Bharatpur Bird Sancruary

An an ex-birder, the visit to this sanctuary kind of re-kindled my spirit. I had dropped birding because of the lack of local high resolution binoculars, cameras/lenses. That and the fact that my own city of Kanpur had reached such high air pollution levels that birds simply vanished. Another reason could also be destruction of habitats in and around Kanpur. The end result was that many varieties of birds like the common Indian sparrow, woodpeckers and vultures had disappeared. This scene is playing around the whole country now.

I was very excited when I started off for the sanctuary from my hotel at Bharatpur on the 5th of Jan, 2019. The initial ride into the park was OK, with a few deer sightings but then you could see so many water fowl on both sides of the single winding road that ends at the Keoladeo temple, after which the national park is named. It’s a sight to behold. As for me I have never seen such numerous birds both Indian and foreign at one location.

20190205_090809At the bird sanctuary canteen

The ride till the canteen is good but then when one enters the innermost sanctuary after this point, the birding paradise simply stuns the visitors.

20190205_094347Pelicans at the sanctuary, a deer can also be seen in the background

20190205_095141Storks staring at visitors from their positions

20190205_095817End of the road at the Keoladeo shrine with my MTB.

This was the final blog for the Grand Tour for me. Thanks for visiting !!!

Grand Tour — Return Leg

The return leg kicked off on the 26th of Jan, 2019, from Jaisalmer. The route was originally planned to be the same as the onward leg but due to family commitments, I decided to take the shorter one back.

Return Leg

I kept an low average speed because my fastest gear in the front was effectively out of service.

IMG_8418The road back, about 30 km. on from Jaisalmer

Cycled on till 7:30 pm stopping at a roadside ashram about 30 km. short of Dechu. They provided frugal food, a cot and many layers of warm mattresses for me, at a nominal charge.

IMG_8425My bike at a roadside ashram about 130 km. on from Jaisalmer

Started off early morning around 7:30 am and had zipped past Balesar around 2 pm., a good night’s rest had given me some energy.

About 40 km. from Jodhpur, near a town called Agolai, I was hailed by a motorbike rider. He was quite polite and we struck it off. It turned out that he was mobiker fan and helped me change my chain at a local shop and then paid for my tea too !! Thanks Rakesh. The discussion with him and the locals lasted some time, it was getting late so I decided to lodge in a roadside motel about 10 km. further up.

Would also like to point out that throughout the onward as well as the return leg, I was given thumbs up signals and encouraging horn hoots from ‘motorbike’ bikers , including one outright clapping ovation by bikers standing at the roadside. Thanks guys.

Arrived at Jodhpur on the 28th Jan. and spent the whole day working on my bike, replacing the front shifter with a new one, and also a new rear tire/tube, purchased from the local market. The gears were all functional , but the ‘new’ tire tube it turned out had a manufacturing defect resulting in a very slow leakage. Decided to move on with the tube since the leakage was discovered at the time of departure on the 29th of Jan, morning.

The leaking tube was finally replaced at a nice dhaba about 20 km. from Bilara, on the way to Ajmer, where I had decided to hole up for the night. Departed again on the 30th Jan morning and paid a visit to my ‘Vote of Thanks’ buddies on the way back. Stopped about 20 km. short of Ajmer at a dhaba for the night and then departed for Dudu on the way to Jaipur, next morn, the 31st Jan, 2019.

IMG_8445Departure time at the dhaba near Bilara, on the way to Ajmer

IMG_8452Rajasthan’s favorite food, dal-bati, lunch time about 50 km. from Dudu

Arrived early around 4:30 pm at Dudu, which has some very fine budget hotels run by the Kumawat community, I lodged up at one, on the opposite side of the road. The room was simply magnificent for the amount I paid for it. Was more like a 5 star suite, except that the bathroom was clean but not that attractive.

Started off for Jaipur on the 1st Feb, 2019. The ride was enjoyable till around 40 km. from Jaipur, when the traffic became too intense to concentrate on anything else. I lodged up in a good hotel described in my blog ‘Vote of Thanks’. Jaipur city traffic is the usual chaos, with cyclists being the worst off. I stayed in Jaipur for two nights taking off on the 3rd Jan. morning for Bharatpur. Cycled till 7:00 pm. finally lodging in a roadside hotel at Balaji Mod. The next morning, 4th Jan, brought out a very foggy front and visibility was limited to about 20 feet. Waited till 8 am. and then decided to take off from the hotel.

IMG_8483About to leave for Bharatpur, 8 am., from the hotel, at Balaji Mod

The ride to Bharatpur was ok. The fog had dissipated by 11 am., and as it became warmer, it was the usual stripping down the jackets tying them to the front handlebar.

IMG_8487Around 11 am, on the way to Bharatpur

Bharatpur is a congested town and I took up lodging in a good budget hotel in the middle of the town. R M B Hotel at Bharatpur is recommended if you can wade through the congested streets of Bharatpur. The rooms were huge and the staff was quite helpful. I had booked two nights at Bharatpur. The major attraction at Bharatpur is the bird sanctuary and Keoladeo National Park. There is a fort in the town, it’s structure has mostly vanished but there is a good fort museum for history aficionados.

The bird sanctuary is situated just outside the town with most major deluxe hotels situated near by. The bird sanctuary is simply stunning and a goldmine for birders. The only way to visit is on pedal rickshaws, bicycles or golf cart like battery operated cars seating about 4 people. Motor vehicles are not allowed inside.

I visited the sanctuary early morning on my bike and then after that spent the rest of the day stripping down my bike to prepare it for bus carriage. I had booked a seat on a bus that would take me non-stop to Kanpur. The ride was scheduled for 12:30 am 6th Jan, 2019 but the bus turned up at 1:30 am, at a point about 5 km. away from the scheduled stop, on the Bharatpur bypass to Agra. I learned later that this was the usual practice at Bharatpur. Those booking online would be informed about a pick up point and then would learn at the 11th hour about the actual one, some missing their buses too. Thankfully, I caught the bus and my bike was crammed into the huge boot and spending the rest of the night worrying about damages, reached Kanpur on the same day at 8:30 am. Thankfully except for the paint job, it looks OK, but I really haven’t checked it yet, it was however good enough to cycle back to my residence and then into my store workshop. That was it for this Grand Tour !

Carrying bikes on buses here can be a bad idea, because the top/boot carriages of buses are usually crammed with lots of stuff and there is constant retrieval/dumping of goods in carriages. There is a very good possibility of some kind of damage. Do it only if there is no way out, as a last resort. Folding bikes may be the answer to this issue but they may not be sturdy enough for repeated long hauls ?

Next blog is on Bharatpur bird sanctuary, do keep visiting !!

P.S.: Will be posting vids of this Grand Tour trip on my you tube channel, for those interested. Posting them here is slowing down access speeds so am avoiding posting too many vids. Will give info on this later.




Tips for Distance Bike Touring

Trying to cram in everything I can remember here.

For starters on tours of 1000 kilometers or more, check out the terrain layout. Lots of resources online like Google Maps. The next thing would be the kind of local climate — cold, very cold, hot ….. . You need to fix your carry along clothing according to the climatic conditions.

Next would be the bike gear setup.

On mixed hilly and plain terrains 7 freehub/freewheel gears with 14-28 teeth worked fine for me. But, you do need front gears for hill climbs. I have done hilly terrain with just 7 gears and it was strenuous. I opted for freewheels because these are readily available in local markets here. I may switch to cassettes if they seem more durable than freewheels. The debate between freewheels and cassettes rages on. On an average my freewheels have done 800-1000 kilometers before they start wearing out. Chains did about 500-700 kilometers for me, before the chain tool starts flagging them.

Mountain biking would require more modifications, like 8 gears and you would probably need to switch to cassettes with a higher gear-teeth ratio, we don’t have 8 speed freewheels here so for 8 gears or more cassettes it is for us. Mountain biking also requires a lesser load than the usual say 20 kilogram load that bikers like me usually carry. I am discussing mountain biking in the context of the Himalayas, the mountain range I plan to tackle next.

Wheel size is another issue. Some mountain bikers have opted for larger front wheels to have easier climbs but that is debatable. In general larger the wheel size, the more distance you traverse with each pedal stroke. However, I have found balancing ( with load ) to be difficult on the ‘taller’ bikes like my roadie.

The handlebars need to be such that you can switch your shoulder/hand stance, to avoid fatigue and injuries. I have a straight handlebar but have attached a triathlon aerobar to give my shoulders some rest while touring. Some cyclists prefer drop downs but having toured with drop downs I did not find them to be very comfortable.

An all steel 26″ MTB frame worked best for me, lasted more than 30,000 ++ kilometers, with this Grand Tour really battering it up. No frame repair work was required till this point. Alloy or aluminum bicycle frames are lighter but can not hold up heavy battering on a long term basis. Carbon frames are too risky for repeated long haul distance biking, and would require regular patching up. Was planning on building a carbon bike frame but realized that it’s not all that ‘super’ after working with carbon for some time.

All these tips are based on the local road/terrain conditions. Roads here can be really good on the national and state highways and then an absolute terror on many of the inner stretches with nothing but rocks, dust and gravel instead of a road track.

The weight a biker carries bears down on the biker, the bike and the luggage. Chipping out bike weight wherever possible is a good idea, like opting for alloy wheel frames, but these need to be double walled for long term use. The front fork, handlebar and bike chassis with the rear carrier was an all steel setup for me. I went for a customized lighter bike stand and an alloy seat post to cut down on the weight. Many bikers opt out of having bike stands altogether. My setup was heavier but lasted longer. I may change to a lighter setup but haven’t made up my mind yet. It also seems like a good idea to change the cranks and the chainwheels to lighter alloys, the steel ones are heavier but more durable. Cotter pin cranks worked OK for me, since most roadside bike repair shacks here have spares for the same. Switching to square taper or the more exotic Shimano cranksets could be done. But, here, one will not get any help if things go wrong with the latest cranksets.

Suspensions are another issue, I use double suspensions because the tracks here can get really wild. Have toured on my other roadie with no suspensions at all, and all I can say is that for road conditions here, you need at least one rear or front suspension to make life comfortable. The catch is that suspensions increase bike weight. 

Keep life simple by adopting a bike setup that can easily be stripped down and repaired.

Bike luggage could include clothing, bedding/tent, water bottles and spares. Clothing is a perennial balancing equation with either one running in excess or short of it. I hope to get it right one day. So, do not be discouraged if you haven’t hit it just right, yet. Bedding in my case is a sleeping bag. It should be lightweight but warm enough to get one some sleep and rest. Bike spares are very important and I have had occasions where some clothing had to be dumped to make way for bike spares. Chose bike spares wisely, on a desolate desert/forest stretch spares may save the bike from being dumped. Water is a necessity, and I keep one bottle. One can opt for more depending on the terrain.

Lastly, do check out the political/security situation of the terrain. For example, regarding my Grand Tour, I knew beforehand that the Sawai Madhopur-Jaipur-Bharatpur-Agra belt was very volatile and decided to cut off my tour at Bharatpur, instead of heading into Agra and then to Kanpur. I took cues from the local news and in general from my observation of the region itself. Currently, the whole area is in a lock down because of a tribal protest. All roads/rail tracks leading into Jaipur and the entire Jaipur-Dausa-Bharatpur-Agra route, are affected. The protests started around the 8th Feb, 2019 and continue raging. Its a good idea to keep checking local news and getting the latest news and information from locals. Learning key language words is a good idea if you are stepping into an alien land. Be mindful of the local culture and try to follow the advise of the local police regarding security. 

That’s it from me, stay in touch !

Sand dunes of Khuri – II

The 24th of Jan was bicycle servicing day and after tinkering with the front gear settings I realized that the derailleur wouldn’t shift up to the largest chain ring. This meant that I was operating with just 14 of the 21 gears. There was nothing to do but try and reach Jodhpur back from Jaisalmer, to get a new front gear thumb shifter.

Late in the afternoon with the sun settling down, I took a walk to the sand dunes through the village.

IMG_8403Panoramic view of the sunset from the sand dunes

IMG_8406Beyond the sand dunes, nothing but a barren stretch of the National Park

View from the sand dunes, there was a strong and chilly wind blowing across, causing audio disturbance, have disabled the video audio.

Khuri did not have any restaurants but had a few shops offering the usual snack items like biscuits, chips and bread. They had an ATM and a medicine shop offering basic stuff. The nights would get very cold in the tents. There were frequent power cuts.

That was it, I left early morning around 7:30 am on the 25th of Jan and as luck would have it a cold and foggy front enveloped the national park.

IMG_8410On the way back to Jaisalmer

IMG_8412At a roadside snacks shack run by an ex-army vet, the foggy front had become quite dense about 30 km. from Jaisalmer

Around 1 pm., I was back at hotel The Culture, at Jaisalmer.

The return leg would start off the next day, i.e. 26th of Jan, 2019. I am going to try and wrap it up in a single blog till Bharatpur ( Bharatpur gets one blog to itself ), as it has the famous bird sanctuary housed inside the Keoladeo National Park.

P.S.: I did see a lot of wildlife while stating off from Khuri, early morning. Herds of deer, antelopes, foxes, peacocks and various kinds of colorful birds.

Sand Dunes of Khuri — I

Khuri is about 50 km. from Jaisalmer and to reach it one has to take a double lane road winding through the Desert National Park of Jaisalmer district. It takes about 3 hours on a bicycle, however, one must carry enough water and spare puncture/repair kits with them because the road winds through some very desolate patches. This was one of my most enjoyable rides and I had booked 2 days i.e. 23 and 24 Jan, in a tent resort at Khuri. Am going to split it up into two blogs just for old times sake.

There are two options to visit sand dunes from Jaisalmer, Sams or Khuri. Sams is considered to be overflowing with tourists and is totally commercialized. Khuri on the other hand gets fewer visitors and one can find peace and tranquility here. The reason for this is that the Khuri road is double lane while Sams has a four lane road.

Jaisalmer to Khuri

I started off late, around 9 am from Jaisalmer and was at Khuri by 1 pm. afternoon. The ride is truly scenic and enjoyable except for some tourist traffic which follows no road riding rules, as usual. Tourist vehicles overtaking each other at high speeds on the slim double lane road means that cyclists like myself have to get off the track to save our skins. The other issue is broken beer bottles that one can see right from where the road branches off at Jaisalmer, up to Khuri. Some of the broken shards of glass lie on the road and are big enough to rip a tire. You can’t lose your way to Khuri, just follow the beer bottles lying on the roadside.

About 35 km. from Khuri I was invited unexpectedly for a cup of tea by some of the local folks. I tried to get away using some lame excuse but they persisted and I had to give in. The short stay with these friends was memorable.

IMG_8386A photo op after a warm cup of tea, with my new found friends

I had promised to post these pics on the net, so here we are ! A complete blog has already been made in my vernacular Hindi to thank these folks.

There are some settlements on the way to Khuri but beyond that the desert just takes over. One remarkable aspect of the landscape just near a village called Sipla was the presence of hundreds of windmills.

IMG_8389I was told that many of these windmills have been installed using donations made by celebrities who came to visit the Khuri sand dunes

Windmills on the way to Khuri

One aspect of bicycle touring through deserts are the very cold mornings, temperatures can be anywhere from 0-5 degree Celsius, to the moderately hot afternoons with temperatures going well above 30 degrees; this is in the winters. Summer temperatures can touch 50 degree Celsius in the afternoons and summers are not recommended for bicycle touring here. Cyclists starting out early often feel a lot of discomfiture in the afternoons when the layer of warm inners start biting.

IMG_8393A reminder that I was in the National Park

At Khuri, I found the tent to be very spacious and comfortable. The rates were quite nominal, since this was the off season.

IMG_8397My faithful MTB outside the tent, I used to park it inside the tent canopy but outside the tent opening, after sunset

IMG_8395Inside the tent, quite spacious and equipped with multiple power points and an attached bathroom

I booked a camel ride on the 23rd of Jan. itself. The camel rides start around 4:30 pm and take tourists to a point on the sand dunes called ‘Sunset Point’. I wanted to finish this business by the 23rd Jan. and have the next day to myself to service my bike and take a walk through the village and the up to the dunes.

20190123_172137My camel ride, it was a slow walk to the dunes, but the camel is the only beast that can walk comfortably on the dunes

The camel ride was quite bumpy and I could barely hold on to my mobile cam, so am not posting the jittery video here. The view from the sand dunes was scenic. Khuri is probably the last village in this direction and its all desert till the India-Pakistan border.

More pics and vids. in Khuri — II ….