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

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

Don’t cram up your holiday

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

Choose a few interests and plan around that

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

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

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

 

Reality checks and why you have got to have those

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ensure the tour suits all group members

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

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

Look before you book

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

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

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

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips Kerala Cycling Holidays

Keep your mind open 

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

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

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

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

Give back

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

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

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips Kerala Cycling Holidays

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

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

“Imagine this – A perfect blue sky above and coconut trees swaying gently along the serene backwaters below”

Kerala is famous for just that. The mesmerizing “Backwaters.”  A true gem of nature’s beauty, the backwaters here are a network of waterways which connect to the Arabian sea.  Its been in existence for over 700 years, having come into existence in 1341 AD when the longest river in Kerala, the Periyar river was flooded. The flood was destructive to the land in these parts but it also gave birth to the famous port city of Fort Kochi and the backwaters around it. With the flood now forgotten, the backwaters have been bustling with life for years and it is interesting to watch how people embrace and coexist with the backwaters.

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Kerala Cycling Holidays

Rich in history, culture and traditions, exploring paths along backwaters on a bike is a great way to see and learn about the way of life here. Pedalling next to the water through small villages, meeting families of the fishermen who live in these parts, learning a bit about their lives and visiting family run ‘chai’ tea shops enroute is a unique and unforgettable experience, no doubt.

To start, we leave Fort Kochi and ride towards the south in this episode of my dream Kerala biking tour. After a long stretch on a nicely tarmacked  road, the first stretch of backwaters channels appear giving us glimpses of little mangrove islands. You may not believe, but what we is see is a huge prawn culture farm.

Here’s an interesting fact about backwaters – for 6 months of the year the backwater alleys are full of fresh water and for the other 6 months it is full of salt water. So, the people who live along the backwater channels use it for rice paddy cultivation when the water is fresh and then switch to prawn cultivation for the rest of the year.

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Kerala Cycling Holidays

The adaptability of the people here is something that you will see time and again when you ride here in Kerala. As kids swim, the adults, boat, fish, cook and wash along the backwaters. Take it all in as we deviate from the tarmacked road to a trail in a fishing village. To me, it always feels like quite an adventure biking through narrow walking paths with fish farms on either side.

Smaller versions of Chinese fishing nets can also be seen in the villages here, and these nets are mostly functional at night. Sometimes during day, the women use these nets to catch some fish fresh for their lunch. Yes, seriously.

Canoes are a common mode of transport here in the backwaters. If you like canoes and boats, then you will enjoy this next bit a lot as we meet a man named Kunjappan who is a traditional canoe maker to learn about the art of traditional Keralan canoe-making. Kunjappan’s workshop usually has several country canoes at different stages of the build with some finished ones waiting for buyers.

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Kerala Cycling Holidays

After this, the ride further takes us to the boarding point for our canoe ride. Here we enjoy a short ride in the backwaters as we canoe through with our bikes sitting idle in the canoe with us. Our boatman named Thankachan is a local from the village here and he will take us through some of the most serene coves hidden in these waterways. As you sit back and take it all in, you might see ‘brahminy’ kites flying high up above, cormorants drying their wings, hens, ducks, egrets and other birds clucking and cooing while the people here go about their lives.

Soon after, we will hop off the canoe, say bye to Thankachan and ride further on our bikes, capturing more of backwater. Want to add more flavor to this backwater ride?  Don’t forget to try some boiled tapioca with karimeen(pearl spot) fish curry for lunch. Finger licking good! That’s it from me for now, until next time.

Note: This post is second in a series of posts that describe my dream cycling tour route here in Kerala. Read the first post about Cycling Fort Kochi here and the third and final post of this series about cycling Munnar here.

Author: Dibin

Editor: Ashwini

Someone asked me what’s your dream bike tour route like? I pondered for a while and couldn’t single one out. Its not because I don’t have a dream biking holiday in mind but because I had too many dream bike tour routes on my mind, so I struggled to come up with a single one.

What attracts me to bike touring is that it enables me to see and enjoy the everyday experiences, which might be missed out when travelling and visiting the usual tourist spots. So, to go on a cycling holiday where I get to take in the best experiences like a local is always the dream for me.

If I had to come up with my dream Kerala biking holiday, I will start from where all it started,  Fort Kochi. Once upon a time, Fort Kochi was a strategic port city. So much so that it was invaded by three different European colonial powers. Fort Kochi is now less contested, yet the European  are still here, in the form of tourists this time around.

I love the ancient port city of Fort Kochi for three reasons – the cultural harmony; the hidden by-lanes here that are bustling with life; and finally, the not-to-be-missed street-food joints.

Having lived in Fort Kochi for an year, if you ask me, Where would you take a friend if he/she has only a day to experience Fort Kochi? Well, here it is, the best bike tour of Kochi that I can think of, to begin this series of posts on my favorite parts of cycle touring Kerala.

Fort Kochi-Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Kerala Cycling Holidays

Wake up little early in the morning, say by 6:30am, to bike towards the Fort Kochi beach promenade. Near the River road, where the massive Chinese fishing nets emerge in front of your eyes, there is “Achu ikka’s” chai(tea) shop on four wheels, which serves only breakfast.”Ikka” means elder brother, commonly used among the Muslim community.

Have a chai and walk towards the most active area of this beach pathway, the “Fish auction center”. Its a great sight to see fishermen bring in fresh catch and auction it so quickly. You can even bid on fresh catch here and take it with you for a delicious seafood based lunch or dinner later.

We can then walk further along the beach, taking a loop next to the historic buildings, bungalows, oldest European church in India and huge Raintrees. We are now back to Achu ikka’s chai shop for the breakfast. Pick from Pathiri(fried rice cake) or Puttu(steamed rice cake) with meat curry gravy.

Then bike towards Mattancherry, snaking through inner lanes of Calvetty community, watching as the community comes to life in the morning hours.

Mattanchery’s Dutch Palace is up next, past traditional spice storehouses and the Jew town after which we reach the 400+ years old Venkitachalapathy temple.

Here in the mornings, it is common to see people from different faiths going to the temple, the church or the synagogue respectively. The faith that people have is admirable. After circumnavigating the temple walls and passing through little Brahmin communities, we ride towards Dhobi Khana to see the washermen wash, dry and iron clothes. After riding back to Fort Kochi, we reach an art café to have a black coffee and perhaps a second breakfast, if you have a big appetite. I always do.

Fort Kochi-Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Kerala Cycling Holidays

For lunch, we bike to Haneef ikka’s restaurant for the one and the only one item on menu – “Biriyani.”

This restaurant opens only for lunch and the Beef Biriyani here is my favorite. For me, a Biriyani here is never complete without a fruit ice-cream milk shake from cool-bar across the road. Cool bars are a popular phenomenon in India where the heat catches up with everyone come summer. Milkshakes & ice creams are consumed copiously to overcome this and hence, cool-bars!

Then, we bike to Dutch Palace and the Synagogue and take in all great history here. One thing that will stand out after biking through Fort Kochi is the thirst and we can quench our thirsts with a sweet, cardamom lassi from the Gujarati community corner. By evening, we cycle to the beach and catch a glorious sunset as we relax our weary legs. Afterwards, we can ride some more.

Fort Kochi-Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Kerala Cycling Holidays

Riding during the night is one of my favorite thing to do, especially in the brightly lit streets of Mattancherry where you can find people walking, shopping and chatting till midnight.

We ride to the Konkani community corner and savor delicious homemade dosas and idlis with hot, spicy chutney and a refreshing tea.

I’ll head off on a ride on that note for now. I will continue from Fort Kochi in the next post of this series where I will take you to countryside trails that surround the famous backwaters of Kerala.

Author: Dibin

Editor: Ashwini

Note: This post is first in a series of posts that describes my dream cycle tour route in Kerala. Read the second part on cycling around Kerala’s backwaters here and the third part on cycling Munnar’s tea gardens here.

Art of Bicycle Trips (ABT) has been offering bicycle trips in Kerala directly to visitors since 2012-13. Back then, there were no Indian companies offering day tours or classic tours for visitors who wished to cycle here in India.

Today, one can choose from many options from a number of operators who run tours in Kerala. If you are considering the cycle tour operators available in Kerala today, we suggest that you be highly aware of one other company with offerings similar to ours.

Our experience has shown that the person who owns and runs this one particular bicycle trips company in Kerala, got his start by stealthily using intellectual and digital property that belongs to Art of Bicycle Trips. The said former ABT guide exploited the goodwill in the industry for our company to further his own agenda and continues to use ABT property and imitates our every move to this day.

Imitation might be a form of flattery but we hope you watch out when it comes to choosing your cycle tour operator in Kerala, because as the American jazz musician, Wynton Marsalis would put it, “Ethics are more important than laws.”

For more information about cycling tours in Kerala, please write to us at classic(at)artofbicycletrips(dot)com or come, see us at the our store in Fort Kochi, Kerala.

I held a snapshot of Kerala in the month of November last year. It started in Munnar where the air was suspended with chill, and I spent my day walking around the town and hiking up the tea hills. My friend Pankaj and his tour guests, BJ and David arrived that evening, cycling their way from Cochin.

The next day, we started rolling down the curvy roads of Munnar when the morning sun was relentlessly intense, as were the drivers on the road – honking to remind me of the slack that I was leaving behind with each push of the peddle. A decision had to be made and I told my friend I would take my time and understand the bicycle, the twitching of the gears and its effect on forward movement. As planned, I reached the tea museum alright to join the rest of my bicycle-mates. When we started cycling again after spending time at the museum, I was relaxed but didn’t anticipate the journey of 25 kilometers to Chinnakanal to take as long as it did.

The route was scenic as if adorned to charm the tourists passing through them. The locals were in the early stages of familiarizing themselves with these leisure cyclists in specialized gear (not mine though), traversing their everyday paths. I have a fond memory of being enveloped in a canopy of aged dark-green trees from this early ride. It felt intimate.

As we arrived in Chinnakanal, we learnt that a mild-mannered protest against a court order regarding the preservation of Western Ghats that broke-off the previous day had grown in size. Locals decided to get serious about the strike, leaving us with a completely empty day in Chinnakal. We however set out to cycle around in that unassumingly beautiful place. Starting at the head of a terraced hill, we wheeled down the road occasionally at speeds where we were risking it. Spinning around a faraway lake that seemed to be at the center and the road resembling a peel of orange layered in a conical shape. Some while later, we reached the waterfront where two buffaloes were grazing with abandon. Smooth was our time there, only to be shaken by the threat of a shower. When we decided to hike back on our bicycles, we asked around for the right way out from the tea workers who were not to have their day off from work even on a ‘bandh.’

The prevailing strike carried on to the next day leaving us with very little to do. Apart from switching our accommodation from a 3-star hotel to a home stay (less expensive and more comfortable even), we ambled around in the streets of the bandh-stricken town. I recollect I managed to go a little further into the book I was reading – Endless Love, by Ian McEwan – sitting in a café the name of which I don’t recollect. And then, BJ and David turned the table on us by hosting a dinner at a restaurant in Cardamom County. These two people drew me close to them as the conversation circled around all-too-familiar topics of family, friends, adventure, and holiday and more.

Ending our stupor in Thekkady, we geared ourselves for an intense day of cycling. I was dying to get into the cycling shorts that BJ generously gave me, after finding out about my cushion-less ride up the previous days. We filled our water bottles, squeezed into our pockets a little something to munch on. The road to Vagamon seemed as though it was particularly designed to challenge, engage and amuse in parts. Left far behind by the rest of them, I was briskly peddling on the flat roads that threw enough breeze on my face. There were the uphill stretches where I decidedly overcame the gradient without breathing through my mouth. So much poise I thought.

The words, ‘Jesus is coming. Are you ready?’ painted on a local church, went so many levels deep that it cracked me up and energized me for the rest of the time. Jesus, as you come, keep the weather as pleasant as it is now, roads as free as they can be, maybe even sprinkle few more people on the lonely roads. Amen. The thought of the end nearing on this continuum of a ride was a bit of a dimmer. We crashed out at a hotel in Vagamon waiting for tomorrow’s adventure.

Starting from the very top of the hills at Vagamon, it was down, down and down. A bit unnerving for me – I perpetually squeezed the breaks to remain in my orbit around the hill. And there we were, hitting the coast a little past noon. Over the course of the 4 to 5 days, I felt my endurance increase remarkably; I had a greater feel for the road and shed my clumsiness much to my own surprise. Where I was playing catch-up previously, this time I was ahead and waiting for the rest of them to join me.

The trip already felt full, but Pankaj caused a change of plans when he bargained for a good deal to spend the night in the houseboat along with BJ and David. Gliding on the backwaters of Vembanad Lake, beauty and magnificence were there for the asking. Schoolchildren boarding their boats to get home, boat stands instead of bus stands, few fishermen wading through, paddy fields, so green that it’s wild, sounds from the church. All of us silently agreed that words would pollute our shared space and time, and basked in the creation of our own collage of the scenes.

Time to hop out of the houseboat and start riding again. The last stretch of the ride to Kochi felt like a reward with flat roads sending ample breeze our way. Wind caressing every part of my body, my senses filled, I started to get an ominous feeling that this holiday had been too good to go on for even few more minutes. With the leaving of our bicycles at the Art of Bicycle shop-cum-garage, it did indeed end.

A vivid picture now comes to mind – a rush of red hibiscus occurring every now and then, marking my milestone as I went past. And just when the road had been let up by buses, cars, bikes, scooters, there was the whizzing sound of the four bicycles as if to say, ‘drink in this moment’.