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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. 

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.

Cycling the tea gardens of Munnar

Tea is a great starter for conversations. Tea gardens are cultivated in many countries. Well-manicured they hold pretty site and reminds one of armchair travels. Loopy curves with a smooth tarmac offer great scenic views during the rides. Add to it considerate weather required to grow tea. All these reasons add up to cycling amongst tea gardens a great choice.

Cycling the tea gardens of Munnar

Tea entwines in our culture. In most of our cycling trips, we are sure to stop for a cursory tea break. So, it was no surprise our cycling tours to tea gardens became quite popular when we started it sometime back. Be it our cycling tour to Srilanka or our cycling trip to Munnar, everyone loved a ride.

 

CYCLING THE VERDANT TEA GARDENS OF MUNNAR

Blue sky stretched languidly as far as one could see touching the greenery of rolling hills amidst the vast tea gardens around us. It was the first morning for us after reaching our destination, Munnar, which we had planned for a couple of months back as a part of our trip to Kerala

Jayesh was already busy in his tea stall and serving the locals who had known him as a hardworking man. Charming as Munnar, he was known in the region for his tea especially the cardamom and clove varieties.

Cycling the tea gardens of Munnar

TEA in Munnar

Munnar has been culturally distinct from other districts of Kerala. Though the state is popular for its backwaters, Munnar stands proud for its tea gardens and estate that carpet the region.  Perched atop the hills of Idukki district its weather favours the plantation of the tea. Historically tea and the landscape of Munnar is entwined since generations.  The British found it very hard to get people from Kerala to work in tea plantations. They finally brought in people from Tamil Nadu who were ready to do the hard work. This changed the landscape and culture of Munnar to this day. The women from these communities pluck the tea leaves in the estates here while the men work in tea factories that process the leaves. The town of Munnar is quite small and packed with people and shops.

Based on your palette you can try many varieties of teas. You can try the local

Munnar Chai- which has Milk and distinct Munnar leaves flavour

Green Tea- healthier variety

Flavoured Teas- like Cardamom, Elaichi, Clove or other spices

Black Tea- Is strong, has more caffeine and dark in colour

White Tea- which is less caffeinated

Masala Chai- Spiced tea where they add local masala flavour in the tea.

The women are paid upon the weight of the tea leaves plucked which they usually do by hand. Being a manual process on an average day each lady is able to pluck around 10 kilos of tea leaves which then goes for processing.

Cycling the tea gardens of Munnar

 

Cycling the tea gardens of Munnar

We loved our tea, so we stopped between of bike trip for copious amounts of tea. I preferred Chai (milk tea) over Sulaimani (a black tea).If you are cycling in Munnar do visit the Top Station. At an altitude of 2000 m it is one of the highest point in Kerala. On our way back, we deviated from the tarmac to visit a village we spotted on our way up. Assisted by our guide the conversations were short and interspersed mostly by smiles and signs.

A vivid picture set in our minds and a setting which we could only visualize amidst the landscape.

Munnar is a town and a popular hill station situated in Western Ghats of Southern India. Placed at an average height of 5000 ft it is a popular hill station in India known for its tea gardens. We biked around 20 miles during our 

Kerala has a welcoming weather. Whether you prefer monsoons, coastal beaches, laidback countryside or backwaters Kerala cycling tours for cycling holidays could be a great choice

Cycling the tea gardens of Srilanka

 

Srilanka, “The pearl of the Indian Ocean” has a natural history with tea. One of the largest exporters of tea, both rainfall and cool temperature allow for abundant tea plantations across the country. Our classic bike tour in Srilanka takes us to Nuwara Eliya, one of the most important tea region in the country. The trip to Nuwara Eliya can combine with other destinations within the country. We run multitude cycling trips in Srilanka throughout the year. A popular tour is our Best of Srilanka cycling tour.

At Nuwara Eliya we checked in at the Heritance Tea Factory Hotel, remodelled from an old tea factory that used to be present in the days of the Raj. The place still retains its old world charm with wooden lofts, old brass fans and even an original engine that was the main source of power in those days.

Our most charming cup of tea at Nuwara Eliya

Cycling the tea gardens of Srilanka

Nuwara Eliya is known for its tea gardens and waterfalls. It is also known as “Little England” and the town may make you nostalgic reminding you of bygone era. The people are warm and will take go to great lengths in explaining what tea means to them. Locals surely take their tea seriously. With an average elevation of around 1800 meters, a cup of tea in cool crisp air makes for an excellent choice to refresh yourself. Worth trying is the Orange Pekoe Tea which is a speciality of the region.  On our ride, we encounter tea pickers, undulating hills, small villages and small shops on the corners of the roads.

 

Cycling in Srilanka