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Exodus’ veteran Phil Normington takes to two wheels on one of our most popular cycling trips in the beautiful landscape and villages of Southern India.

I didn’t know for certain what ‘Granny Gear’ was until this morning, but it’s been the only gear in use for a couple of hours now. Twenty-seven speeds on this bike, but this is the very lowest, and there’s still 35 hairpin bends to go.

I bet the memsahibs never climbed this hill on a bike – they used the delightful little rack-railway from Coimbatore.

Sometimes we pedal and think, sometimes we just pedal. Those thoughts were in one of the rare thinking moments as we slogged up the hill to Ootacamund, or Udhagamandalam to give its post-colonial name, 7400ft up in the Nilgiri Hills of southern India.

Kerala backwatersKerala backwaters

Described in the Trip Notes as a “challenge”, this was our first taste of what that delicate euphemism could mean on an Exodus road cycling trip.

There was a support vehicle, driven a discreet distance behind by the ever-reliable Ashok, but that was the chicken’s way out. We puffed and grunted, and made more than usual stops to photograph the beautiful and ever-changing landscape of the Nilgiris.

Not surprising that Snooty Ooty, as Ootacamund was known to the memsahibs, was a favourite hill-station – the setting is magnificent.

This was day six of Exodus’ Kerala and Tropical India cycling trip. The other days were not as tough as this, but definitely not lacking in interest.

We had already been blessed by a saddhu at the huge Nandi Bull outside Mysore, got caught up in a traffic jam of bullock carts during a political rally (bullock carts – at least that’s something we can overtake….), and dodged a very placid wild elephant in Bandipur National Park. 

Kerala houseboatKerela Houseboat

Still to come was the descent from Ootacamund, two hours of not having to pedal as we zoomed through six different zones of vegetation, from tea estates through bamboo forests to tropical jungle; a delightful ride right along the coast as we followed the road south from Guruvayor to Cochin; a very memorable day in the old port of Cochin, and then a trip and a night through the Kerala backwaters on a luxurious houseboat.

There was so much interest packed into this trip that it’s hard to know when to stop. Cycling was an excellent way to explore this part of India

Every day was different, the cycling was mostly on quiet roads, the choice of hotels was very good, the food was fantastic and in Peter Bluck we had an outstanding leader.

I can’t think of an Exodus trip which I’ve enjoyed more, and I’ve done lots!  

Find out more about our Cycle Kerala and Tropical India trip and India cycling tours below.