Cycling brings you much closer to the action than sitting on a bus looking through a window and in Southern India there is no shortage of action along high streets, back-roads, highways and backwaters.
Although there were many, the main highlight for me was the incredible climb up to Ooty. It is a tough ride, but a great challenge that rewards your efforts with some stunning views and an enormous sense of achievement at the end.
My chilled beer the afternoon before caught in my throat as I looked up at the beast of the hill behind the Wild Haven Lodge. In an attempt to bolster my reserves I made sure I was first in the queue for breakfast the next morning and got stuck in to some carbohydrates before getting stuck into the hill – there are no flat sections.
It is a 1,600 metre ascent to the top of Ooty with a total of 36 hairpin bends to conquer. Each of the corners is signposted so you know exactly how you are doing along the way. For most of the climb it is generally quite lonely, as during the long ascents everyone sets their own pace and fellow cyclists soon disappear above or below you.
However there is no shortage of things to see along the way. Our passing through the villages was certainly a source of entertainment for the locals. Some tried to make conversation (which was a struggle as you battle with the gradient), but others simply stared and smiled, wondering why on earth we were cycling up this hill when the bus is hardly expensive!
There are some interesting hazards en route to keep you on your toes. Keep an eye out for the trucks and buses on the turns as they take up both sides of the road. It is also important to be wary of the tuk-tuks (they get everywhere in India), goats, chickens, cows, pot holes and the occasional child who may decide to block your way! But if you’re not planning to break records on the way to the top (that’s about one hour and 45 minutes), I recommend stopping at the view points, or at one or two of the tea shops for a chat and an energy boost. The tea plantations are abundant in this area of India so the local brew has no ‘best before’ date.
After finishing all 36 bends, I revelled in a well-earned rest and got stuck in at the snack shop. It was a great feeling having reached the top but there was no time to rest on laurels before getting back in the saddle for another few kilometres – past the golf course and through Ooty town centre.
The end was in sight as we passed Charing Cross Junction. Motivated by the promise of the most comfortable hotel on the itinerary, I kept my eyes on the road – tuk tuks rule on the high street!
As I pulled into the hotel, I realised that all the uphill was done on the trip. Tomorrow would quite literally be downhill all the way (for at least 50km)! It was then time for a big fat well-deserved curry and few celebratory Kingfishers which were not going to get caught in my throat!
By Exodus’ Olly Leicester who travelled on Kerala & Tropical India trip in September 2011