Posts

I awoke one morning with a sudden urge to just cycle all over around Karnataka, India. Over the years, I have met several people who have cycled at length all over the world. A friend’s cycle tour from Bangalore to Ladakh especially inspired me. So I decided to go on solo recreational cycle tour and started from Bangalore with an intent to see places that I had not seen before. In India, this is not a problem as there often is more than one route to the destination.

I had been contemplating a bike tour like this for a while but I did not have a definite plan or a fixed itinerary. However, I had spent time equipping myself and I knew my prior experience as a tour guide for Art of Bicycle Trips would come handy..

First in order to equip myself, I had to buy a bicycle!  What cycle to buy was a difficult challenge, considering that we are spoiled for choice! Fortunately budget constraints limit your options!  And in the end I had zeroed it down to having a Mountain Bike. While Mountain bikes are heavy and not the best in terms of speed and efficiency, given the condition of the roads in India, it is the most hardy and the least likely to have breakdowns. It is also versatile and it can absorb shocks better and go over trails and dirt roads without any hiccups.

Crank Meister Cycle Store located in Fraser Town was amongst the best when it came to bike knowledge and bike service. So instead of wasting plenty of time researching more bikes, I just went over there and did some test rides on a couple of bicycles.

Finally after much thought and consideration, I settled on a Giant Revel O series. It was pricier and way over my budget but I got a good deal! Lucky that it was on sale then. I was very happy to have picked up this 9 speed mountain bike with hydraulic disc brakes and 29 inch wheels! The big wheels helped with speed and stability and more or less compensated for the lack of speed on mountain bikes. I was off to a great start!

Soon after gathering other essentials for a life on the road, I started my cycling holiday from Doddaballapur, on the outskirts of Bangalore.  It was not en route to my destination- Hampi but it gave me the opportunity to visit a friend I hadn’t seen in a while.

After bidding farewell to my friend, I headed out to a town called Madhugiri. Madhugiri is home to the second largest monolithic rock in Asia and it towers majestically over this small little town. All around the hill are the remnants of ancient fort built by a former king called Madhugiri Nayak.

Madhugiri Fort 1

By Saurabh Sharan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Isolated and in need of more attention in terms of maintenance, Madhugiri is still wonderful and you can spend days and hours exploring the entire fortified area and admire the natural beauty and sheer size of the rock.

However, I was itching to be on the move and next day I headed towards Chitradurga. The roads in the plains of Karnataka are mostly flat and there are hills to conquer here. You can cover distances quite quickly and as you cut through small towns and villages, people look at you with utmost curiosity! Bicycle tourists decked up in lycra is almost always a spectacle for the average Indian. Here cycles are mostly used because there is no other choice and the idea that city folks spend time and money to tour the countryside is new and unusual to most rural inhabitants. This leads to some very curious conversations at times.

Fortunately the Bangalore – Pune Highway has service lanes throughout and cycling along there was a breeze with very little traffic around me. Cycling on highways can be boring as there is nothing to see but this particular route is not bad and around mid-day I reached the town of Sira.

Sira is a small historical town and like most historical towns, it is categorized by the existence of a fort, a temple or mosque. The size of the fort depends on how big or small the ruler was back in the days. If in the past there was a Muslim ruler, then most of the population of the town today would consist of Muslims, unless of course some recent events have caused changes. In India, there is culture and history everywhere even in the small towns.

Villages and settlements dominate the landscape here except around mountains and jungles. While biking through innumerable such settlements, one can see that there is a pressing need for quality administration at the grassroot levels.

The State Government needs to address issues and improve things from the ground up.  There is barely any infrastructure here in the villages and residents are forced to face serious issues such as alcoholism, sanitation and education without any consistent support or knowledge from outside. Even the historical monuments managed by the State Government in Karnataka need to be better maintained. Miles to go..

Despite the flat terrain, the wind made it hard for me to cycle to Chitradurga. The last few miles were a real struggle. The energy of the wind is harnessed well here and you can see windmills dotting the panorama here. Yet the historic roots of this walled city are evident. The hills on which a major part of the fort and town belong to the oldest rock of granitic formation in the country.

The seven walls of the fort enclose the boulders and hills nestles on the Vedavati river. Built in the 17th and 18th centuries, Chitradurga Fort houses a citadel, masjid, warehouses for grains and oil, water reservoirs and ancient temples spread out over an area of 1,500 acres.

Although the origins of the fort date back to much earlier point of time, the feudal kings  ‘Nayak Palegars’ made the fort impregnable with 19 gateways, 38 posterior entrances, 35 secret entrances, four invisible passages, water tanks and 2000 watch towers to guard and keep vigil on the enemy incursions.

Three gates continue to be used by people to this day. And the hill fort now starts from the 4th gate onwards all the way up to the top of the hill.

Said to be India’s second largest military fort, tales of valour and bravery echo through time here to this day. There most commendable story is that of how of a soldier’s wife named Obavva used a pestle to defend the fort – while her soldier husband was on a lunch break during an attack. When Obavva heard the attackers attempting to sneak into the fort through a crevice large enough for just one soldier at a time, she picked up the pestle and hit enemy soldiers on their heads and dragged their bodies away quietly to continue the defence until her husband returned and raised an alarm.

Chitradurga is very picturesque. The very name implies ‘picturesque fort.’ There are also beautiful caves around Chitradurga, which extend almost seventy feet beneath the rocks and where hermits and holy men used to live in isolation and meditate. Although off the beaten path, Chitradurga is a must-visit and is undoubtedly one of the many wonders in the state of Karnataka.

View of lake inside fort Chitradurga

By Pavithrah (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 I spent a day looking walking around and looking over the hillock and the next morning, I started my cycle ride to Hampi. This particular stretch was awful as the single lane road here was full of trucks. The tarmac conditions were alright but the amount of traffic made me wish I could just skip this bit as I didn’t have the luxury of a support vehicle.

I powered through and after Hospet, the massive Tungabhadra Dam is an impressive sight. This reservoir is at the confluence of the two of Karnataka’s major rivers – Tunga and Bhadra and I was lucky to reach at the correct time to experience one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. The town of Hospet like a lot of small Indian towns lacks vibrancy and substance and I was glad to leave the next morning to Hampi. Hampi on the other hand is so colorful and characteristic that it is hard to describe, see this post for my notes on cycle touring through Hampi. Keep on riding.

Author: Poonacha

Editor: Ashwini

 

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.

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips

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.

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips

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.

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips

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

“Traffic on Indian roads” is a phrase synonymous to the noun ”chaos”. Rules aren’t followed unless they have to be, which means only when there is a policeman clearly visible around, lanes are arbitrary, all road-sides double as parking spots, footpaths are motorbike paths if they can get away with it and bicycle lanes are few and far between even in the handful of cities that have made allowances for them. In this environment, where everybody needs to get somewhere fast (to the point that you’d begin suspecting the whole world to be playing out car chases and time trials straight out of of action movies) cyclists have been reduced to secondary citizens who belong neither on the road nor the pavement.

One of the causes for this disregard is the long standing ”superiority – bias” in society that the rich foster against the poor; which in today’s terms is rather more relative and reduced from the extreme contrast of older times to, “My vehicle is motorized so my need to get where I’m going has definitely got to be greater than yours.” In the busier, more congested roads of cities around the country, cyclists have been well squeezed out and wherever  they do venture, they are bullied into giving everybody else the right of way.

In order to stay safe cycling on Indian city roads, you need to have the mental preparation a fighter entering the ring or a batsman stepping onto the pitch has. Stay alert and keep a look out for these common nuisances.

flip

 

1. The Obnoxious Flipper : They lay in wait, within parked cars, speaking on the phone, finalizing grocery lists, anything that kills time until a bike comes along. Then, it’s time to open their door and present a large obstructive plane at point blank range. Also beware of it’s derivative, the hurried flipper who owing to an allergic reaction to staying inside stationary cars will throw open their door as soon as their car halts, which is the one point of time when car passengers would usually be expected to pay attention before getting out. It is best to ring your bell when passing a parked vehicle that may have a driver or a passenger in it.

slick

2. The Silent Slicker: This species of road animal is usually found in suburban – neighbourhood streets where walls block road visibility around curves and junctions. Like ninjas on the hunt, they travel silent and fast, mostly passing by unnoticed. Their abhorrence toward extravagance and inherent eco-sensitivity prevents them from acknowledging the usefulness of that very valid old instrument called the ”horn” in preventing pile-ups. Always expect one of these to be creeping up on you from around a blind curve even if you are doing a left turn, especially on smaller roads where the right side and left side of the street are one and the silent slicker’s sense of economy forces them to stick to the inner curve to save that much more time, fuel and money. Again, ringing one’s bell before turning blind curves can prevent mishaps.

auto

 

3. The Auto Weavers: This class of road warrior is undoubtedly one you are well wary of. Nothing says ”Indian Roads” as much as the high tempo-ed thump thumping of the Autorickshaw engine. The auto, much like it’s black and yellow cousin the bumble-bee, is a pollinator, it sucks the nectar of the footpaths. As it flies from footpath to footpath, buzzing it’s distinct buzz, it drops some nectar on the footpaths it visits and thus performs – cross pollination. Since this act of cross – pollination is vital for the city in it’s day -to – day running, the Auto Weavers are here to stay and thus need to be preemptively cared against as a cyclist. The most important point to be kept in mind when you spot one of these on your path, is that due to it’s extreme dependence on the nectar of the footpaths, the Auto Weaver may at any random point swoop towards the side of the road to reach those footpaths. While this may be expected of any kind of car, the reason why Autos are so dangerous is that they have a very small turning radius and thus, while a movement toward the side by a car has to start from at least 5mtrs. away and progresses slowly, a movement by an auto to the side of the road only needs to start 1mtr. before the stopping point and is completed in rapid motion. A cyclist should always pay particular attention to auto’s by street-sides.

pass

 

4. Passenger Rallies: A visible threat is easily avoided and something as large as a bus is easily visible. However, when they come at you from behind, it is a different matter altogether. If you see a bus throttling away ahead of you, do not take it as a sign that you can accelerate because buses are on a constant time trial lap during which they have to stop at given check-points(bus stands). Thus every small stretch from bus -stand to bus – stand is nothing less than an opportunity to achieve top speed, and stops and starts are always sudden. Buses, with their high momentum are always loathe to slow down for cyclists. It is best to stick to the extreme side of the road, and in narrower, smaller roads even stop outside the road to let them pass. When overtaking a bus parked at a stand, remember that once they start again, they will most probably overtake you again and then stop at a stand right ahead of you. This could carry on to become a pattern.. It is best you allow them to put a gap between itself and you, or if willing to dash ahead past a few bus-stops, do so yourself.

beam

 

5. The Artful Beamer: The beamer is the yang to the silent slicker’s yin, they are opposing forces that reside side by side with each other. While the slicker takes pride in confronting you head on, the beamer does the opposite. Every once in a while, especially in the less noisy areas of town, you find yourself cycling lackadaisically and in peace with the universe, enjoying the ride and the breeze on your face when suddenly the thunderous noise of a bellowing 18 wheeler’s horn resounds from right behind you. Next thing you know, you have veered yourself into the gutter and a tiny Maruti -800 is passing you by. Artful Beamers are exceptional individuals of society who take pride in their humility, arming their commonplace cars with horns originally meant for steam boats and trains, not worried about the untoward attention they may garner by its use. Unfortunately there is no measure one could take to rid themselves of the probabilities of being jumped on by a Beamer.

red

 

6.  The Red Burner: The angular parking cousin of the parallel parking obnoxious flipper, the red burner’s vice is usually a lack of patience. When this evil is paired with a lack of vision due to vehicles parked on both sides of it, a dangerous scenario arises. For the average cyclist moving forward along a row of angular parked vehicles, the red burner appears as  one random car among them being turned on. The brake lights burning bright put the cyclist in a conundrum. Should I ride past or wait till he backs out?  The cyclist then slows down, but seeing no movement from the car, decides not to waste anymore time and dashes straight ahead . This is usually when the red burner finally backs out. A guideline to follow in case you encounter a burner is to pass it only if there is more traffic on the street passing it, as red burners, thought disregarding of cyclists, usually watch out for larger vehicles on the street.

DSCN1888-copy