I reluctantly left my bike with a friend to look after at the start of the year.
My landlord had decided to sell the flat I was living in and, rather than start the dreaded search for a new London property, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to take an extended trip. It’s also cheaper to stay in a decent hotel for a month in Kathmandu than rent a small room in Peckham, but that’s a different story for another time. My journey took me to India, Nepal and Bali over the course of two months.
It wasn’t necessarily a cycling holiday, but I was fascinated by the rules of the foreign roads and how the centre of Delhi makes the Waterloo Bridge roundabout look like a circle of calm in comparison. I managed to arrange a couple of cycling trips on the go, but it would have been great to have read some quick tips beforehand and get some more experiences. So, if you’re planning on going to any of these countries soon, here are some notes about cycling activities for when you start to miss your bike.
Full disclosure: I was too terrified to cycle in India. Delhi is an incredible city but it’s also relentlessly chaotic with dangerously polluted air. The safest and most comfortable way to get around was in an air-conditioned car or by motor rickshaw. Even on the highways, there don’t seem to be any rules (or if there are, nobody follows them). Overtaking, speeding, horn tooting are a constant and my friend and I clung on for dear life on every journey. But, there are cycling tours available for the brave to book.
Recommended cycle companies with popular reviews:
- Delhi By Bicycle provide various routes throughout Old Delhi and New Delhi, including breaks for local meals.
- Spin Monkey Cycle Tour takes groups of 8 – 12 people around iconic sites such with stops or chai tea.
- Delhi by Bike itineraries include a ‘tour with a twist’, which covers the spice market, Jama Masjid and Chandi Chowk.
Chitwan is in the Western Terai of Nepal, where it’s a lot hotter, flatter, quieter and greener than Kathmandu. Rather than do the recommended, sensible thing and book onto a cycling tour with a local guide, I decided to rent a bike out and make the four-hour round journey to 20,000 Tears Lake myself. ‘I’ve battled the traffic of Holborn, so this’ll be a cinch,’ I boasted to no one.
The only bike I could get my hands on was a children’s one-gear bicycle which was so small it made me look like a clown pedalling around a circus. Still, this did not deter me from my mission. I started riding through traditional Tharu villages, trailing behind groups of kids cycling to school. It was quiet, calm, idyllic.
Then, I reached the border of the national park where the lake is. I knew things were about to get tricky when the only way of reaching the entrance was by hopping across stepping stones while pulling my bike through a stream. The park is referred to by locals as ‘the jungle’ and I had been on a safari just a few miles away the day before. It was at this point that I realised cycling on a kid’s bike over rocky, dirt roads through a jungle on own without so much as a pump was probably a bad idea.
But it was too late to turn back, so I just pedalled on and ignored any rustling noises and the confused stares from people who drove past in a safari jeep. Several mild panic attacks later, I made it! The lake was beautiful, serene, seemingly never ending and totally worth the trauma and anxiety about the ride back.
You should be able to book onto a cycle with a guide through your hotel or resort, or you can hire out a bike for dirt cheap and experience this for yourself!
If you’re staying in Kathmandu, these companies provide mountain biking tours in and around Kathmandu Valley:
Despite the intense heat (I have the painful sunburn to prove it), I couldn’t leave Bali without cycling around the rice paddies of Ubud. To make things a bit easier on myself under the 30+°C scorching sun, I cheated and booked onto an ebike tour with ebikesbali. Yes, I pressed the e-boost button for most of the journey, but it was very hilly and hot, so give me a break, OK?!
We followed the winding roads through fields of luscious green, which Julia Roberts unbelievably cycled along without breaking a single bead of sweat in the film Eat, Pray Love. We stopped off at a Hindu temple, the UNESCO rice terrace and for a luwack coffee with the friendly, informative guide whose smile was even bigger than my thirst for an ice cold beer. It was all very pleasant and safe and a lot different to my ride in Nepal.
I highly recommend ebikesbali but if you want to skip the ‘e’ cheating, there are more options for cycling around different parts of Bali:
Along the way I also experienced other activities such as hiking, surfing and lots of eating, but I was happy to get back to my London bike and take her out for a stretch along the Brighton coastline. I’ve weirdly missed the toots of impatient taxi drivers, battling the British weather and breathing in the fumes of adjacent buses during rush hour. London is still the city that gives me the biggest cycling thrill, even if there is no sun, sea or sand in sight.