Biking Asia with Mr Pumpy!
Cycling the South of India. The ride, the road, the facts.

Capital: New Delhi
Population: 1000 million
Language: Hindi, English, Tamil and a host of regional tongues.
Religion: Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian.
People: Nonviolent, but can be exasperating.

Roads: Poor to very good.
Left/right: Left hand side
Traffic: Variable
Bike shops: Enough.
Food & drinks: Every 5 km
Weather: Tropical


Crazy India #1
The Map

Mr Pumpy's
geographical analysis.


The South of India: Chennai to Goa around the coast.

The South: Background, culture, concepts etc.
The Facts:
The ride, the road, the costs etc.

The Route: Leg 1: Chennai to Kanyakumari
The Route: Leg 2: Kanyakumari to Goa

Riding India: India! Frustrating, maddening, overwhelming and run down beyond belief. So why go there? Well, it's fascinating.

India's the sort of place that you have to work at to stay in one piece emotionally, but if you do, it rewards you tenfold in culture, experience and perhaps the best of all, the unexpected. In a word, it's worth it.

But, more to the point, why ride it? On the bike, out in the country, it's a surprisingly delightful, easy and, despite all those crazy India stories you've heard, safe experience, at least in the South.

If you're still unconvinced, proceed to Crazy India #1 & 2 below left.

India on a bike versus India with a backpack: In my estimation, the bike eliminates about 80% of the budget tourist's trouble in India, bringing the hassle factor down to a level one can cope with quite easily.

Sometimes, out on the road, you actually get away from it all, riding pleasantly along into an open vista feeling calm and at peace with all things Indian.

When you stop, it's in a small village, where the locals are happy to see you and respectful of your person and belongings. It's quite an experience, and one that stressed out backpackers find hard to believe (when Mr Pumpy goes on and on about it.).

Backpacking around India can be very difficult. On foot in the cities and towns (and one rarely ventures elsewhere), one encounters a minute by minute onslaught of street folk: beggars, touts, merchants, drug pushers and pimps. It seems everyone is on the make.

Usually though it's the transport experience that drives you over the emotional edge. Trying to find the train or bus station, getting tickets, the price rip-off, the crowded conditions and the argument over payment at journey's end.

Conversely, on the bike in the cities you are moving too fast to be targeted by the street flotsam and you never have to get ripped off by a rickshaw driver or climb on a crowded bus or train.

Most importantly, on the bike, 90% of your time is spent with the ordinary country folk, who are not out to empty your wallet and play with your mind. Country folk world wide are generally appreciative of your company and happy to have you visit and share a tea and a joke. Mr Pumpy loves country folk.


Take a ride on the dark side!
Many thanks to Dr Dave, world renowned hypnotist, forensic profiler and cyclist, for great assistance with this report!
You can visit his forensic website.


India on a bike - the pros and cons: There's a lot of cyclists in India so basically motorists are aware of them. But having said that, riding a bike anywhere in Asia requires constant vigilance. To survive you need to employ a constant 360 degree radar zone of sound, sight and feel.

This can get tiring, especially after 8 hours in the saddle. However, after a couple of weeks of solid riding you set up an almost automatic "confidence zone".

The real big worry on a bike is a bad accident. Having a bad accident in India (or Asia) is not Mr Pumpy's idea of a good time, so he "rides to survive".

If you take no chances, the chances are slim that you will come to grief. This is really no different than riding to and from work in your home town. To be safe, Mr Pumpy always takes out travel insurance.

Some folk think that having a bike in Asia as a "possession" would be a pain to look after. Yes, to a point this is true, but the bike is not only a possession, its your mode of transport, and actually becomes the focus of your travel. It radically changes the way you journey through and view the country you are in.

In the end, riding a bike in Asia is an an enriching experience, and the benefits far outweigh the hassles.

Crazy India #2
The Experiment

Mr Pumpy
risks life and limb
to prove his point!

The traffic: Most of the Indian traffic tales you have heard are told from the perspective of the inside of a crowded bus screaming headlong into Delhi late at night. Scary stuff, and mainly northern based. The traffic along the Bombay-Delhi-Calcutta axis can be insane (see Crazy India # 1 above, left).

However, in the South, at ground level on the bike, things don't seem quite as maniacal and in fact, can sometimes look pretty OK (see Crazy India # 2 at left).

On a bus you are the speeding thing, so you can never escape the fear and danger. On the bike, in the South where the traffic is medium to thin most of the time, you will find quiet times of easy solitude, with hardly a motorised vehicle in sight.

When the traffic is badly behaved, with trucks and buses passing three and four deep on the highway, there is ample time to pull off the road out of harms way.

As far as hassles go, the bus drivers are probably the worst, but again, one usually has ample time to pull to the side, along with your fellow Indian cyclists and pedestrians on the road.

Having said all that, you will pass a few sobering crash scenes as you cycle along. They will cetainly give you pause for thought.




Why ride around the coast: Cycling in a loop around the coast of southern India, as opposed to cutting straight across east-west from Chennai, you will avoid crossing the Western and Southern Ghats (Ghat, Sanskrit = step), the ruggedly steep mountains that run down the west and centre of the southern end of the subcontinent.

By taking the coastal route you will only encounter a few hills, the foothills of the Western Ghats that spill out intermittently on to the coast in Kerala and Karnataka States.

Cycling the coast of any country is a pleasant experience, and India is no exception. You will pass through small fishing villages, and be able to swim, or at least paddle the feet in the ocean at day's end.

If you're in to hills, then the Southern Ghats may be the way to go, but the coastal route is by far the more laid back option.

Language: Hindi and English are the national languages of India, but only about 10% of the (mostly educated) population speaks English. A lot of folk in the south don't speak Hindi either. However, nearly everyone has heard some English at some time or other, so you will have no trouble making yourself understood, at least when it comes to the basics.

The trouble will arise when you begin to make fine distinctions, such as:

My companion and I will share the curry but we'll have separate plates of rice. However, he would like his tea with milk and one sugar, before the meal, whereas I will take my coffee with no milk or sugar after the meal. Also, could you turn the fan down a little.

This is gonna get you in to trouble, especially in the mornings.

I guess around Goa and Pondicherry some local folk speak French, but, as they say in France, "bonne chance!", you'll need it. You're really gonna need English in the subcontinent.


The cultural attractions: Some folk think that the "must sees" in India are the Taj Mahal and the burning ghats by the Ganges at Varanasi, both in the North.

Granted these sights are unique and wonderful, but the South is loaded with its own distinct history and oodles of fascinating temples and monuments. Boring it aint.

More importantly, out on the bike, you will come across temples, monuments and small festivals that are completely untouristed, and very welcoming of a Westerner on a bike.

Roll in, get off the bike and have a look around! Tell them you're a friend of Mr Pumpy!