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I was curious. I love startup stories and the inspiration behind it. I know Art of Bicycle Trips has been in existence since 2011 organising many cycling tours in Asia. So, it was but natural to probe Pankaj a bit and satiate my curious soul on how Art of Bicycle Trips actually began. What followed was a Q&A with Pankaj Mangal and rediscovering old images. Here is the excerpt.

 

Q. What was your aha moment that led to the beginning of ABT? And what followed next?

Around 10 years back, I went on a bicycle ride with a couple of friends from Bangalore to Kaveri Fishing Camp. I was more into motor biking but one of my friends who came from Sweden insisted we do a cycling trip. We zeroed down on Kaveri Fishing Camp and along the way we sat down under the statue of Mahatma Gandhi. I felt cycling was the only way to see the world. It slows you down and allows you to see the world at the right pace. You could stop and appreciate the surroundings, converse with the locals and take a detour. More than that it also brings alive your five senses. So, while sitting under the statue I realised there is something in this and that was my aha moment.

After the trip I came back to Bangalore and was still thinking about it. I researched cycling and how it could be combined with travelling. As a part of my research, I came across the concept “cycling holidays” which is well-known in European market. I went on researching for a while and finally when I felt ready, I decided to launch a cycling holiday in India.

Bicycle Trips in Asia

Q. What were the biggest challenges you faced on the ground? 

It was not easy to make people believe it was possible in India. Cycling was thought of as a utility in India and not something out of choice. Why ride a cycle when you can drive a car? Secondly people thought the whole of India is as chaotic as the cities and hence it is not safe to go on a cycling tour. However, we all know it’s quite safe to ride around the countryside. It is actually safer to ride a cycle than a motorbike in cities. So perhaps the biggest challenges have been those around mindsets.

Q. Was it easy to leave your well-defined career and become an entrepreneur?

I was not the sort of a guy who would confine from a nine to five pm job. Travelling was always my hobby. And I got into cycling . So it was easy to visualise this is the life I wanted to live for myself. Once I knew how clear my mind was to put myself into this unknown journey, it was quite a straightforward decision to leave the job and start this.

Cycling Tours in Asia

Q. Has the growth been organic? Though you operate in many countries you did n’t scale up through funding?

I completed my business studies and was paying my education loan, so I did n’t have any disposable income in my bank. Post my aha moment and research, I knew this was what I wanted to do. One fine day I just went and bought seven bikes through my credit card. After that things moved pretty well with cycling tours, and we grew the company organically. Apart from me buying the initial set of bikes, everything came through the business itself.

Initial number of years we were confined to India. We had by now built a strong customer base and through them we could now launch in other countries. The first country was Sri Lanka and then it followed with South East Asia. Our current cycling tours in Asia can be viewed here.

Q One of the biggest strengths of ABT I have seen is its community. It is rare to see such a strong base of folks who like organisation. Please tell us a bit more about it?

A strong community can only be built with time. I am a firm believer in that. It also teaches you a lot of things. You might have  competition coming your way, and they may do a lot of things. But fundamentally If you always have a good product it always sells by itself. Once that happens you will always get loyal customers no matter how big the competition is. They will always stay with you.

Cycling Tours in Asia

Q. Do you still remember your first customer? What was it like?

Yes, Indeed I do remember. The first customer we got was from a bike festival we organised in Bangalore. They were two friends. One of them was from Canada and the other person ’s name was Fenny. They took the Victorian Bangalore Safari. It was a three hour tour built around the heritage of the city.

What are the ingredients of a great cycling tour?

Excellent bikes, rolling terrain, during cycling breaks – tea or coffee with cake, No hurry to reach a destination. Cycling tours in Asia is also about meeting people along the way and get into casual conversations during tea breaks and learn more about their life.

Art of Bicycle Trips conducts Cycling tours in Asia. 

Vietnam ‘s landscape is sublime: The Red River Delta is in the north, the Mekong Delta is placed in the south, and there are brilliant green rice paddies in between the two. Long, sandy beaches grace the coastline, while inland there are these soaring mountains and lust forests. It is a country of traditional charm and rare beauty. There are whole lot of options to explore during a cycling tour in Vietnam. The people are friendly, hardworking and love their food. And in the last couple of decades Vietnam has opened up to the outside world making it an ideal destination for a bike holiday. Our definitive guide on cycling in Vietnam will offer you a snapshot on how to plan your cycling holidays and what to  expect in Vietnam.

For simplicity we have divided this cycling guide  into four sections

Cycling Tour in Vietnam 

SECTION I( KNOWING VIETNAM)

 

The Essential Bucket List( not to be missed)

Grabbing a bicycle and taking the ride of your life through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.

Taking a boat and floating along the Mekong.

Selecting an outfit from the latest fashion catalogues and having it tailor made in the delightful city of Hoi An.

Visit the 36 streets of the old quarter in Hanoi.

What you may find

Conical hats: Traffic: Silk Shops; Rice paddies: Buffalos: Landscapes:  Lot of two wheelers.

 Through the notes 

Some references that will help understand Vietnam better

  1. a)    Read- Writings by Vietnamese writer Bao Ninh.
  2. b)    Listen- to US based Khanh Ly, a contemporary pop music icon
  3. c)     Eat – the staple pho( noodle soup) or Ga Tan( stewed chicken with medicinal herbs,dates and grilled baguettes)
  4. d)   Watch – The Quiet American, based on Graham Greene ‘s 1954 novel and starring Michael Caine.
  5. e)   Drink- the cheap and widely available bia hoi( draught beer) , Ca phe( coffee) served with condensed milk.

No. of UNESCO World Heritage Sites sites in Vietnam: 8

Currency: Vietnamese Dong(VND)

1 USD is approx 23,000 VND

Both VND and USD can be used within the country. It is best to keep an option of both.

Time Zone: Time zone in Vietnam is GMT+7

ReligionVietnam is officially an atheist state. As per polls a majority of the population don’t believe in a God.  The others however practise Buddhism or are Christians.

Language: Vietnamese is the official language. A few helpful key words and phrases that may be helpful during your trip to Vietnam

English Vietnamese Pronunciation
hello xin chào sin chow
goodbye Tạm biệt tam bee it
how are you ? bạn khỏe không ban co kew khome
I want to go to tôi muốn đi đến toy mua dean
where is ở đâu ..uah dau?
left trái tchai
right đúng dung
go straight đi thẳng di tan
thank you cảm ơn bạn gahm un
excuse me xin lỗi seen loy

Cycling Tour in Vietnam

 

SECTION II (PLANNING YOUR BIKE TRIP)

 

Best Time to Visit 

From a cycling point of view, we can divide the country into four main sub-regions: Northern Mountains, North, Central & South Vietnam with distinct weather conditions. The Central and South Vietnam features Tropical climate.

Northern Mountains – Sapa, Ha Giang: best months for cycling in Northwest mountains are between Late August & Early December, and from Late February to May. It can get a bit cold in December & January with light showers.

North Vietnam – Hanoi & Halong Bay: has a distinct winter and summer season. The cool but mostly dry winter runs from November to April. May to October is a bit hot and humid and the region experiences its highest rainfall with July to September being the wettest. Oct to May is a good season to go here with coldest months being Dec-Jan.

Central Vietnam –  Hue to Nha Trang: features Tropical monsoon climate and is at its wettest from September to December. Traditionally this period sees monsoon rains and occasional typhoons which can cause flooding in the area. Whilst this is rarely of such a level as to seriously affect an itinerary, we do advise people travelling during this period that there may be last minute changes to itineraries to accommodate for the weather conditions. Good season runs from January to September for warm water beaches, with an average temperature of around 30°C.

South Vietnam –  Saigon & Mekong Delta: features Tropical climate and is an almost year-round cycling destination. April and May are touted as the hottest months. During the remaining time of year, the temperature hovers around 30°C and the days are sunny & a bit humid. Though it may be a bit warm, South Vietnam is still a good destination for biking as the countryside is amazingly green with many water bodies. From May to early November, it rains moderately for a short period and then settles down which makes the condition much cooler and perfect for biking. November to February is the best time of year for biking – warm days with light breeze and clear skies.

 

TERRAIN AND CONDITIONING TIPS

To ride safely along the narrow and sometimes trafficked roads, it is important to ride single file and to develop good balance on your bike. Balance can only be developed by riding on the road. We recognize that not everyone lives in an area conducive to outdoor riding, but please keep in mind that while running, riding a stationary bike, spinning and other aerobic exercise will help improve your strength, endurance and cardiovascular health, these activities will not help with balance.

 

What to pack for cycling tour

Some not to be missed essentials which can be carried

 

Clothing: Cycling Shoes, Rain Jacket, Dry bag, Sunglasses,

Personal: Toiletries, Chargers, Emergency Cash, Medication,

Gear: You are welcome to bring your own gear, such as pedals, seat, helmet, toe clips and cyclometer, to use with a bicycle. However, please inform us in advance if you choose to bring any of your own things.

Note: Although we provide helmets, we encourage you to bring your cycling water bottles, bike gloves, and helmets as they are more of personal items. Also, your own saddle is good to bring along as we change bikes while moving from one country to another.

Miscellaneous: Small towel, Waterproof cover, Plastic Bags, Hydration Kit, Journal, Notebook, Camera

Cycling Tour in Vietnam

SECTION III (FAQs pertaining to bike tours in Vietnam)

Our most common asked queries regarding cycling tours in Vietnam.

Will traffic be an issue for cycling in Vietnam?

It is a right hand drive in Vietnam. Whoever has the largest vehicle usually dictates the road. Congestion is common around major attractions and shopping malls in cities, particularly Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. 

It’s not really going to rain, is it?

As much as we don’t like to think about it, rain is possible no matter where you travel. Your best bet for staying comfortable during a shower is to wear quality rain gear that is both waterproof and breathable. A jacket and pants made of Gore-Tex will keep you dry even in the fiercest downpour.

What kind of bikes and equipment are provided for me on my trip?

A well-maintained hybrid/mountain bike and helmet is included. You can feel free to bring your own saddle, cleats/pedals and helmet. Our guides will be happy to fit them on your bike for you.

How much on an average will I be cycling during a day?

The average distance is directly proportional to the terrain that we will be riding. In most trips, on average, we bike about 50-60km a day. Please have a look at your trip details to know the average biking distance specific to the trip that you’re doing.

What about medical emergencies?

Our support vehicle always follows you throughout the tour and comes handy for transfer to any nearby hospital during an accident. Our emergency protocol is to provide you basic first aid and then transfer as soon as possible to nearby hospital for further action. Our guide will also notify our central team and we connect with your insurance provider as well.

Do I need a Visa to travel to Vietnam?

According to updated Vietnam Immigration Law (effective from 01 Jan 2015) to use the visa exemption right, the time distance between two continuous entries must be at least 30 days so as to enjoy visa free for both two entries. If the time distance is less than 30 days, they must apply for a visa for the second entry.

  1. Citizens of the United Kingdom, France, German, Spain, Italy and Belarus are allowed to stay in Vietnam within 15 days without visa. It is effective from 01 Jul 2015.
  2. Citizens of Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia and Finland are allowed to stay within 15 days without visa.
  3. Citizens of Brunei and Myanmar are allowed to stay in Vietnam within 14 days without visa.
  4. Citizens of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos are allowed to stay in Vietnam within 30 days without visa.
  5. Citizens of the Philippines are allowed to stay in Vietnam within 21 days without visa.

It is recommended to always check the latest regulations before your travel at Vietnam’s Government Website.

Is your query not mentioned here. Drop us a note at contact@artofbicycletrips.com and we shall help you in planning your cycling tour in Vietnam.

Cycling Tour in Vietnam

Do I need any insurance?

It is a mandatory requirement to purchase adequate travel insurance in order to participate in our tours, and to protect yourself from unforeseen events.

Since Art of Bicycle Trips adheres strictly to our cancellation policy, we recommend to note below:

  • Art of Bicycle Trips highly recommends purchasing travel insurance to protect yourself from unforeseen events. There are inherent risks involved in cycling and mountain biking and we will not be liable for your medical expenses or evacuation in case of an accident. We recommend using World Nomads for travel insurance and claim. Travel insurance is non-refundable but is strongly advised to protect you in the unfortunate event that you have to cancel or leave your trip.
  • Please note that we do not sell insurance and does not assist in any buying and claim process. World Nomads is only a recommendation and Art of Bicycle Trips can not be held responsible for any dispute with them. All dispute shall be dealt directly with your travel insurance provider and under no circumstances Art of Bicycle Trips is liable for that.
  • We recommend that you purchase adequate travel insurance which also covers trip cancellation. Cancellation insurance will pay out if your trip is cancelled or cut short due to any of the reasons specified in your policy. It’s one of the key elements of your travel insurance, and can be a lifesaver if the worst happens and you have to cancel your trip.

Can you store my luggage for me?

Please limit your luggage to one soft-sided medium-sized suitcase and one carry-on bag. Mark your luggage with your name, address and phone number. 

A Van follows the group of riders throughout the trip and carries all belongings. If at any point riding seems a little hard, the van takes you for as long or as little as you wish it to. It also provides you refreshments along the way and sometimes a chilled beer.

Please Note Art of Bicycle Trips recommends that you not bring valuable personal electronics including, but not limited to, IPAD, laptop computers and expensive cameras. While we will transport them from place to place during the trip as a convenience, we do not assume responsibility for any damage, loss or loss of function to the devices. This policy also applies to other items such as expensive jewelry, fur coats and fragile and delicate accessories, whether purchased on the trip or otherwise.

Is tipping compulsory in Vietnam?

Tipping is not necessary, but  is always appreciated.

What types of pre and post tour services are provided for cycling tour in Vietnam?

Your ABT Travel Coordinator will be happy to help you with recommendations on all pre and post travel arrangements, such as hotels, flight and rail tickets. We can extend the tour arrival/departure hotel as pre or post tour hotel. If the same is not available, we can recommend you few hotels which you can directly book online using hotel platforms such as booking.com We book mainly internal flights which are part of your tour. We can recommend you arrival/departure flights. Once you have reserved your bike trip, call or email us to discuss all your pre- and post-tour plans.

Cycling tour in Vietnam

SECTION IV

Tours guidelines post CORONA

Please find the health and safety guidelines as prescribed by ATTA for adventure tourism.

Other updates

VFS Global in partnership with the Embassy of Vietnam in India, has launched the first-ever online portal for eVisa on arrival for travellers to the southeast Asian country. Travellers can apply for an eVisa before departure to Vietnam. There’s a more expensive option of special priority services for approval on the same day or the next day.

Offers from Art of Bicycle Trips

We realised everyone is waiting for things to clear up in order to lead a normal life. And travel as well. Hence, though travelling at the moment is not feasible, planning and booking one’s travel plan is fine. To make travel plans easier we have launched booking offers for as low as $1. You can now book without any advance deposit and remain flexible.

You can find all our cycling tours in Vietnam here

Cycling Tour in Vietnam

Cycling in Asia“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are.”

~~Samuel Johnson

 

Bike tour in Rajasthan, the desert state of India, is an experience one must try. The state holds a unique identity. The royal and chivalrous history of Rajasthan can be felt even to the present time in its splendid forts, and impressive monuments. We have been organising bike tours in Rajasthan since time. The slow pace of cycling has allowed us to explore the various facets of the state. Here are some of the experiences we recommend while you are biking in Rajasthan.

 

#1 Wanderlust the Thar Desert

Thar Desert in Western Rajasthan also known as the Great Indian Desert has vast  stretches of rolling sand and a unique ecosystem. Jaisalmer the major town is a prime trading center of the region.  Most of the desert’s inhabitants stay in surrounding villages which are sparsely spread across the region. The name Thar is derived from thulthe general term for the region’s sand dunes.

Travel tip: The desert town of Jaisalmer stands tall in eastern frontier of Thar Desert. The town is centeredaround the ever imposing Jaisalmer Fort. The fort is one of the few living forts in the world. We recommend taking the road from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer to enjoy excellent landscape en route the town.

Thar Desert

Camel Ride in Thar Desert. Image by Sam Gellman

 

#2 Celebrate the richness of Colours

Every colour has a special significance in Rajasthan. The festival of colours, Holi, is celebrated with much gusto.

Pedal on your bike down the road, and your eyes may catch sight of a group of ladies circled under a tree draped in colourful saris of crimson, fuchsia,  and tangerine. A sari with the combination of red and yellow denotes that a woman has borne a son. The men too are not far behind when it comes to showing off the vibrant colours sporting their fluorescent turbans, making the day look brighter than ever. The Rajput warrior class wear saffron turbans to denote chivalry. The Brahmin scholastic men wear candy pink, and the nomads black.

Cycle past the exuberant the marketplaces of Jodhpur and Jaipur, and you will find they every possible colour on stands of vendors.

Holi in Rajasthan                  Kids playing Holi in Jodhpur. Image by Siddharth Jain

 

#3 Study the magnificent monuments

Speaking of colours, legend also has it that in the year 1876, Maharaja Ram Singh decided to paint the city of Jaipur in only one color, pretty pink, to welcome the then Prince of Wales. This is when the main streets of the “City of Victory”received its delicate hue of salmon. As you pass through the streets of Jaipur on your bicycle tour, this colour is most evident in the beauty of the Hawa Mahal, also called the Palace of WindsParking the bikes is not difficult. Do explore these magnificent monuments, their frescoed walls and the striking Belgian glass windows.

Travel Tip: Many monuments including Hawa Mahal close by 4:30 p.m. for public viewing. Do plan your day schedule accordingly as per your visit.

Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

Jantar Mantar (Sun Dial), Jaipur. Image by Siddharth Jain    

 

#4 Hear the vibe of the city

Of course, as you pedal around your bike tour and make stoppages, you get the opportunity to hear the language of the locals from close. Cycle past a group of men who are friendly enough to wave at you and say hello.Being able to listen to the local language up close makes it a personal experience worth remembering forever.

We recommend: Do the customary Indian nod. However, practise at home.

Travel Trivia: Rajasthan, the regal Indian state is known for its blue city of Jodhpur, pink city of Jaipur and golden city of Jaisalmer. Do you why?

#5 Explore the old world hospitality of Udaipur

Give time to Udaipur. Also called the Venice of the East, the city of Udaipur is as old as 1576. The beauty of cycling around this city is the view of its picturesque havelis, ghats, and old temples on the bank of Lake Pichola. Udaipur has an easy-going, laid-back vibe, so it’s ideal for winding down at the end of a tour. But avoid bumping into a cow.

Travel Tip: To explore the best of Udaipur, begin the day at the City Palace. If you are a fan of vintage cars, you can even ask your guide to take you to the museum of vintage cars in Udaipur.

Fresco of Rajasthan

#6 Don’t miss out on the festivals

And there are plenty of festivals. You have the luxury to choose from a music festival in Jodhpur, the camel festival in Pushkar, the Kite festival in Jaipur, Holi or many more.

 

Travel Tip: Rajasthan Tourism has a ready list of festivals planned for the year.

We recommend travelling to Rajasthan during the winter months as it is the best time to take a cycle tour. While the warm rays of the sun keep you going through the day, as night falls, you will experience the temperature dip.

 

Cycling in Asia

Conclusion

Making the decision to take a cycling holiday in Asia , and exploring a place has its own benefits. Contribute to the nature by leaving no carbon footprints behind and get some exercise when on a cycling vacation.Furthermore, make your way into nooks and corners, which are otherwise inaccessible by vehicle, much faster.

Every place in Rajasthan can steal your  heart and attract you to visit again. If you and your family are planning on taking a bike tour to Rajasthan, keep a track of the weather and make a bucket list. The best known time to visit Rajasthan between October and March.

Art of Bicycle Trips Update

 

Staying at home has been quite a challenge. Being in an industry which prides itself in the well-being of individuals, organising cycling tours in Asia and going outdoors to experience life, we understand physical distancing is quite different. Over the years we have seen the cycling community only grow and our cyclists forming a close-knit bond with each other. This bond has further helped us as a team and organization. We wanted to write in person to thank you –– you’ve helped us grow sustainable!

Cycling Holidays in India

Our recent survey on cycling suggests 60% of respondents plan to travel for leisure post COVID.  And another 60% won’t mind joining a small group departure. Destinations such as India, Vietnam, and Thailand are the most popular destinations followed by Japan and Cambodia.

 Offers on Cycling Tours

We have been working on a few customers focussed offers which allow for flexible bookings and easy deposits. Initiatives such as Loyalty Club, Friends & Family Offer and No Single Supplement Offer are already live.

View all of our cycling tours in Asia offers here.

Art of Bicycle Trips Offers 

Our strategy is following ‘affordable for a reason‘. We have already slashed prices by 5% to 10% of few of our most popular cycling tours without compromising the experiences. We’re able to do this by focusing on three most important price factors:

  1. Group Size: We expect an increase in average group size of our cycling tours in Asia.
  1. Frugality: By keeping our admin/back office and overhead costs in check.
  1. Sustainability: We aspire to put sustainability at the core of business decisions and strive to achieve sustainable profitability instead of chasing profit maximization.

 Launch of  STRAVA Club

We understand social distancing has been the norm past few months. Yet it is equally important to remain physically active and stay connected. So, we launched our Art of Bicycle Trips Miles Club on STRAVA. Coupled with an interactive community it comes with added advantages.

Being a Miles Club it means when you cycle, not only do you get health benefits you also collect miles which you can use to avail benefits on our bike tour price. 

To take part, join our STRAVA Club and record your rides to help us track your progress. That’s it.

Cycling Club on STRAVA

Art of Bicycle Trips

Though we are working from home, we keep doing regular cycling events. Organising them on STRAVA is a good way to keep a note of one’s performance. All of our events are on our STRAVA page.

Art of Bicycle Trips Cycling Event

 

Cycling Event

3rd June happens to be World Cycling Day. We can’t think of a better way to celebrate than cycle again. We are also running a cycling memories campaign.

The above image is from our team member Siddharth. He writes about the image:-

A very lanky me, perhaps taken in 1986-87. I had learnt how to ride and was posing as a confident young lad outside our house in New Delhi.

Share your pictures, notes, or videos of your old cycling memories. We would love to see them and talk about it.

To share, tag our Instagram handle and use the hashtag #artofbicycletrips

Last but not  least our blog on cycling is now updated. And our social media pages are active. As we continue with our 11th year having completed more than 2400 trips, we keep on biking.

Until further updates.

 

Stay Safe

Team Art of Bicycle Trips

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

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

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

Buddha, Drummers & 500 Concubines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Warm Welcomes & Homecooked Meals

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

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

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

Beaches Oh So Pristine! 

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

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

A Wild, Wild Paradise!

Sri Lanka wildlife road signs

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

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

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

The Art of Good Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Dibin

Editor: Ashwini

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

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

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

1.  People are awesome!

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

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

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

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

2.  Monsoon biking in Kerala

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

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

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

Waterfalls-Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Kerala Cycling Holidays

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

 3.  Cycling though Misty-Mighty Western Ghats 

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

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

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

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

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

4.  Watching Elephants in the wild and along the roads

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

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

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Bathing Elephants during a Kerala Cycling Tour

5.  Not-to-be-missed culinary treats

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

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

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

6.   Supporting the local traders 

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

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

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At Kunjappan-chetan’s boatmaking workshop

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

Happy Biking!

Author: Dibin

Editor: Ashwini

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

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

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

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

Art of Bicycle Trips Sikkim Bike Tour

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

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

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

Art of Bicycle Trips - Gangtok Bike Trip Views

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art of Bicycle Trips - Sikkim Bike Trip

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

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

Art of Bicycle Trips - Sikkim Bike Trip Switchback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art of Bicycle Trips - Sikkim Cycle Tour Views at Pelling

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, keep on riding.

Name: Qutub a.k.a Qutbuddin Habshi

Role: Trip Leader & Accounting whiz

From: Udaipur, Rajasthan

Based in: Udaipur, Rajasthan

Rides: Giant

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

Reads: About health, fitness and the human mind

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

Loves: Seekh kebabs – succulent grilled lamb skewers

Dreams: Of traveling around the world

Superpower: Hypnotism

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

Believes in:  Simplicity, innovation and change

Cycling bucket list:

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

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

Contact: classic at artofbicycletrips dot com

Links: Facebook | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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“Dibin,

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

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

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

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

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

“Art of Bicycle Trips,

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

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

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

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

 

“Dibin,

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

Suggestions

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

Driver – Excellent

Guide – Very good knowledge + explanation

Leader – Great all round”

– Bruce

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

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

– Lindsey
Bruce & Lindsey, Classic Kerala November 2013


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

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

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

Yours,

Hannah

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

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

Love,

Emma

Dear all,

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

Jon

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

Thanks,

Ben

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

With best wishes,

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

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

Name: Kamalpreet Singh

From: Chandigarh

Based in: Udaipur

Rides: Scott Sportster

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

Reads: Contemporary fiction

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

Loves: Books

Dreams: Write a book someday.

Superpower: Can bench press 150 kilos!

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

Believes in: A world without borders

Cycling bucket list:

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

Tips: Slow is beautiful.

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

Links: Facebook | Twitter

Name: Dibin Devassy

From: Thrissur, Kerala

Based in: Fort Kochi

Rides: Trek 6000 D

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

Favourite Reads: Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha

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

Loves: Cooking and making up recipes on my own spontaneously

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

Superpower: Inner-self

Once upon a time: Wrote database softwares for a living

Believes in: Freedom

Cycle-it list:

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

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

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

Contact: dibin<at>artofbicycletrips<dot>com

Name: Poonacha Nadikerianda  a.k.a Poonch

From: Bangalore

Based in: Bangalore

Rides: Giant Revel 29″ MTB

Eats: Beef Vindaloo

Favourite reads:

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

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

Loves: Cycling, swimming, outdoors and wildlife

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

Superpower: Super fun!

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

Believes in: A collective conscientiousness

Bike-it list:

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

Tips:

For cycling in India –

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

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

Email: Poonacha<at>ArtofBicycleTrips<dot>com

Name: Muthu Mani Raja

From: Bangalore

Based in: Bangalore

Rides: KHS Lite 150

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

Reads: About cricket and movies religiously

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

Loves: Bike rides and hikes

Dreams: To become a boxing champion

Superpower: His hulk-like strength

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

Believes: In the power of self

Cycling bucket list:

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

Name: Pankaj Mangal

From: Jaipur

Based in: Bangalore

Rides: Surly Long Haul Trucker

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

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

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

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

Dreams: To make villages self-sufficient

Superpower: Crayons! Go figure!

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

Believes in: Ethical living

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

Tips: Play by the rules

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

Contact: pankaj(at)artofbicycletrips(dot)com

Find me on: Twitter | Facebook

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.

DSCN1719-Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Kerala Cycling Holidays

 

The cycling route covered a distance of 24.8 km; a figure that initially seemed ‘daunting’ for our riders, as they were not folks who cycled regulary. We took a left right out the gate and headed up the ‘beach road’ to Andhkarnazhy Beach, 8 kms away. The first few minutes, was arguably, the most strenuous part of the journey, as the riders were only getting used to the bikes and establishing their pace. Less than a kilometer into it, we had formed a steady single file, moving at a comfortable pace.

Morning on the beach road was comparatively calm, relative to the city.  The warmth of the sun was far from intense and while the beach wasn’t always in direct view, owing to the clustered countryside houses between the road and the open water, the western sea breeze was constant.

By the time we took our first 5 minute break, 10 kms in, the riders had all gotten well into the spirit of the ride and were ready for more. As they took nibbles off fruit and chatted away, the energy about them was clear – they were appreciating the change of environment from their usual air conditioned hotel lobbies and offices.

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The remaining stretch of 15 kms was completed with no breaks being required by any of the riders. We traveled east, away from the sea and crossed the national highway to reach Vayalar for a taste of the backwater life.

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The riders were received with great fanfare at Vayalar. After a quick dose of coconut water (served with lotus stems for straws) to refresh those electrolytes and cool ourselves from the rays of the sun, which had now grown positively warm, it was onto the canoe and into the backwaters.

The canoe, took us to a backwater village where we were given a chance to observe the local people at their work. Most of these jobs have been traditionally passed down from generation to generation and they all involve working with indigenous natural resources.

The village walk took us to a toddy shop where we enjoyed some well appreciated rest and were served a lunch made with the local produce. On the way back, we were canoed over to a breezy island pit stop, for coffee, and then we took everyone back to the resort in the support vehicle after a day well spent.

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