South India Adventure – Exploring the Southern India from Coast to Coast
Tamil Nadu and Kerala are the two southernmost states of India, and they provide the perfect contrast to experiencing peninsular India and the two Indian coast on either end. The mountain ranges that run along the western coastline referred to as the Ghats in South India divide the region, by language, cultures, traditions, its people and their way of life.
You will pass some of the most impressive landscapes; meet and interact with locals, indulge your senses with incredible sounds, scents, tastes and textures that Southern India has to offer. You’ll journey back in time to stories of kings, of glorious kingdoms, of religions, Gods and demi-Gods. Southern India also bears strong influences of new-age forms of spirituality and community, including more recent accounts of colonization in places like Fort Kochi- A former Portuguese Colony and Pondicherry – a former French colony.
To delight your cultural and culinary curiosities, the ancient temples and local traditions with tropical spice plantations and green paddy fields in the plains make way for authentic local food, colonial influenced cuisines and culturally significant stories.
You’ll trail from the east to the west coast mapping your passage to Southern India through colonial towns, backwaters and unending stretches of coastline.
Who can do this tour?
MEDIUM INTENSITY Moderately challenging due to some long stretches of riding and weather condition.
This is a tour for anyone who wishes to soak into and take back memories of the true flavors of Southern India. Rich in history, varying flavors of foods, an interest in learning about the arts and crafts of the region, seeks an adventure, and is committed to preparing for an adventure of a lifetime. At Unventured we offer participants all necessary support, training, guidance and practice information to prepare for this tour.
You’ll start on the Eastern Coastline and journey through the countryside taking in the flavours and after you make your way up to cooler highlands and tea estates in the Western Ghats of Kerala and her tranquil backwaters. Here, a relaxing hammock by the bustling backwaters in Kerala provides the perfect setting to reflect on your 14-day cycle adventure before heading home.
At an average of 70 Kilometers per day and 10 full cycling days, this is a moderate level tour. You’ll find yourself on mostly quiet back roads and some stretches of road riding alongside with locals on motorized transport with moderate traffic as you enter and exit the city areas.
The primary prerequisite is a love of new things and an open heart and mind. India indeed has so many things to offer that it can get a bit overwhelming. But you’ll find that life gets simpler when you spend time in the saddle and your days provide the perfect chance to reflect and soak in all that you are experiencing.
You are to arrive in Chennai before Noon. We will depart on a 3-hour drive to Pondicherry with a break at Mahabalipuram, which is famous for its shore temples and rock carvings. Stone carving is still a living art here and we will see stone-masons chipping away along the roadside, practicing skills that have flourished for centuries. On arrival in Pondicherry we get hold of the bikes and explore this former French colony on a short 6 KMs ride, before an evening briefing about our cycling adventure to come.
Drive Distance: 180 KM Accommodation Type: Boutique Hotel
• Meet and greet our fellow riders on the tour
• Enroute : visit a South Indian Museum for insights into culture and tradition
• Long drive to Pondicherry
It’s the first day of our adventure and we begin with a loop ride around Auroville, a good day to get your legs warmed up and get accustomed to your bikes, the terrain and the weather. A new-age spiritual commune, Auroville is founded in 1968 by ‘The Mother’ and named after her Guru Sri Aurobindo, the commune offers and into a more balanced and sustainable way of living. Revitalized by some earthly fruit juices, we ride the 15 KMs back into town, seeing some fishing communities and cycling along the promenade, which still retains some of its Gallic charm. Depending on time, lunch may be at Auroville or back in Pondicherry, the rest of the day is at leisure.
Ride Distance: 30 KM Accommodation Type: Boutique Hotel
• Bike fit and gear check
• Visit to Auroville a global commutity village
• Acclimatisation ride and tour briefing
Starting from our hotel, we ride out of Pondicherry and soon leave the busy city for quiet back roads. Our ride distance is about 95 KMs through quaint villages and mild off- trail routes bedecked with mud huts and trails along the coastline with glimpses of the sea en route to Chidambaram. We will spend the evening exploring this temple town known for its many temples dating back to the 10th Century with intricate architecture, depicting the then social and cultural way of life.
Ride Distance: 95 KM Accommodation Type: Heritage Home
• Coastline Ride
• Undulating terrains and local interactions
• Visit to a 10th century Thillai Nataraja Temple
This is the day where we ride along the banks of one of the holy rivers of India, the river Cauvery. We ride about 75 KMs and drive out the remaining 35km to get to Tanjavur. In the evening, we will visit the Royal Palace of Tanjavur which houses one of the finest collections of bronze sculptures and stone carvings in Southern India, followed by a visit to the huge Brihadiswara Temple, one of the tallest in India.
Ride Distance: 75 KMs Accommodation Type: Heritage Hotel
• First 100 KM ride
• Stop by to visit local craftsment working on metal sculptures
• Visit the Tanjavur Palace and Big Temple
Our next stop along this journey is into Tamil Nadu’s heartland Chettinad. The ride takes us along a less busy highway and into the heart of the countryside in the region. Renowned for its impressive mansions built by wealthy community/caste of traders known as Chettiars. Chettinadu villages and the mansions they sport are a treat to the eye. But the real flavor of this region comes to life from the kitchen that is tucked away at the rear end of these houses. The curries of Chettinad cuisine are one of world renowned flavors. These are slow cooked in copper pots over a wood stove, and are as memorable as the ride to get here.
Ride Distance: 90 KMs Accommodation Type: Heritage Mansion
• Long ride day on open roads
• Highway lunch (traditional plantain leaf meal)
• Overnight in a old Hertiage Mansion
Today we keep the day relaxed with some amount of riding as we explore the Chettinadu region for its local food and way of life. Some of the palatial houses have been converted to boutique hotels, offering a glimpse of the past. The grand interiors of Burmese Teak and elaborate plasterwork retain much of the traditional architecture of a bygone age. We will be riding through villages, learning about the crafts, the grandeur and history of the many mansions, trailing along to Karakudi a bustling market city at the the epicenter of Chettinad. Walk about satiating your curiosity about high streets stores selling antiques from a bygone era. Post lunch we ride back to our mansion house for a relaxed evening in the pool and a cooking session in the evening.
Drive Distance: 40 KM Accommodation Type: Heritage Mansion
• Visit local villages and marvel at the mansions
• Traditional tile factory visit
• Try local food and afternoon at leisure
Today we leave behind opulance of our heritage mansion and head out looking for culture, traditions, street food in one of the biggest temple complexes in the world. As we take the back roads to Madurai, we pass the granite quarries and workshops of the master-masons, this community has been carving temple pillars for 2500 years. Around the town of Melur we’ll see hundreds of red clay horses surrounding small village shrines – these represent the local deity who protects the village boundaries. In the evening we explore the old city one of the largest temple complexes in India. Thousands of huge stone pillars line the hallways, each adorned with different deities, that are said to represent the 3,333,333 Gods of the Hindu cosmos. A constant flow of worshipers, chanting prayers, add to the heady atmosphere of incense and camphor smoke, and make this an unforgettable experience of understanding the local way of life.
Ride Distance: 95 KM Accommodation Type: Tented Camp
• Learn about old shrines and local deities of Tamilnadu
• Guided walk around the Madurai temple complex
• Evening market walk and street food of Madurai
We leave the heat of Madurai for the cool air of the Cardamom Hills, transferring 2 hours by car and crossing state borders. Our ride begins by the foothills of the Kumily hills, we ride up trailing through banana and plantain plantations, forested slopes of the Western Ghats for a slow but beautiful ascent up through the rainforest to Thekkaday, a small town close to the entrance of the Periyar Wildlife sanctuary. This region is famed for the many spice plantations that are the primary source of revenue and earnings for the locals in the region.
Drive Distance: 67 KM Accommodation Type: Hotel
• Steep climb up into the hills
• Amazing views of hills and farm landscapes
• Visit to spice plantations
Riding from the hotel we cycle through cardamom plantations winding up and down hills and into a region of tea plantations. Stopping mid-morning for a warm cup of tea and visit the local tea factory, learning more about the tea making process. Refreshed, we continue along hilly tea plantation roads with a lunch break at a small roadside restaurant en route to Vagamon, an area of outstanding natural beauty and one of the most scenic roads in Kerala. We end the ride with a steep climb and winding descent on a quiet road and stay at an old plantation bungalow.
Ride: 55 KM Accommodation Type: Plantation Hotel
• Short steep ascents and rolling hilly terrain
• Beautiful views of tea plantations
• Overnight at a Plantation hotel overlooking the tea gardens
Today we ride through rubber and spice plantations en route to Kottayam, known as the Syrian Christian heart land of Kerala. Here grand Churches dot the landscape and we break for lunch mid-way to visit St Thomas Church, its white washed facade and distinct gilded ceiling predates its Portuguese renovation. All roads converge into Kottayam City, and onward to the Vembanad lake, the largest lake in southern India and the setting for the renowned book “God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy.
Ride Distance: 68 KM Accommodation Type: Homestay
• Long downhill ride
• Riding amidst rubber and spice plantations
• Overnight in a Siriyan Christian family homestay
Today will be a relaxed day, with a morning ride leading us to the banks of the Vembanad lake, where we board a houseboat. The lake is also a bird sanctuary and our cruise along the lake makes for a great opportunity to spot water birds. As evening sets in, we sail towards our homestay by the banks of the lake. Spend the day resting up and soaking in the scenery sipping on long drinks fixed by our delightful team.
Ride Distance: 30 KM Accommodation Type: Homestay
• Easy ride trailing through countryside roads
• House Boat Cruise
• Barbeque and stay at a quaint homestay by the river bank
We wake up to a morning canoe ride along the little canals of the Alleppey backwaters, also called the ‘Venice of the East’. Rowing our small canoes along the old canal ways, we witness everyday lives of the villagers who have made these backwaters their home. We’ll take a few local canoes for a boat ride through the maze of estuaries and canals. Following breakfast we get back on the saddle for an easy and leisurely ride along the Alleppey backwaters through old villages. We’ll stop by at a local toddy shop for some local fish and simple Keralan style food.
Ride Distance: 30 KM Accommodation Type: Homestay
• Canoe about rowing through canals and estuaries
• Try some local toddy
• Taste the unique Keralan cuisine
We take the coast road north to Marari Beach for our first view of the Arabian Sea, as we realize this adventure of cycling from coast to coast across South India. The many people we met, their journeys and the many interesting experiences along the way. The ride ends at Fort Cochin, with a relaxed afternoon, late lunch and celebrations with beers.
Drive Distance: 73 KM Accommodation Type: Hotel
• Riding through villages and coastlines
• View of the beach on the western coast of India
• Explore old colonial port town of Kochi and lots of sea food
Today is free for you to explore the town of Cochin, its bazaars and old harbor area. Warehouses filled with the scents of tea and spices are lime-washed bright green, yellow and blue; rickety old bikes and hand-painted trucks piled high with goods fill the narrow streets and food stalls stand on every corner. Further along the road we come to Mattancherry and the Dutch Palace. Next to the Palace is the synagogue, built in 1568 for the Jewish members of Cochin’s trading communities, adorned with hand-painted tiles from China and elegant Belgian chandeliers, all donations from wealthy merchants. The area around the synagogue is excellent for shopping. For food, try the fish market near the Chinese fishing nets, where you can buy the day’s catch and have it cooked to your own taste. There’s also plenty of boutique stores for custom requests.
Drive Distance: 180 KM Accommodation Type: Homestay
• Explore the Fort town of Kochi
• Visit some of the old Dutch Palaces and Synagogues
• Celebratory send-off dinner
We bid goodbye to our fellow travellers and friends we’ve made en route our journey riding through coast-to-coast of Southern India, private transfers to your next destination can be arranged on prior notice.
Unlike most tours in the region we aim to offer an end to end experience that combines the endurance with local off the beaten path experiences enjoyed in the company of like minded travellers. We’ve ensured and well planned a trail that you will endure but also have the luxury of pausing to soak in the views, stop and enjoy its beauty and celebrate a journey in the company of like minded TRAVELLERS.
On our tour we’ve ensured we put a good mix of local experiences like cooking sessions, visit to local toddy shops, temple experiences, visit local home & cottage industries , stay at a local home-stay’s in a quaint village where you can walk around the village and make conversations with the locals.
Difficulty Level: High Intensity (Challenging due to some long days of riding)
Preparedness – Physical & Mental
The Coast to Coast bike tour is truly a unique cultural experience for cycling in India. It is a great combination of long distance riding with unique experiences and insights into cultures and traditions that have shaped this land and its people. It is NOT the age or gender that will be key to a fun tour; but coming with an open mind to soak in the interesting quirks of the land and its people.
Over the years, our closely monitored training regime has helped participants not only to endure the tour but also relish every moment along the way. We’ve had instances where participants (men & women) who were NEW to cycling trained and practiced, to pedal almost all the way and completed the tour.
Your tour will be supported by a well trained mechanic, and a full repair kit with essential spares. However, we strongly encourage participants to carry their basic bike maintenance kit along. We will also be carrying a back-up cycle along the expedition; just so that nobody misses out on the riding experience should their bike have a serious breakdown.
Accommodation will be in Hotels, BnB’s and homestays with good hygienic attached bathrooms offered on a twin-sharing basis.
A team of 10-12 riders will be supported by 2 support vans with a carrier that will transport both the riders and bikes along with a spare cycle, one of the vehicles will trail the riders through the day, should any emergency occur or you choose to drive a part of the trail.
A cycling tour over 15 days from Chennai to Fort Cochi discovering the history,culture,food,spices, religions and nature in this tropical part of India, A wonderful experience as our guide Gurudeep was keen to highlight and explain the many attractions on the way, Highlights were the Temple visits, the Kerala Backwaters, the great accommodation & food, the scenery through the Western Gatts and the friendly locals. There was nothing Gurudeep wouldn’t do for us to pander to our needs (beer). One of our group had Visa issues and was stranded in Bangkok. Unventured bent over backwards to assist him and get him to join us a day late in Pondicherry. A very professional and competent outfit. The cycling averaged about 70km a day generally flat and “easy” but tougher in the Gatts (2 days)