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.”