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I have had a great time recounting my bike tour from Bangalore and Chitradurga via Hampi and the beaches of Mangalore on the West coast of India.  Today we continue from the coast through the mountains on the fourth and final post of this series.

Having left the coastline behind, the ride from Kollur to Agumbe was lovely! I passed through the forests and wildlife sanctuaries of the Western Ghats and the entire route is well canopied with trees making it a very comfortable and enjoyable ride. The last climb to Agumbe was tough and I could manage only 10 km in two hours. But totally worth it as I saw Rat Snakes, Lion Tailed Macaques and Malabar Squirrels. I was seeing Lion Tailed Macaques for the first time in the wild as they are pretty rare and difficult to spot. What a win!

LTM panorama

By T. R. Shankar Raman (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Agumbe was cool and refreshing and the Hotelier I met there was a real friendly guy. I didn’t have enough money in my pocket and the nearest ATM was 20 km away. The hotelier said no problem! Pay me the next time you are here! Wow! The warmth and hospitality was incredible. This attitude of warmth and hospitality, I have experienced in India and also around the world from the most unexpected sources. It is a good reminder not to judge people by their looks and to have faith in the goodness of people. We have got to learn to look beyond what the exterior has to offer. But I digress.

Anyway, Agumbe is perhaps one of the most beautiful spots in the Western Ghats. The heavy rainfall it receives has created a unique micro-ecosystem, similar to that of tropical evergreen forest and a home for the King Cobras! – the world’s longest venomous snakes. They grow up to lengths of 18.5 to 18.8 ft (5.6 to 5.7 m). Fortunately these snakes dislike us as much as we might dislike them. Lucky!

Just outside town, there are some beautiful trails for trekking and are the waterfalls a worth a visit. After spending one night in Agumbe, I rode towards Chikmagalur district the next day. I passed the town of Balehonnur which is located on the banks of river Bhadra and entered the coffee belt of India. The coffee belt is an amazing trail to be riding on and apart from coffee, arecanut, paddy, vanilla and other spices are cultivated here as well.

The winding roads with the beautifully canopied trees makes the region cool and lovely. There is nothing but lush greenery all around you and the plantations stretch endlessly. In between the plantations there are patches of reserve forests with thick undergrowth and sometimes infested with Lantana bushes. And also amidst all the coffee plantations, you might see small patches of tea plantations too. Tea plantations appear like a lush green carpet, while coffee is more of a dense jungle. The coffee and tea plantation next to each other make a beautiful contrast and a touch of beauty to the already lovely landscape.

After travelling for a month and staying in budget places, I decided that a little bit of comfort was not going to do any harm. Hence, near Balur, I decided on spending the night in a lovely home stay called Villa Urvinkhan. Perched on top of a hill in the middle of a coffee plantation, they have a great pool from which one can see miles over pristine forests. I could not have asked for more! 

The cottages were amidst coffee plantations and I woke up early in the morning and at the horizon, I could mist covered hills that made the peaks appear as if they were snow capped. The luxury of being nowhere!

I left after two beautiful nights at this homestay and then rode towards Chikmaglur town and headed to Halliberri Homestay. Around 20kms from Chikmaglur town, this home stay consists of two quaint cottages amidst an oasis of greenery. At times Halliberri is pronounced Halle Berry which I think is very funny! Outside the homestay on the main road, there is a simple coffee shop which also functions as a small restaurant. Here too I experienced great hospitality and I was well taken care of. From here, I decided to head towards Coorg.

As this is home terrain, I stopped for two nights at a friend’s place in Sakleshpur. I attended the annual car rally nearby, which was great and then bid farewell to my friend. Another two days of cycling and I reached safely at Siddapur where I finished this epic cycle tour that took me to across Karnataka and Goa.

Over all, it was a fabulous journey and I guess the finest moments of my ride was when I cycling through the Western Ghats. The roads were under the cool shade of trees and the landscape was breathtaking and bountiful. Just incredible!

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-India Western Ghats Birdlife starling-706732

The Western Ghats must be seen and experience to be believed. When you spend some time here, you will realize how nature has shaped these parts of India and how nature continues to contribute to the unique customs, traditions and cuisines here as compared to the more exposed parts along the coastline on the other side of the hills. I’m certain I’ll cycle these parts again sometime. Come along. 

Author: Poonacha

Editor: Ashwini

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

 

If you are looking to travel around this part of the world, you might wonder what is it that makes India special. The things that come to mind are likely to include the Taj Mahal, the beaches of Goa and the hustle and bustle of Indian cities.

Alternatively, here’s our list of must-visit places in India, guaranteed to help you discover this beautiful country, its people and its culture while maintaining the thrill of an adventure.

Often people ask me, where should I go and what should I see in India? The thing is there are so many options that the list is quite endless.

The more time you have, the better. Same applies for the budget as well as this gives you the freedom to move quickly in this large country. Keeping these factors in mind, the next step would be to pick a region and then plan around it. So we have categorised our picks that way – North, South, East and then the West.

North

Leh

Cross some of the world’s highest mountain passes and make your way from Manali in Himachal Pradesh to Leh in Kashmir. Nestled along these Himalayan peaks is the dramatic high altitude desert of the Tibetan plateau. The dunes here are in stark contrast to the lush green mountains, fields and orchards that are spread on the rain-fed slopes.

Things to do: Markha Valley trek and the Manali to Leh mountain bike tour

Best time to visit: Between June and October

 Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Cycling Holidays

Uttarakhand

Join pilgrims along the banks of India’s holy river, the Ganges, up to its source in the glacier ridden valleys of Uttarakhand. This is the backdrop to some of Hinduism’s most revered mythologies and is considered to be the ‘Abode of God.’

Things to do: Hike to the Source of the Ganges

Best time to visit: From mid-September to mid-October

1200px-Bhagirathi_River_at_Gangotri

Bhagirathi River at Gangotri” by Atarax42 Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Rajasthan

Take a step back in time to an era where bazaars, hill-top fortresses, hunting lodges, herds of gazelles, camels and sheep surround you as you camp in the Thar Desert in front of a campfire with locals who are happy to share their way of life with you.

Things to do: Visit palaces, forts enroute, try the local cuisine and camp in the desert during your cycle tour through Rajasthan

Best time to visit: October to February

 Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Cycling Holidays

South

Hampi

Time travel to an alien land where boulders stretch out in every direction interrupted only by vivid green paddy fields and statuesque palm trees. Here in the enchanting palaces, temples and pavilions, noblemen once rubbed shoulders with poets, sculptors, danseuses, writers and artists who surely found all the inspiration they needed.

Things to do: Try some bouldering or explore Hampi on cycles

Best time to visit: October to February

Hampi_aug09_56

Hampi aug09 56” by Dharani.prakash Licensed under CC0 via Commons

Kerala

Picture perfect Kerala is the perfect remedy for sunshine-starved souls. Awaken every day to clear blue skies below which the spice plantations, the tea clad  slopes, the sun kissed beaches and the peaceful backwaters encapsulate a culture, a cuisine and a way of living, that’s all of its own. Seen here below is a capture from a religious ritual known as ‘Theyyem’ during which performers wearing elaborate costumes, body paint, make-up, and jewellery, embody spirits of the guardian deity being invoked.

Things to do: Try Keralan food that offers great variety for both vegetarians and meat lovers; Walk through Fort Kochi and explore with Kerala cycling tours and multi-sport trips

Best time to visit: October to February

799px-Theyyam_Panayakkattu_Bhagavathi

Theyyam Panayakkattu Bhagavathi” by Maheshbabu.nair Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

East

Sikkim

Sikkim – The Happy Homeland, The magical kingdom, The Land of the Thunder God and the Nature Goddess. Tucked away in between Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan, Sikkim is a melting pot where cultures and cuisines merge to capture your imagination and tingle your taste buds as colourful prayer flags flutter in the breeze around hilltop monasteries that exude serenity.

Things to do: Chase down mountains on your bike tour through Sikkim from Gangtok to Darjeeling

Best time to visit: October to mid-November or during April and May

 Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Cycling Holidays

Sikkim again

This time it is for the Goecha La Trek. This high altitude trek is for trekkers who wish to pay homage to Mount Kanchendzonga, the Guardian deity of Sikkim.

The Kanchendzonga is revered by Sikkimese people and it plays such a significant part in their lives that climbing Kanchendzonga is not permitted. You can however climb up to Goecha La pass at a height of 4,940 metres from where you could have royal views of the Kanchendzonga range along with that of the Singhalila range as well.

Things to do: Trek to Dzongri Peak and Goecha La Pass for an audience with the world’s third highest mountain

Best time to visit: October to mid-November

PS: If you are still wondering why we gave two spots to Sikkim, you might want to read this.

800px-Kangch-Goechala

Kangch-Goechala” by Ashinpt Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Arunachal Pradesh

We just cannot wait to go explore more in a region that encompasses some of India’s least explored terrain. While all of the ‘Seven Sister’ states of North-eastern India appear to be very alluring, Arunachal Pradesh, the land of the dawn-lit mountains, holds a special place in our hearts.

Perhaps it is because of its astonishing bio-diversity(over 500 species of orchids!) or maybe it is because Rhinoceros, Tigers, Leopards and Gibbons still roam here in the wild.  Or maybe it is because of the confluence of Burmese, Tibetan, Indian and Bhutanese people and their religions, languages, traditions, arts, crafts and cuisines that have evolved over a millennium.

Things to do: See Rhinos in the wild, travel to remote settlements where the indigenous hill tribes dwell or bike through Arunachal Pradesh to experience it at your own pace

Best time to visit: Between October and April

'Wild flowers' in Arunachal Pradesh Photos.Doniv.Org CC-SA

“Wild Flowers” by Vinod Panicker Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

West

Konkan coastline

From the mountains of the North, we head to the South-west – where the sunshine beckons us over the lush rainforests down to the coastline. Here along strips of golden sands, you can discover fishing villages in the cool backwaters or look out to the sea where indomitable sea forts have withstood the test of time along the Konkan coasts. Don’t forget to have at least one post-ride drink with the locals at a ‘Cool Bar’ and not to forget, a local meal too.

Things to do: Watch fishermen bring in the fresh catch, climb over forts at sunrise and sunset and swim in the warm waters afterwards; ride along the coast for days as you get a good tan on

Best time to visit: October to February

1024px-Murud_Janjira_Fort_near_Murud_Raigad_Maharashtra_DPP_0093_(5)

Murud Janjira Fort” by Dr. Raju Kasambe Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Western Ghats

And in case you want to earn your relaxed beach holiday, then the Bangalore to Goa cycle tour is made for you. This sportive ride will take through the heart of Western Ghats on curvy forest roads past fields and temples through riverside lodges in the mountains on to coastal settlements along endless ribbons of sandy beaches.

We can’t think of a better way to make your way through the Western Ghats, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Come wander through lands where Tigers, Leopards, Elephants, Sloth Bears and Wild Boars roam and Parakeets, Hornbills, Flycatchers, Babblers and Barbets fly.

Things to do: Stay an extra day at a Jungle Lodge for a chance to hike and spot wildlife

Best time to visit: October to February

Art-of-Bicycle-Trips-The-hills-have-sunflowers-and-smiles-e1448477182740

 

Those are some of our top picks for an adventurous holiday in India. Which are your favorites?

As somebody who has always loved cycling, I spent my childhood exploring Bangalore on my bicycle. While  eager to do long journeys on a bicycle, fear and hesitation always hindered my desires. What would happen if my cycle broke down? What if I get stuck in the middle of nowhere? Where would I sleep? How could I carry enough bags and supplies? Assessing conditions and limitations, implementing safety measures, choosing the right gear is a crucial part of any bike tour. At Art of Bicycle Trips, I got the opportunity to help others address these challenges. Now long cycling tours are a breeze!

My first cycle tour from Bangalore to Goa in 2011 is one of my most memorable trips. This was in the month of November and we set off with Scott Hybrid bicycles and a total of seven people. Two couples from Canada, Renuka Nayak(Driver) and Sriram and myself(Poonacha) multi-tasking as Bike Tour Guides and Mechanics.

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Cycling Holidays India

Stretched over a period of ten days, this journey was my first long tour and I was glad to have Sriram showing me the ropes. Starting from the outskirts of Bangalore we cycled an average of 60 km per day. We passed through various places of historical and cultural significance as our route was designed to showcase the best monuments and places of interest along the way.

Karnataka is one of the larger states in India and its topography varies beautifully as you traverse through it. The landscape is vivid and diverse and breathtakingly beautiful I must add. A large chunk of the Western Ghats is found in this state. This formidable chain of mountains runs parallel to the West Coast and in these mountain tropical rainforests, with a rich range of flora and fauna, are surrounded by spice plantations, tea estates, rice paddy fields, flowering farms, intricate temples and more. A traveller who has seen other regions of India is bound to realise sooner or later that the state of Karnataka is bountiful and distinct.

As we began our ride on the outskirts of Bangalore, the granite monoliths at Ramanagara offered dramatic panoramic views. It is amazing how with a bit of effort we can enjoy such beauty easily here in India. What a start!

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Cycling Holidays-Photo by Ashwini Ravindranath

 

In Mysore, The Palace is splendid and it blends together Hindu, Muslim, Rajput, and Gothic styles of architecture in stone with a clock tower and marble domes.

Mysore_Palace,_India_(photo_-_Jim_Ankan_Deka)
Mysore Palace, India” by Jim Ankan Deka Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Cycling along the water near Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary, we caught glimpses that showed us the variety of bird life in India. The boat ride brought us in even closer to the wildlife as we watched the wild mugger marsh crocodiles basking in the sun lazily.

1200px-Marsh_cocodile_india
Marsh crocodile india” by Hericks Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The statue of Bahubali at Shravanabelgola and the erotic sculptures at the Hoysala temples in Belur & Halebeedu seemed scandalous to our clients in the beginning but it also opened their eyes to the varying cultural norms and diversity in the subcontinent.

Shravanabelgola_si0928
Shravanabelgola si0928” by G41rn8 Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In Chikmagalur district the challenge began – but it was also the most enjoyable part of the ride as the beauty of the Western Ghats revealed itself. The ride to Mullayanagiri, the highest peak in Karnataka, offered breathtaking views of the verdant valleys below.

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Cycling Holidays-Photo by Ashwini Ravindranath

 

This was followed by the ride to iron-ore mining are of Kemmangundi skirting the fringes of the Bhadra wildlife sanctuary. This once bustling town is now a ghost town albeit one that we love thanks to the forest cover that surrounds it. We then rode on to Banavasi – Land of the Kadamba Dynasty and recognized as the first capital of ancient Karnataka. This temple from the 9th century is considered to be one of India’s holiest shrines and it showcases intricate stone sculptures of which some are made out of monolithic blocks.

Madhukeshwara_temple_at_Banavasi_sirsi_karnataka
Madhukeshwara temple at Banavasi sirsi karnataka” by Ajaya.n.g Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The rural landscape here is a step back in time. The terrain is interspersed with ancient lakeside temples that have been kept alive to this day by people of different sects.  As we cycled through remote villages and smalls town enroute, we took the sights and sounds of this timeless place then descended to the coast towards Gokarna. The palm fringed waters, salt flats and temples then gave way to sun-kissed white sand beaches that hug the roads.

Bharatha_Gudi,_Gokarna
Bharatha Gudi, Gokarna” by Daniel Hauptstein Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

At Karwar, the border town between Karnataka and Goa, the coastal landscape takes on a distinctly different flavour as Goa was a former Portuguese colony and its culture is starkly different compared to that of Karnataka. The temples gave way to churches and villas and the local cuisine packed in a punch with spicy Cafreals and Vindaloos paired with locally brewed Cashew liquor known as Fenny.

India_Goa_Vagator_Beach_General_view
India Goa Vagator Beach“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

With sunshine, blue skies, the cover of wilderness and cool waves gently lapping at our feet, the Bangalore to Goa bike tour is very special. It displays the multi-faceted nature of India and takes you through some of the most historically, culturally and geographically diverse terrain in the Indian peninsula. You can’t go wrong by choosing this spectacular cycle tour route if you are planning to cycle and travel through Southern India.

Author: Poonacha Cariapa

Editor: Ashwini Ravindranath

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.

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.

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

Photo by Stuart Gleave via Flickr

Riding in the Rain by Stuart Gleave via Flickr

As folks in Europe and US gear up for summer, here in southern part of India, I am enjoying the cooling effect of pre-monsoon showers.

Don’t get me wrong, I love summer in India. The delicious variety of fruits(mangoes, jackfruits, grapes, watermelons, lychees, guavas, casaba melons, cantaloupes), fresh fruit juices, ice-creams and milkshakes; the visits to the pool and the dips in streams on treks, the longer drives to the cooler hill stations and the sunnier beaches; the walks in T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops under endless blue skies, what’s not to love! I almost don’t want summer to end!

Yet, the monsoons are awaited here restlessly as summer passes by slowly, for the rain clouds bring breezes that soothe. And as we cycle along into the rains, that earthy aroma that rises up into the air as the first drops of water hit dry earth is pure and magical.

The monsoons rejuvenate parched forests, paddy fields, sugar cane farms, fruit orchards and tea, coffee and spice plantations and turn dry, monochromatic terrain into a vivid, lush, dense landscape full of vitality and life.

Samyak-Kaninde-Rains-over-the-forested-hills

‘Clouds break over forested hills’ by Samyak Kaninde via SamyakKaninde.com

The ponds, backwaters, rivers and waterfalls surge and roar through the jungles, where old makes way for new. Some of the animals and birds take cover in their nests, while others shake the water off their fur, dance and dive right into the thick of it all, relishing the sheer joy of the monsoons.

Here in India, at Art of Bicycle Trips, we await the rains every June because –

We can soon head out on longer bike rides and just cycle without worrying about the heat draining us.

Deserted lanes by Anurag Agnihotri via Flickr

Deserted lanes by Anurag Agnihotri via Flickr

The joy of riding along roads that have been hastily abandoned by motorists hiding from the rain is unmatched.

Double ride on a bicycle by Palachandra M via Flickr

Double Ride on a Bicycle by Palachandra M via Flickr

The rivers that feed the waterfalls are at their best during the monsoons and you will get to play tag with the sun, the clouds, rain, fog and mist play as you cycle through the heart of India when most other people stay indoors.

Hills in the Clouds by Abhinav Singhai via Flickr

Hills in the Clouds by Abhinav Singhai via Flickr

The operators that support your journey along the route have fewer customers to deal with, giving you a much better opportunity to actually get to know the locals and their way of life.

Along the coastline, the seas wash away all the trappings of seasons past and leaving behind only a few people as you cycle along endless ribbons of beaches.

Higher up in the mountains, the mountain passes are finally open again and the crisp blue skies, snowcapped mountains and alpine lakes beg us to explore the expansive vistas in the Indian Himalayas at leisure.

Magical Ladakh by Art of Bicycle Trips via Flickr

Magical Ladakh by Art of Bicycle Trips via Flickr

The innumerable shades of green in the forested mountains, fields and farms that stretch around you, will nourish not just your eyes, but also your mind and your soul.

Mountains of Mangaon Bloom by Neelima Vallangi via TravelwithNeelima.com

Mountains of Mangaon Bloom by Neelima Vallangi via TravelwithNeelima.com

If you are wondering where you can experience some of this monsoon magic, then take a look at the cycle tours we offer in Kerala, Ladakh and Sikkim, come rain or shine.

Images used with photographers’ permission 

– Samyak Kaninde via www.SamyakKaninde.com

– Palachandra M via www.flickr.com/photos/palachandra/4881675192

– Neelima Vallangi via www.TravelwithNeelima.com

Photo Credit

Anurag Agnihotri via www.flickr.com/photos/agnihot

Abhinav Singhai via www.flickr.com/photos/ilovewalkman/

Stuart Gleave via www.flickr.com/photos/the_defiance/7313693914