The group flight will arrive in the afternoon and we transfer to our hotel. Those who have made their own flight arrangements will join us at the hotel. In the evening we pay our first visit to the Golden Temple to experience the impressive evening ceremony. There may also be the option to see the border-closing ceremony at Wagah, 20 km away.
In the early morning we will pay a second visit to the Golden Temple. Mid-morning we will transfer by road to Pragpur, India's only UNESCO World Heritage Village (approx 5 hours). The rest of day is free for you to explore Pragpur.
We start our bike ride by cycling along the quiet backroads of the Kangra Valley, passing through a sub-tropical landscape of pine, sal and bamboo forest, cultivated fields and small villages. The terrain is undulating with short climbs and ascents, it is a great introduction to cycling in India. We end the day in the small town of Kangra, once the capital of the region on the edge of the Dhaual Dhar range. Time permitting we can cycle (or take a taxi!) to the crumbling yet sturdy Kangra fort, 4km away, which has stood for over 1000 years.
A short but steep day climbing over 1000m to the hillstations of McLeod Ganj/Dharamshala, home to the exiled Dalai Lama. We leave early to cycle in the cool morning and cross the last of the Kangra Valley to the base of the Dhaula Dhar, the outermost range of the Himalaya. The altitude gain is more or less in the last 10km of the day when we follow the road up from Dharamsala (the lower town) - taking in the 10km of hairpin bends and switchbacks to Mcleod Ganj. It is reasonably graded so can be done at a steady pace - and there are plenty of places to stop and admire the views across the valley and the 4000m peaks above us. Depending upon the time of year this could be the busiest stretch of the ride - but passing traffic will offer plenty of encouragement - and if all else fails, there is always the support bus. This amazing town is a fine reward and we have time to wander around the small but crowded bazaar and visit the sights - the Dalai Lama's Temple, St John's Church, The Tibetan Library - or go shopping in the many handicraft stalls!
We then have our first great descent, back down the road to Dharamsala. We stay just above the true valley and follow quieter roads through truly unspoilt villages stopping for lunch along the way. We also take in the Norbulingka Institute, dedicated to preserving Tibetan arts and crafts. Above us loom the peaks of the Outer Himalaya, some 4500m high. A fantastic day of cycling across varied terrain, but with no major ascents or descents brings us to the small village of Andretta, home to a curious selection of artists and potters. We stay in a private village house and can wander freely about the village and its surrounds.
A day of cycling through the lovely scenery of Himachal's prime tea growing area. There is little of western tourist 'importance' on this route but there is a quietly famous Shiva temple in Baijnath. Dedicated to Shiva in the form of Vaidyanath, the Baijnath temple has been continuously under worship ever since its construction in 1204 A.D. One of only 12 such temples in India, it is also a beautiful example of the early mediaeval temple architecture known as Nagara style. The beauty of today's ride is really the scenery - the tea gardens, grazing buffalo, wild forest, daily village life all set against the backdrop of the Himalaya. We stay the night in Jogindernagar, terminus of the narrow gauge Kangra railway.
Today we leave the Kangra Valley behind and head for Mandi at the foot of the Kullu Valley. We are closer to the mountains now, with a different topography and vegetation as we move into the temperate zone. A beautiful quiet side road takes us past a Tibetan monastery and on to Bir, famous as a paragliding site. We then have a long descent on a slightly busier section of the ride into the market town of Mandi. With its houses clinging to the banks of the Beas River, Mandi is a bustling town with over 300 old and new temples, time permitting we will visit one or two of the best.
We cut though the Outer Himalaya following the course of the Beas River into the Kullu Valley. Its striking landscape make it a popular Indian tourist destination though traditionally its economy has been based on agriculture; it is famous for its apple orchards. It is also well known for its hand-woven shawls and caps. The mountains rise steeply either side, we trace the contours and climb some steep sections, with terraced fields and the famous Kulu orchards becoming more dominant. Leaving the main Kulla Valley road we come to Larji (975m) is a small hamlet providing an excellent spot for trout fishing. The rest house is located in a stunning position between the torrents of the rivers Sainj and Tirthan before they join the Beas. Depending on group size we may stay here or a ride a few kilometres further up the Tirthan Valley to Bali Chowki.
From Larji we begin to climb slowly. We are on the fringes of the Great Himalayan National Park - home to bear, leopard, wild cats - and surrounded by temperate forest - pine, oak, horse chestnut. We pass through Banjar, with its with attractive wood-fronted shops lining the narrow street, it has the best examples in the area of timber-bonded Himalayan architecture in the fort-like rectangular temple of Murlidhar (Krishna). From Banjar the road steepens to Shoja, a village surrounded by dense forest of deodar and larch. Shoja is a picture postcard village on a mountain ledge overlooking the valley, with apple groves, long wooded walks and distant views of the Pir Panjal range.
A tough day as we head over the Jalori Pass at 3223m. A steady climb turns into a rather steep final ascent so there are no prizes for getting there first. Above 2500m, cool-temperate forests of fir and spruce or oak occur, whilst over 3000m, these forests grade gently into a sub-alpine zone of birches and rhododendrons, diminishing in size as the treeline is approached. Birds of prey visible here include Lammergeiers, Himalayan Griffon Vultures, and Golden Eagles. From the pass, which marks the dividing line between the Inner and Outer Saraj, there are splendid views of the Pir Pinjal and Tibetan peaks. The beauty of the ridge line separating the Inner and Outer Saraj was first extolled by Penelope Chetwode, daughter of the Commander in Chief of the British Army in India in 1931. She accompanied her mother on foot and horseback from Shimla to the Rohtang Pass via the Jalori Pass. She returned to India in 1963 to trek the entire distance once again. Her book, Kulu: The End of Habitable World, describes this journey. From here it is all downhill, an exhilirating 40km passing through Ani and eventually reaching the gorge of the great Sutlej river. We cross the river at Luhri and climb a short distance to our hotel at Sainj.
A brisk start for the long climb out of the Sutlej valley. The ascent is nearly 2000m but the route is very pretty and with breathtaking views, so plenty of excuses to stop for photos en route. Taking the support bus is, of course, always an option. We stop for the night in Narkanda, with distant but fine views of the peaks on the Tibetan border.
A great day of cycling to end our trip. From Narkanda we follow the main route contouring around the hills through the last simple villages and pine forest. There are great views into the deep Sutlej valley and back to the snow capped peaks, visibility permitting. We cross a small col at 2450m before descending to the sprawl of Shimla. Most of the route is level or gently undulating, a real treat after the last couple of days. The last few kilometres through Shimla to our hotel can be quite chaotic, but always fun.Our hotel marks the end of the ride and we say goodbye to the bikes.
A much deserved day of leisure to explore Shimla and its surrounds. There is time to visit the local sights of this faded colonial hillstation and revisit some of the British Raj history - particularly the magnificent Viceroy's Lodge. Those wanting more exercise can undertake one of the short walks to local viewpoints such as Jakhu Temple, and there's plenty of shopping along the Mall.
Today we take the delightful narrow gauge train from Shimla through the foothills to Kalka. The line was completed in 1903 and runs 97km from Shimla to Kalka, taking about 5 hours. There are 107 tunnels and over 3km of bridges. At Kalka we connect with an onward train to Delhi, arriving late in the evening.
Today you are free to relax, explore the sites of New and Old Delhi (an optional sightseeing trip will be organised if you wish) or you can do some last minute shopping!
The trip ends after breakfast.