Depart London on the scheduled service of Gulf Air.
Arrive in Bangalore early morning and transfer by coach to Mysore, breaking the 3.30 hour journey for light refreshments. We reach Mysore at lunch time. Those travelling independently should meet us in Mysore. After resting we then we wander around the magnificent Maharaja Palace and the main street bazaar. This palace was rebuilt to its present glorious state in 1912 after a huge fire in 1897. The décor is simply stunning, if a little bit over the top and the former maharaja is still in residence in his private quarters.
Leisurely morning ride to Srirangapatnan, the ruins of Tipu Sultan’s capital, destroyed by the British in 1799 during their final battle to secure control of southern India. The ruins stand on an island in the middle of the Cauvery River, and once over the bridge we cycle around the old ramparts, enter Colonel Bailey's Dungeon and the Ranganatha Swamy Temple before riding back to Mysore for an early lunch (38km). In the afternoon we cycle up Chummndi Hill to view the huge five metre rock carving of Nandi, Shiva’s celestial Bull, before returning to the hotel for a roof-top dinner.
Riding from the hotel, we share the quiet back roads with herds of white oxen and women in colourful saris carrying water pots on their heads, as we head to the important pilgrim centre of Nanjangud, with its beautiful temple. Another 36km along is lunch and your first taste of Thali - the southern Indian meal of rice and vegetable curries. After lunch we leave the plains for the forested foothills of the Western Ghats (hills), once the hunting preserve of Mysore’s Maharajas, today a tiger reserve and part of Bandipur National Park. In the late afternoon we have a jeep safari in the park. Ride approx. 90km.
There’s the chance of another safari, maybe on foot, in the early morning, one of the best times to spot some of the larger game, Gaur (Indian bison), wild elephants and Sambur. If you missed the early morning safari you still get the chance to see monkeys, deer and peacock as we ride through the park and cross into the adjacent, Mudumalai National Park in Tamil Nadu. It’s a fantastic ride with jungle either side and some well-surfaced roads too. 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 also the chance to visit an orphange nearby where some 80 children now reside. It’s a small walk away from the bungalow and is run by a committed team of local women and a Swiss lady. Most of the kids attend the local school and are always really excited to see clients. Ride approx. 33km.
For some this is the highlight of the trip, ascending 1600m to Ooty Hill Station, the former summer capital of the Raj. The 36 hairpin bends give 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 an extra hour in bed and take the hill in the support vehicle! The cool climate of the Nilgiri hills gives us a break from the hotter plains below. Arriving late morning, we take lunch on the lawn of our comfortable hotel. Again the afternoon is free to explore the town, and sample some of their famous cardamom tea. Ride approx. 27km.
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 view points 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 in colourful adverts and cheap children’s toys. Here we stock up on fresh fruits and head towards our picnic lunch stop on the Tamil Nadu – Kerala border. After lunch we freewheel into tropical Kerala, the bamboo and rain forested slopes offering 15km of winding, pedal-free beauty. The ride ends at the river, a favourite washing place for ox and cart. We transfer to Guruvayoor (2.45hrs ) to avoid busy roads. Ride approx. 96km
Two easy circular rides. First we head to the beach, to see hundreds of colourful fishing boats hauled up on the sands beneath goves 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. The highlight of the ride is the 40-plus temple elephants attached to the Sree Krishna Temple; on festival days they are decorated with fine gilt head-dresses and bells, but are more often seen strolling with their mahout on the road to the temple 2km away. Guruvayoor comes alive for the night pooja, with burning josh-sticks and fragrant flowers stalls adding to the atmosphere. People dressed in their best longi and saris light up the huge 7m-high pillar of oil lamps in front of the heavy temple doors, a truly gorgeous spectacle. Ride approx. 56km.
We set off towards the coast. Mango and coconut trees line the roads and life becomes that little bit slower. There’s time for a swim in the ocean at midday. This area is renowned for its prawn curries, and 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 board local ferries to island-hop to Fort Cochin. This town has a unique place in Indian history, and to soak up the atmosphere we spend the next two nights at a former residency of the Raj. The house, now a hotel, dates from the Dutch period (1735) before being handed over to the British and in turn to a wealthy merchant family. Ride approx. 86km.
A free day to explore the town of Cochin, its bazaars and old harbour area. 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. Further along the road you come to Mattancherry and the Dutch Palace. Next to the Palace is the synagogue, built in 1568 for the Jewish members of Cochin’s trading communities, adorned with hand-painted tiles from China and elegant Belgian chandeliers, all donations from wealthy merchants. The area around the synagogue is excellent for shopping. For eats you should try the fish market near the Chinese fishing nets, where you can buy the day’s catch and have it cooked to your own taste. There are also plenty of shopping opportunities here.
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 Chertala the old stone church dominates its surroundings and is best viewed from the shade of a coconut tree whilst we eat lunch. From here we leave the coast road, heading inland to Vambanad Lake and Alleppey, famous as the start point for backwater trips. We spend the night in a traditional Kerala house: its backwater frontage and tranquil gardens are as relaxing as the Ayurvedic massage and treatments on offer to its guests. In the afternoon and early evening relax on the veranda as backwater life unfurls before you. Ride approx. 60km.
After a lie-in you can enjoy a short bike ride to explore Alleppey town 5km away, and stock up on Gin and limes. 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 roofs you won’t see the saddle for another 24hrs, just chill out 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. On one side of the canal vast paddy fields of iridescent green stretch as far as the eye can see; on the other, are fishing nets and coconut trees. As the sun begins to set, the boats are moored together, and we gather for sundowners - a moment that is difficult to surpass.
Mid morning we end our boat trip and saddle up for the final ride, hugging the coast all the way to Varakala, a small hippie community with coffee bars and yoga schools perched along its cliff-top. To avoid the busy roads, from here we transfer the last 70km to Kovalam Beach, with the reward of a day chilling out on the beach. We spend the next two nights here. Ride approx. 58km.
Totally free to do whatever you want, strolling along the two beaches or just wandering around the shops before dining at one of the beach shack restaurants, which serve excellent seafood. Try some of the Tandoori dishes - the clay ovens give a more authentic taste to breads and curries.
Early morning transfer to the airport at Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram) for the flight to London, arriving mid evening.