5 months starting yesterday by bike. Where?

#1 May 27th, 2011, 21:30
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  • seaneking is offline
#1
so I just touched down in Delhi a day ago (already love India!), I plan to buy either an enfield or a bicycle (depending on my itinerary) and tour a state or two of India in depth, getting off the 'beaten track', as it were, for 5 months. I'm not really all that drawn to sights and typical tourist attractions, with routes like the golden triangle holding no appeal to me. One thing I definitely want to do is stay at an ashram (a real one, I want to do the hard yards, not relax with other tourists) for a month or so (volunteering if I can as well).

I was originally thinking of heading into the Himalayas, but on reading my guidebook I was reminded how many people and other tourists will be there in summer. Then I heard so many people say how fantastic it can be travelling during the monsoon, but no one mentioned riding through one. So the way I see it my options are:
1 - Himalayas, avoid the monsoons and heat (a good thing?), not the crowds.
2 - Madhhya Pradesh and bits of Rhajastan - Not all that touristed, bloody hot.
3 - ??? Southern India? How does Tamil Nadu and such differ from the north? The North East sounds good but also a bureaucratical nightmare for long term solo travel.

Any other suggestions? Sorry if I haven't been clear. Basically I just want to choose a state (or two) with plenty of opportunities to escape the typical tourism racket, beautiful scenery, tourist sites not being important, and a chance to study at a small ashram.

So I guess main question, to avoid the monsoon or chase it? Would monsoon rains make travel by bike (or cycle, guess I could chuck the latter on trains) too hard?
#2 May 28th, 2011, 00:44
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  • freemanx is offline
#2
I don't think it will be much fun cycling through monsoon drenched India.
#3 May 28th, 2011, 01:14
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  • tiffin is offline
#3
In 2002 my wife and I rode our bicycles much of the way between Mumbai and Chennai. I say much of the way, because we actually loaded them onto trains and buses to cover certain areas. This was in April and June, and might be described as pre-monsoon. We definitely got wet sometimes, in other words. Riding in a light rain is one thing, a heavy downpour another altogether. Being utterly lost and absolutely soaked to the bone in a Bangalore traffic jam on fully loaded touring bicycles during a torrential downpour, is, well, quite an experience!
It was a wonderful way to travel, though - much closer to the pace of life for everyday people I think. In some ways it brought us closer to their level and allowed us to experience India from something closer to their perspectives.
Most of our time was spent in Karnataka, I guess. Very beautiful. Although it was hot, I think the elevation there and the peninsula effect makes the heat in that part of Southern India much less taxing than what I have subsequently encountered in the north. By contrast, I found cycling in coastal Tamil Nadu far more arid and monotonous.
Perhaps these days you can get more modern bicycles in India - nearly ten years ago our mountain bikes were such an oddity in Southern India that every where we went young boys would stare and shout, "Gear Cycle! Gear Cycle!"
Have you done much cycle-touring before? It can be quite physically demanding, and perhaps requires a certain amount of preparation and even training... While you can perhaps pull a rig together out of locally available materials, I'm not sure that purpose-built touring equipment such as panniers etc are readily available on the subcontinent...

Whatever you end up doing, I think the fact that you "already love India" means you'll have a great time. If anything, I would suggest that you don't totally eschew the tourist trail. We had a similar attitude in 2002, and we cycled close to, but didn't actually take the time and effort to visit what I have since learned are some pretty amazing places! Well, we'll just have to go back one day...
#4 May 28th, 2011, 02:04
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  • Klompen is offline
#4
During monsoon there will be few tourists anyway so why avoid the rich culture of India? You can immerse yourself in India just the same in many of the places where you find things of beauty. And much of off the beaten path India, can be quite mundane.
But if you're intent on this I would take a look at Gujarat/Maharashtra or Orissa/Andhra Pradesh.
#5 May 28th, 2011, 02:53
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  • Brett Cole is offline
#5
OP
Quote:
... getting off the 'beaten track', as it were, for 5 months. I'm not really all that drawn to sights and typical tourist attractions, with routes like the golden triangle holding no appeal to me.
Klompen
Quote:
And much of off the beaten path India, can be quite mundane.
I only traveled Rajasthan but I would have to agree with Klompen. Off the beaten track in some cities can go from super interesting when you're not really far away from the heart of the city - to pretty mundane once you get out farther.

Granted going even 1-5km away from the tourist center in most cities still means you're being much more adventurous than 99% of foreign tourists. I did three months in Rajasthan exploring all the most popular cities on foot and basically never saw any tourists 90% of the time.

Getting off the beaten path in general, in terms of cities and towns, seems to range from moderately interesting to very mundane. Cultural centers are that way for a reason I think, they have a history and infrastructure. I will say that in Rajasthan at least I found off the beaten path rural areas to be awesome, but off the beaten path towns and small cities to be definitely lacking.
#6 May 28th, 2011, 03:02
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  • Klompen is offline
#6
Brett the rural area around Kumbhalgarg/Ranakpur is just awesome.
#7 May 28th, 2011, 10:20
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#7
I think it was actually my favorite rural area of anywhere I went. The whole trip up from Udaipur I was wanting the cabbie to stop but he wouldn't due to schedule. It was sunrise too, beautiful little villages along the road.

My post might have been confusing, but I was saying many rural areas off the beaten track ARE great, but many small cities and towns are pretty mundane
#8 May 28th, 2011, 10:55
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#8
Hi, If you want to see unexplored India - go to Madhya Pradesh. The rains are not so severe so it should be okay. However, I cant think of any ashrams.

If you want ashrams as well, then Tamil Nadu, Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh are good options - you will come across some ashrams which are not yet "discovered".
#9 May 28th, 2011, 11:23
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  • ronniejacob is offline
#9
Monsoons are already setting in, so I would not recommend the bycycle. On the longer stretches, there isn't any shelter, and visibility is poor (for other drivers)...

Enfield is a good choice, because it will allowyou to cover greater distances, while leaving you the choice of meandering through every village/hamlet along the way.

Enfield is a good choice, if you can get carry out basic repairs like drying out plug wires and soaked CB points if it gets so. Carry a few spare clutch, brake and accelerator cables. Extra plugs and headlight bulbs. One extra inner tube.

So long as you average riding speeds of 25-30mph (65kmph) you should be fine. 25mph (45kmph or so) when its wet or moist.

I have done many thousand kilometers across the south and central India and have found that a couple of bag on the pannier opens a lot of doors in rural areas, because they know you are a traveller.

South, Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Kerala are good choices, even with the rains setting in. Kerala is dangerous because the drivers there are lunatics. I think the try to hit 70kmph as soon as they see a blind curve coming up...

Heartland Karnataka and Tamil Nadu will find you experiences of rural India with agriculture and temples. Coasts are a little "faster paced" comparitively. If you start from Tamil Nadu and head to Karnataka, then you can do two really brilliant rides, so long as you are hitting Karnataka from the south, via Coimbatore>Coonoor>Ooty>Mysore which is a beautiful ride in the hills. You should exit Karnataka via Mangalore>Karwar>Goa ot Hubli>Karwar>Goa. Both good rides. First gives you a coastal ride into the hills and the second gives you a ride through some really beautiful forests into the hills. Goa is for beer thoough. Nothing much there except beaches and BEER...

Just my preferences though...
#10 May 28th, 2011, 12:39
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#10
Wow. So many great replies so quickly! I'll definitely be sticking around here on IndiaMike!

You're right about the 'off beaten track' thing. I guess places are usually touristed for a reason. And as you say I'll still ride through the rural countryside (that I'm probably over-romantasizing in my head) that most people only zip past on a train.

I haven't done any real cycle touring, so perhaps that is a bit ambitious, especially in the monsoons (or mountains, either way a bit of a challenge.). The thing that was alluring me to the bicycle was the 'slower pace of life' tiffin spoke about.

What would you say the best state/area for 'interesting' rural riding would be then?

If I do head to the mountains, are the crowds escapable, with interesting rural areas, or is it just roads linking up the big towns? Perhaps a better idea to visit somewhere off season while I can? Any chance of finding 'undiscovered' (or at least non-tourist trap) ashrams?

Would the heat be unbearable in Rajasthan (and Madhya Pradesh)? Any ashrams anywhere?

I was thinking of leaving the south until next trip, but is it an inherently better option for biking? Quite a few people seem to be recommending it. More interesting countryside, undiscovered ashrams, off-season, and no summer monsoon in Tamil Nadu?
#11 May 28th, 2011, 14:00
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#11
Monsons will be all over the country, but my recommendation to not do the bycycle ride was also due to personal safety and road safety. If you are going to be pedalling yourself through lonely countrysides, you will just put yourself at risk.

E.g., 25 kilometers from Bangalore, there is an area where the police have put up signboards in English, Hindi and Kannada saying, "Beware of robbers and dacoits. Do not enter these areas alone or after dark" or something to that effect. I would not have believed it if I had not sean it myself just last year.

The problem here is more to do with abject poverty and the easy pickings of a mugging.

If you are on a motorcycle, you do not expose yourself to these risks.

Perhaps I am not communication it right from a visitor perspective, but if someone senior in the group can put in their two bit...?
#12 May 28th, 2011, 14:01
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#12
And I meant "pedalling" as in "riding a bycycle". Not any other way...
#13 May 28th, 2011, 19:20
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#13
Thanks for the advice ronnie, I think I've decided to go with the Enfield (now just to find a decent one!). I've also been thinking more about my route, and I'm leaning heavily with going to the himalayas. It was my original plan, and the only thing turning me off it was the summer crowds that will be there, but as quite a few people have said that may not really be an issue. So unless anyone thinks I should head somewhere off-season instead?

I guess now I just have to work out practicalities. I'm thinking I may need to buy a decent tent (I already have a cheap camping hammock, but that doesn't really help if it rains...or there are no trees), especially for the more remote regions around Kashmir/Ladakh?

As for the Enfield, general opinion seems to be that Karol Bagh is overpriced, especially if you go through reputable channels like Lilly Singh or Bulletwallas. I've heard about 'auto-consultants' you can get to find a seller and sort out paperwork. Would that be a good idea? how would I find one? Or would I be better off buying it out of (but close to) Delhi?

Thanks again for all the help so far, this trip is going to be awesome, and hopefully the first of many more to come!
#14 Jun 3rd, 2011, 00:35
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  • kullukid is offline
#14
Quote:
Originally Posted by seaneking View Post Thanks for the advice ronnie, I think I've decided to go with the Enfield (now just to find a decent one!). I've also been thinking more about my route, and I'm leaning heavily with going to the himalayas. It was my original plan, and the only thing turning me off it was the summer crowds that will be there, but as quite a few people have said that may not really be an issue.
I've done you a bit of a Himalayan itinerary in your Ashram thread http://www.indiamike.com/india/yoga-...2/#post1196043
You should head that way sooner rather than later & you should beat the monsoon in getting there, but expect lots of rain in July/Aug. The Kangra valley from D'sala to Rewalsar is beautiful for biking at a slow steady pace & so is onward journey to Uttarkashi if you take some quiet back roads which i can suggest......& yes touristy places are usually touristy for a reason!!KK

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