Cycling is the perfect mode of transport for the travel-lover, allowing to cover more ground than on foot, but without the barriers that a car imposes. The traveller is immersed in their surroundings, is self-powered, independent, and forever pondering the question ‘I wonder what’s over there?’
The bike rider is free to follow a whim, discover the limits of their endurance, or stop and settle for a while. Many believe that there is no better way of simply experiencing a place, a culture, and its people than by bicycle. And that, arriving on a bicycle opens doors, literally and figuratively.
Himalayan towns and terrains
Cycling into the foothills of the Indian Himalaya is the best way to meet the people, marvel at the landscape, and discover its incredible culture. Opt to cycle through Shimla, the summer home of the British Empire, to escape the heat and relax amid the middle of the mountainous green of Himachal Pradesh. From there, it’s 230km to Manikaran in Parvati valley.
If you feel like taking up a challenge, bike your way on to the Rohtang Pass on the Manali to Leh highway, which takes you to a height of 3978m and is only open during the summer months. The pass separates the Kullu and Lahaul Valleys and its name.
When to ride: During March and April the mountains are getting warmer but tourists are fewer. September and October are also good.
With mountain adventures beckoning from all directions, Manali is a year-round magnet. Bikers and backpackers are well catered for in parts of Vashisht and Old Manali with good and budget-friendly options for accommodation, food, and adventure sports. Bike your way through sun-kissed paddy fields, apple orchards, and tourist-friendly villages, all while taking in the grand view of the mighty Himalayas. Extreme bikers also opt to bike their way to the valley of Lahul- Spiti. Himachal Pradesh has great trekking options, so find a guesthouse where you could stash your bike for a few days.
Where to stay: Camp in parts of Himachal Pradesh or guesthouses are cheap and plentiful.
Karnataka is a cycling paradise with a varied terrain dominated by lush emerald hills, opaque rainforests, and a striking coastline. The state has always been home to a thriving bicycling community with excellent urban sightseeing routes to epic adventures in off the beaten tracks in the wilderness. Cycling has taken Bengaluru and other cities by storm. Several cycling outfits with well-curated routes and back-up vehicles allow the traveller to see the state at a different pace. The Western Ghats offer a thrilling topography as well as a refreshing backdrop for a trip.
Cyclists get to combine their test of endurance with views of tidy hedges around village homes and dramatic vistas of undulating hills, or feel sea breezes caressing their hair as they pedal along the coastline. Sign up for curated trips, wheeling out of Bengaluru to meet the countryside and routes that include skirting the Arabian Sea, looping around Agumbe’s rainforest patches, and seeing local life at close quarters.
What to take: Opt for a bike that is as simple as possible, take spares of anything that might be harder to source and make sure you can fix it yourself. Carry plenty of water on the road.
There’s nothing quite like exploring quaint Puducherry on a bicycle at an easy pace. Take a guided tour to explore the city’s history and culture, neighbourhood by neighbourhood. The streets of Puducherry – formerly Pondicherry – are today dotted with European-style villas, coffee shops, and cathedrals. The main appeal is biking the unmistakably European-influenced streets, chilling out in cafes, and peeking into pastel-coloured French-era churches.
Peddle your way to Auroville (book your visit in advance) as almost everyone takes a side-trip to the Auroville Ashram, 12km northwest of town, which attracted a veritable army of spiritual travellers in the 1960s. Auroville still hosts more than 1500 foreign devotees, who follow a pantheist doctrine of peace, universality, and divine consciousness.
Top Tip: Multiple outfits offer heritage routes with historical pitstops and immersive local experiences as well.
Experiencing Goa on a bicycle tour is remarkable. Ride through the remote countryside, the age-old heritage churches and witness the vibrant culture of Goa – India’s pocket-sized paradise. Interact, shop, and eat with the locals. Try the seafood at hole in the wall restaurants to experience the best of Konkan and Goan cuisine. Ride along the vast coastline, stopping at secluded beaches of our choice. Every pedal on Goa’s scenic route is an add-on for the biker.
Where to stay: Accommodation options include – resorts, hotels and lodges, and private house rentals and homestays.
Bicycle touring in Jaipur is a setting trend. Many bicycle tour organizers are luring travellers into exploring the city in this safe and sustainable manner. The city’s colourful, chaotic streets ebb and flow with a heady brew of old and new. Experience the enthralling, historical side of Jaipur – at the city’s heart, the City Palace continues to house the former royal family; the Jantar Mantar, the royal observatory, maintains a heavenly aspect; and the honeycomb Hawa Mahal gazes on the bazaar below. And just out of sight, in the arid hill country surrounding the city is the fairy-tale grandeur of Amber Fort, Jaipur’s star attraction.
When to ride: During November and February when the days are pleasant.