bagdogra, the greenery of the plains that surrounds is striking. We were getting tantalisingly close to some of the world’s tallest mountain peaks and the air was charged with energy and anticipation. The drive to Gangtok took us from the plains through to the hills where the valleys towered all around as the River Teesta snaked its way through. The jade of the forests and the emeralds of the waters enroute were mesmerising.
Soon enough, we were in Gangtok, walking on the highway to Tibet, under the cool shade of the poplars and oaks. Shortly after, we got on our Giant mountain bikes and went riding around Gangtok. The traffic was concentrated around the town’s main thoroughfares. The roads were an assortment of inclines; switchbacks started making their appearances right from the start.
The mountainous terrain brought with it dramatic weather – as always, and the peaks were truant at first – they remained hidden under a veil of mist initially. Then, slowly, as we went about organising the final details for this epic cycling trip of Sikkim, we were treated to majestic views of Mt. Siniolchu and Mt. Kangchendzonga. Breathtaking!
There is nothing that compares to cycling along on a seldom used forest road, only to be greeted, out of the blue, by the tranquil melancholy of these magnificent Himalayan peaks. The people of Sikkim consider Kangchendzonga as a guardian deity. The mountain provides everything they need and is worshipped – in line with their ancestral belief that all of nature is holy.
In Gangtok, the Enchey Monastery, the Do-Drul Chorten, the Institute of Tibetology and Directorate of Handicrafts and Handloom are well worth a visit. Having biked to Enchey Gompa, Ganesh Tok and Hanuman Tok, we left from Gangtok to Rumtek satisfied in the knowledge that we had conquered Gangtok’s highest point by bike. The ride was on!
The route from Gangtok to Rumtek is all downhill with potholes more apparent than the road in several places. The landscape slowly transformed from that of the hustle and bustle of Gangtok to that of evergreen forests studded with gushing streams interspersed along which where splendid terraces of paddy fields – vivid in both appearance and hue.
Prayers flags fluttered in the breeze as we cycled on to the hotel where we our friendly hosts greeted us on arrival with glasses of delicious ‘lassi’ i.e., sweet yoghurt smoothies. The best day of riding so far!
At Rumtek, a visit to the Rumtek Monastery is highly recommended. The colourful prayer flags contrast the backdrop of the hills splendidly here.
The next morning, clear skies greeted us with the season’s first snow on the mountain peaks in front of us. Pumped, we set out early on towards Temi Tea Gardens. It was smooth going on the roads in this section and the downhill that followed was speedy and exhilarating.
We had the first flat tyre of the trip here in this section of the ride. It was patched up real quick as everyone took the opportunity to click away and before we knew it, we were on the uphill to Tarku.
Almost everyone’s’ appetite for riding was fully satiated by the time we stopped for lunch at Tarku. Three ladies from the group however were ready for more. So with them free-wheeling it up behind us from Tarku to Temi, we went on to visit the organic Temi Tea Garden.
Shortly after the end of our tour at the tea plantation, the three remaining ladies accomplished their Peak to Peak ride having ridden all the way from their hotel at Rumtek to the hotel at Temi. The best day of riding, again!
We got another early start to ride from Temi to Yuksom. With the lower part of the valley now far below us, we were surrounded by endless slopes of the tea gardens. The carpet of tea soon gave way to tropical and then alpine forests. The roads were woven through it all with vertical mountain faces hanging over us and dropping off below us at some points.
As we pedalled through, clouds rolled in around us over the peaks and valleys, parting time and again as the sun burned through the haze of morning. The route repeatedly climbed gently uphill after which it dipped nicely taking us through the lush countryside almost as if it were a joyride.
Rain almost spoiled the whole show but it cleared up quickly and we got back on our bikes to zoom through quaint little towns where the children and the adults stopped to smile, shout even, and wave goodbye. The going got serious as we started the climb to Tashiding, the steep inclines challenging even the best. The best day of riding, yet again!
After a well-earned snack break, we visited the Tashiding monastery before driving over to our hotel at Yuksom. The next day being a rest day, we went out for a walk around Yuksom, up to Dubdi Monastery and also to the Coronation Throne and the Bazaar street before calling it a day and kicking back with some beers.
Not riding all day felt strange however and the next day we were all itching to go. With another early start we bid goodbye to Yuksom and headed on to Pelling wondering what lay in store for us there. Mt. Kabru gave us a glorious farewell although the other mountain peaks were hidden behind the clouds. The peaks made show-stopping appearances as we started gaining speed and heading downhill. The roads stretched on endlessly below our feet.
The mountain sides gave way to rivers and waterfalls that poured down from the higher slopes along the way. Those heading from Yuksom to Pelling should keep an eye out for Kangchendzonga Falls, it is an absolute treat.
The valleys gradually opened up as we cycled through on smooth terrain. As we approached Pelling it looked as if we had left the mountains behind. We finished our ride at the hotel and went on to visit Pemayangtse Monastery and Rabdentse Ruins, both of which are worth visiting if you happen to visit.
The next morning Mt. Kangchendzonga stood right ahead as we prepared for the final ride to Jorethang feeling incredulous that the mountain had been there all along and we had not been able to see any of it earlier due to the clouds.
Kangchendzonga – The World’s third highest mountain at 8,586 m/28,169 ft.
Kangchendzonga – The hidden land – From the snows of which the first(Lepcha) man and woman of Sikkim are believed to have been created.
In this ‘happy homeland’ in ‘Sikkim’ where snow leopards and even yetis are said to roam, we were happy and content just to be biking for days on end in great weather conditions on country roads.
The anticipation, the excitement, the effort, the camaraderie, the sense of accomplishment during and after such a mission is unparalleled and one can only hope that there’s more of this in store for us in the future.
There are plenty of reasons why going on a cycling tour is a great idea. Here’s a look at the reasons why you should do one of our bike tours – as described by participants from past multi-day cycling tours organized by Art of Bicycle Trips. You can also find more reviews for Art of Bicycle Trips on the ‘Reviews’ page of our website.
“We feel we have just experienced the trip of a lifetime! Thank you so much for graciously sharing Kerala with us.
You(Dibin*) are a great ambassador for this beautiful spot on our planet. We so appreciated your attention to details, your organization and focus on safety.
We return home with full hearts and many very special memories.
Wishing you all the best for continued success, happiness and health.” Nancy and Richard, Classic Kerala – 16th to 26th August 2015
This has been an absolutely perfect trip. I have so enjoyed every part of it, the riding of course, the camaraderie, learning about India, Indian culture, Kerala, tasting a toddy!
I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your kindness and patience. You are a great tour leader. I appreciate you good humor and openness to all our questions. I truly enjoyed getting to know you a little.
You have a wonderful, beautiful world here and it is a joy to find someone who has sought out what he wants and is happy. You did a great job with putting together the group of guys. A smile comes to my face when I think of you all.
I do hope our paths cross again sometime. I hope this is the first of many trips to India for me..” Gina, Classic Kerala – 18th to 28th January 2015
“Thank you for the wonderful trip!” David and Susan, Classic Kerala – 11th to 21st January 2015
“Art of Bicycle Trips,
All in all we feel we had a fantastic trip. Cycling is a superior way to experience Kerala!
Our guides as well as our driver were terrific. Very accommodating and informative. Well done!!
There were several highlights but outstanding for us was the Kerala backwaters on Day 2 and the houseboat on Day 8.” Joe and Shelley, Classic Kerala – November 2013
Great tour, all round. Very good mix of cycling and sightseeing/activities.
Early morning start to cycle while cool
Finish cycle early; so can relax in hot time of day and then do other activity late afternoon
Try to keep max. gradient to say 10%
Driver – Excellent
Guide – Very good knowledge + explanation
Leader – Great all round”
“Dibin is an excellent guide – thoughtfully assessed how we rode and amended the program to suit. We like the mix of cycling & site seeing, riding 55 km then relaxing on a boat.
The day we rode along the coast from Fort Cochin then stopped at the boat building yard, fish auction then took a canoe for lunch was excellent. The SGH Earth Hotel were all excellent. A great trip all round.”
– Lindsey Bruce & Lindsey, Classic Kerala November 2013
“Dear Dibin, Ramzan + Biju,
Thank you so much for everything! I have had such a brilliant time over the past week and now love cycling! Thank you for putting up with us(sorry we weren’t waiting outside the hotel at 6 a.m 🙂 )
Thanks again for showing me how beautiful Kerala is – I really hope to come back one day.
Thanks so so much for such an amazing experience and being such a fantastic team, you helped me a lot. I know I found it difficult at first but have had a great week and don’t find the uphills as hard any more! 🙂
I also have seen such a beautiful side of Kerala with great people! Thanks Dibin for telling us so much about Kerala and being such a wonderful guide. Hope to come back one day.
Thank you so much for an excellent trip. Sorry I occasionally had to walk uphill but I am very old we all very much enjoyed your calm command of the trip and for giving such insights into India.
Thanks so much for a fantastic experience, I had so much fun, even on the uphill! You were all so helpful and helped to make it so great.
Many many thanks for your good humour and patience. It was a memorable trip for all of us and we all appreciated so much your efforts. Kerala is such a special place and we hope to return again one day.”
With best wishes,
Suzanne Suzanne and family, Classic Kerala – 22nd to 31st December 2013
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Don’t forget to pay your respects to the holy cows of India – Indian cows love posing for pictures
As folks in Europe and US gear up for summer, here in southern part of India, I am enjoying the cooling effect of pre-monsoon showers.
Don’t get me wrong, I love summer in India. The delicious variety of fruits(mangoes, jackfruits, grapes, watermelons, lychees, guavas, casaba melons, cantaloupes), fresh fruit juices, ice-creams and milkshakes; the visits to the pool and the dips in streams on treks, the longer drives to the cooler hill stations and the sunnier beaches; the walks in T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops under endless blue skies, what’s not to love! I almost don’t want summer to end!
Yet, the monsoons are awaited here restlessly as summer passes by slowly, for the rain clouds bring breezes that soothe. And as we cycle along into the rains, that earthy aroma that rises up into the air as the first drops of water hit dry earth is pure and magical.
The monsoons rejuvenate parched forests, paddy fields, sugar cane farms, fruit orchards and tea, coffee and spice plantations and turn dry, monochromatic terrain into a vivid, lush, dense landscape full of vitality and life.
‘Clouds break over forested hills’ by Samyak Kaninde via SamyakKaninde.com
The ponds, backwaters, rivers and waterfalls surge and roar through the jungles, where old makes way for new. Some of the animals and birds take cover in their nests, while others shake the water off their fur, dance and dive right into the thick of it all, relishing the sheer joy of the monsoons.
Here in India, at Art of Bicycle Trips, we await the rains every June because –
We can soon head out on longer bike rides and just cycle without worrying about the heat draining us.
Deserted lanes by Anurag Agnihotri via Flickr
The joy of riding along roads that have been hastily abandoned by motorists hiding from the rain is unmatched.
Double Ride on a Bicycle by Palachandra M via Flickr
The rivers that feed the waterfalls are at their best during the monsoons and you will get to play tag with the sun, the clouds, rain, fog and mist play as you cycle through the heart of India when most other people stay indoors.
Hills in the Clouds by Abhinav Singhai via Flickr
The operators that support your journey along the route have fewer customers to deal with, giving you a much better opportunity to actually get to know the locals and their way of life.
Along the coastline, the seas wash away all the trappings of seasons past and leaving behind only a few people as you cycle along endless ribbons of beaches.
Higher up in the mountains, the mountain passes are finally open again and the crisp blue skies, snowcapped mountains and alpine lakes beg us to explore the expansive vistas in the Indian Himalayas at leisure.
Magical Ladakh by Art of Bicycle Trips via Flickr
The innumerable shades of green in the forested mountains, fields and farms that stretch around you, will nourish not just your eyes, but also your mind and your soul.
Mountains of Mangaon Bloom by Neelima Vallangi via TravelwithNeelima.com
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
What exactly is a cycle tour with Art of Bicycle Trips like?
On November 6th, Art of Bicycle Trips conducted a demo tour for the H.O.D’s of Marar Beach Resort. The tour, also offered by Art of Bicycle Trips, Kochi under the name ‘Passage to India’ is a half day program that includes Cycling, Canoeing and a Village walk.
When you first register for a tour with ABT , you are given a location to report to at the designated time. As refreshments are provided for by ABT, you are not required to carry anything with you, unless you are particularly inclined to do so. If you are ready to cycle and are dressed practically, you are ready to go.
Before the ride, you are provided a few basic instructions on handling the bike and riding on the roads. In a country where traffic can be categorically chaotic, safety is paramount. The ride began at 7:30 a.m, starting at the Marar Beach Resort.
The cycling route covered a distance of 24.8 km; a figure that initially seemed ‘daunting’ for our riders, as they were not folks who cycled regulary. We took a left right out the gate and headed up the ‘beach road’ to Andhkarnazhy Beach, 8 kms away. The first few minutes, was arguably, the most strenuous part of the journey, as the riders were only getting used to the bikes and establishing their pace. Less than a kilometer into it, we had formed a steady single file, moving at a comfortable pace.
Morning on the beach road was comparatively calm, relative to the city. The warmth of the sun was far from intense and while the beach wasn’t always in direct view, owing to the clustered countryside houses between the road and the open water, the western sea breeze was constant.
By the time we took our first 5 minute break, 10 kms in, the riders had all gotten well into the spirit of the ride and were ready for more. As they took nibbles off fruit and chatted away, the energy about them was clear – they were appreciating the change of environment from their usual air conditioned hotel lobbies and offices.
The remaining stretch of 15 kms was completed with no breaks being required by any of the riders. We traveled east, away from the sea and crossed the national highway to reach Vayalar for a taste of the backwater life.
The riders were received with great fanfare at Vayalar. After a quick dose of coconut water (served with lotus stems for straws) to refresh those electrolytes and cool ourselves from the rays of the sun, which had now grown positively warm, it was onto the canoe and into the backwaters.
The canoe, took us to a backwater village where we were given a chance to observe the local people at their work. Most of these jobs have been traditionally passed down from generation to generation and they all involve working with indigenous natural resources.
The village walk took us to a toddy shop where we enjoyed some well appreciated rest and were served a lunch made with the local produce. On the way back, we were canoed over to a breezy island pit stop, for coffee, and then we took everyone back to the resort in the support vehicle after a day well spent.
Wake up at 6 a.m, brush your teeth, comb your hair. Endure a breakfast at 7.30 a.m, enjoy a chai(tea) at 10.30 a.m, look forward to lunch at 2 p.m and finally look ahead to sundown when you can be back home to loosen your tie and take off those biting shoes. The numbers give us some security in their predictability, cutting up the day into safely manageable chunks of time to measure productivity by; but what do they mean outside of roofed four corner walls?
When the weekends came, even though a part of me would have been content to stay indoors, whiling away the hours of the day in repose and matching those comforting numbers we assign them to television schedules, I would get on my bike and head out into the country. My initial outings taught me more don’ts than do’s – don’t underestimate traffic, don’t forget to bring water, and don’t expect the sun to voluntarily show mercy. But these restrictive lessons didn’t stop a few ‘do’s’ from making themselves apparent – do travel as far as you can, do not overlook the usefulness of google maps combined with a simple distance calculator and then, almost obviously, do be prepared for the occasional flat tire. Like any other exercise, or rather, more fittingly, like some mind altering substance, the more you cycled, the more you wanted to.
Eventually, the 2 days of my weekend was steadily reduced to a 30 hour window of opportunity. The town petered out into suburbs and paddy fields, then villages and further on, low hills and the hours of the day meant something different in all of these places. Where the fields would only acknowledge the advent of the sun in sleepy hesitation, the woods turned alive at the crack of dawn, with the songs of a hundred birds celebrating a new day. the chai shops would be filled at first light, it walls all supporting clumps of agricultural tools. This was the time when the day was made, its rhythm set – like the all important coin toss before a cricket match or that broad first stroke of color splayed across a white canvas. The saying, “You’ll have to get up earlier in the morning…”, now made perfect sense.
As the day went on and the sun trudged on to the western extreme of the sky, it’s light, shining through all the filters across its journey of a million miles, turned gold from white, and then red and pink and blue. I was there when that soft light, calmed of its midday heat, played upon the expansive fields of grass swaying under the gentle hand of the cool east wind. That was 6.04 p.m – the only 6.04 p.m there was in the day and I was lucky to have spent it there. Later on, I’d tuck in for the usual 8 hours of the dreamless with an aching back and tired legs. There’d be no medal to show for it, just a peaceful appreciation – a change of perspective.
Northern Kerala was always a place in my wishlist to visit and when I heard about the cycling event ‘Three States One Brevet’ , I never had to give it a second thought.
I started one day ahead from Kochi, along with other participants, to reach Vythiri in Wayanad district, which was the starting point for 200km/300km Brevet ride . The bikes were loaded up in the tempo traveller and we were off to Vythiri. We reached Vythiri by evening. At around 7:30pm, we had the Brevet briefing and other formalities being done.
Cycling events like brevet is also a good time to catch up with rider friend’s who may not be in touch for sometime. This time it was Dr.Nuveen, whom I met after quite a while. Dr. Nuveen is one of active bikers from Thrissur area in Kerala and I used to do morning group bike ride with him and other bikers, in the country sides of Thrissur. We had dinner together with Balu, a biker friend I made during this Brevet. It was 11:30pm and I was off to the bed, with alarm set for 4:00am.
I woke to a cool Vythiri morning with sun yet to rise. Had a Kerala plantain or “ethakka” (in malayalam), as the pre-ride food. I hope to last on this one plantain for another hour and a half of biking.
Soon the flag was off and Wayanad brevet had rolled out, with dozens of bikes coupled with its shimmering bike lights. It was very early in the morning and still dark. My front light was not powerful enough to see the road, at the speed I was biking. I didn’t want to slow down and so was riding alongside a rodie, with nice bright front light. He was showing me the way and I was pacing with him. Thanks to this unknown guy who showed me the way for a while.
It was dawn. The sights and scenaries of beautiful Wayanad were slowing unfolding with beautiful plantiontations of coffee, tea and many more. It was a pretty place to ride with very less traffic and well paved roads, most of the time. I crossed Tamilnadu border and reached Gudalur which had an unmanned checkpoint. Took out an ATM slip as instructed by the Brevet officials, for the proof of passing through Gudalur. Had some guavas and bananas and I started climbing the hills again. There was no mercy from the beginning of this brevet ride and we were climbing almost all the time.
I had lost contact with Balu in between and now I was riding solo from Gudalur. It was the best cycling stretch for me in the Brevet, starting from Gudalur towards Devarshola. For sometime now, there was a continuous tapping sound from my rear tire, but I didn’t care much. Soon I saw that my rear tire was slowly cracking up, with a deep cut on it. I stopped and released bit of air, so as to slow down the tearing down process of the tire. I was able to ride for a while, soon to hear the blasting sound of the tube. Alright, now that’s the end of my 200km Brevet ride, I thought. It was only 55km and my tire was torn badly, with no tire bot with me.
I rested under a tree for some time and thought about how to ride from there. Although the tree was not a Bodhi tree and I was not the enlightened one, an idea popped up in my head, to create a temporary tire bot with puncture patch sheet I had with me. I cut the sheet into small rectangular patches and placed it under the tire, where it was cut. Took the spare tube I had and placed it inside the tire to inflate it to a level until the patches won’t pop out through the cut in the tire. In between, Balu joined me, to help fix the problem and left only after making sure that I could ride.
I started riding once again with minimal pressure in the rear tire. Had my objectives reanalyzed now; the game was to just finish the 200km cycling. If I finish it within the time-limit of 13.5hours, it will be a bonus. I kept riding, taking weight off the saddle most of the time, so as to put less pressure on the broken tire.
At the second check point, I was told that I had just enough time to cross the forthcoming one. I rode from there with a good pace to reach the next checkpoint just within time. It was a ferry crossing from there, across the river ‘Kabini’,with us and our bikes in canoe. Once we crossed the river, voila, I was in Karnataka and could hear people speaking in Kannada.
Rest of the ride was through a reserve forest with lot of teak wood. Pacing up to reach the Kabini checkpoint, had made me tired and with the low pressure in the rear tire, things were supposedly getting tough on my legs. I took a break, pushed the bike for a while. It was getting dark and I was riding solo. My front light was not good enough for the ride in the dark. I kept on riding plus pushing the bike at times. Only thing that helped me to navigate was the intermittent white markings on the road. I kept on pushing myself and at 7:39pm I saw the finish line. I knew I was late by almost 9 minutes, but was really happy that I could finish the brevet.
Things I learned from this Brevet:
Have powerful front lights on the bike.
Check the tire for signs of wear and tear before setting off.
Carry a tire bot.
Having done brevets previously, this one left me with sweet memories of riding through one of the most beautiful part of Kerala and fulfilling my wish to ride through Wayanad.
All praise to the organizers ‘Cochin bikers club’ and ‘Happy bikers’ for conducting the ‘Wayanad- Three States One Brevet’. We at Art of Bicycle Trips were proud to support this Brevet as one of the official sponsors and help to continue to help more cyclists get out and about here in India.
With years of bike touring experience behind us in India, we thought it’s a good time to document some of the best cycling routes in India. This list also takes input from cyclists and cycle tourists who we have met along numerous journeys undertaken. The routes selected here are based on the following parameters:
Safety & security
India is vast and we still have a lot to cover and therefore, it’s possible that we have missed on some routes. We intend to keep updating this list as we discover more routes.
1. Gangtok (Sikkim) to Darjeeling
This route can be dubbed as a roller coaster ride. You get to ride through some amazing chain of mountains and witness the life around them. Monks, monasteries, children, lakes, rivers are some of the impressions of the ride.
Best Time to Cycle: March, April and October, November
2. Leh – Tsomoriri – Tanglang La – Leh
If you intend to witness wildlife and cross some high passes then this is the route for you. Buddhist monks and manasteries gives a depth to the tour. You get to see some amazing wildlife at Tsomoriri lake and ride through breathtaking scenery.
Best Time to Cycle: June to September.
3. Jodhpur to Udaipur
Here you get to experience the contrast between royal richness and royal poorness. The contrast is evident as you make your way from Jodhpur to Udaipur through small villages, big palaces, massive Forts and beautiful temples. The route has it’s fair share of wildlife. You get to see wild boar, deer, black buck, Asian antelope.
Best Time to Cycle: October to March
4. Kerala (Kochi – Munnar – Periyar – Kumarakom – Kochi)
Beautiful scenery is predominant in this route. Be it seaside of Fort Kochi, tea plantations of Munnar, elephants of Periyar and backwaters of Kumarakom – the beauty is abundant all around.
Best Time to Cycle: September to March
5. Bombay to Goa via Konkan Coastline
Ride along the beautiful Konkani coastline and savour some amazing Konkani food. The ride is undulating and passes through beautiful seaside scenery and ferry routes.
With it’s diverse culture, geography, religion and architecture India offers a challenging environment for tourists. Every state here is more like a country and unravelling this presents numerous challenges. Since the birth of tourism industry, India has always attracted all kind of travellers viz. spiritual, knowledge based, adventure, leisure etc. The one thing which is common among all travellers is that they all are here for local stories and anticipate a journey of lifetime. This imposes big questions – Is there an alternative way to experience such diverse India and provide a meaningful and memorable journey for travellers? Is there a better way to travel and unravel this country slowly? Is there a way to spend time with local people and listen to their stories? The questions could be many but all answers leads to only one alternative and that is your bike!
Cycling tour is one of the best way to experience this vast country. It presents numerous opportunities compared to other modes of travel. As you take the bike and traverse the countryside roads, you get to ride past small rural hamlets, temples and people. You get to stop by along the way or take some small offbeat routes. As 70% of India lives in villages, your bike presents an excellent way to experience the village life from close quarters and start a conversation. The kids here rush behind to greet you. You will be quite astonished to see that how hospitable the villagers are towards travelers. In Rajasthan, there have been an age old custom as per which villagers are supposed to build a platform (for sleeping) outside of house so that local travelers have comfortable stay and the hosts don’t have to worry about saying ‘no’ to the guest on the precursor of providing a bed inside the house for sleep.
Slow travel by your bike gives you a wonderful window to see the lives of people along the way. It also helps to organize your thoughts as you slowly pedal your way through the mountains and lakes. Knowing a right bike route is very important here. This is where an exhaustive research before traveling comes very handy. There is no cycling guide on India which is available now and as India is so big, knowing right cycling routes provide a big challenge without the availability of convincing source. Here the experience of bike tour operator and an organized bike tour comes very handy and helps in several ways.
Meeting local people along the way and listening to their stories gives a whole new perspective of looking at India. These stories could come from a farmer, priest, teacher, housewives, postman etc. that you meet along the way. Moreover, on a bike you are not watching the scenery, you are a part of the scenery and that adds to the contours of the same. The smell, sound and all other senses become alive and receptive to the surrounding environment. And in the end, you just don’t travel but you travel like a local and perceive things from a local point of view.
So, take a cycling tour and experience India like a local.
I held a snapshot of Kerala in the month of November last year. It started in Munnar where the air was suspended with chill, and I spent my day walking around the town and hiking up the tea hills. My friend Pankaj and his tour guests, BJ and David arrived that evening, cycling their way from Cochin.
The next day, we started rolling down the curvy roads of Munnar when the morning sun was relentlessly intense, as were the drivers on the road – honking to remind me of the slack that I was leaving behind with each push of the peddle. A decision had to be made and I told my friend I would take my time and understand the bicycle, the twitching of the gears and its effect on forward movement. As planned, I reached the tea museum alright to join the rest of my bicycle-mates. When we started cycling again after spending time at the museum, I was relaxed but didn’t anticipate the journey of 25 kilometers to Chinnakanal to take as long as it did.
The route was scenic as if adorned to charm the tourists passing through them. The locals were in the early stages of familiarizing themselves with these leisure cyclists in specialized gear (not mine though), traversing their everyday paths. I have a fond memory of being enveloped in a canopy of aged dark-green trees from this early ride. It felt intimate.
As we arrived in Chinnakanal, we learnt that a mild-mannered protest against a court order regarding the preservation of Western Ghats that broke-off the previous day had grown in size. Locals decided to get serious about the strike, leaving us with a completely empty day in Chinnakal. We however set out to cycle around in that unassumingly beautiful place. Starting at the head of a terraced hill, we wheeled down the road occasionally at speeds where we were risking it. Spinning around a faraway lake that seemed to be at the center and the road resembling a peel of orange layered in a conical shape. Some while later, we reached the waterfront where two buffaloes were grazing with abandon. Smooth was our time there, only to be shaken by the threat of a shower. When we decided to hike back on our bicycles, we asked around for the right way out from the tea workers who were not to have their day off from work even on a ‘bandh.’
The prevailing strike carried on to the next day leaving us with very little to do. Apart from switching our accommodation from a 3-star hotel to a home stay (less expensive and more comfortable even), we ambled around in the streets of the bandh-stricken town. I recollect I managed to go a little further into the book I was reading – Endless Love, by Ian McEwan – sitting in a café the name of which I don’t recollect. And then, BJ and David turned the table on us by hosting a dinner at a restaurant in Cardamom County. These two people drew me close to them as the conversation circled around all-too-familiar topics of family, friends, adventure, and holiday and more.
Ending our stupor in Thekkady, we geared ourselves for an intense day of cycling. I was dying to get into the cycling shorts that BJ generously gave me, after finding out about my cushion-less ride up the previous days. We filled our water bottles, squeezed into our pockets a little something to munch on. The road to Vagamon seemed as though it was particularly designed to challenge, engage and amuse in parts. Left far behind by the rest of them, I was briskly peddling on the flat roads that threw enough breeze on my face. There were the uphill stretches where I decidedly overcame the gradient without breathing through my mouth. So much poise I thought.
The words, ‘Jesus is coming. Are you ready?’ painted on a local church, went so many levels deep that it cracked me up and energized me for the rest of the time. Jesus, as you come, keep the weather as pleasant as it is now, roads as free as they can be, maybe even sprinkle few more people on the lonely roads. Amen. The thought of the end nearing on this continuum of a ride was a bit of a dimmer. We crashed out at a hotel in Vagamon waiting for tomorrow’s adventure.
Starting from the very top of the hills at Vagamon, it was down, down and down. A bit unnerving for me – I perpetually squeezed the breaks to remain in my orbit around the hill. And there we were, hitting the coast a little past noon. Over the course of the 4 to 5 days, I felt my endurance increase remarkably; I had a greater feel for the road and shed my clumsiness much to my own surprise. Where I was playing catch-up previously, this time I was ahead and waiting for the rest of them to join me.
The trip already felt full, but Pankaj caused a change of plans when he bargained for a good deal to spend the night in the houseboat along with BJ and David. Gliding on the backwaters of Vembanad Lake, beauty and magnificence were there for the asking. Schoolchildren boarding their boats to get home, boat stands instead of bus stands, few fishermen wading through, paddy fields, so green that it’s wild, sounds from the church. All of us silently agreed that words would pollute our shared space and time, and basked in the creation of our own collage of the scenes.
Time to hop out of the houseboat and start riding again. The last stretch of the ride to Kochi felt like a reward with flat roads sending ample breeze our way. Wind caressing every part of my body, my senses filled, I started to get an ominous feeling that this holiday had been too good to go on for even few more minutes. With the leaving of our bicycles at the Art of Bicycle shop-cum-garage, it did indeed end.
A vivid picture now comes to mind – a rush of red hibiscus occurring every now and then, marking my milestone as I went past. And just when the road had been let up by buses, cars, bikes, scooters, there was the whizzing sound of the four bicycles as if to say, ‘drink in this moment’.
After 5 months of intense city cycling on Bangalore’s urban roads, I’m more convinced than ever that even for a foreigner like me, there is absolutely no problem in commuting Bangalore by bike. Agreed, you have to know some small tricks to fully take advantage of the trip. Ok, here you go:
If you go to work by bike, take your time for the first few days and figure out the best streets to take. Big roads can be rather tiring (loud!) and are perhaps even not the quickest option.
A smart phone with GPS can help but not always. If you are cycling on big roads, no problem, you can trust the GPS. Small roads however, bring you often quicker and in a more relaxed way to your destination but regrettably you cannot rely on GPS for the small roads – at least not with my system. Anyway, try not to use GPS, you’ll understand the city much quicker and the estimation of time you need to go from A to B becomes natural.
You need good lights for the front and the back of the bicycle. Even if you feel incredibly cool when overtaking cars, auto-rickshaws and even buses by bike, you are still the weakest element in this organism named traffic.
Breaks have to be fixed regularly. In the daily competition of who-goes-first, your breaks serve you as kind of an insurance and decide if you dare or not taking “your space.”
For the monsoon season you need to have at least a good plastic bag in your backpack to protect your phone and other things that are sensitive to water. Once you are really really wet, take it easy: the shower at home will be even better.
Mainly potholes and buses! The first are much less of an issue if you know the way (hopefully you didn’t get to know them the painful way), the latter stay the Rambos of the Indian traffic. Anyway, you develop some kind of a prophecy-sense when it comes to overtake buses – or is it perhaps courage or simply madness…? Busses have the power on the road and they know it, so the only way to pass them, is to do that just before a stop or a street hump. Those street humps are really nice for bicyclers because every other vehicle has to slow down when they approach them, not cyclists.
Space management: Well, that can sometimes be a bit scary when you have for example 2 auto-rickshaws, 2 cars and your good self next to each other on a normal road and suddenly this scooty driver thinks there is still enough space for him and somehow squeezes himself through. No need to scream of anger, nobody will react despite of some large vicious smiles from your Indian street friends, saying: See, white fellow, not everybody is strong enough for the Indian roads. You don’t want to give anybody this satisfaction.
Important is not to do any abrupt movements to the left or to the right. Your move should be predictable by the drivers behind you. And when you are showing what you want, you get it.
But don’t be polite or anxious and look back before you change the side of the road. Make a sign with your hand and then move slowly but steadily from one side to the other. If you look back, people assume that you have seen them and that means you know what they want, hence they want to get first what they want before they let you change the side of the road. In short: looking back confuses everybody. Of course you should use your ears to estimate how near the nearest driver next to you is before changing directions. If I think of that, I’ve to add one small observation: Loud and deep honk-sounds correspond not necessarily to big vehicles. One may think that there is something like a market for bus or truck honks. Often you hear a typical honk of a bus but what comes along is just a little scooty. And sometimes it is also the other way around: surprise…!
Looking people into their eyes is equally confusing as looking back. Your regard gives people permission to go – your choice.
Feedback: Constant smiles, thumbs up and comments of Indians street fellows give you a damn good feeling that you are actually doing something right.
When you go out for a small evening drink or you find one of the rare places to dance in B’lore, take the bike! The way home will be great. After 11pm Bangalore’s streets are totally empty. You’ll actually see that it is still a very green city and you even smell the flowers of the trees, something what is of course impossible during the day.
For a short weekend outing, organise a van, a pickup or one of these mini-auto-rickshaw-pickups to get out of the city. Spend the day among rice paddles, tiny towns and relax. What better way is there to spend your Saturday or Sunday?
At first it sounded insane. On second thought it sounded more insane. Bicycle trip of 100 KM. Why would anyone do a trip on bicycle? Why would someone spend 8-10 hours when same can be traversed in couple of hours in a vehicle. I tried to look for logical reasons but couldn’t find any. But as I thought more about it my mind wandered beyond the art of reasoning and I realised its about the Art of Bicycling. For some, a bicycle is a utility and for others, a revelation of human potential and endurance. Or simply put – prioritization of pleasure and endurance over utility leading to beautiful touring experience.
Three riders set off from Bangalore to Bhimeshwari – A journey on a bicycle
We took Trek bikes on rent and set off on a beautiful journey of one long day to Cauvery fishing camp. The starting point was Bangalore. Morning was pleasant and excitement of trip added on to the morning luster. Natives looked at us with little bewilderment but appeared to be fascinated by our machines. It seemed to us that they all wanted to see the world from our vantage point and ride along with us. We carried on our beautiful machines and took our first break at Nice road which is around 25 km from our starting point. The beautiful rustic village was in sight and as we reached there the village boys gathered round the bikes. The machines appeared to them as whirligigs, a spinning toy. As we moved on they all started running behind us until they were all outran by us. As we passed villages on villages, some people called us ‘odd cattle’ to ‘bold rattle’ and few others called ‘mad envoy’, ‘wacky wheelers’. Some villagers looked at us with pleasant shock but it seemed as if all were able to comprehend what we were up to. It was just about getting on the road.
Over the hills and beyond,
Into the rising sun and lore,
Lean it, curve it,
Through the storm and woods and all,
It’s just about getting on the road,
As there is no reason and all,
Let’s just spin on and on,
And steer the beast’s rise and fall,
No matter what the world call us,
From odd cattle to bold rattle and all,
Here we go down the road and up the hill,
Pedaling into the wild and beyond,