Follow @theurbancountry on Twitter Find us on Facebook Subscribe to theurbancountry.com via e-mail Subscribe to theurbancountry.com via RSS
Follow @theurbancountry on Twitter Find us on Facebook Subscribe to theurbancountry.com via e-mail Subscribe to theurbancountry.com via RSS

Bicycling Through Rajasthan, India

India bike tour - photo by Debbie Selley

Photo from India bike tour by Debbie Selley (Dec 2012)

Our friend Debbie Selley recently returned to Canada after a two-week bicycling trip in Rajasthan, India. We asked Debbie a few questions about what it was like to tour India by bicycle and she was kind enough to share her story with The Urban Country.

How does riding a bicycle in India differ from riding in Canada?

In Toronto, we have well marked lanes, stop signs and traffic lights. We share the road with cars, trucks, buses and other cyclists but they mostly follow the rules of the road, stay in their lane and signal their turns.

In India, not so much! Lane markings, where they exist, are just a suggestion; traffic circles (roundabouts) and sleeping policemen (speed bumps) are commonly used in place of traffic lights and stop signs. A beeping horn and a slight wave of a hand are used to signal turns. And they drive on the other side of the road.

Add huge lorries (trucks), buses in all sizes, hundreds of motorbikes, women (and a few men) in traditional Indian dress, carrying large bundles of all manner of things on their heads, school children on foot and on bikes, carts drawn by tractors, horses, oxen and camels, an elephant, and the ever-present cows, dogs and goats.

In North America the vast majority of our road space is occupied by people in cars. In India the roads are not only shared by an ever diverse group of people using various modes of transportation, but roads are shared by both humans and animals alike.

The following video – filmed by a man in Debbie’s tour group – provides a glimpse into the fascinating journey that is touring India by bicycle. It certainly brought back memories for me from visiting villages in rural China last year.

Video of Cycling in Udai Pradesh by Raoul Spronken

Tell us a little bit about the nature of your trip

Cycling in India was an amazing experience. We covered approximately 500kms over the course of 2 weeks, riding in large cities, through small towns and villages and along country roads. We rode on a variety of road surfaces – some really good; some, well, not good at all, and over a variety of terrain – again, some really good and some – well let’s call it challenging.

On the morning of every cycling day, the guides would hand out hand-drawn route maps showing distances, main intersections, rest stops (look for the pink building on the left) and the all-important gradient. We quickly learned to be aware of the word “undulating” – in India it translates to hills and lots of them!

India bike tour - photo by Debbie Selley

Photo from India bike tour by Debbie Selley (Dec 2012)

What would you say was the highlight of the trip?

One of the highlights of the trip was our rest stops, usually in small villages at the chai shop. As you can imagine, a group of Caucasian tourists in western bike gear, riding “fancy” mountain bikes were akin to the circus coming to town.

We were immediately surrounded by locals. The boys and men were fascinated by the hand brakes and gears on our bikes and that women (with a bit of leg showing) were riding a “boys” bike.

The girls and women were equally fascinated by the spectacle but generally watched shyly from a distance. All were very charming and welcoming. English is mandatory in Indian schools and the kids were eager to get in a little practice. And the one thing that they all had in common was the love of having their photo taken and immediately being able to view it on the camera display.

India bike tour - photo by Debbie Selley

Photo from India bike tour by Debbie Selley (Dec 2012)

Did you ever feel unsafe?

For me, the biggest safety issue was the distractions. It was easy to take your eyes off the road and find yourself lying tangled in your bike on the ground (only minor scrapes and bruises!).

Safety was sometimes an issue in the small towns and villages as we rode through. We were usually greeted by groups of kids standing on the side of the road. In most cases, they just wanted to say hello but there were times when they wanted to touch us which could easily throw you off-balance.

In some villages the older boys would throw stones and occasionally the dogs would chase us. That could be scary when I found myself riding alone.

India bike tour - photo by Debbie Selley

Photo from India bike tour by Debbie Selley (Dec 2012)

Riding on roads in India sounds overwhelming. Was it?

Sounds chaotic, doesn’t it? Amazingly, it works for the residents. And just like here in Toronto, we had to be totally in the moment, constantly aware of what was going on around us. Fortunately, sharing the road with cyclists is the norm in India so we didn’t have to fight for space on the road or put up with any anti-cycling car drivers.

Below are a few photos that Debbie snapped along the way. Make sure to check out her full collection of trip photos as well.

India bike tour - photo by Debbie Selley

Photo from India bike tour by Debbie Selley (Dec 2012)

India bike tour - photo by Debbie Selley

Photo from India bike tour by Debbie Selley (Dec 2012)

India bike tour - photo by Debbie Selley

Photo from India bike tour by Debbie Selley (Dec 2012)

India bike tour - photo by Debbie Selley

Photo from India bike tour by Debbie Selley (Dec 2012)

India bike tour - photo by Debbie Selley

Photo from India bike tour by Debbie Selley (Dec 2012)

India bike tour - photo by Debbie Selley

Photo from India bike tour by Debbie Selley (Dec 2012)

India bike tour - photo by Debbie Selley

Photo from India bike tour by Debbie Selley (Dec 2012)

India bike tour - photo by Debbie Selley

Photo from India bike tour by Debbie Selley (Dec 2012)

India bike tour - photo by Debbie Selley

Photo from India bike tour by Debbie Selley (Dec 2012)

Thank you so much Debbie for taking the time to share your experiences from your fascinating bike tour in India! To view Debbie’s amazing trip photos, please visit her Skydrive.

Debbie Selley is Treasurer at the Canadian Tax Foundation in Toronto, Canada. The India bike tour that Debbie experienced is available through Exodus Travel.

James D. Schwartz is a Transportation Pragmatist and Editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com or follow him on Twitter.

i share the road

Related Articles: