Cycling on the Indian subcontinent is unpredictable and unimaginable. If the allure of India calls to you and biking is your passion, prepare for a mesmerizing encounter, one mile at a time.
The alluring sights, sounds, and smells of India is an intimate, potent experience for long-distance cyclists. They believe it’s the only way to experience the real India.
It takes almost two months to cross the Indian subcontinent from Agra to Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin) with Tour d’Afrique, a company that offers transcontinental cycling tours. But you can cycle the route in sections. The beginning section of the India tour, from Agra to Mumbai, is three weeks.
In Agra, after taking a group photo at the Taj Mahal, the cyclists head west past the legendary city of Fatehpur Sikri, former capital of the Mughal Empire.
En route to Rajasthan, riders stop at bird and tiger sanctuaries, resting in the pink city of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Pushkar, the city of Brahmans.
Riders also see more of India’s lesser known gems: Belgaum, Badami (cave temples), Kolegal (the silk city), and Erode (the loom city). Other highlights include: hidden forts in Rajasthan, rural Fort Dhamli, the former Maharaja’s hunting lodge at Jambaghoda and Saputara Hill Station.
Depending on how fast you cycle, you will have plenty of opportunity to explore the town and surrounding area. You are free to wander, visit temples and indulge in a Brahman’s feast at the opulent Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur.
The three-week tour ends in Mumbai, India’s mad, bustling hub of India’s Bollywood film industry.
Lodging ranges from luxurious Rajasthani palaces to budget hotels and basic Indian guesthouses. Keep in mind, rural areas lack the infrastructure and standard of living most of us are used to.
The smiling faces of villagers is not the only reward. Along the route, you encounter a culture that is ancient, diverse and challenging. Anything can happen: religious festivals, sacred cows, elephants and mischievous monkeys.
The Toronto-based company is a frontrunner in long-distance bike tours and they do a good job handling the logistics. Each evening, the staff discusses the next day’s route. Support vehicles carry everything that you don’t need for the day. At the midpoint, a van delivers a roadside lunch.
This adventure of a lifetime has its unique challenges. It goes without saying that you have to be fit: mileage varies from 25 miles to 85 miles a day. One rider from last year’s trip said she, “lost a ton of weight.”
You will be biking with avid cyclists, explorers and humanitarians from around the world. The Kings and Sultans 21-day tour starts January 19, 2012 in Agra and ends February 12 in Mumbai. The route covers 1,974 km (1,226 miles) and the itinerary includes four rest days.
I have cycled now on several continents but India really surprised me. Perhaps it was the fact that so much variety can be seen in one country or perhaps the fact the in-spite of the large population we cycled on mostly quiet roads. Or perhaps it was the overwhelming friendliness of the people we met every day. Whatever it is, you will not be disappointed in India.
India is a facinating, vibrant, colourful, and diverse place. I was the tour leader for this cycling expedition through India and my sense was that all the participants left with a variety of strange and wonderful memories of their time cycling through India. It’s an experience that will surprise you over and over again.