14 Days - Guided Cycling (moderate / challenging)
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.
Cost from CAD $ 3145 p.p. twin share (Land Only - bikes included)
Day 1 Start Mysore. Those on the group flight arrive in Bangalore and transfer by coach to Mysore, breaking the 3.5-hour journey for light refreshments. Those travelling independently 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 we have a short walk round 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 dinner.
Day 2 Ride to Srirangapatnam ruins; return to Mysore; afternoon explore the city including the Maharaja Palace. Leisurely morning ride to Srirangapatna, the ruins of Tippu Sultan's capital, destroyed by the British in 1799 during their final battle to secure control of southern India. The island fortress stand 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 (37km). Today for lunch you get your first taste of ‘ thali’ - the southern Indian meal of rice and vegetable curries or the typical South Indian ‘masala dosa’. In the afternoon we have a guided tour around Mysore Palace.
Day 3 Cycle on the back roads of Mysore Plateau to Nanjangud; transfer to Bandipur N.P. We leave the hotel and cycle out of Mysore town 7.4km and 200m up to Chamundi Hill to view the huge five metre 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 back roads which we share with herds of white oxen and women in colourful saris carrying water pots on their heads. We cycle to the important pilgrim centre of Nanjangud, with the beautiful 9th century Srikanteshwara Temple dedicated to Shiva. We have a tea break here with chance to look round 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 (hills), once the hunting preserve of Mysore's Maharajas.
Day 4 Morning free or optional visit to Bandipur; afternoon ride to Mudumalai N.P. There's the chance of another safari, maybe on foot, in the early morning, one of the best times to spot some birdlife. If you missed the early morning safari you still get the chance to see monkeys, deer and peacock as we cycle through the park leaving the Indian state of Karnataka and enter the adjacent, Mudumalai National Park in Tamil Nadu. It's a fantastic ride with jungle either side and some well-surfaced roads although we do ask that you ride in groups as elephants sometimes wander across the roads. The afternoon is free to wander the grounds of 'Wild Haven' a rustic planters bungalow with fantastic views of the Nilgiri mountains one side and Mudumalai Jungles on the other. There is a spotting platform and it’s not unusual for elephants and deer (and very occasionally a tiger) to wander right up to the lodge.
Day 5 Optional ascent to Ooty Hillstation (13km climb), former summer capital of the Raj; free afternoon to explore the town. For some this 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 to rest at. Some members of the group may prefer to walk or enjoy a relaxed morning and take the hill in the support vehicle! After tea and cake at the top we have an easier ride into Ooty. Set at an altitude of 2,177m, 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 sample some of their famous cardamom tea. Ooty is called the ‘Queen of the Hill Stations’ and although now it is 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.
Day 6 Western Ghats descent through tea plantations; transfer to Guruvayoor in tropical Kerala. After breakfast we have a stunning ride across the rolling Nilgiris before starting the dramatic descent, dropping 2200m 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 and stock up on fresh fruits and head towards Kerala and the final 32km descent, through tropical rain forest and bamboo covered slopes to our end point at a typical Kerala road side restaurant. We load the bikes whilst you enjoy lunch and then transfer to Guruvayoor (3.5 hours) to avoid busy roads. Ride 86km.
Day 7 Circular ride on rural roads; return to Guruvayoor; evening Pooja. An easy half day circular ride. First we head to the beach, to see hundreds of colourful fishing boats hauled up on the sands beneath groves of palm trees. Then we pedal along country roads in the Thrissur district. The countryside, with its traditional ways and colourful people, provides many photographic opportunities. We then cycle on to a small church founded by the apostle St Thomas, who landed in India in AD 52 and established many churches in South India. We have a typical Keralan lunch before cycling back to the hotel. The rest of the afternoon is free to relax by the hotel swimming pool or explore this busy temple town. In the evening we get a taste of South Indian street food and then we head to the temple. Guruvayoor comes alive in the evening. The Shree Krishna Temple is one of the most important places of worship for Hindus in Kerala and is the 4th largest temple in India. The town is filled with devotees and the temple is especially busy for the night pooja, with burning josh-sticks and fragrant flowers stalls adding to the atmosphere.
Day 8 Cycle along coastal roads lined with coconut palms; ferry to Fort Cochin. We set off towards the coast. Mango and coconut trees line the roads and life becomes that little bit slower. We cycle along quiet lanes by the coast. There is a ferry crossing late morning and then we stop for long lunch break at a beach restaurant where there is time for a swim in the ocean. En route we pass shrimp farms with huge tiger prawns for sale (Jhinga Kachcia Aam Kari is a speciality dish of Kerala State, and is made with green mangoes and prawns simmered in coconut milk and spices). In the afternoon we cycle along the coast again and finally board a local ferry to island-hop to Fort Cochin (Kochi).
Day 9 Free in Cochin to explore the bazaars and the old harbour. A free day to explore the town of Cochin (Kochi), its bazaars and old harbour area. Merchants began trading spices such as pepper and cardamom with the Chinese, Arabs and Portugese more than 600 years ago. The Portugese established a base here, followed by the Dutch, who were forced to hand it over to the British is 1841. A potpourri of Indian and international communities, it is now a 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 Mattencharry. 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 Portugese 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 Portugese 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.
Day 10 Cycle past old Portuguese houses; continue to Vambanad Lake and Alleppey; overnight in traditional Keralan house. 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 Arthunkala 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 Vambanad Lake and Alleppey, famous as the start point for backwater trips. We spend the night in a traditional Kerala cottage with coconut thatched roofs: its backwater frontage and tranquil gardens are as relaxing as the Ayurvedic massage and treatments on offer to its guests.
Day 11 Explore Alleppey town before backwater boat trip; overnight on lovely Keralan houseboat. After a lie-in you can enjoy an optional short bike ride to explore Alleppey town 3.5km away, and stock up on gin and limes. Alternatively you can take part in a yoga lesson. Around midday we board a fabulous backwater houseboat for an unforgettable trip to Kollam (Quilon). 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, just relax and watch the world go by. Craft 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.
Day 12 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; we pass by Amrithanadamayi Ashram, better known as the Hugging Mama Ashram, aspiritual retreat overlooking the backwaters. We then join the main road to Quillon and have lunch at a sea side guest house: the fish is brought fresh from the market and cooked in mild spice and served with Poratta, a favourite Keralan bread.
Day 13 Free to relax on the beach and eat the wonderful seafood. Totally free to do whatever you want, strolling along the two beaches or just wandering around the shops, with a wide choice 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 .
Day 14 End Varkala. Those on the flight inclusive package will depart for London early this morning, from Trivandrum airport, for the daytime flight back to London; Land Only arrangements will finish after check-out from the hotel.