Cycling in Asia“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are.”

~~Samuel Johnson

 

Bike tour in Rajasthan, the desert state of India, is an experience one must try. The state holds a unique identity. The royal and chivalrous history of Rajasthan can be felt even to the present time in its splendid forts, and impressive monuments. We have been organising bike tours in Rajasthan since time. The slow pace of cycling has allowed us to explore the various facets of the state. Here are some of the experiences we recommend while you are biking in Rajasthan.

 

#1 Wanderlust the Thar Desert

Thar Desert in Western Rajasthan also known as the Great Indian Desert has vast  stretches of rolling sand and a unique ecosystem. Jaisalmer the major town is a prime trading center of the region.  Most of the desert’s inhabitants stay in surrounding villages which are sparsely spread across the region. The name Thar is derived from thulthe general term for the region’s sand dunes.

Travel tip: The desert town of Jaisalmer stands tall in eastern frontier of Thar Desert. The town is centeredaround the ever imposing Jaisalmer Fort. The fort is one of the few living forts in the world. We recommend taking the road from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer to enjoy excellent landscape en route the town.

Thar Desert

Camel Ride in Thar Desert. Image by Sam Gellman

 

#2 Celebrate the richness of Colours

Every colour has a special significance in Rajasthan. The festival of colours, Holi, is celebrated with much gusto.

Pedal on your bike down the road, and your eyes may catch sight of a group of ladies circled under a tree draped in colourful saris of crimson, fuchsia,  and tangerine. A sari with the combination of red and yellow denotes that a woman has borne a son. The men too are not far behind when it comes to showing off the vibrant colours sporting their fluorescent turbans, making the day look brighter than ever. The Rajput warrior class wear saffron turbans to denote chivalry. The Brahmin scholastic men wear candy pink, and the nomads black.

Cycle past the exuberant the marketplaces of Jodhpur and Jaipur, and you will find they every possible colour on stands of vendors.

Holi in Rajasthan                  Kids playing Holi in Jodhpur. Image by Siddharth Jain

 

#3 Study the magnificent monuments

Speaking of colours, legend also has it that in the year 1876, Maharaja Ram Singh decided to paint the city of Jaipur in only one color, pretty pink, to welcome the then Prince of Wales. This is when the main streets of the “City of Victory”received its delicate hue of salmon. As you pass through the streets of Jaipur on your bicycle tour, this colour is most evident in the beauty of the Hawa Mahal, also called the Palace of WindsParking the bikes is not difficult. Do explore these magnificent monuments, their frescoed walls and the striking Belgian glass windows.

Travel Tip: Many monuments including Hawa Mahal close by 4:30 p.m. for public viewing. Do plan your day schedule accordingly as per your visit.

Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

Jantar Mantar (Sun Dial), Jaipur. Image by Siddharth Jain    

 

#4 Hear the vibe of the city

Of course, as you pedal around your bike tour and make stoppages, you get the opportunity to hear the language of the locals from close. Cycle past a group of men who are friendly enough to wave at you and say hello.Being able to listen to the local language up close makes it a personal experience worth remembering forever.

We recommend: Do the customary Indian nod. However, practise at home.

Travel Trivia: Rajasthan, the regal Indian state is known for its blue city of Jodhpur, pink city of Jaipur and golden city of Jaisalmer. Do you why?

#5 Explore the old world hospitality of Udaipur

Give time to Udaipur. Also called the Venice of the East, the city of Udaipur is as old as 1576. The beauty of cycling around this city is the view of its picturesque havelis, ghats, and old temples on the bank of Lake Pichola. Udaipur has an easy-going, laid-back vibe, so it’s ideal for winding down at the end of a tour. But avoid bumping into a cow.

Travel Tip: To explore the best of Udaipur, begin the day at the City Palace. If you are a fan of vintage cars, you can even ask your guide to take you to the museum of vintage cars in Udaipur.

Fresco of Rajasthan

#6 Don’t miss out on the festivals

And there are plenty of festivals. You have the luxury to choose from a music festival in Jodhpur, the camel festival in Pushkar, the Kite festival in Jaipur, Holi or many more.

 

Travel Tip: Rajasthan Tourism has a ready list of festivals planned for the year.

We recommend travelling to Rajasthan during the winter months as it is the best time to take a cycle tour. While the warm rays of the sun keep you going through the day, as night falls, you will experience the temperature dip.

 

Cycling in Asia

Conclusion

Making the decision to take a cycling holiday in Asia , and exploring a place has its own benefits. Contribute to the nature by leaving no carbon footprints behind and get some exercise when on a cycling vacation.Furthermore, make your way into nooks and corners, which are otherwise inaccessible by vehicle, much faster.

Every place in Rajasthan can steal your  heart and attract you to visit again. If you and your family are planning on taking a bike tour to Rajasthan, keep a track of the weather and make a bucket list. The best known time to visit Rajasthan between October and March.

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.

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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

ABT Trip Leaders Poonacha and Kamalpreet cycled 700 kilometers in 6 days across Rajasthan in 2014-15. From the beautiful valleys of Aravallis in Udaipur to the sand dunes of the Thar Desert in Osian, it was a journey in which new landscapes unfolded each day like layers of a rich, complex story. Avoiding major highways and travelling only along little known back roads, they encountered facets of Rajasthan that only a bicycle journey can reveal. The high point of the trip however was the little desert town of Osian.

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As you start riding from Jodhpur, the terrain is flat. The roads are excellent though, the kind of surface you want to let rip on, burn some rubber, push down hard on those pedals. You can see the countryside getting drier as you move on. The Bluebull or the Neelgai is a common sighting in these parts. Considered the largest member of the antelope family, the male has a slightly bluish tint to its body and hence the name. The female is brown in color and resembles a cow more than an antelope. Blackbucks are not uncommon either. And if you’re lucky, you just might spot a Chinkara, also called the Indian gazelle. Extremely shy and hard to spot, the Chinkara is easily the most graceful of the antelopes. Seen here below is a female Asian Antelope a.k.a. Nilgai i.e., Blue Bull.

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Osian is 70kms North West of Jodhpur. While Jodhpur city sits on the edge of the Thar desert, Osian is where the Thar proper begins. Approaching from the east, Osian is where a traveler would get a first view of the sand dunes characteristic of the Thar desert.

Osian is a sleepy little hamlet lost in the Thar desert.The sort of town you’d see in a Clint Eastwood movie or a Spaghetti Western, a town where nothing ever happens, until a mysterious man with a haunted past walks in one day with a gun slung over his shoulder. But this nondescript place hides the rich history of this ancient town. Like the anecdotal mystery man, Osian has it’s own past, at once both beautiful and terrible. It is a place with more history packed into its few square miles than many nations in the modern world!

Osian derives its name from the Oswal clan, believed to be Hindu Rajputs who converted to Jainism. Like the Oswals, Osian is a syncretic blend of Hinduism and Jainism with both communities worshiping freely at each others’ temples.

'Osiya temple and Architecture' by Schwiki via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0

‘Osiya temple and Architecture’ by Schwiki via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0

 

Two beautiful temples –the Sachiya Mata temple and the Jain temple have collectively earned it the moniker of Khajuraho temple. While the Jain temple dates back to 783 A.D, the Sachiya Mata temple is said to have been built in 10th century AD. The town itself – like so many other places located in the Thar desert – was an important centre of trade and commerce in the ancient and early medieval periods. However repeated invasions left it impoverished and its once flourishing population eventually abandoned it.

Osian is believed to be the result of a flowering of art and architecture under the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty. With their capital at Mandore near Jodhpur, the Gurjara Pratihara kings – the predecessors of the Rajputs – built up a large empire between 700-1000 AD that not just successfully resisted repeated Arab invasions from the West but even took the fight to the enemy’s doorstep, eventually routing the Arabs completely from the Western flank of the Indian sub continent.

With their dominions extending from Sindh in the west to Bengal in the east, the Gurjara-Pratihara kings became great patrons of art and under them Indic culture flourished and found expression in beautiful works of art, like the temples at Osian. Turkic and Mongol invasions eventually broke the Gurjara Pratihara empire up and with them the sun went down upon the glory days of Osian as well. No longer did Camel caravans, miles long, laden with the most exotic silks and spices traverse the desert. Today Osian is a blink-and-you-miss-it town on the way to Jaisalmer/Bikaner from Jodhpur. Cyclists are some of the few who have the time stop and listen to its whispers. And if you listen hard enough, sometimes you can hear, carried on the desert sands, stories of travelers and caravans and places far away.

Contact us today to start planning your next adventure in Rajasthan or browse our Colorful Rajasthan Bike Tour itinerary to get some inspiration.