All posts by Anita

The greenery awaits you as you make your way through the forest

Forays into the forest: Here’s why I love it!

I look forward to opportunities to travel to the different jungles and reserves in India whenever I can. We don’t realise it but we’re really lucky – there are so many (still) to choose from. Most states boast of such rich flora, fauna and reserved forests and I am still discovering many of them. I’ve written about my experience in Kaziranga, the amazingly beautiful sanctuary in Assam and home to the endangered rhino.

safari

Last December, I travelled into the dense and magical jungles of Kanha and came back mesmerised. What variety and beauty around every corner. Every trip into the forest was filled with surprises and delightful encounters. So what if I didn’t spot the elusive cat (well, that’s another story, for another day!) but I’ve loved every adventure into the forest.

Male spotted deer

This time, it was an opportunity to visit the Kali Adventure Camp, thanks to Jungle Lodges, and though the monsoons have set in, I still thought it would be a good experience. I was also lucky to be in the company of Supriya Sehgal, who blogs at Teafortravel and is a well-known author of several Lonely Planet guides. So I was in good company!

The green view from the cottage of the Kali River Camp, Dandeli

Here’s why I love my adventures into the forest…

A chance to take in the peace and quiet

I frankly much prefer the chirping of birds, the cacophony of cicadas or the call of a deer. We easily call it noise, but it’s more like sounds of the jungle. And I would rather listen to these sounds than the constant honking of vehicles in the city, where people are in a mad rush to reach Lord only knows where and create such a ruckus in the process.

Into the forest

The jungle on the other hand is the last refuge of a different kind of quietude. Some people call it “dull”. Some people don’t actually know what to do with themselves in a forest. There’s a stillness that can be a balm in our hurried lives. I think if you want to just step back for a while, and let a different kind of peace wash over you, the forest is the place to head to.

The anticipation of what’s to come

Arjun our guide on this trip has his ears and eyes attuned to everything; even the slightest movement catches his eye. It’s interesting to watch naturalists in their habitat and at work. They are extremely sharp and develop an innate sense of knowing when an animal is nearby. Their ears alert to even the smallest of sounds. I remember a time in Kanha, when we sighted a dead sambar on the roadside. It was definitely a tiger kill, and we thought he would come back for his lunch. So we waited there for nearly an hour.

Tiger kill

There’s nothing much you can do really but hope during this period. And anticipate. And try and predict which way the animal might appear from. Sadly, it was not to be. The tiger was in no mood to appease our hunger for a sighting. But a lot of the fun was in the anticipation.

You’re alert, you know there are many eyes watching you from behind the tall bushes and grasses. But whether you get to see them is a matter of your luck and chance! The animals are not going to give you anything on a platter for sure.

The thrill of the sighting

While most people think they’ll see a tiger the first time they go out into the forest, the chances are actually quite low. Arjun tells us that there are around 15 tigers in this massive Dandeli-Anshi stretch. Imagine the possibility of a tiger in your path just as you happen to be on a safari. You can just calculate and imagine the chance. It’s rather low. But there are so many other animals in the forest, that while you’re possibly looking to sight a tiger, it’s really interesting to see other animals in their natural habitat. Many endangered, rare and quite shy of any thing that resembles a human being. Arjun spots a pack of wild jackals in a far away bush. Something we would never have seen without his help. Jackals are shy (like most other animals) and we are lucky to sight 3 of them in a pack. They look at us too for a moment. It must be a better sighting for them I’m thinking. There are 4 of us.

Then there are the spotted deer who stare at us when we are quite a distance away. Or dash across the road trying to avoid us. But as soon as we approach, they skitter away.

The shy spotted deer looking at us before disappearing into the bushes

High up on a tree is the serpent eagle, regal and patient, waiting to spot his prey on the ground. Once he catches sight, he will swoop down and catch it, leaving his prey very little chance to escape. On another branch is the pretty peacock, exhibiting his feathers in a downward swoop and letting us admire him from afar. When he’s had enough, he disappears into the wild.

The thrill of a sighting can keep a wildlife lover in raptures for hours, days and even years!

It’s a lush, human free zone

There’s something I really like about the fact that the forest is lush, green and also an area where there are very few humans. The forest is one last refuge that we must guard strongly. Especially, in a country teeming with a billion and a half people, it’s absolutely refreshing to not sight another human. Though I was deeply disappointed when at the end of our safari, we encountered a jeep filled with loud tourists, whose group contained two women wearing yellow neon-coloured clothing and a few guys wearing the shiny multi-coloured sunglasses.

So, yes – there are those who have absolutely no idea about the rules of the forest and it’s sad that people carry their city behaviour and bad habits back to the forest. I wish there was a way in which such people could be banned from entering. They deserve to live only in the cities and not be let out.

But otherwise, the monsoons are a low peak season so not too many people venture to these parts. I’m glad we did though. Despite the showers, we did sight animals and enjoyed the lushness that the forest offers during this season. An an interesting fact to know: Karnataka’s forests are open throughout the year, unlike many others which close down during the rains.

The forest is lush and green and so beautiful during the rains

Just as we were exiting the reserve, we catch a glimpse of this beautiful guy with rippling muscles. The Indian gaur, in case you were thinking of a Bollywood actor. The gaur is a rather huge creature and with his impressive horns; you don’t want to be too close. He looked up for a bit to give us a pointed stare and then went back to his busy work task of chomping on something green. Was he scaring us off to say don’t come back too often?
Just after he went back to his meal of the day!
But, despite his word of warning, I know I’ll be back.

About Jungle Lodges
Jungle Lodges operates 16 resorts spread all across Karnataka including Bheemeshwari, Dandeli, Devbagh, Bandipur, Kabini, Bidar amongst many others. Accommodations varies from tents to rooms to independent cottages. Besides, there are 3 resorts operated on management contract. The company promotes eco-tourism, wildlife tourism, adventure tourism and various outdoor activities like trekking, camping, white water rafting, fishing etc., that are non consumptive components of eco-tourism and in general help in environment conservation.

Visit:
Jungle Lodges | Facebook | JLR Explore

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Vietnam: A few first impressions

This was a different kind of trip. I didn’t do much research since my fellow traveller and photographer Hema took control of everything including the planning and organising (which I usually enjoy doing for my trips). For a change, I took a backseat as I was already busy planning an all girl’s trip to Wayanad. So I didn’t really have any notions/impressions except a guide book that I’d borrowed from a friend.

The guidebook indicated there were a few scams in some parts of Vietnam. But we didn’t come across any such unpleasant experiences. However, another group we met did tell us that cab drivers purposely take long routes even if the places are close by, just to make an extra buck. But after dealing with auto drivers in Bangalore, I think one is armed to take on a few greedy errant taxi drivers.

At no point during our trip did we actually feel threatened or unsafe in Vietnam. (In fact, I have at time felt more unsafe in some parts of India). The people are quite stoic but once you converse with them (or try as their English is very limited), they are quite friendly. Except for one very surly cab driver (he was definitely unhappy with his life) people were generally quite nice. English is not their strong point, but with a lot of effort (and gestures) usually we got our message across. Sometimes not successfully. But no matter. We managed to navigate despite all of these issues.

Streets of Hanoi

We walked out of our hotel located in District 1, Saigon on our last night and there were people everywhere. This was at 1130 pm at night. There were people singing, eating, drinking, chatting and generally lounging around till 3 am in the morning. Unlike Bangalore, where you feel like a criminal at 11 pm, this was place was just the opposite. Many street side pubs were also cashing in on football fever.

Night life in Hanoi

There are millions of motorbikes in the cities, especially Hanoi and HCM which we visited. Interesting though the fact that even despite heavy traffic, there is lesser (noticeable) aggression. In India, we’d be punching one another and bringing our dear departed generations into our brawls. However, the Vietnamese all congregate in the center of the road, at the same time, and then make their way around each other. Magically, everyone finds a way. In the few times we went out, we didn’t see too many folks lose their temper. The honking is relatively lesser too.

Two wheelers rule the streets

And then there are cyclists. Even in the middle of this chaos, cyclists of all ages made their way on two wheels. And they didn’t seem to be bullied into corners or edges of the street, unlike what happens in India. They were very much a part of the ecosystem, demanding an equal share of the road. No one was treated as a lesser mortal on the road because they happened to be on a cycle. And there were so many women, girls, older folks cycling even in peak hour that I was quite amazed. I even saw a dad with two of his young sons cycling on a busy road (a sight that you’ll be hard pressed to see here).

Everyone cycles - old and young

Everyone is a moving market!

Masks are a fashion statement. And supposedly keep pollution at bay. I’m not sure about the efficacy of these masks, which mostly women wear. They adorn every second face. A young university student called Ly I met on a bus said women are very beauty conscious and basically do it to protect their skin from the sun and pollution. I was tempted to buy one for myself, but couldn’t find a mask with cats on it.

Street corners and roads are relatively clean. I saw a lot of sweeping going on in the mornings. This might also be due to the fact that the Vietnamese eat on the streets all the time so they probably want to keep it clean. Except some parts where there was littering (like the China town area in HCM), largely the garbage disposal system seems to be working. And people seem to be a bit more conscious of littering than us Indians.

Street food is a way of life

There is excessive use of thin plastic bags everywhere. They possibly don’t know how much harm all this will do to their environment (yet), but shopkeepers are only too eager to flash out the bags even for the smallest purchase. Whether it’s water, chips, biscuits or anything you buy, the first thing you get is this flimsy plastic bag. And tourists are equally responsible for accepting these despite the fact that everyone is carrying a rucksack or a bag they can carry the stuff in.

Packing it in

Clean rest rooms (and no smell!). What a boon. Especially coming from a country like India where the level of sanitation can drop to dismal lows, I was really thrilled to find clean loos. And most of them didn’t smell. I’m not sure how or what they did, but they didn’t announce their presence the way Indian loos did. Even in remote villages and towns, we were quite pleasantly surprised with the cleanliness and accessibility of restrooms, a major concern for travellers in India. And hardly anyone pees on the road (if it’s practiced, it wasn’t as noticeable as in our country).

Connected everywhere!. This was surprising as we were gearing up to be off the network for a few days. In fact, my fellow travellers armed themselves with local SIMs, which I decided not to go in for. And there was connectivity everywhere – whether it was the hotels, cafes, restaurants, a rustic home stay in a remote village or even our cruise boat on Halong Bay. Wi-Fi is a given and most places will let you use it for free. We actually weren’t off the network anywhere at all!

There are no overweight/obese people in Vietnam. This is actually true. In all our travels there, we didn’t come across one overweight person. Everyone seems to come out of the same sized mould! Despite the fact that their portions are generous and everyone is eating all the time. They’re doing something very right. I want their secret!

Enjoyed the trip immensely and wouldn’t mind returning to see parts of the country, which we missed out this time around.

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Why buy when you can try? Camera Equipment from Bookmylens.com

I’m super thrilled to announce my photography gear/equipment partner, Bookmylens.com, a camera and lens rental service based in Bangalore. They also offer additional services like photo editing, and monitor calibrating services.

FACEBOOK: BookMyLens | TWITTER: @bookmylens

On my Wayanad trip earlier in the month, I tried out a Canon 500D and a 17-85 mm lens and most of the photos from my earlier post was taken by this camera.

For me, photography is a way in which I can bring my stories alive. And it makes sense therefore to take updated gear and lenses when on a trip. But I discovered that you don’t really need to buy so much equipment, when you can easily just try it out for affordable prices instead. That way, depending on the kind of trip you’re going on and what you’re planning to do – you can decide on the equipment you want to carry. It’s a much better deal according to me, rather than accumulating a lot of equipment, which you might use only sporadically. Not to mention the fact that equipment can get frightfully expensive.

Goutham Shankar, who is the founder of BookMyLens (with a lot of support from his friends, family and customers, he says) answered a few questions I had of their service and I am sure you’ll find them useful too.

Q1. When did you start off and how did it happen?

BookMyLens is a photography equipment rental service company. We provide an easy and quick service for photography enthusiasts to experience all kinds of photography related equipments.

We have wide range of equipment covering entry level DSLRs, Pro-DSLRs, and Lenses ranging from 50mm to 600mm, video equipment (including our newly acquired cinema cameras like Black Magic), support rigs, audio equipment used for video shooting etc. which are used by budding photographers, wildlife photographers, wedding photographers, short filmmakers alike.

I started testing the waters sometime early 2011 and within a period of 5-6 months I was convinced with the business model, which I had in mind. By Sep 2012, I quit my IT job and started full time.

First and foremost reason for me to start this venture was my passion for photography. Having started as an amateur photographer in early 2005, which slowly turned out to be serious hobby over a period of time. That’s when I realized that not everyone could afford to buy photography related equipment owing to the huge cost and hassles involved in procuring them here, also felt the need for have different equipments under one roof.

I could figure out a huge potential in the market with just not hobbyist photographers but also for ad agencies, event companies, short filmmakers, wedding photographers etc., the demand is going to increase in the future.

I realized a rental service providing high quality gear at affordable prices was essential.

Q2. How has the scene changed over the years?

There has been a fantastic response (+ve). Lot of people want to try their hands on photography without the need of spending huge amount on buying these expensive equipments. On the other hand, there are lot of other rental companys which have come up in recent times which has lead to price wars.

Q3. Any bad experience or learnings in the last few years – things you hadn’t accounted for?

Lot of learnings, everyday there is a learning as in when we meet different customers. Lot of things we learnt and implemented it in a jiffy to make the entire business model stronger.

Q4. So who is your typical customer?

It’s a mixture of professional / amateurs. Apart from that we have lot of companys who rent our equipments for their in-house shoots.

Q5. What would you say your USP is? Why should someone come to you?

The market for photography is growing day by day exponentially. People have started to realise the ability to rent any kind of equipment without spending huge amounts.

There is a high demand for the same and so are the services available. One has to take care of all aspects including providing high quality gear, delivery/pick up and guiding people for picking the right equipment.

Our aim is to provide the best in class lenses, DSLRs, video equipments and accessories at affordable rentals and we believe that our service and range speaks for itself.

If you want to try out their services, head across to BookMyLens.com

Six reasons why you should travel in the monsoons

I’m sure there are more, but let’s start with six. In fact, while many tourists shy away from travelling because it’s raining, true travellers will tell you that a place can be enjoyed despite the rain. It’s a mindset that you need to avoid a destination when it rains. Unless, it happens to be a big city. In which case I would say avoid it like plague. You don’t want to deal with clogged roads, drainage overflowing, traffic jams and all the associated issues that the rains bring to our very well planned cities.

A little piece of paradise
The view from a tea garden in Pozhuthana, Wayanad

Anyway, this is about the monsoons. And why it’s a great time to travel. Any place takes on a different hue during the rains. I was in Goa last year for 3 weeks and had the time of my life despite the torrential downpours.

It’s lush and green

The valley before you spreads out like a lush carpet. The roads are framed by green trees and grass on both sides. The hills are showing off their full foliage, again in green. It’s so green that if you’re not used to it, you’d probably need tinted glasses to tone it down. But seriously, green is definitely the colour of the season and we all know that it’s the best one to get your relaxed and rejuvenated. Nature really wears this colour well.

boys having fun
A sight for sore eyes!

You get better deals

You might need to look around a bit and even ask for discounts, but this is a season where you will get lower prices from a lot of home stays, resorts, hotels. If you’re not sure, just ask them. We are spoilt for choose today in the array of options available. And in this era of social media, even if we don’t look for them, they will probably land up in our stream anyway.

Lesser people to fight with for space

So one of the reasons I travel is to get away from the city (where I clearly see the alarming impact of producing a billion and more people) to smaller destinations and locations where you’ll see a soul once in a while. Get away from the madding crowds, the hoi-polloi and give yourself some breathing space. I love the feeling and I recommend it to everyone (at least once in a while).

Nestled in between
Choose places a bit away from the main towns – usually they’re much more peaceful and calm

There’s colour everywhere

Just before the onset of the monsoons, it’s a pretty sight all around. While on a walk outside today in Wayanad where I am currently, I saw so much variety in foliage that I couldn’t stop myself from clicking everything in sight. From vivid reds, to oranges, to colourful yellows and pretty pinks – there are beautiful blossoms everywhere adding to the prettiness quotient of your frames.

A time for blossoms
It’s amazingly pretty this time of the year and you need to step out to witness nature’s gorgeous hues

Carrying a torch for you
A flower called ginger torch that I saw for the first time

Rediscover the joy of getting soaked

I remember as kids, we loved getting wet in the rains. In fact, we would wait impatiently so we could all rush out and do our rain dance. Our parents had to cajole us to come indoors since we would just be out for hours on end. But what a feeling. Do it sometime. Just get wet. Feel the rain on your skin. Instead of running for a raincoat or an umbrella, soak in the sensation of a rain bath. I can tell you from experience – it’s true joy. Last year, on a trek in Wayanad, I got soaked to the skin as it started pouring cats and dogs. But once I gave in to it, began to enjoy the feeling, I realised that I need to let go. (And yes, we will eventually dry off.)

Comparing notes
With or without rain gear, have some fun

Smell the coffee. And the flowers

The monuments are done and dusted. The hectic sightseeing has been completed. Now, just sit on your balcony and watch the rain. Meditate. Open the door of your room and just relax. Do yoga. Listen to the birds. The rains are a great time to just not venture out and give yourself the “me” time you so badly need (and you didn’t even know)!

A welcome view
I totally believe in doing nothing holidays – they are good for the soul

ADDENDUM:

Another reason, contributed by a friend

Monsoons are the best time for ayurvedic massages

So, during the Kerala Blog Express, we met a doctor at the Manaltheeram Ayurvedic resort who told us about how the ayurvedic massage is the most effective during the rainy season. In fact, many guests come specifically during this period for treatments. A combination of the temperature, rains and other factors all adds to increasing the effectiveness of the oils. So, isn’t this reason enough?!

So there – I hope I’ve given you enough reasons to step out this rainy season. And if you did, or plan to, do share your “getting soaked” experience!

More photos on Flickr

(NOTE: On this trip, I am using the Canon 500D body and the 17-85 mm lens. All photos [except no 3 and 7 from an earlier collection] in the post are with this equipment provided my photography gear & equipment partner, “Book My Lens”. I’m happy to announce them as a partner and I’m quite impressed with the kind of services they provide. They are a photography equipment rental service based in Bangalore which provides quick service for photography enthusiasts who want to experience all lenses and accessories from Canon and Nikon. Their aim is to provide the best in class, at affordable prices. Do check them out on bookmylens.com)

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The Noob Guide: Everything you wanted to know about cycling

A guide for those who are contemplating buying a cycle. Or wanting to get back into cycling. Or even those who’ve taken the first step, and want some tips on what to do next. There’s a lot happening behind the scenes, so welcome to the world of human powered bikes – also called cycles.

(NOTE: A very long post, so be warned. However, I’ve tried to include as much information as I can. But like I say, don’t get paralysis by analysis. Act instead!).

(ANOTHER NOTE: This is written from the viewpoint of a Bangalore cyclist, but there are equally good bike shops, trails and resources in all the major cities today including Pune, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Goa and Hyderabad.)

Why do people cycle?

In a nutshell:
- To keep fit
- Commute to office, it’s faster in peak traffic
- Rediscover the joys of experiencing wind in the face
- Discover the countryside
- An alternative way to travel

Long answer. The cycle of life ironically means that you stop cycling at some point of time. You start earning money, get a two wheeler, then you get a car. Wait, it doesn’t stop there – you get a fancy 4WD and increases your carbon footprint to zillion not so brownie points. (And the only place you drive this vehicle is to the airport). Anyway, it so happens that most of us, in the process, forget the sheer joy of cycling. Of feeling the wind in our face. Of the open countryside and just you and two wheels.

People have today realised that to reduce the traffic (which all of us are contributing to) there have to be longer terms solutions. It’s happening in countries like Copenhagen and Amsterdam where a large percentage of citizens cycle – come hail or sunshine. So what stops us Indians from getting onto our cycles and getting some exercise, de-congesting our roads. Well – usually it’s our status consciousness. But seriously, it’s time we get over it. Because when you have jam packed roads like ours, your expensive Landcruiser is as good as my Maruti Zen – we’re all stuck in the same traffic. Many people have started realising it’s a faster, smarter way to commute to work and you’ll notice a lot of folks zipping about on cycles these days.

All roads lead to Pearl Valley
It’s a great feeling to head out on open roads and experience new sights and sounds – the joys of cycling are definitely worth re-discovering

It’s also a way to exercise and keep fit. There are enough success stories of people who have re-discovered the joy of cycling, got on their bikes and managed to get fitter and healthier (and lose weight as a result). While you might think that cycling actually exposes you to polluted air (which it does) you’re actually pretty much breathing in the same thing in your car and frankly, it’s very relative.

Noob Guide to Cycling
And I wanted to put this at the bottom, but I secretly cycle mainly so I can eat more. Being a foodie, I love my masala dosas, idlis and fried chicken. So my thought is that if I cycle more, I can eat more. Unfortunately, the formula hasn’t quite worked in my weight’s favour, but then I’ve had a lot of fun cycling. And ummm. Eating.

So, in short – there are many reasons. Find yours and you won’t regret it.

Can I just get up one day and decide to start again?

The good news is: yes. I didn’t start cycling till very late in my life. Well, I grew up in a hill station. If I remember correctly, there were two very adventurous girls who had cycles – they were a bit of an oddity. And I never did understand why anyone would want to cycle up Shillong’s rather scary slopes. Not anymore.

Noob Guide to Cycling
I’m glad I decided to learn to pedal at a ripe old age. It’s opened so many more doors to travel for me, and added a much richer perspective to the way I see things now

From being scared of riding 10 kms, to being sent home in an auto after a 35km ride to completing a 400 km ride at a stretch, I’ve realised that anything’s possible even for a relative newbie to cycling. So yes, if you’re reasonably healthy, there’s no reason you can’t cycle, 10, 20 and then even a 100 kms. You just need to scale up with some thought and consideration and let your muscles start warming up to the fact that it’s finally getting some much needed exercise.

Noob Guide to Cycling
This is somewhere on the road, during my 400 km ride from Bangalore to Vellore and back, which I completed in around 23 hours. Yes, we all do strange things sometimes.

And a caveat: You’ll look at long stretches of good road very differently once you start riding!

Which cycle should I invest in?

I see you’re convinced now. Well, you’ve survived till here.

The way I suggest approaching it is:
a) Determine your goal – what do you want to do with the cycle. Commute? Join longer weekend rides? Get into travelling to different places on cycle?
b) Determine a comfortable budget and be prepared to stretch it.

What I advise is getting a mid-range city bike if you’re not exactly sure about what you want to do. The hybrid is a cross between a heavier MTB and a lighter road bike and is actually great for commutes, slightly bad roads we tend to encounter and quite sturdy.

Noob Guide to Cycling
I started with the Trek hybrid, which I still use. But I also added others to the stable along the way. In a cyclist’s world, ek se kuch nahi hota. But then, to balance the equation, I never upgraded my car.

Once you fix a budget, look around and do some window shopping. I personally feel that buying a cheap bike actually robs you of the pleasure of cycling. So don’t settle for something sub-standard just because it costs lesser. Remember that this is also a vehicle – it will take you places, it can potentially substitute a gym membership if used regularly and can be your commute. You buy a flat screen television for more than 25k and all it does is dish you crap and turn you into a couch potato. And we never heard you complain while shelling out all that cash then, did we?

The value will go up as soon as you see it in the right perspective. And so will your budget. You should get a decent bike starting from 20-25k onwards. Do look around and if you’re unsure, ask for advise from someone who has been biking for a while and can give you some valuable inputs.

But do I need a geared cycle?

The simple answer is that it’s not absolutely necessary, but if you’re looking at exploring cycling, using it as your commute and slowly graduate to longer weekend rides, you’ll probably start wondering why you didn’t opt for a few gears.

For most humans, gears help you put in lesser effort and get more efficient. So if you’re going on a long ride for example, a geared bike will mean that you’ll be less tired and less inclined to hurt your other muscles. Try taking a non geared bicycle over a flyover and then try it with a geared one and then you can tell the difference. Or on a long stretch with a lot of ups and down, climbs and hills, you’ll be glad for those gears.

Noob Guide to Cycling
Gears? No gears? No question – definitely the former, especially if you want to start exploring more avenues in cycling

Having said that, the man on the street today uses a cycle as a primary commute and is usually extremely fit, and rarely rides a geared cycle.

If you haven’t noticed (they are an invisible population, as I’ve written earlier), do take some time and look at cyclists on the road – they’re usually very fit, agile and tuned to survive in our horrendous traffic. And they do this quite well despite the honking trucks, tempos and other vehicles who drive like they want to mow down everyone in their way. Life is much more challenging for a cyclist, and yet he/she adapts well the challenge.

So the point I was getting to: unless you’re out to prove something, or you want to take it on as a challenge, resist temptation and just invest in a decent basic geared bicycle.

Where can I get myself a cycle?

Another question that people ask frequently. And while as part of Bangalore’s cycling community, we’ve seen the birth of several bike shops in the city, a larger percentage of citizens are quite unaware of the revolution taking place right in front of them.

Here are few bike shops run by cyclists – so you can be sure to get enough attention and correct information when you’re trying to choose a cycle.

Click on the links and you’ll be led to bike shop heaven! All run by passionate cyclists, I would recommend all of them.

Procycle
Bums on the Saddle (BOTS)
Wheelsports
Cyclists for Life

There’s also a second hand option in case you’re not sure you want to get a new bike first. But again, do make sure you’re picking up the right size:
Second hand marketplace

What should I keep in mind when I am buying a cycle?

The right size and fit is the most important aspect if you’re going to use the cycle frequently. Many people try cycling their kids bikes and then say they don’t enjoy it. Make sure you have the fit right, because on the longer rides this is going to make a difference in your comfort levels.

One important thing to remember is that the guy selling you the bike should be taking an interest in your comfort and asks about your height and suggest a frame fit accordingly. If he’s just trying to peddle the latest model without asking any questions, then you should get out of there. Quickly. And move on to the next place.

Most of these bike shops will also service your cycle. And you can always start learning some simple tips on bike maintenance yourself.

How do I start off?

Some tips:
– Bike around your neighbourhood
– Run your errands nearby on a cycle
– Find a few quieter lanes in your neighbourhood
– Get out early in the morning
– Join a community
Go Green, started by Prabhakar Rao, who is also now known as GoGreen Rao, is a great effort with over 2000 members. They conduct regular rides in the city and outside.
– Start cycling to office (fast becoming a popular option)

I usually encourage people to join a community. Bangalore has a thriving cycling community and depending on the area where you live, you will most definitely find groups which are active. Join the Bangalore Bikers Club to begin with.

Another very vocal and active community online, with members from all over India (and overseas) is Bikeszone.com – there are animated and heated discussions sometimes. But it’s also packed with useful information. In fact, if you want another good guide on how to choose a bike, read this discussion on the same forum – it goes into much more detail.

There are also groups on Facebook where you can get information about rides. Many bike shops like BOTS and ProCycle have regular city and night rides. These are a good way to start off and join the community. You will get to meet new people too who are also into cycling. Once you’re comfortable and feel you’re getting reasonably good (so now you can actually ride 10k and not complain), it’s time for a longer ride.

This article has some details on the different trails inside and outside Bangalore. This is another one from Ravi Ranjan, an avid cyclist, and though it’s an older article it still has quite a few routes listed in a lot of detail.

One option is to put your cycle in a vehicle, drive to a start point, where you park your car and then begin pedalling. Else, if you’re confident you can even begin pedalling from home.

South: Outer Ring Road to Harohalli via Kanakpura road (around a 21 km stretch one way), and there is also a stretch called Pipeline road which runs parallel for a while and is supposed to be a good road for cycling.

This road is also used for longer 100 km rides to a place called Anchetty in Tamil Nadu. I’ve also used Kanakpura road to cycle to Mysore – it’s a much more scenic route. I had to meet a friend once and decided to cycle and catch her there :-) It was fun and she was a bit surprised. But naturally.

Noob Guide to Cycling
While I’ve cycled on Mysore road, I wouldn’t recommend it for the crazy, speeding traffic. Try the quieter Kanakpura road itself. I’ve done this route a couple of times and it’s much more enjoyable.

Noob Guide to Cycling
This is during a weekend trip we did to Anchetty a few years ago. We decided to camp at a school for the night and despite the mosquitoes and the packet food, we had loads of fun. And then rode back the next day. These kind of trips don’t need much planning – just get a motley bunch together and ride off! We carried just some light sleeping bags, toothbrush (optional!) and some packet foods

South-East: Silk Board to Bagalur (falls in TN) via Sarjapura road (it’s a lot more traffic now till Sarjapur, but gets better after). It’s got a few climbs thrown in for good measure and is around 30 kms one way. Bagalur also had an awesome idli shop once upon a time where we’ve enjoyed some great breakfasts. I don’t know if it exists anymore but a few of the houses have one room turned into small eateries and will serve you hot idles.

North:
– Airport road (beyond the airport on the National Highway).
– The city (or wherever you live) to Nandi hills (this is a very long ride so try this once you’re getting better at longer distances)
Highway turn off to Nandi hills – A lot of cyclists also drive till the highway turn off, or park somewhere around Nandi and then cycle up. Nandi is a 7 km stretch – but uphill all the way so it makes for good training for those who want climbing practice. If you’re wondering why anyone would want to torture themselves on a weekend doing that, welcome to the world of cycling.

Just note that Sundays (and Saturdays to an extent) are usually particularly busy with two wheeler and four wheeler traffic so it’s better to watch out for idiots on the road if it’s the weekend. Also, ride and stay in a group – there have been unpleasant experiences here.

East (Whitefield): Old Madras road – Hoskote to Kolar is a long stretch of 44 kms (one way) and is a favourite with road cyclists. It’s got smooth tarmac so you can speed it up. And also a wide shoulder so the trucks avoid you (well, at least you can pray they do). There’s also Siva’s road – a relatively scenic road to Devanahalli, named after a now-famous cyclist of the same name. Watch out for racing airport cab drivers though. It’s much busier than what it used to be and the drivers can be maniacal. Also the inside roads in the Whitefield-Varthur area are still great for cycling.

What if I change my mind later?

There are quite a few things you can do in case you’re unable to find time to cycle. Or change your mind. Remember that change is constant and nothing is really permanent. So buying a cycle is actually not a decision that you should take forever to think about. If you change your mind, here are some options:
a) rent out the cycle so others can use it. Rates can be from 200-400 Rs per day depending on the brand and state of your cycle
b) worst case (and only if you’re surely not using it anymore), sell it on a group like BOTS Marketplace or spread the word in the community (Bangalore Bikers Club, Bangalore Cyclists), and Facebook Cyclop group, which will surely get you enough enquiries.

Is there a place I can compete in Bangalore?

Bangalore’s competitive scene has gotten definitely “hotter”. BBCh (Bangalore Bicycling Championships) began as a small affair and today has turned into a monthly event where around a 100 cyclists descend in all their spandex glory. You’ll probably wonder where they all emerged from at 630 am in the morning. Gasp.

Noob Guide to Cycling
Well-dressed and slick cyclists appear from different parts of the city, suddenly turning the road into a racing paradise. Motorists, watch out – we mean serious business!

Locations chosen for races are usually slightly on the outskirts so be prepared. But these are well attended events and racing is also quite serious business now. BAR (Bangalore Amateur Racing) is another such start-up in the racing scene but have quite well conducted races every month. Then there are one-off races held by other groups – usually once you subscribe to the community groups, you unearth many more. There is a group called SFS (Students Foundation for Sports) which organises regular events. Which means, if you get into the racing circuit, you’re going to be busy throughout the month.

Noob Guide to Cycling
Professional teams turn up at these events – and yes, we do have them in India and Bangalore. A lot has happened since you bought your fancy car! But apart from them, there are also a bunch of not so serious, but equally passionate bikers who form cycling groups to compete in these events. Some usually ride for a big breakfast, but then whatever gets you going, right?


What if I want to push myself even more (aka 100 kms is not enough)?

If cycling has gotten you hooked, and you want to push yourself, you can also try the Bangalore Brevets. This began around 2011 with a bunch of enterprising cyclists who decided to get the famous Paris-Brevet-Paris qualifier events to India. The main PBP event is held once in 4 years. To qualify for the event you need to complete a series of rides – 200, 300, 400 and 600 within stipulated times. And yes, don’t get scared looking at the zeroes. It’s not actually as difficult as it seems. Some enthusiastic folks have even completed 1000 and 1200 km rides.

For upcoming long rides, you can check out this calendar.

These are not races as there are no winners. You try and complete the distance so you can qualify. Bangalore community’s enthusiastic volunteers run these rides regularly.

Apart from that, there are also other events that keep happening in the city. A few triathlon events have also been held, by the Mysore Cycling Club.

I don’t want to race. Are there leisure rides?

This is the good news. And my favourite part. There are groups today who offer leisure cycling and this is an ideal way to see a city, experience new sights and have fun with friends.

I did my first leisure ride in Goa over 5 days and enjoyed the countryside immensely and that was my introduction to recreational cycling – and I was hooked.

Noob Guide to Cycling
My very first multi-day cycling trip in Goa. I loved every moment of it!

After that, I ventured to do the Tour of the Nilgiris, another prestigious event in the cycling world which happens every December. Around 80 cyclists descend in Bangalore (starting point) and pedal from here cover nearly 900 kms in around 8 days and there are also competitive stages to the event. I did this in 2009 and had the time of my life. In 2010, we went to the North in search of more climbs and did the torturous Manali to Leh segment – an extremely tough ride.

Noob Guide to Cycling
Some sights you’ll be witness too when you cycle to Leh – definitely a trip of a lifetime. And be prepared for the endless climbs! Nandi hills will seem like a tame mouse in front of the lion of mountains!

It’s also great fun and the the best part of being on a cycle is that you can stop anywhere you want, take pictures, chat with locals enroute and have interesting exchanges like this one:

He: Madam, kahan ja rahe ho? (where are you going)
Me: Hum Leh ja rahe hai. (I’m going to Leh!)
He: Lekin, Madam – aaj kaal jeep milte hai. Aap cycle kyon kar rahe hai. Aap ko maloom nahi kya? (But there are jeeps available nowadays, why are you cycling. Or didn’t you know?)

How could I explain? There were no words and I couldn’t have conveyed in my limited Hindi as to the beauty and sheer exhileration of seeing things at my pace. So I just smiled at him and started up the mountain again.

Noob Guide to Cycling
Resting somewhere on the way from Manali to Leh. And yes – cycling involves a lot of resting in between. Especially in the mountains.

There are also other events like the Great Malnad Challenge, the Tour of Tamil Nadu and a crop of other exciting bicycle events to choose from today. Many enthuastic cyclists have also their own cycling tours.

Here are a few:

Unventured: Started by cycling enthusiast Gurudeep Ramakrishna and then Tejaswini Gopalswamy, another extremely passionate and avid traveller, who joined as the co-founder. From their website: “From a decade of wanderings across this country of cultural diversity taking the road less taken, Unventured brings some of the best adventure acitivites to experience Incredible India! At Unventured, we are obsessed with the need to provide travelers an off the beaten path real world experience of India that will leave them amazed. We do this with the element of safety and security in mind and provide simple but essential support to discover the Unventured – natural wealth, cultural diversity and natural history of Incredible India!”

Cycling and More (CAM): One of the pioneers in this kind of travel, they do mainly weekend rides, and I’ve been with them and enjoyed the experience. From their website: “In an unbelievable short period of time, cycling has grown on to become a mainstream hobby. Cycling and More is the brain child of cycling and adventure enthusiasts Sreeharsha & Vikrant from Bangalore. When weekend treks are a yes yes, why not weekend rides ? This is the situation we are trying to change. We hope that helping people ride will aid acceptance of cycling as a fun, viable and completely eco-friendly mode of transport.”

Noob Guide to Cycling
Group cycling is a lot of fun; especially since everyone is obviously there because of one reason. No, make it two! Cycling and good food :-). This taken during a rainy CAM ride. The rains don’t get in the way of pedalling.

Red Spokes Cycling: A fairly new venture. From their FB page: “Red Spokes offers unique and exciting experiences, on a bicycle. Feel the wind on your face. Listen as the roads whisper stories to you. Take in the sights and sounds of nature. We guarantee that you will taste the excitement with our unique experiences across India, on a bicycle.”

MuddyBoots: Based in Kalpetta, this adventure company offers some great trails in the Wayanad region. The best part is that you don’t need to transport cycles as they have a stable of pretty good options. They are also operational in Madikeri, Coorg and Bekal.

Noob Guide to Cycling
Cycling with MuddyBoots in Kerala. The scenic beauty of this region is unbeatable. And add to that, it has pretty decent roads for cycling.


How safe is cycling on our city’s roads?

People ask this all the time. Before I answer the question, take some time to observe cyclists on our city roads. Do you hear or see a lot of mishaps. (and we’re sure there are quite a few in a city of our size). But it’s true – there are lakhs of cyclists on our city roads – and yet, they are as prone as someone on a two-wheeler or a car (despite the fact that you probably feel safer in a car). However, safety is very relative.

Is it safe for them? Depends on how safe we drive actually because safety of cyclists usually lies in someone else’s hand. Having said that, to answer the question, I don’t think cycling is much safer or unsafer than anything else. For example, cars have accidents, pedestrians have mishaps, two wheelers get into skirmishes. What you can do is ride as safely as you can. Take all the precautions.

So here are some I’d suggest:
– Wear a helmet
– Be noticed
– Give hand signals
– Follow traffic signals
– Watch out for erratic motorbikes, crazy tempo and call centre drivers, sudden opening of parked car doors (very important), drivers on opposite side of road, honking cabbies, holy cows, very aggressive Volvo drivers – so you get the drift right?
– Oh, and did I mention dogs? Just make some noise and hope they stop chasing you. They’re usually very friendly. You can try carrying some biscuits with you to make friends.

There are also others who believe that you should not wear a helmet or get noticed. I would rather protect my head however. Even if, for some reason you get nervous and fall at least you know your head is protected. I also like to wear bright clothes and make sure I get noticed because when I’m cycling I want that cab fellow to take care and not come too close. Doesn’t work all the time though.

But take an informed decision on this one.

What next?

Get on your bike and ride! If you’ve gotten this far, then you have no excuses not to ride.


CYCLING RESOURCES


To contribute any links or other information that might be useful, do leave a comment

CYCLING BOUTIQUE: For all your needs related to cycling including accessories, apparel, components and even bikes
PEDALS AND WHEELS – Bike shop and outdoor equipment store

RUNNERS/CYCLISTS WHO BLOG:
Bikey Venky (also called as Lord Venky in the cycling circles); an amazing cyclist who can also write about it as passionately!
Manoj Bhat who blogs about his running and cycling experiences at Visor View; an extremely inspiring athlete

janewalk1

Jane Jacobs themed photo walk in Bangalore on May 4

Came across this interesting concept called Jane’s Walk, named after Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), an urbanist and activist, whose writings championed a fresh, community-based approach to city building.

More about the walk: Jane’s Walks are free, locally organized walking tours, in which people get together to explore, talk about and celebrate their neighbourhoods. Where more traditional tours are a bit like walking lectures, a Jane’s Walk is more of a walking conversation. Leaders share their knowledge, but also encourage discussion and participation among the walkers.

And who is this walk targeted at? According to the website, “Everyone knows something about where they live. Every perspective is important to building vibrant and healthy cities.”
This walk is intended for:
– Anyone who enjoys getting to know their city and neighbours.
– People who want to participate in meaningful conversations about the social and built future of their neighbourhoods.
– People engaged in the work of building cohesive communities and improving the walking environment.
– People who want to change their cities and neighbourhoods, for example to narrow the gap between the haves and have-nots in our cities and towns.
– Youth and children who experience the impact of current transportation choices disproportionately, but who are rarely consulted on their aspirations for walking or cycling.

You can also get involved as a volunteer, add your city or create a walk.

Sounds interesting? “Framing Shivaji Nagar through the eyes of Jane Jacobs“, led by Nithya Ramesh is the theme of the walk in Bangalore on May 4.

“On this photo walk, we’re not only going to look closely at our city, but also capture some of its scenes on camera.Since the walk is themed on Jane Jacobs’ ideologies, we’ll be paying attention to key concepts such as the ‘sidewalk ballet’, ‘eyes upon the street’ and many others from her book. Participants will be given a brief at the start point of the walk and will spend the next one and a half hours along the route for the walk taking pictures in line with the given brief. While on the walk, participants are welcome to  step into St. Mary’s church and observe the tamil mass and compare it to the musical service at St. Andrews church, peek into the parade grounds and the police canteen and join the walk leader for a discussion on community engagement in the city building process at Koshy’s.”

Jane's Walk, Bangalore
Reference: — Urban Design Collective