After a tough ride through Nepal it was time to live like royalty and where better a place to do this than Rajasthan -Land of the Kings. According to the Adventure Cycling Handbook – other than tough but glorious rides in the mountains – Rajasthan, Kerala and Goa are the best three areas for cycle touring in India. While this is my third trip here, I was new to Rajasthan, have only passed through Kerala and saw only a limited part of Goa mostly while scoring cricket games as part of a pub team tour many years ago.
So, with a basic plan in mind we spent October following the royal line, aka highway 76, on a tour of forts and palaces. Having caught the train from Gorakpur, our destination after the Nepal border, we actually started our tour in Rajasthan’s neighbouring state, Uttar Pradesh. While not in the land of Raj the Taj Mahal in Agra, the start of our cycle trip, is surely the finest example of the life of the Kings. Despite Agra itself being a bit of a waste dump, somewhere I had been before and worthy of its alternative name of Agro (hawkers etc everywhere!) the Taj will always be one of the worlds most glorious buildings. Also worthy of a second visit, on route and just 35km away was Fatehpur Sikri – an city abandoned after a shortage of water for the many who flocked there once it was built and a fantastic example of Moghul architecture. All in all a great start to our riding.
While hot and with roads as described in the previous blog it was flat, straight and a welcome change from the Himalayas. We entered Rajasthan on our third ride day with a planned route would take us through Jaipur, Bundi, Bijaipur, Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Kumbalgarh, Puskar and finally to Jodhpur. While disappointed Jaisalmer was just that bit too far out for this bike trip we really were doing our best to see why this is a much visited part of India. While all places shared a common denominator – they all had a fort – there were still startling differences between them and with the inevitable compromises one has to make when trying to see a country at 12mph we were “forted out” only once!
Time constraints in Jaipur meant we missed the City Palace and Hawa Mahal ( two key attractions!) though we were able to send five additional panniers to Mumbai and book all remaining train tickets for our India journey. Travelling in sleeper class with so much luggage from Gorakpur made us determined to ditch the excess and ensure better seating on upcoming trains.
Of the sightseeing we managed to visit Amber Fort – our first major introduction to the magnificence and sense of grandeur that continued from place to place; Nahargarh, on a sadder note, gave a first insight to neglect and disrespect shown to some of India’s historical buildings and heritage. That said, our next key stop in Bundi, a charming town with a bustling market, blue Bramin houses and run down palace, was one of our favourite visits. With much fewer visitors and restraints we were able to ramble through this old building, view fabulous murals and wake up a few bats. It was only the feisty monkeys for which you hired a stick that meant you needed to be on your guard.
While incredibly hot we spent a wonderful afternoon exploring. Unfortunately for John the town that was not a shoppers paradise – with broken flips flops and only cycle shoes trying to find size 12′s was a challenge too far. Fortunately,India being India, we did find a man to fix broke stitching on his old pair… Still holding out to this day! While I suggested for a laugh we could try underwear shopping for me next we decided it was time to rest before our 160km journey the following day.
To date, much of this new living like kings was either through visits to historical monuments or simply through comparison with the cold showers and tough conditions previously encountered so we felt it was time to do it for real and were heading for a nights stay in Castle Bijiapur. 160km was a little further than we wanted to pedal in a day if we also wanted to make the most of our night of luxury so the journey was a mix of bike and bus. Again, fortunately India being India this is pretty straightforward. I don’t think I’d ever get a bike on a bus back home!
Still home to the Raj, also a keen cyclist we had a great stay and left the next day with directions over the hills and off the highway to Chittorgarh. Despite being noted as one of the greatest forts in India, perched on 150m cliffs and 6 km long we were forted out. We took pictures from a distance and in trying to conserve cash after the previous evening spent the night in a windowless and somewhat shabby hotel. We weren’t in the King’s quarters anymore!
Eighty one miles the following day got us to Udaipur. What a delight. The book highlighted it as a romantic city and it was easy to see why. It hosts one of the finest hotels in the world, has palaces set on and around the lake, many roof top restaurants etc etc. I loved the general ambiance of the city but will also always remember it for the museum housing a fabulous turban collection ( did you know all different jobs, classes etc have different fabrics and knots), the largest turban in the world, a fantastic puppet display and replicas of buildings from around the world made from polystyrene. Amazing.
However, this is not what Rajasthan is known for and our next destination of Kumbalgarh reminded us of the bloodythirstyness and fighting of the Raj kingdom. We were up in the hills now and following a beautiful ride found ourselves at this fort only once conquered with its thick walls stretching out for 36km. In addition to the fort being a worthwhile visit for a long climb we were also rewarded the following day with a magnificent descent. Pure joy.
The next two days were to be long slogs on the bike, with little to see and so the downhill ride was more than welcome. We were aiming to get to Pushkar. Pushkar offered a break from the typical Rajasthan attractions and is known as the town of pilgrims and hippies. It was easy to see why with its many temples, hippy stores and preference for bang lassies over a nice cold beer. While eating hash there ( not something that either of us go for ) seems relatively available we found a cold beer only served in tin foiled covered cans and served in coffee mugs. Weird man!
While we enjoyed the views from one of the hill temples, took a short camel ride and enjoyed a rest and wifi we were ready to leave and excited to get to Jodhpur – another of the great Rajasthan cities. We had a number of days there ( too many really) though given the Indian lurgy left me hotel bound for a day this was perhaps as well. The fort there was a magnificent end to the sightseeing and provided a zip line for our entertainment – I said every fort provided something different!
Unfortunately I was not so taken with Jodhpur as a town. It was incredibly busy and noisy even by Indian standards and without the time on the bike which provides much needed space and some air I was disappointed that it would be some time again before we would hit the road. We took a day out to Osian, some 60km away but while in the country I think both John and I were yearning to be pedalling rather than sat in a jeep.
Since then with 10.5 hrs on train to Dehli, 34 hrs from there to Bangalore and a bus journey to Mysore we are really really looking forward to being back in the saddle and as I write this that will be tomorrow! This cycling is addictive! Let’s see what Kerala has to offer next……..