Cycling in SW India - A Review

My blog is called ‘johnhayeswalks’ so how come it’s got a description of a cycling holiday through SW India in it?  Well, this ‘old dog’, although suspicious, is not quite past learning a few new tricks. With escaping a wet English winter a guaranteed reward, it wasn’t too difficult to persuade me that a trip to part of India completely new to me might be a good idea.  It was, and although I’m not ready to change the name of my blog, cycle touring is definitely something I want to try again.

My introduction to cycle touring involved a fully supported (organized by Exodus, 10 days on a bike - 3 rest days) journey through the Indian States of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.  There were 13 of us in the group, all in our fifties and sixties, and we cycled along mainly country roads for about 500km. It was fully supported with a guide, a back-up guide and a mechanic who followed us in a minibus. In terms of the Exodus grading system the trip was classed “moderate/challenging” with the challenging element concentrated on going up 1600m and down 2000m in the Western Ghats.
A tiger! (Deborah's pic)
Kingfisher (I hope)
Elephant road block
I’m a bit worried that the trip we chose was one of the best and that if (should I say 'when') we do another one it will be an anticlimax.  It was a fantastic way to sample the geography, wildlife and culture of SW India. It took us through mountains and along the coastal plain; into inland waterways and along Indian Ocean shores.  Despite being crowded in by people we were surrounded by wildlife and could go up close and personal to monkeys, wild boar, deer of various kinds, a bull elephant and even (treat upon treat) a tiger.  The bird life was amazing and birds such as kingfishers, which you see once in a blue moon in the UK, were everywhere.
Ranganathswamy
If I have a regret, it’s that I didn’t spend any time reading up on what I was going to see before I arrived.  I didn’t appreciate how interesting I was going to find the history and culture of the place and if I’d done a little research I might not have been so overwhelmed by the complexity of it.  Kerala was fascinating - a gateway into and out of the subcontinent for thousands of years and a key location between China and the Far East, the Middle East and Europe – it’s a place I’d love to go back to.
Without doubt the best thing about the trip was the people.  I already knew that in India to get a smile all you have to do is give one, but I hadn’t anticipated how friendly everyone was going to be.  I’m sure being on a bike helps, but our group of lycra clad cyclists caused a minor sensation wherever it went.  Children and adults would rush out of their homes and shout greetings, ask us how we were, what our names were and try, however they could, to engage in conversation.
I was pleasantly surprised by the climate.  December, January and February is winter in southern India and for a northern European it’s the perfect time to visit.  It’s warm, hot in the afternoon but not too hot, and if you’re cycling there is always a bit of a breeze.  Although I went armed with every known precaution, the lack of mosquitoes (known to ruin many holidays for me) was also a huge bonus.
Nice weather in the Nilgiri Hills
The pleasure of cycling was another unanticipated pleasure.  Going up Ooty ‘Hill” was hard work and the potholes and traffic on the long descent next day was scary and somewhat dangerous, but it was great fun and even exhilarating. I also enjoyed cycling in a group, bounding along to a pace set by others.
House boat in Kerala (with air conditioning!)
As someone whose usual mode transit does not involve pedals there were some things I did miss about walking.  It’s obvious but worth bearing in mind if you are considering a trip like this for the first time, but you are confined to roads.  In India human life congregates around roads, and in Kerala in felt a bit like a trip through endless tropical suburb.  This sort of trip doesn’t really take you off the beaten track and most tracks in India are probably hammered rather than beaten.

So no, I’m not going to give up walking and I still, hopefully, have a lot more long distance treks to do.  I am now, however, also interested in cycle touring as an alternative and would definitely recommend this trip to SE India to anyone who wants to try something different.

Postscript: - since getting to the UK I have bought a new bike - I know looks aren't everything but...


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9 comments:

  1. Great trip John, I think I said before I was jealous - and that new bike - wow!
    With my foot operation stopping me walking I've also got out the bike. We have some beautiful lanes around Bowland but somehow it's not the same as the connection one gets with walking the fields and fells.
    Best of luck with your new bike and the Spanish guide.
    John

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    1. Nice to hear from you John - the bike's a nice extra string but it's definitely not the whole bow. Hope the foot gets better soon.

      John

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  2. Nice trip, John - 'something completely different' as they say. You might enjoy a TransAlp bike ride, by way of a bit of variety...?

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    1. Always looking for a change. As it happens we are doing the Munich Venice walk this summer but definitely want to try some European cycle touring. Thanks for the comment

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  3. It looks like you have enjoyed a nice trip..and pics are looking very nice !
    Bike Vacation

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  4. Well, I hope you enjoyed your trip to those states. These states have beautiful surroundings and the temperature is perfect for travel all year. The pics are great. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. To avail Kerala tour package at best price visit http://www.indiabydriverandcar.com/package/kerala-honeymoon-tour/

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  5. Every people enjoyed cycling trip.Great post.

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  7. This post is so informative and makes a very nice image on the topic in my mind. It is the first time I visit your blog, but I was extremely impressed. Keep posting as I am gonna come to read it everyday!

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