CYCLING THROUGH SOUTH INDIA, Part 2: Karnataka and the Nilgiri Hills, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

Gretchen--ready to ride!, Mysore, India
Leaving Mysore by bicycle meant diving headlong into some of the craziest traffic I’ve ever seen. Actually, I loved the thrill of it. But I didn’t mind reaching quiet roads meandering through villages and farmlands. 
Snack stand
We attracted curious attention whenever we stopped for a (frequent) water or tea break. Our guide said that Indians assume only impecunious eccentric foreigners ride bicycles rather than travel by car or motorbike. 
Goat herd traffic jam
Along the way we stopped at a madrasa, a school where Muslim boys study the Koran. We also visited a few ancient Hindu temples. 
Hindu temple sculptures
The Muslim Mughal Empire which spread over most of India in the 17thcentury destroyed many Hindu temples in the north. But the empire never reached the far south of the country, and so the ancient compounds, covered in beautiful elaborate relief sculpture have been preserved. 
Monkeys in the trees
We cycled to Bandipur National Park where an evening van safari met no tigers, just monkeys and birds. But a walk next morning just across from our lodge took us a mere 100 yards away from a mother and baby elephant foraging for food.  We skirted around them, but I got only fuzzy photos.

A 13km bicycle climb (36 hairpin bends) attracted only five of our group. I joined a few others to walk up the steep slope through villages and woods. A break for tea and coconut cake at the top revived us all and we cycled on to Ooty, a former British hill station. 
Serenade by girls on the bus
In the afternoon we were joined on a steam train (from the British era) by a most entertaining group of student nurses who serenaded us with Bollywood and Indian pop songs. 
Tea pickers, Kerala
Next day we descended through the hills of the Western Ghats through lush tropical forest and tea plantations to the state of Kerala and the southwestern coast of India. More on that next week.

Tour route
Cycling distances on this trip varied from 12-55 miles/day, averaging about 30 miles/day. Road conditions were good, most rides were on quiet back roads. Van support was always available for those who chose not to cycle. See for more information on this and other tours.

Selected bibliography:
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. This 1997 Booker-prizewinning novel takes place in Kerala.
The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India’s Young by Somini Sengupta. A New York Times reporter, born in India and raised in the U.S., spent several years researching this 2016 book about India today.
Kim by Rudyard Kipling. Story of a street orphan and Tibetan lama in 1890s India: a spy thriller, social commentary, and poignant coming of age story. One of my favorite classics.

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