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

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!

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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

There I was in Karwar after cycling solo across Karnataka and through Hampi and Goa. On Entering Karwar you cross a huge bridge over river Kali as it enters into the sea. A spectacular view opens up and in the sea you see a couple of islands all thickly wooded and some even have resorts and beaches with restricted access. Again Karwar is a coastal city with nothing much to offer. The main highway divides the sea and the beach from the town and the beach is known as Tagore beach.

Apparently Tagore stayed here for many weeks and wrote very highly of the beach of Karwar. Tagore’s poetic description of the beach is a reminder of how beautiful it must have been once upon a time. You can still glimpse some of the beauty when you look into the sea and spot the lovely islands out there over the waters.

There is a small trek into the hills from the eastern side of the Karwar. On top of the town there is a village called Guddadahalli. Guddadahalli in Karwar is a village with no roads and is a 5km walk from the town. Around 80 families referred to as Hallaki Gowdas live here and they are all engaged in agriculture. Life is hard for these people as they have to walk 10 km up and down at least each day to access the town. However, the walk up the hill is beautiful offering great views of the sea and valley below. The view of top is even better as it overlooks the town below and you can see the sea clearly.

Arabian sea from Sadashivgarh fort

By Ayan Mukherjee (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I spent a good week in Karwar after which I set forth on next part of my South India cycle tour to the holy town of Gokarna. Once I reached Gokarna, I decided to spend some time here to enjoy the seascapes that us land locked city dwellers don’t often see. It is a great place to relax and I got a nice ‘ayurvedic’ massage while I was there to relieve my aching body.

The town of Gokarna is home to a major Shiva temple and is an important pilgrimage centre. So the beaches here attract conservative folks as well as hippies who are escaping the commercialism of Goa.

The beach here is beautiful beyond words and is naturally shaped in the form of an Om which in Sanskrit is written like this:   

A little slice of heaven!

Gokarna to Murudeshwar.

When I finally got going from Gokarna, the weather was quite hot and humid. Cramps used to set in when I cycled and had to keep hydrating myself with a lot of water and salts. Riding along the coast from Gokarna without getting on to the highway was beautiful.

Kodale beach at Gokarna

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

Having passed remote and isolated beaches, I used a boat to cross over from Gokarna towards Bhatkal and Kumta. Bhatkal and Kumta are home to fishing villages along the coastline and a lot of conservative muslim communities live here and you would be hard pressed to find tourists on the beaches here unlike at Goa or Gokarna. At Bhatkal, I saw many old-fashioned houses with beautiful wooden pillars and lovely verandahs.

I arrived in Murudeshwar and settled in for the night at a local hotel. This town attracts a lot of pilgrims thanks to the massive statue of Shiva near the beach. The coast was becoming too hot and the going was getting tougher and hence I took a diversion to the east and headed to the hills to the town of Kollur. Kollur is home to the 1,200 year old Mookambika temple.

The place was clean, the people were well-mannered and respectful and Mookambika temple was a worthwhile visit. There is a dignity of conduct found in this place and serious amount of devotion. Although I lacked the faith displayed by others here, I appreciated the sincerity and dedication nonetheless. I was itching to be on the move, hence I could manage only one day in this place and headed off to Agumbe!  More about my cycling tour through Agumbe here.

Author: Poonacha

Editor: Ashwini

On a trip of a life time, the pictures you capture, the memories you take back home, are all special because each memory is linked to the people who were with you at the time. People are the soul of the Kerala cycling tours that are offered by Art of Bicycle Trips and there is no doubt that by cycling instead you can easily connect with the locals and their way of life at home.

What stands out for me personally is that the people we meet on the road are simple, warm and incredible! They are always happy to share their stories and will greet you with a smile even if they are busy, working hard. 

Meet the people who make our Kerala cycling tours picture perfect

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Seen here, a fisherman paddling his canoe in the backwaters of Kerala. He was gliding along purposefully to reach his destination quickly. With numerous waterways connecting many island villages, a canoe is common mode of transport here in the backwaters of Kerala.

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The women seen above, wearing colourful sarees, carrying religious yellow-white flags and decorated parasols, were all lined up for a procession as part Christian church festival in Kuttanad, Kerala.

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This enthusiastic group of school kids posed saying “Yo!” to one group of American cyclists as we cycled through a village on the second day of their Kerala cycling tour.

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Plenty of women work in the tea plantations of Kerala but this lady here was especially happy as she smiled for our cameras as we made our way to Munnar Top station during one of our Kerala cycling tours. Its not unusual for women here to stand and work in the outdoors for 8-12 hours a day as they move across hillsides cutting tea leaves with shears and collecting them in the baskets that are also supported with their heads. Cycling Kerala is a breeze compared to that!

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Girls taking a canoe transfer; they were happy and laughing out loud as they saw us. Those who live in the backwater regions in Kerala, use a canoe to go to work, to school, to grocery store and even to meet you friends the next door. Life here thrives along the water channels.

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A lady washing clothes in a Hindu temple pond. One would surely appreciate modern washing machines a lot more after watching someone wash clothes manually like this.

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Hello Kids! These lovely little girls are wearing little ear-rings and their eyebrows are beautifully done with ‘kohl’ a.k.a ‘kajal’ in India. Mothers in India draw black dots on forehead, chin, cheek, hands or feet of their young ones to protect them from the evil eye.

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A coconut tree climber is seen cycling to work here in Kerala. Take that, all of you people who do not cycle to work because you have things to carry! Here, this expert cyclist is riding his bicycle with a bamboo ladder on his shoulders. Have you seen a balancing act like this in traffic elsewhere? Have you?

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A lady walking up the hill with a bag full of tea leaves on her head. Life in the countryside still involves plenty of long arduous hikes yet, this lady was happy to meet us and have a quick chat as we passed through tea plantations on one of our Kerala cycling tours.

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Men drying coconuts under the sun. The dried coconut flesh is then taken to mills for extracting coconut oil. Coconut oil is an absolute essential in Kerala. It is used in food preparation, therapeutic ayurvedic massages and is even considered to have healing properties. Keralan ladies swear by coconut oil for their long, thick, black tresses.

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This lady here is a fisher-woman who sells freshly caught fish in the villages near the coast. Here she is returning after her morning rounds with the aluminium vessel, that is used to carry fish, on her head.

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Fisherman are seen visually inspecting and separating sardines here in this candid shot. Some fisherman who cannot afford to buy a boat improvise and venture out into sea on little more than Styrofoam boards that are held together with plastic sheets. On a good day, they might haul in large catches while at other times, they may not be so lucky. The realities of life here.

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Coir rope making is a part time job for many women in the backwater villages. Sheela here is showing us the traditional way of coir rope making using her hands. Nowadays, coir ropes are spun using mini motors too. The fibres extracted from of the husks of coconuts are available in abundance and this is the raw material for coir ropes. In this image, one can also see bundles of rope that have been made by Sheela in the background here.

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This friendly old woman was happy to shows us a door mat that is woven with a loom that uses coir ropes.

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Here the lady is shaving coconut leaves using a knife to take the stalks out. When she will have enough stalks ready, she will make a bundle and tie it at one end to make a hardy broom.  With coconut trees aplenty here, people have found innumerable ways to use the materials provided by this ‘life-giving tree.’

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A boatman steering a houseboat through the Vembanad lake in Alleppey – As captured by one of our guests during their Kerala cycling tour.

If you wish to go a cycling tour in India or Southeast Asia and meet and interact with locals along the way, then you are in the right place. Please have a look at the cycling tours offered by Art of Bicycle Trips and feel free to write to us classic at artofbicycletrips dot com so that we can get your dream holiday going.

Author: Dibin

Editor: Ashwini

With the Winter drawing to a close as the summer heat kicks in here in Southern India, we thought it would be good to look back and give you a sneak peak at the Kerala cycling holidays that Art of Bicycle Trips has organised over the last six months.

Although Kerala is a relatively small state of India, it still offers a variety of riding for riders of all capabilities. From the amateurs to the pros, we feel happy to have shared this unique region of South Asia with everyone who cycled with us over the cycle touring season of 2015.

So, let’s jump into a time-machine and travel “Into the Past.”

1.  People are awesome!

People are really, really awesome and we are always very thrilled to host folks from around the world, from different walks of life.

Starting from the 6 year-old Nicholas to 80 years-young Liz, age was no matter and everyone we biked with had an exuberant ‘cycling spirit’ that is so inspiring!

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Nicholas leading the pack fearlessly during their Classic Kerala family cycling tour 

They championed all the different terrain that Kerala offered, from the low-lands(below sea level) to mountain ranges over 1500 metres tall, with a little help from friends. And anytime they needed that extra bit of support, the Art of Bicycle Trips crew was there for them, cheering them on always.

2.  Monsoon biking in Kerala

To bike in the rainy season almost never seems like a good idea. But hey, we rode during the last monsoons, with Richard and Nancy for the ever popular classic Kerala bike tour and Oh boy! Oh boy!  It was the absolute best cycling experience we have ever had!

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Through the cloudy-wormhole, searching for the windmills in the lowlands, after biking to Top station, Munnar

Cycling through Kerala’s lush tea plantations and spice farms, the scenery! The greenery! Unbeatable!

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Waterfalls often crop up along many hillsides during the monsoons and it is always a splash!

 3.  Cycling though Misty-Mighty Western Ghats 

The rains also bring with rolling blankets of fog and riding through the misty mountains in Munnar was thrilling and refreshing.

No words can express the feeling of riding in and out of the mist – we felt like we were in heaven!

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Liz and her friends are seen biking here to Munnar Top station

After riding on sunny coastal roads for most part of the year, the cool chill was more than welcome during this monsoon cycling holiday. Sometimes it became so nippy that we even had to put the windcheaters on and to do so in tropical Kerala feels very novel I must say.

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Downhill from the Misty mountains of Munnar – From the Central Kerala bike Tour in November, 2015

4.  Watching Elephants in the wild and along the roads

We were biking downhill in Munnar and voila! We saw a herd of elephants grazing in the grasslands just like that.

We got to see these big, gentle elephants up close as they walked up from the river after being bathed by their mahouts. Its really something to experience these giants at such close range!

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Bathing Elephants during a Kerala Cycling Tour

5.  Not-to-be-missed culinary treats

Food is a highlight of our trips and we make sure that people have enough options to satisfy their taste buds with the local cuisine.

Some of the best bits of our cycling holidays often occur at the table during long post-ride meals that nourish the mind, the body and the soul.

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A simple Indian lunch served on an island in the backwaters during a Kerala cycling tour

6.   Supporting the local traders 

Whether it is Sheela-Chechi who cooks and serves delicious lunch at the backwater island; Vinoth-ettan, the fisherman, who takes us on a canoe ride; Sajeeb, the tuk-tuk driver who assists our cycling trips; Kunjappan-chettan a traditional boat-maker; all these local men and women are an integral part of our cycling holidays and we are always amazed by their knowledge, their kindness and their warm hospitality and are very grateful for their service.

Your cycling holiday can impact many lives here & we try and involve the locals in tours often.

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At Kunjappan-chetan’s boatmaking workshop

We hope you enjoyed this insider’s view of our Kerala cycling holidays. If you are thinking about going on a cycling holiday in South/Southeast Asia, then please do have a look at our cycling holiday itineraries first. Also, feel free to write to us classic at artofbicycletrips dot com so that we can get your dream holiday going.

Happy Biking!

Author: Dibin

Editor: Ashwini

From a conversation(in malayalam) during a bicycle ride to Munnar –

Villager –  Ningal Munnarilekku cycle chavittukayano? (Are you cycling to Munnar?)
Cyclist – Athe athe (Yes! yes! )
Villager – Ningal adipoli! (You guys are awesome!)

Awesomeness aside, what is it that the hill station Munnar has in store for cyclists you ask?

Standing a 1500+ meters above sea level, with a cooler climate compared to the Keralan coast, conquering the tea carpeted mighty mountains of western ghats on pedal power give you a sense of achievement.
If you love cycling in mountains and you are in Kerala, Munnar is a must to be explored on a bike.

Lets take a virtual ride through Munnar, Kerala and you can see for yourself.

The starting point of the ride is the foothills of western ghats, near the small town of Neriamangalam, along side rubber and pineapple plantations. With an easy start and few downhills to begin with, we get to warm up our legs before slowly hitting the climbs. We cycle through a forested section with bamboo groves and tall trees on one side.

If you are cycling during monsoon or just after, you are welcomed by little waterfalls on the way. Stop by and wash your face and feet in this chilled water flowing from the mountains.

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A short break at the waterfalls and voila! You are completely refreshed and ready to hit more climbs leading towards Munnar.

Along the way you can see and experience, the Periyar River deep in  the valley, a hydro-electric project, churches, a basket weaving community settlement from neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, water gushing out through one or more open sluice gates of Kallarkutty dam (if you are biking in August) and few toddy shops serving spicy curries with tapioca. Toddy is a locally brewed alcohol made from coconut or palm flower bud sap. You have to try it when here to know why it is popular in these parts!

Soon you will reach Chithirapuram and that is when you will say “Wow! This is so beautiful.” This is the first stretch of tea plantation that you see. Munnar town is just 6 km away from here.

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Munnar is culturally very different from other parts of Kerala. It has a predominant Tamil culture due to the settlement of migrants from Tamil Nadu who came here to work in the plantations.

The story is that the British found it very hard to get people from Kerala to work in tea plantations, so they finally brought in people from Tamil Nadu who where ready to do the hard work and this changed the landscape 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 it is packed with people and shops. When in Munnar, you can visit tea museum and learn about the history of Munnar – which is intertwined with that of tea.

 

Another place you can visit is establishment called Srishti. Srishti was started by TATA group to rehabilitate the physically and mentally challenged children of tea plantation workers.

But hey wait, the ride to Munnar is not complete without cycling to Top Station. A steady climb that takes you to an altitude of 2000 m and to the highest point in Kerala.

If you wish to ride and explore this beautiful part of Kerala by bicycle, be sure to check out the link provided here.

With this third and final post, this series of blog posts that describe Dibin’s dream cycling tour route through Kerala now comes to an end. You can read the first part about cycling Fort Kochi here and the second part about cycling the backwaters of Kerala here.

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If you are considering cycling through Kerala, feel free to write to Dibin our Kerala and Sri Lanka bike tour expert classic(at)artofbicycletrips(dot)com for inputs. Cheers!

Author: Dibin

Editor: Ashwini

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Northern Kerala was always a place in my wishlist to visit and when I heard about the cycling event ‘Three States One Brevet’ , I never had to give it a second thought.

I started one day ahead from Kochi, along with other participants, to reach Vythiri in Wayanad district, which was the starting point for 200km/300km Brevet ride . The bikes were loaded up in the tempo traveller and we were off to Vythiri. We reached Vythiri by evening. At around 7:30pm, we had the Brevet briefing and other formalities being done.

Cycling events like brevet is also a good time to catch up with rider friend’s who may not be in touch for sometime. This time it was Dr.Nuveen, whom I met after quite a while. Dr. Nuveen is one of active bikers from Thrissur area in Kerala and I used to do morning group bike ride with him and other bikers, in the country sides of Thrissur. We had dinner together with Balu, a biker friend I made during this Brevet. It was 11:30pm and I was off to the bed, with alarm set for 4:00am.

I woke to a cool Vythiri morning with sun yet to rise. Had a Kerala plantain or “ethakka” (in malayalam), as the pre-ride food. I hope to last on this one plantain for another hour and a half of biking.

Soon the flag was off and Wayanad brevet had rolled out, with dozens of bikes coupled with its shimmering bike lights. It was very early in the morning and still dark. My front light was not powerful enough to see the road, at the speed I was biking. I didn’t want to slow down and so was riding alongside a rodie, with nice bright front light. He was showing me the way and I was pacing with him. Thanks to this unknown guy who showed me the way for a while.

tea-plant

It was dawn. The sights and scenaries of beautiful Wayanad were slowing unfolding with beautiful plantiontations of coffee, tea and many more. It was a pretty place to ride with very less traffic and well paved roads, most of the time. I crossed Tamilnadu border and reached Gudalur which had an unmanned checkpoint. Took out an ATM slip as instructed by the Brevet officials, for the proof of passing through Gudalur. Had some guavas and bananas and I started climbing the hills again. There was no mercy from the beginning of this brevet ride and we were climbing almost all the time.

I had lost contact with Balu in between and now I was riding solo from Gudalur. It was the best cycling stretch for me in the Brevet, starting from Gudalur towards Devarshola. For sometime now, there was a continuous tapping sound from my rear tire, but I didn’t care much. Soon I saw that my rear tire was slowly cracking up, with a deep cut on it. I stopped and  released bit of air, so as to slow down the tearing down process of the tire. I was able to ride for a while, soon to hear the blasting sound of the tube. Alright, now that’s the end of my 200km Brevet ride, I thought. It was only 55km and my tire was torn badly, with no tire bot with me.

I rested under a tree for some time and thought about how to ride from there. Although the tree was not a Bodhi tree and I was not the enlightened one, an idea popped up in my head, to create a temporary tire bot with puncture patch sheet I had with me. I cut the sheet into small rectangular patches and placed it under the tire, where it was cut. Took the spare tube I had and placed it inside the tire to inflate it to a level until the patches won’t pop out through the cut in the tire. In between, Balu joined me, to help fix the problem and left only after making sure that I could ride.

I started riding once again with minimal pressure in the rear tire. Had my objectives reanalyzed now; the game was to just finish the 200km cycling. If I finish it within the time-limit of 13.5hours, it will be a bonus. I kept riding, taking weight off the saddle most of the time, so as to put less pressure on the broken tire.

At the second check point, I was told that I had just enough time to cross the forthcoming one. I rode from there with a good pace to reach the next checkpoint just within time. It was a ferry crossing from there, across the river ‘Kabini’,with us and our bikes in canoe. Once we crossed the river, voila, I was in Karnataka and could hear people speaking in Kannada.

Kabini-crossing

Rest of the ride was through a reserve forest with lot of teak wood. Pacing up to reach the Kabini checkpoint, had made me tired and with the low pressure in the rear tire, things were supposedly getting tough on my legs. I took a break, pushed the bike for a while. It was getting dark and I was riding solo. My front light was not good enough for the ride in the dark. I kept on riding plus pushing the bike at times. Only thing that helped me to navigate was the intermittent white markings on the road. I kept on pushing myself and at 7:39pm I saw the finish line. I knew I was late by almost 9 minutes, but was really happy that I could finish the brevet.

Things I learned from this Brevet:

  • Have powerful front lights on the bike.
  • Check the tire for signs of wear and tear before setting off.
  • Carry a tire bot.

Having done brevets previously, this one left me with sweet memories of riding through one of the most beautiful part of Kerala and fulfilling my wish to ride through Wayanad.

All praise to the organizers ‘Cochin bikers club’ and ‘Happy bikers’ for conducting the ‘Wayanad- Three States One Brevet’. We at Art of Bicycle Trips were proud to support this Brevet as one of the official sponsors and help to continue to help more cyclists get out and about here in India.

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’.

This relaxed bicycle safari takes you back to the Victorian era, tracing the history of Bangalore Cantonment through the South Parade (now MG Road) and Cubbon Park. It is Art of Bicycle Trip’s classic design to give you an exhilarating glimpse into the true garden city and its colonial past from the vantage point of your saddle. We will ride along the boulevard of trees and see 19th Century churches, stately homes, ‘Neo-Classical’ style monuments and indigenous and exotic botanical species found in the park.