By Hennie van den Hengel • May 17, 2017
I was so excited to go to India for two reasons. I had never been and I have dear friends, the Simons, local missionaries and native Indians, that live there.
Among their many responsibilities, they manage an orphanage, housing, at the present, 5 girls from the ages of 5 to 17 years.
With the help of some other friends, we showered these girls with gifts. There is nothing more rewarding than giving!
After a travel conference in Cochin, I started a 5 day bike tour in the state of Kerala. I was told that Kerala is the most prosperous state in India (and that is clearly visible) with 100 % literacy. When you look at the state on a map, it resembles Chile, but stretches itself along the Arabian Sea. It is here that the Dutch built Fort Cochin and the Portuguese and British traded. We passed a bird sanctuary and spend the night there in nice cottages in this tropical forest.
The next day we enjoyed a farily difficult bike ride to Munnar, well known for its tea plantations (where the opening picture of this blog was taken) and spice gardens. Our group was accommodated in an awesome establishement, on the top of the hill, known for its gourmet food. (And the best desserts!)
I do love desserts
On day three of our trip we spent the night in Periyar, a very interesting town where I bought my spices to bring home and some of the best chocolate I have ever had. Our resort was appropriately called Spice Village.
Group photo with guides in Kumily ECO hotel
My cycling group had our own cottage here.
I would have loved to have stayed a little longer in that area and go to the river to see the wild elephants. I was told there are still 6000 left just in the state of Kerala.
It was also in Periyar that we saw clouds of bats, called “flying foxes”. The next day we visited the Backwaters region, also called the Venice of the East, and saw the flying foxes hanging in the trees. There are millions of them here because there is a tree called Alligator Apple (that basically grows in the water) with apples that are a delicacy to them.
After my pleasant stay in the state of Kerala, I flew to New Delhi, visited the Taj Mahal in Agra and the fort which was the King’s palace. They say a visit to India without seeing the Taj Mahal isn’t complete. It surely is impressive as is the love story of why it was built.
Near the Backwaters on the way back to Cochin
Posing for a fun picture at the Taj Mahal
After leaving Agra we drove for a good hour and visited Fatehpur Sikri, an abandoned, but masterpiece of a city with a fascinating history. It is well worth a visit!
Only 15 km down from Fatehpur Sikri is an amazing bird sanctuary called Keoladeo Ghana Nat. Park. The picture below cannot do it justice.
The next picture is a little better but, still, cannot capture the incredible experience.
I also visited Jaipur which is called the Pink city. Jaipur still has a king who is 18 years old and studies at Cambridge University in England. He obviously doesn’t have any political power but has loyal followers.
A visit to beautiful museum and the palace where the king’s family still lives was a wonderful highlight.
King’s summer palace in Jaipur
After Jaipur we biked part of the way to Pushkar, a religious city with temples and many cows on the streets.
From Pushkar we biked to a awesome 5 star camp on a lake, a 5 star tent accommodation.
A familiar view on the way from Puskar to our tent accommodation on a Lake near Nimaj.
You run into animals on the road all the time. And the animals take priority!
With a guide, I visited the beautiful fort of Jodhpur that belongs to the Maharajah, who became Maharajah when he was 4 years old. A special small chair was built for him for the inauguration.
The Mahajarah is very popular and still has many followers today.
The next day we biked to Rohet and stayed again at a former fort/palace. The owner, an avid rider himself, was breeding these special horses.
The entrance to the hotel
While staying there we went on a jeep safari, saw many antelope, camels, and other small game.
We also visited a primitive tribe that live in their own compound without running water or electricity in mud huts. An old man is the tribe’s leader. The women dress a particular way. (See picture below.) The tribe is called the Bishnoi Community.
We then biked towards Bera, passing little villages and having lunch along the way under a neem tree. You will not find bugs near a neem tree as the seed oil is used as an insect repellant. Bera is leopard country. The owner founded this unique property in the middle of it (because a farmer had to sell it to be able to pay the dowry for his daughter) and is a great advocate trying to preserve this sanctuary for the animals but unfortunately, it is also valuable land for the miners of granite. Through his efforts, he has managed to get mining licences revoked and is now lobbying to have the railroad build a tunnel under the busy line that runs through it, both for the animals and for the shepherds.
With the owner of our lodge and my tour guide, Dushyant in Bera.
We sat on top of a granite hill during twilight waiting until a leopard(s) would show up. We knew they were there since shepherds had seen them early in the morning. We waited and waited as it got darker and darker. There were a few people with very strong spotlights. There it was. Now as a dark shadow against the blue sky on top of the mountain. There it sat, waiting it seems, as we were. It was a beautiful sight.
The guide's camera...a little better than an iPhone!
After a little while the spotlight spotted the other male or female to the right, slowly, graciously, climbing the mountain. It didn’t seem to care that it was in full light, climbing until it disappeared behind the mountain. Then we looked to the left but now the first one was gone as well. I’m sure they found each other.
There are never any guarantees to see a leopard and I am so glad that I did. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I will never forget it.
The next day we had a nice ride to a large reservoir that was now overflowing for the first time in 10 years after a very good rainy season. The vegetation all over was green, lush, and abundant.
A view overlooking the reservior
From Bera, our destination was Udaipur. I was transferred but normally this would be offered as a nice bike ride, passing many animals on the roads, lush green vegetation, small villages and very little traffic). Altogether traffic is minimal out in the country on the farm roads.
Udaipur was my tour guide’s home town and is known for being a much cleaner city than any other and that was apparent.
We did a nice ride on the outskirts of the town to a lake, stayed at another fort/palace and had time to buy some souvenirs.
The next day was my flight back to New Delhi, stayed at an airport hotel, (a brand new Holiday Inn) before starting the flight home.
Saying Goodbye to my fun and faithful driver
It was an awesome trip. One I will never forget. India with it's rich history is a special country.
As a result of the trip, we are very excited to offer multiple bike tours in India.
(Click to enlarge)