How I showed my family the 'real' South India by bike

Family cycling in Kerala, South India
Family cycling in Kerala, South India

I’d had a hankering to visit southern India for a long time, which must have rubbed off on the rest of the family because when I suggested this for our next active holiday, there was a cheer at the dinner table. So, with my husband and teenage children, we set off for Bangalore in January, anticipation high and cycle legs ready.

It was a soft landing into India – Bangalore’s airport is modern and efficient – with Francis greeting us at the arrivals and a smooth transfer to our first hotel, ideally located next to the Botanical Gardens. A short walk from the hotel had us feasting on our first of many Masala Dosa’s at a ridiculously low price, but with no beer to wash it down – alcohol is not usually available at local restaurants.

A family adventure

World Expeditions' Bike, Hike, Kayak South India adventure offered our family the perfect balance of activity and culture, staying in great hotels with incredible food and experiences. It also gave my kids the opportunity to break away from their digital gadgets and, instead, take in the sights, sounds, colours and cultures of a country home to spice gardens, sandalwood forests, rolling foothills and floating markets.

We all know full well that teenagers need to be engaged or they'll become attached to their devices. This trip gets them active and aware of their surroundings, immersed in the atmosphere of the place and getting a buzz from the sense of achievement that an active holidays offers.

The safety net of a support vehicle, experienced cycle guides and an assistant guide offering fruit, snacks and drinks at breaks, means everyone can relax and enjoy the thrill of pedalling through tea plantations or wildlife reserves, past rural scenes of bullocks pulling carts and children walking home from school.

We stayed in a bungalow beneath the soaring Nilgiris (the Blue Mountains), where deer wander past and monkeys are playing in the trees, and sip on gin and tonics by the fire while we are regaled with the history of the ‘resort’ by the owner. We attempt an ascent of a hair pinned road to Ooty, which would fit right in on the Tour de France.

Local experiences and food highlights

Each meal from breakfast of Idli soaked with curry, lunches of thali with their array of refillable side dishes and Masala Dosa and local spiced curries for dinner are anticipated by us all – to say we are in food heaven would be an understatement.

The boys learnt from our guides to use their right hand to scrape up the curry with rotti bread and mix in all the round dishes of coconut, lentils and pickles and, of course, rice. With the majority of meals provided on our trip, as well as dining at local restaurants, this opened our senses to South India's delicious cuisines which we safely consumed (often with second helpings).

Taking a break from cycling, we journeyed to the tea plantations of Munnar, passing Chinnar's dry scrub woodlands and Marayur forests. We ascended above the clouds, trekking to the second highest peak in the Western Ghats, Meesapulimala (2,640m); another great sense of achievement for us all.

The pace slowed with a backwater cruise in Kerala where you can kayak or walk along the banks and see village life in animation before the sun sets on another perfect day.

Our last stop was at Fort Kochi; with its old world atmosphere, Chinese fishing nets dotting the coast, kathakali dancers – with their wonderful expressions, and markets filled with local artefacts. Our hotel on the waterfront was once an old granary and is bursting with atmosphere, forcing us to reflect on the rich trading history of this area.

None of us were ready to leave South India but one thing is certain, we will be back.

Words and images by Kate Baker who travelled on our Bike, Hike, Kayak South India trip.

What countries have you explored by bike? Let us know in the comments below.

Family, India, Kerala, Cycling, Kayaking, Walking

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