Cycle Touring in India

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  • No offence ad441 but it's not the same as backpacking around. And even if you were backpacking then you must have noticed the traffic.

    No, I never said it was - but I have done quite a bit of cycling in India and spent a lot of time (without a bicycle) in quieter parts of the the Western Ghats and I can promise that there are plenty of nice, quiet roads. As a rather poor analogy, it's a bit like cycling to Brighton - you can go straight down the A23 or you can take the backroads and barely see any traffic (though of course there's far more opportunity for getting lost this way).

    Actually for a more accurate analogy there'd have to be no accurate maps of these backroads, anyone you ask for directions would give wildly contrasting information & the surface of the backroads would be incredibly variable in quality, but they'll be there.

    There'll also be plenty of horribly busy roads as well & sometimes there's no alternative, but one advantage of getting into the hills is everyone has to go a bit slower.
    Any of the main coast roads will be pretty horrendous, but I'd really suggest only dropping down to the coast for a bit of relaxation at the start/end.

    Your other advice regarding panniers, clothing, etc is spot on.

  • Julia - Where did you get your copy of the eicherworld road atlas from?

  • I've put this


    together quickly as a starting point for my general direction, I'll spend a considerable amount of time adjusting it to find the quietest roads. etc. I'll probably move the starting point a little further south and maybe finish in Kerala to. The plan is to do 50 miles a day, 5 days of the week for three weeks. So about 750 miles all in.

    Mostly I'm excited about the hills:

    I think if you're willing to adjust it a lot as you go along that's a good starting point, though if you're really into climbing hills I'd think about a route that involves going Madurai>Kodaikanal and then from there over to Munnar on a road that's meant to be 4wd only. I think that cgoab journal I posted up involves that route. Though roads on the plains of Tamil Nadu will be pretty busy and not that fun.

    One place I really liked in the hills was Marayoor - it'd be a very pleasant cycle from Munnar (which I didn't like so much).

    The further North part of your tour isn't an area I know much about, but Wayanad is nice (and will have some quieter routes). You could maybe think about finishing around Kannur in Northern Kerala, spending a few days relaxing there (I can PM you a suggestion for somewhere very nice), then catching a train back along the coast from there.

    I definitely wouldn't set too rigid a schedule for distances. Some days 50 miles + will be fine, other days it won't. At least one of you will get ill at some point and that'll take a few days out of your schedule.

    I wouldn't count on much temperature difference between north and south - elevation will be far more significant.

    My friend was planning on buying his bike in India, any thoughts or advice on this?

    Don't... not if you're doing any hill climbing - you're very unlikely to get gears and it'll weigh tons. In the bigger cities you can get tolerable mountain bikes, but I still wouldn't think about touring on them.

    I do know of people that have toured on Indian bikes - in their favour they're sturdy & incredibly easy to get repaired, but it'll be slow and not very comfortable. Particularly if one of you is on a higher quality bike I think it could be pretty frustrating.

    One thing I was going to say - however tough/ridiculous your cycle route ends up being, you'll always meet someone (usually German) doing something 10 times as hard. In Sikkim I met a guy who'd just cycled to India via Pakistan and Iran (apparently Pakistan's horrible for cycling, Iran is great). In Darjeeling I met a German woman who was about to cycle solo through Bangladesh in the hot season. I also heard stories of a Japanese guy who'd cycled Sikkim on an Indian bike, though apparently he spent 90% of his time pushing it. Anyway, I was always reassured that nothing I did could be as bad as any of those.

    As for reading, I don't know of any specific cycling books about the South, but V.S. Naipaul, Paul Theroux and Alexander Frater are all well worth reading.

  • ad441 (Adrian?) - I've just been reading Himalaya by Bike this morning, excellent. Obviously little use for the Western Ghats but awesome book nonetheless. I can feel a Himalayan trip coming up for 2011. Like you said in your earlier post, I think I'd be better off experiencing south india before the adventure of himalayan india. The Sikkim route looks amazing, did you deviate much from this?

  • ad441 (Adrian?) - I've just been reading Himalaya by Bike this morning, excellent. Obviously little use for the Western Ghats but awesome book nonetheless. I can feel a Himalayan trip coming up for 2011. Like you said in your earlier post, I think I'd be better off experiencing south india before the adventure of himalayan india. The Sikkim route looks amazing, did you deviate much from this?

    Yes, that book's pretty inspiring - I'd love to do the Manali-Leh highway one day.

    To start with I did the route in the book and then I added on detours and extensions later on, mostly based on talking to locals - one very good, semi-offroad one to Rinchinpong, an extra loop up through the middle of Sikkim and a detour round Kalimpong at the end. I said I'd write some stuff about them for the book's website, though I've failed to get round to it yet (I'm not sure if she got round to doing the website either). On the other hand I failed to cycle in the far North of Sikkim, which I still feel bad about - The price of permits to do it solo was too high + the very variable weather conditions might have stopped it being much fun. I know a lot of tourist jeeps got stranded up there shortly after I went due to roads collapsing - they get a lot of landslides.

    Sikkim's really interesting - it's as much Nepalese and Tibetan as it is Indian and doesn't have a lot of the difficulties you get cycling in the rest of India - aside from the main road upto Gangtok, traffic's really light.

    But South Indian food is much better - not that it's bad in the North, just that Southern food is amazing. Don't know if you're bothered about wildlife, but you'll probably see a lot more in the Western Ghats. Spent a while in Parambikulam widlife reserve when I was there and saw a lot of exciting things (malabar giant squirrels, sloth bears, etc). Actually I was going to say that you've got a slight danger of encountering elephants on some of those roads through the hills, which isn't necessarily a good thing... I've never read an account of fleeing from an elephant by bike, but it's not something I'd want to do.

  • I got my map at Stanfords on Long Acre in Covent Garden. they're usually pretty helpful there. Sorry ad441.. must have misread your post earlier. Ditto on the manali-leh highway although altitude sickness would be a huge issue I think. STE5 I think your man ad441 is right about madurai to kodai kanal and munnar... it's beautiful...And it's hot. I wouldn't set too many big days up for yourself. Just see how it goes. If you run out of time take the train. It's a great experience. I would just take my front wheel off and stick it under the seats. If the conductor comes round then play stupid tourist. By the way why can't you people use real names.. I feel a bit stupid calling you ad441 and STE5...Oh and remember everything is negotiable in India. There is no such thing as "no". But they'll probably ask for more ruppees.
    Julia

    P.S I MISS IDLY. It's a steamed fermented rice cake that you have for breakfast with coconut chutney and sambar... YUM!

  • I feel a bit stupid calling you ad441 and STE5

    Haha, I've always regretted not using my actual name on here. It's Sean btw.

  • I'm quite excited about seeing wildlife, but elephants?....

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DDL1n95Y­jQ

    Apparently there's less chance of being killed if you hold your ground and shout at the elephant.... not very reassuring.

  • I got my map at Stanfords on Long Acre in Covent Garden. they're usually pretty helpful there. Sorry ad441.. must have misread your post earlier. Ditto on the manali-leh highway although altitude sickness would be a huge issue I think. STE5 I think your man ad441 is right about madurai to kodai kanal and munnar... it's beautiful...And it's hot. I wouldn't set too many big days up for yourself.

    P.S I MISS IDLY. It's a steamed fermented rice cake that you have for breakfast with coconut chutney and sambar... YUM!

    No problem, yes - isn't there a really scary bit in the middle of the manali-leh route where you go into a valley but you're still at 4000 metres + at the lowest so if you get sick you're stranded? Defintiely not a ride I'd want to do solo.
    In Sikkim I found 2000 metres was about the altitude where I started to notice it, though it affected me more off the bike than on it - while riding it just seemed like regular tiredness. But then I don't think I really cycled over 3000 metres at all and the leh road is all above that.

    I totally agree about not setting yourself any big targets for distance or anything - I tried to look on cycling there as the most pleasant way to travel and see stuff most tourists don't get to, rather than as some sort of endurance challenge.

    I love idly, It seems very hard to find good ones here - I think Ragam in Cleveland Street is probably the best I've had. I had a go at making coconut chutney the other day, didn't come out quite right.

    Adrian

  • I'm quite excited about seeing wildlife, but elephants?....

    Apparently there's less chance of being killed if you hold your ground and shout at the elephant.... not very reassuring.

    I'm a little dubious about that... but probably depends on the elephant. I was walking in Parambikulam with the park's naturalist + one other guy and an elephant appeared out of the trees about 10 metres away. You wouldn't think an elephant could just appear without making a noise, but they can. I was going for my camera when I realised the naturalist looked absolutely terrified - he whispered to walk away slowly, which we did and luckily it didn't pursue us. Apparently it was a young male and was flapping his ears in an aggressive manner... afterwards I asked what we could have done if it had gone after us and it seemed the best we could have hoped for was not all of us would have been killed if we'd separated.

    angry mother elephant (was in a vehicle this time)

    They're beautiful animals, though they're not doing too well in the Western Ghats as far as I understand. They usually migrate between areas, but agriculture has blocked off a lot of their traditional routes, which brings them into conflict with people and generally works out badly for the elephants.

  • I got my map at Stanfords on Long Acre in Covent Garden.

    Cheers Julia, They're out of stock at the moment but they're ordering one for me.

    Awesome photos Adrian, I just know my photography will let me down on this trip.

  • Apparently there are tigers in the area I'll be travelling!

    They're quite rare though right?

  • Apparently there are tigers in the area I'll be travelling!
    They're quite rare though right?

    Very, very rare - I think there are few left in the South.
    There are more leopards, but you're very unlikely to come across them. My girlfriend saw one briefly in Parambikulam, but that was very lucky. I think elephants are likely to be the only conceivable wildlife danger and even then it's a very minimal risk compared to road traffic.

    A few Southern highlights -
    Christmas carols in Marayoor

    Western Ghats from Tamil Nadu

    Parambikulam sunset

    Nilgiri langur

    Kannur

    Madurai temple

    God... I really want to go back after looking at these again.

  • God... I really want to go back after looking at these again.

    If you're free in December your welcome to join us.

    Can't beleive it's a whole 10 months away.

  • Just watch out for dysentery.
    Chapeau massively to those who have cycled it. I'm in Tala, MP right now and couldn't imagine cycling here at all. Roads are just too hectic for me- obv not here as it is the middle of the jungle.
    I can report that it is freezing- today I was wearing two t shirts and a fleece then it soared to thirty plus!
    I just had dysentery or at least that's what the local doc said- as far as I could guess- on the BRAT diet right now, and food actually stuck after four days.
    On the plus side I saw 5 tigers today.
    Good luck Steve and massively impressed by julia and ad441.

  • If I could, I would, but neither my girlfriend or my work are going to stand for me taking any more extended leave... I exhausted all my priviliges with my Sikikim trip last year I think.

    It'll go quickly. There are lots of useful things you could do to prepare yourself - from learning to eat well with one hand to learning some basic Malayalam (not that I did, but it'd give you a massive advantage if you spoke any).
    And it's an excuse for all sorts of bike part purchasing.

    What sort of bikes do you think you're going to use?

  • I'll be using my singular peregrine with my 29er wheelset and 1.35 hardpack tyres. I'm planning on running it in a 1x6 set up with a 38T chainring and a 14-34 cassette. Luggage wise I was hoping to take two medium sized rear panniers and a bar bag.

    To test the setup I'll probably do a 3/4 day domestic tour in July. London to Bolton crossing the peak district, luckily I have friends/family at 60ish mile intervals on the route.

    My friend will be buying or borrowing a bike so not sure yet, but it'll be a similar set up albeit with more gears.

  • I'll be using my singular peregrine with my 29er wheelset and 1.35 hardpack tyres. I'm planning on running it in a 1x6 set up with a 38T chainring and a 14-34 cassette. Luggage wise I was hoping to take two medium sized rear panniers and a bar bag.

    To test the setup I'll probably do a 3/4 day domestic tour in July. London to Bolton crossing the peak district, luckily I have friends/family at 60ish mile intervals on the route.

    My friend will be buying or borrowing a bike so not sure yet, but it'll be a similar set up albeit with more gears.

    That sounds like a good choice - a lot lighter than what I toured on which is quite enviable, but then I think you'll have much better roads in the South. Only possible problem I can think of is that you'll only be able to get 26" wheel spares out there, so carry plenty of inner tubes, spokes and maybe even a spare tyre. But then in 3 weeks you're unlikely to have anything major go wrong.
    I carried far more luggage than I should have really - mainly because I took a heavy slr camera as I knew it'd help keep me sane when not cycling.

    My bike testing and training ended up being little more than one ride down to Brighton in the end - which was really stupid when i had several months to prepare.

  • Just watch out for dysentery.
    Chapeau massively to those who have cycled it. I'm in Tala, MP right now and couldn't imagine cycling here at all. Roads are just too hectic for me- obv not here as it is the middle of the jungle.
    I can report that it is freezing- today I was wearing two t shirts and a fleece then it soared to thirty plus!
    I just had dysentery or at least that's what the local doc said- as far as I could guess- on the BRAT diet right now, and food actually stuck after four days.
    On the plus side I saw 5 tigers today.
    Good luck Steve and massively impressed by julia and ad441.

    Is that near Bandhavgarh? A great place, I remember having to get up at 4am to get tothe reserve and it being unbelievably cold. 5 tigers is excellent. Got really lucky and saw 3 the first day I was there, but no one saw a single one for 4 days after that. I'm very jealous (though not of the dysentry of course).

    On the subject of illness - cycling in India I'd carry a good general purpose antibiotic (ciproflaxin?). I talked to a doctor before I went and his view was you should just start taking the pills right away if you thought you were getting something. I had several unpleasant bouts of illness, which always coincided with being in the grimmest, dustiest hotels in the most depressing towns, but none of them held me up for more than 1 or 2 days, which I think is probably down to the pills - though of course it's hard to be sure, maybe I'd have got over them anyway.

  • Adrian - Yes you're probably right about the rarity of 29" components, it isn't easy in this country. I couldn't bear to be on 26" wheels though, I've never felt comfortable on them even when mountain biking. Shouldn't be too much extra weight to carry a spare tyre, some spare tubes and two or three spare spokes though.

    Antibiotics are definately on the list.

  • Adrian - Yes you're probably right about the rarity of 29" components, it isn't easy in this country. I couldn't bear to be on 26" wheels though, I've never felt comfortable on them even when mountain biking. Shouldn't be too much extra weight to carry a spare tyre, some spare tubes and two or three spare spokes though.

    Antibiotics are definately on the list.

    Yes, I'd have really appreciated bigger wheels going up those hills.

    I took a lot of spare parts I didn't use at all. One thing you might be able to do is leave spares at a guesthouse in Cochin, as for the most part you'll only be a day's taxi ride away from them if you turn out you need them. Which you probably won't - Maybe I was lucky, but aside from a continually loosening bike stand I had no real technical problems at all.

  • I cycled in India in 92 on an Atlas, I believe it cost £15 brand new, assembled by “Indian technician” with the aide of 1 ill fitting open ended spanner.

    Tied my Millets rucksack, also £15 onto rat trap rack and headed into desert from Jaipur. Spent as much time hitching, pushing & even bussing. Didn’t really have a clue but young & foolish. Eventually sold bike in Rishikesh to tea shop owner for virtually same price. Hasten to add I did not cycle all that distance.

    Stayed in dharamshalas, truck stops and on string beds by the side of the road. Ate in dhabas and shat in fields.

    Have been back and brought bikes with girlfriend in Trivandrum, rode to Ernakulam, train to Goa, bikes stayed on train to Bombay then Bangalore, then back to Bombay, eventually turning up in Cancona junction four days later minus their lady Di spoke cards. Eventually gave bikes away to kids at the guest house we stayed in. They cost £20 brand new, including being assembled by “Indian technician” in similar manner.

    Whilst it is certainly possible to tour on an Indian built bike if your looking at putting the miles in and being serious then I don’t really recommend. Both Hero and Atlas are knocking out “mountain” bikes but they resemble argos asbo specials, fit only for riding the pavement in heavily urbanised surroundings with your hood up.

    If you are tempted to go “native” I would defiantly recommend bringing your own saddle & some Lady Di spoke cards.

    No matter what you do you’ll definitely have a magical time..

  • Sounds like you had a great time out there sp. I think my freinds gone off the idea of buying a bike out there for the tour.

    I would like to bring one back with me though.

  • Has anyone applied for an Indian Visa recently? just wondering how quickly they are processing applications.

  • very fast.
    mine was two days.
    in on wed, ready friday, flew saturday (after procuring malarone at the last minute).#
    Do it online then head to the embassy and give it in, really organised place.

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Cycle Touring in India

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