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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.

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.

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Cycling Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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
  • Scenic beauty
  • Rustic villages
  • Culture
  • Heritage
  • Wildlife

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

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

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

Rajasthan-india-camels-1034829

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

Kerala tea plantation view cycling

 

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.

Best Time to Cycle: October to March

India-bangalore-to-goa-beach