Beautiful landscapes, fascinating towns, stunning beaches and superb food, southern India is an excellent place to explore by bike. From the cool heights of the Western Ghats, where the sanctuaries hide excellent wildlife, to the quiet backwaters of Kerala, where Hinduism has produced elaborately decorated temples, this trip offers the chance to cycle through colourful villages where rural life has remained little-changed for centuries. The final coastal ride to Varkala rewards us with time to relax on the beach and reflect on an unforgettable experience.
Cycle through striking countryside with tea plantations
Discover Hindu temples and Christian churches
Cruise the Keralan backwaters on a traditional houseboat
Those on the group flight arrive in Bangalore and transfer by coach to
Mysore, breaking the 3.5-hour journey for light refreshments. If travelling
independently, you should meet us in Mysore. After checking into our hotel
there will be a short introductory briefing and time to relax (we may have to
wait until around noon if rooms are not ready). We will meet at lunchtime and
after lunch will have a short walk around the local markets. In the late
afternoon, there will be a bike briefing and fitting in the hotel courtyard.
In the evening there will be a full trip briefing before an optional group
Ride To Srirangapatnam Ruins; Return To Mysore; Afternoon Explore The City Including The Maharaja Palace.
We start with a leisurely morning ride to Srirangapatna, the ruins of Tippu
Sultan's capital which were destroyed by the British in 1799 during their
final battle to secure control of southern India. The fortress stands on an
island in the middle of the Cauvery River, and once over the bridge we cycle
around the old ramparts, enter Tippu Sultans Mosque and the Ranganathaswamy
Temple before riding back to Mysore for lunch. Today for lunch you get your
first taste of 'thali’ - the southern Indian meal of rice and multiple
small portions of curries on a plate, or the typical south Indian ‘masala
dosa’, a thin pancake made with fermented rice and lentil batter. In the
afternoon we have a guided tour around Mysore Palace. Also known as the Amba
Vilas Palace, it is the official residence of the Wodeyars – the former
royal family of Mysore, which ruled the princely state of Mysore for over
seven centuries. The Wodeyar kings first built a palace in Mysore in the 14th
Century; it was demolished and constructed multiple times. The current palace
construction was commissioned in 1897, completed in 1912 and expanded later
around 1940. The décor is simply stunning, if a little bit over the top, and
the former maharaja is still in residence in his private quarters.
Cycle On The Back Roads Of Mysore Plateau To Nanjangud; Transfer To Bandipur N.P.
Mysuru, Nanjangud, Bandipur National Park
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
We leave the hotel and cycle out of Mysore town up to Chamundi Hill to view
the huge 5m rock carving of Nandi, Shiva's celestial Bull. There are also
good views over the whole of Mysore. We then cycle back down the hill and
continue along the quiet backroads, along with the children riding a bike or
bus to school. We also share the road with herds of white oxen and women in
colourful saris carrying water pots on their heads. We arrive at the
important pilgrim centre of Nanjangud, home to the beautiful 9th Century
Srikanteshwara Temple dedicated to Shiva. We have a tea break here with the
chance to look around the temple whilst the bikes are loaded onto the bus. We
then drive for an hour along a busy road leaving the plains for the forested
foothills of the Western Ghats – once the hunting preserve of Mysore's
Maharajas, staying close to Bandipur National Park. We should arrive at our
hotel in the Bandipur National Park in time for lunch, but if not we will
have something en-route. In the late afternoon we take a jeep safari in the
park. We will see lots of peacocks, spotted deer and monkeys, with the chance
to see wild elephants, Indian Bison and of course the elusive tiger. These
can be spotted at certain times of the year.
Ride To Mudumalai N.P; Free Time
Mudumalai Tiger Reserve
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
After breakfast we go for a short circular ride along the villages outside
the forest areas to witness the local farming village life. This ride is
followed by a tea break before we transfer by jeep to our resort. The
afternoon is free to relax at our resort. Later in the afternoon, there
will also be the opportunity to go on a village walk on the outskirts of the
forest and visit a local farmhouse, where you could join a local family for
Optional Ascent To Ooty Hill Station (13Km Climb), Former Summer Capital Of The Raj; Free Afternoon To Explore The Town.
Ooty Hill Station
For some, today is the highlight of the trip, ascending 1251m to Ooty
(Ootacamund), an Indian hill station and the former summer capital of the
Raj. It’s a very steep ride up 36 hairpin bends with stunning vistas at
every turn, and there's an immense sense of achievement at the summit.
Although steep, there are plenty of photographic opportunities that provide a
resting spot. Alternatively, enjoy a relaxed morning and journey up the hill
in the support vehicle. After tea and cake at the top we have an undulating
ride into Ooty. Set at an altitude of 2177m, the cool climate of the Nilgiri
Hills gives us a break from the hotter plains below. Arriving late morning,
we take lunch in our comfortable hotel. The afternoon is free to explore the
town and to sample some of their famous cardamom tea. Ooty is called the
‘Queen of the hill stations’ and although it is now a busy little town
there is lots to see and do. Originally occupied by the tribal Todas, the
area came under the East India Company at the end of the 18th Century. The
British introduced tea to the area, and the hillsides around Ooty are covered
in tea gardens. The Nilgiri Hills are called the ‘Blue Mountains’, the
blue colour coming from the many eucalyptus forests surrounding the area.
Both the Botanical Gardens and the Rose Gardens are a short walk from our
hotel. In the town there are many shops selling locally grown tea and oils
and homemade chocolate. If there is time and it is running, there is
sometimes the chance to go for a ride on the UNESCO listed Nilgiri Mountain
Railway, a steam train built by the British (your leader will give you
details at lunchtime if this is possible).
Western Ghats Descent Through Tea Plantations; Transfer To Guruvayoor In Tropical Kerala.
After breakfast we have a stunning ride across the rolling Nilgiri Hills, the
backdrop for many Bollywood movies, before starting the dramatic descent,
dropping 2000m through the hills and tea-covered slopes of the Western Ghats.
The ride offers fantastic views over the hills below and there are some
viewpoints that should not be missed. 54km later we reach Gadalur, a typical
Indian town with one long high street selling everything, its shop-fronts
covered with colourful adverts and cheap children's toys. Here we have a tea
break before heading towards Kerala with the final 20km descent through
tropical rain forest and bamboo covered slopes to our end point at a typical
Keralan roadside restaurant. The bikes are loaded whilst we enjoy lunch and
then transfer to Guruvayoor (3.5 hours) to avoid busy roads. (Please note
that although the road is not very busy the road surface today is probably
the worst of the trip. There are many potholes and the road surface is not
even. Please take care and concentrate whilst cycling). Arriving in
Guruvayoor, we have time to relax before wandering into town to sample
delicious Keralan street food and have an evening stroll outside the temple,
which comes alive at night. It is one of the most important places of worship
for Hindus in Kerala and the fourth largest temple in India. The town is
filled with devotees dressed in traditional Keralan costume who come here in
their thousands to offer rice, flowers and gold to Lord Krishna, an
incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The ritual starts with bathing in the temple
pond, then lighting an oil lamp on the huge 7m-high pillar of light, just in
front of the heavy temple doors – a truly beautiful spectacle. Only Hindus
are allowed beyond this point.
Morning Ride To Guruvayoor Temple And Palayoor Church; Continue Along Country Roads To Our Beachside Hotel In Cherai.
Today we cycle by the Shree Krishna Temple. A few kilometres further is
another religious centre, Palayur Church, which is one of the oldest churches
in India and founded by the apostle St Thomas, who landed in India in AD 52.
From here we head towards the coast, cycling along country roads lined with
mango and coconut trees. There are plenty of photo opportunities as we
observe traditional life. Later, we board a ferry to Vypin Island, arriving
at Cherai Beach early afternoon. The rest of the day is free to enjoy this
stunning location and swim in the Indian Ocean. Cherai is known for its
mouth-watering fresh seafood, so for dinner, you could try the Jhinga Kachcia
Aam Kari, a speciality dish from Kerala made with green mango and prawns
simmered in coconut milk and spices.
Cycle Along Coastal Roads Lined With Coconut Palms; Ferry To Fort Cochin.
We set off from our beach location towards the coast to Cochin, cycling south
and passing through small fishing communities with their colourful boats
hauled up along the sands. Turning inland, we see grand houses built with the
remittance money from the Gulf States workforce, as well as older houses
constructed during the British colonial period. Please bear in mind that the
traffic levels are high for the last 8km as we arrive at the main road to
board the ferry to Fort Cochin (Kochi). This town has a unique place in
Indian history, and to soak up the atmosphere we spend the next two nights in
Fort Cochin. After check-in at the hotel, we wander down to one of the
restaurants in the old harbour area of Kochi for lunch. Those wishing to
visit the Indo Portuguese Museum should do so today as it is closed on
Free Day In Cochin To Explore The Bazaars And The Old Harbour.
Today is a free day to explore the town of Cochin (Kochi) with its bazaars
and old harbour area. Merchants began trading spices such as pepper and
cardamom with the Chinese, Arabs and Portuguese more than 600 years ago. The
Portuguese established a base here, followed by the Dutch, who were forced to
hand it over to the British in 1841. A potpourri of Indian and international
communities, it is now the bustling commercial capital of Kerala and consists
of several islands connected by ferries. Most of the major sights are close
by on Fort Kochi and Mattancherry. Warehouses filled with the smell of tea
and spices are lime-washed bright green, yellow and blue; rickety old bikes
and hand-painted trucks piled high with goods fill the narrow streets and
food stalls stand on every corner. St Francis Church is close to the hotel
– built by the Portuguese in 1503 it is the burial place of Vasco de Gama
and his tomb is inside the church. Further along, you come to Mattancherry
and the Dutch Palace. Constructed by the Portuguese in 1568, it was gifted to
the Maharaja of Kochi before the Dutch took it over. Close to the palace is
Jewtown and the Paradesi Synagogue. Built in 1568 for the Jewish members of
Kochi’s trading communities, it is adorned with hand-painted tiles from
China and elegant Belgian chandeliers, all donations from wealthy merchants.
The area around the synagogue, Jew Street, is a heritage zone with many
antique and handicraft shops and is excellent for shopping. For a culinary
experience, you should try the fish market near the Chinese fishing nets,
where you can buy the day's catch and have it cooked to your own taste. There
are also plenty of shopping opportunities here.
Cycle Past Old Portuguese Houses; Continue To Vambanad Lake And Muhamma.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Riding out from Fort Cochin we pass 500 year old Portuguese villas, a
striking contrast to the tiny fisherman's huts dotted along the beach road
with their long wooden boats pulled up under the palm trees and nets hung out
to dry. Many of these fishing villages are Christian; at Arthungal the old
stone church dominates its surroundings and is best viewed from the shade of
a coconut tree whilst we have a tea break. Continuing along the coast road we
head to Muhamma, famous as the start point for backwater trips. We spend the
night in a backwater resort overlooking the lake. The tranquil gardens are as
relaxing as the Ayurvedic massage and treatements on offer to its guests. In
the afternoon and early evening, relax on the veranda as backwater life
unfurls before you.
Explore Muhamma Town Before Backwater Boat Trip; Overnight On Keralan Houseboat.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
After a lie-in you can enjoy an optional 22km bike ride to explore the
village, or alternatively, you can relax for the morning. Around midday we
board a fabulous backwater houseboat for an unforgettable trip to
Trikunnapuzha. These converted rice barges have 2-berth cabins with en-suite
bathrooms and come with their own cook. With our bikes stacked on the side of
the boat you won't see the saddle for another 19 hours, so just relax and
watch the world go by. Vessels of all sizes use the lakes and canals that
make up this fascinating network of waterways. The smaller boats ferry
passengers and goods between tiny hamlets perched on narrow spits of land. On
one side of the canal vast paddy fields of iridescent green stretch as far as
the eye can see; on the other are fishing nets and coconut trees. As the sun
begins to set, the boats are moored together and we gather on deck for
Cliff-Top Ride To Laid-Back Varkala.
We have breakfast on the houseboats as they move from their overnight mooring
point to our disembarkation point. Here we meet the support vehicle and set
off along a quiet coastal road to the Valaazhikal ferry crossing. We load the
bikes on a local fishing boat to cross the river estuary and pass by
Amrithanadamayi Ashram, better known as the Hugging Mama Ashram, a spiritual
retreat overlooking the backwaters. We then join the main road to Quillon and
have lunch at a seaside guesthouse: the fish is bought fresh from the market
and cooked in mild spice and served with Poratta, a favourite Keralan bread.
After lunch we are back on quiet roads for the last 30km to Varkala, a small
laid-back community with coffee bars and yoga schools perched along its
cliff-top. We spend the next two nights here.
Free To Relax On The Beach And Try Delicious Seafood.
Today is a full free day to relax and enjoy the beachside location. There are
a number of beach shack restaurants for lunch which serve excellent seafood.
Try some of the Tandoori dishes – the clay ovens give a more authentic
taste to breads and curries. The last night's meal is generally at the hotel
with a fusion of all your favourite Keralan dishes.
Those on the flight inclusive package will be transferred to Trivandrum
airport early in the morning for the daytime flight back to London. Land Only
arrangements will finish after check-out from the hotel.
All breakfasts, 10 lunches and 4 dinners included.
There is a good choice of restaurants and sometimes there is a choice
between Indian and Western style food. If you are a vegetarian, South India
is an ideal destination. Lunches on riding days are usually taken in local
roadside cafes. Tea and soft drinks are very cheap. A (large!) bottle of beer
is approximately £3 (approx. US$5), but alcohol is difficult to get hold of
in Kerala. Please note that service in restaurants can be quite slow. Water
is provided in the support vehicle, where you can fill your bottle from the
20 litre containers. You should allow approximately £10 (approx. US$16.00)
per day for lunch and dinner when they are not included, £3 - £4 (approx.
US$4.80 - US$6.40) for lunch, and £5 - £6 (approx. US$8 - US$9.60) for
dinner without drinks. This amount may vary according to how much you drink.
Generally you can eat out very cheaply in India.
Nine nights in hotels, three nights in lodges and one night on a houseboat, all have ensuite rooms. Most hotels are of a comfortable standard with four-star facilities. The resort in Mudumalai is more basic.
Hotels in India usually do not have heating as there are only a couple of months when the weather can get cooler. You can request more blankets or the hotel may be able to provide a standing heater for your room. Please ask your tour leader if you need help in this matter.
Houseboats are comfortable and all cabins have en suite facilities, the majority of cabins are twin-share. The houseboats are air conditioned (between 8pm and 6am) and also benefit from a communal/dining area. Please note, single rooms can be limited.
Gas water heaters
Gas water heaters used on all houseboats are open-flued systems, as used in many parts of India. While this complies with Indian law, it does not meet UK standards and therefore we must inform travellers that there is a risk (while minimal) of carbon monoxide emissions. We have asked our leaders to install a carbon monoxide alarm, and to brief your group about keeping their rooms ventilated at night (ie window open) to ensure sufficient air circulation.