Cycle Touring South India: A Bumpy Start
A lot of people have asked me if I am enjoying cycle touring. Dmitry and I had never done traditional bike touring (e.g., riding a bike from one location to another, carrying luggage) until Thailand, and I honestly wasn’t sure if I would like it. But in Thailand it felt like a revelation: riding days were the best days, filled with coconut groves, beautiful and diverse scenery, smiling faces, and frequent iced coffee stops. Same for Sri Lanka (minus the iced coffee).
(Most traffic jams in South India have been less charming than this.)
But cycle touring South India (the state of Tamil Nadu) has been… more challenging. After leaving Pondicherry, we rode four days in a row, to: Chidambaram (78 km/ 48 miles), Kumbakonam (75 km/ 46 miles), Thanjavur (47 km/ 29 miles), and finally to Trichy (56 km/ 35 miles). The rides were each very different – from highways to roads so small that we were only sharing them with tractors and oxcarts. But no matter what we did, and which roads we chose, I just haven’t enjoyed it here as much as Thailand or Sri Lanka.
Part of the problem has been my own attitude – it usually takes me a few days to adapt to a new place, and during that period, I can be very negative. But a big part is also that India* is objectively challenging. The traffic is worse, the road surfaces are bumpier, the air is more polluted, the roadsides are more covered in trash, and instances of public defecation have increased by roughly 1000%. [Dmitry: It’s probably worth adding that we are riding Brompton folding bikes with a 16 inch wheel diameter. The smaller wheels transmit much more road vibration, and finding the proper line through a poorly paved road requires a greater deal of concentration.] I have spent a lot of my time on the bike just wondering: why do people like it here so much? Why do so many foreigners come here and spend months traveling around? What are they seeing that I am not?
I’m not giving up yet, of course. Part of the reason that we chose (and really, that I lobbied Dmitry) to come here was because I knew it would be a challenge, and I wanted that challenge.
*Or, to be more specific, the part of Tamil Nadu that we have been riding through – India is obviously a giant country and we have only seen a small part of it.