Want to truly explore India? Get on that bicycle
The Dekho Apna Desh series, promoted by the Ministry of Tourism, talks about how India is best seen on a bicycle. Over to the cycling duo of Tejaswini Gopalaswamy and Gurdeep Ramakrishna, who run Unventured Expeditions:
Having travelled to various parts of India and across different parts of the world, one of the things that makes us interested about India is that every 200 kms food, culture, the way the people speak or their way of life changes. That’s what inspires us to get out and travel and we have chosen the humble bicycle as the means to get around and explore India. So, I am going to introduce to you an idea of exploring India on a bicycle and share with you, insights into the diverse landscape and local culture and take you through the 360-degree view of India at the pace of a pedal.
Bicycle travel is the perfect pace to travel as it gives you ample amount of time to soak in everything around you, interact with locals and yet it’s fast enough to take you from one place to another.
We really liked riding in India at a slow pace as it’s not just about visiting the tourist spots. It’s more than that. We are going through the villages at a pace that helps us to understand that them, which is great.
Bicycle tours are conventional and we are not bound by time, space or the itinerary. It helps you to explore things as it comes, and every day appears new. You have the freedom to pedal as fast as you can and slow down if needed, to see the nature and people around you.
As someone rightly said, it’s about the journey and not the destination.
India’s landscapes are fantastically varied and its cultural traditions, snow mountains of the Himalayas to the sun-bathed beaches in tropical south India is a bounty of scenic attractions. Spirituality and royalty go hand in hand forming a thread that binds all of India together. The result of this are the serene temples, tropic style churches and splendid mosques. Having tyre tracked our way through this magnificent country and experiencing it at the pace of the pedal, we can say that India is rich in spirits. For us, India is love. India to us is an emotion.
When you take through a journey India’s diverse landscapes starting with the mighty Himalayan mountains, you move eastwards to Kanchenjunga which is the third highest mountain peak in the world that stands as the guardian to the north eastern states. The rugged landscape is unique. It’s any nature lover’s delight. The cuisine has influences from Tibet, Bhutan and China. For food lovers it’s a treat after riding through the north-eastern states for a long day. Interactions with locals are great, especially with the young monks. Constant chants of Buddhist mantras in the background, the beautiful smiles all around make this a beautiful memory, making North East India arguably the most mysterious and beautiful region in the country.
From Northeast we moved on to North India. For centuries northern India has been a melting pot of different religions and cultures. The legacy of North India is apparent in its architecture and culture. The various dynasties brought different cultures that they represent in the form of art, cuisine and even distinct recipes. From the harsh Himalayan ranges to the with valleys of Uttar Pradesh and then the sand dunes of Rajasthan. North India has become synonymous with National Parks and the diverse fauna right through the region, makes it truly Incredible India.
From north of India now let’s get across the Vindhyas to the south of India. In north we had mountain ranges as our protector while south is a peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. Our hearts get filled with views of green Western Ghats and the land looks like an amalgamation of different parts of the world. It’s an amalgamation of traders who came from different parts of the world and docked ship in our ports looking for “Black Gold” or pepper. This quest for spices resulted in trade and also strong influences from Portuguese, the Dutch, the British and even the French. Majestic ancient temples, exotic wildlife, spectacular festivals make you feel like that you are traversing through the cultural cradle of India .
India definitely is an emotion. We have been celebrating and exploring India over last few years and thoroughly enjoy doing that. And now lot of you may be wondering how does one get started. We have some simple tips to share with you. I think the mantra is –
Start small: cycle around your own city. Choose a day when the city is not so busy like a weekend to go and explore your city for couple of hours or half a day. And most cities have cycles available on rent and to purchase. I am sure you will be able to get hold of a bicycle for you to explore.
Stay consistent: Cycling regularly gives you that mental confidence that you will be able to get out and cycle for longer distances. Cycle for multiple days so that you get the confidence to go beyond your locality, your state, other states of India and beyond.
Join a community: Almost every city across India today and even beyond have cycling routes and communities. A sense of camaraderie comes in as you join these groups and communities are always supportive. You learn a lot from peers.
Cycle to Explore: Find your reason. Whether it’s the mountains, the beaches or the outdoors find your calling. Make cycling all about experiences and exploration.
Know your Bike
Road Bike: Built for speed. Efficient rolling resistance. Light, hence agile.
MTB/Hybrid: Used for mountains and trails, built for sturdy, upright posture, suspension for smooth rides, tyres to grip the road.
Low intensity: Short distances/trip duration with 20-50 km daily on relatively flat terrains.
Medium intensity: Ride distances/trip duration with 40-80 km daily in a mix of mountainsand flat terrains.
High intensity: Long ride distances and trip duration with 60+km on mountainousterrains with some tough sections and high altitude conditions.
Five Destinations to Explore
1. Manali to Leh Bike Expedition
This classic bike expedition starts from Manali, Himachal Pradesh and traverses through the lower Himalayan passes to reach Leh, the capital city of the Ladakh. This journey includes 470 kilometres of cycling (90 kilometres additionally to KhardungLa pass in Leh). On this memorable 15 day expedition, we’ve packed the right mix of cycling, leisure, rejuvenation, and exploration. You will experience stretches that challenge your limits, sceneries that indulge your senses and interactions that expose you to the local culture.
This is a challenging adventure primarily because of the varied terrain, altitude, and the extremely unpredictable weather conditions. Distances pedalled daily will range between 40 to 80 kilometres (25 to 50 miles) as the difficulty level will vary from being easy, manageable and extremely challenging along the journey.
The early part of the tour focuses on the cycling adventures sifting through four high altitude Himalayan passes. As we move along, you will be smitten by the regional culture and the last few days are reserved to revel to the splendour of Ladakh and its Buddhist culture. This expedition also involves visiting the Pangong Tso lake.
Who can do this tour
This is a high-intensity tour for anyone who seeks an adventure and is committed to practicing and preparing for the rough terrain. We offer participants all necessary support, training, guidance, and practice information to prepare for this tour. This is a tour for an experienced rider who has cycled long durations and must be physically fit. The tour is fully supported with a van that is always close at hand if needed. We will climb up to 5 high passes reaching above 5,000 metres in altitude and ride at 4,000 metres altitude for 3 days. The ascents, however, are fairly gradual and not intensely steep but expect long days of climbing up hills. Gradients vary between 5-10%.
2.Biking tour of Sikkim in the Eastern Himalayan foothills
Sikkim is one of the most beautiful and picturesque travel destinations of the Indian Himalayas. Surrounded by Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan, it is hailed as one of the world’s last utopias by the legendary guru, Padmasambhava. Your views on this trail range from plunging rhododendron-clad mountain valleys to monasteries and the pleasant smiles of its gentle, friendly and cheerful native people. To top it all is the stunning view of the Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain (8598m) stretched by your side on some days of your ride.
As part of any Unventured tour, local experiences like homestays and local yummy cuisine has been added. You will take the road less travelled to spot exotic Himalayan wildlife, tea-tasting sessions at one of the oldest tea estates and not to forget, interactions with locals to understand their culture through their voices. The picture post-card landscapes, some great climbs and thrilling downhill make this a perfect mountain getaway.
Who can do this tour?
The Eastern Himalayan Cycling Expedition is a High Intensity Tour and ideal for well-trained cyclists. The vistas are pristine and the riding distances range between 40-70Km on an average. The trail in Sikkim is a mix of climbs, steep descents, combined with narrow roads reaching an altitude of up to 3500 meters. Cyclists should be in relatively good overall physical shape with at least a moderate degree of cycling experience and should be adept at cycling long duration climbs. Being physically fit will, of course, be a huge asset but as the tour is fully supported the van is always close at hand if needed.
We will climb down and up several valleys as we take the road from Gangtok, through quaint village roads and countryside, to make our way up to Darjeeling. The ascents are, at some sections, steep. Gradients vary between 8-12%.
3.Bike tour of Rajasthan
They say that the many colours of India come alive in Rajasthan. Known for romance, culture, opulence, and splendour, it was once called the “Land of the Maharajas”. The region boasts of umpteen number of lakes, forts, palaces, and not to forget, the wildlife. Enjoy the simple pleasures of Rajasthan as you shop through the local markets, dine in local homes and well-known eateries, and listen to stories of yonder from the natives. Travelling through the region with a bicycle helps you connect and understand the magnificence of the region’s natural history, culture, and way of life. For a traveller, this is an ideal way to explore the grandeur of one of the last princely states in the country.
On this 11-day-trail, we’ve packed the right mix of experiences to let you get the right feel of Rajasthan, a land full of sand dunes, glorious hills, and magnificent lakes. We’ve packed cultural tours with, active bike tours, and local interactions for a wholesome experience of Rajasthan. The people, known for their hospitality will welcome you and regale you with stories of rich forts, palaces, havelis, and guide you through bustling towns and villages. Rajasthan offers amazing diversity and is truly a feast to the eyes. Biking is the perfect way to experience this vibrant land. The best seasons to bike about in Rajasthan are from November to February.
Who can do this tour?
The Rajasthan bike trail is a moderate intensity tour and ideal for a habitual cyclist. The trail in Rajasthan is a mix of gentle climbs, steady descents, combined with plenty of flat surfaces that makes it a delight for a biking enthusiast. Cyclists should be in relatively good physical shape overall with at least some prior cycling experience. The tour is fully equipped with a support vehicle, which you can hop into if you feel incapable of cycling. We will be cycling through some off-beaten paths as well. To prep for this, we recommend you do some prior medium to long (50km to 80km) distance cycling.
4. South India Adventure – Exploring the Southern India from Coast to Coast
Tamil Nadu and Kerala are the two southernmost states of India, and they provide the perfect contrast to experiencing peninsular India and the two Indian coasts on either end. The mountain ranges that run along the western coastline referred to as the Ghats in South India divide the region, by language, cultures, traditions, its people and their way of life.
You will pass some of the most impressive landscapes; meet and interact with locals, indulge your senses with incredible sounds, scents, tastes and textures that Southern India has to offer. You’ll journey back in time to stories of kings, of glorious kingdoms, of religions, Gods and demi-Gods.
Southern India also bears strong influences of new-age forms of spirituality and community, including more recent accounts of colonization in places like Fort Kochi – a former Portuguese colony and Pondicherry – a former French colony.
To delight your cultural and culinary curiosities, the ancient temples and local traditions with tropical spice plantations and green paddy fields in the plains make way for authentic local food, colonial influenced cuisines and culturally significant stories.
You’ll trail from the east to the west coast mapping your passage to Southern India through colonial towns, backwaters and unending stretches of coastline.
Who can do this tour?
Medium Intensity. Moderately challenging due to some long stretches of riding and weather condition.
This is a tour for anyone who wishes to soak into and take back memories of the true flavours of Southern India. Rich in history, varying flavours of foods, an interest in learning about the arts and crafts of the region, seeks an adventure, and is committed to preparing for an adventure of a lifetime. At Unventured we offer participants all necessary support, training, guidance and practice information to prepare for this tour.
5. Hampi and Badami cycling trail
Vijayanagara, also known as the ‘Imperial City of Vijayanagara’ loosely translates to ‘The City of Victory’. This empire was once the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful kingdom in all of South India. Today, it is deemed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also bears the title of ‘World’s largest open-air museum’. The ruins of over 20 elaborate temples, palaces, and medieval city structures between Hampi and Badami bear testimony to a flourishing empire from a bygone era. Join us as we ride through this boulder-strewn topography flanked by the Tungabhadra river, leading to Vatapi (Badami) via quaint countryside, cotton, paddy, and corn fields. En route, you may even get a chance to sip on a glass of “majjige”(buttermilk) and take a bite of freshly made “Rotti” (flatbread) offered to you by a generous farmer.
It’s this unadulterated warmth and joy that the people of North Karnataka exude that makes this trail a great immersive experience. This is a 5-day trail that goes through picturesque valleys where large boulders form cascades and rapids. You will trail through mythical landscapes imbued with the presence of Gods, Goddesses, and heroes linked with ancient legends. The cyclist in you can experience stretches that challenge your limits, sceneries that indulge your senses, and interactions with the locals that expose you to their culture and way of life.
Who can do this tour?
This expedition is for anyone who has a keen interest in history and would like to explore and go back in time to visit an era bygone. Every year the excavations around Hampi reveal a new story and a fresh insight into the empire of Vijayanagara.
Physically, this is not an intensive trail making it doable for anyone who is initiated to cycling and is keen to explore and ride with a group of like-minded people can sign up. The terrain in Hampi and Badami ranges from flat grounds to moderate climbs. Distances pedalled daily will range between 40 to 60 kilometres on a rolling terrain that combines relatively flat sections with rolling terrain. You will be required to practice some cycling before joining this trail. Our trail leaders will aquatint you with the necessary practice to put in to ensure you enjoy and not endure the trail.
OTHER POPULAR DESTINATIONS
1.Goa –The Konkan Route
2.Coffee Trails in Malenadu, Karnataka
3.The Jungle Book – Tales from the ruins to the jungles of Madhya Pradesh
4. Chasing the monsoons
5. Blue Mountain Trail – along the Nilgiris hills of Tamil Nadu