Riding the Hills of Mangalore
In November/December 2017, I had the chance to ride a bicycle in the hills surrounding Managalore, India. Here’s a brief write on that, with tips to foreigners like me, who are not used to the Indian traffic – at least not having an active role in it.
There are multiple scenic and spectacular roads in the hills surrounding the city. There’s no guidance to these, but the facination of being able to find them yourself seems to be part of the thrill. I definitely found some of my favourites that still live on in my memories.
There are two kinds of roads. Those you need to survive, and those you can enjoy. The hectic, seeminly chaotic (which it is not) main streets are what we normally associate with Indian traffic, but once you take a turn off them, the roads are in pretty splendid condition (for a bicycle), and tranquil. At one time climbing a hill I realized that all I was able to hear was the nature, trees, occasional bird chirps. No human sounds whatsoever. That’s not happened on my other trips to India.
You can find really great gear in a local bike shop. My bicycle was splendid, well tuned, and pleasure to ride. Note: it needs to be. Your life depends on it! To survive the Indian traffic is an interesting experience. You have to both let go, embrace it, and focus with a 360 degree awareness that us Westerners are not really used to. The traffic can come from any angle. However, it’s not really chaotic. It has its own rhythm and expectations (larger lorries go first, then buses, then… and you go before pedestrians). 🙂 It’s a very emotional experience to adapt oneself to this traffic.
People are friendly. They find it remarkably joyful and surprising that a white person is riding a bicycle (cycling is still associated with poverty in most of the heads, but that is changing). One girl in the countryside was walking down the road, returning from school, when she spotted me climing up. She jumped, grasped for breath, and looked at her friend. Had never seen a white man in their neighbourhood on a bike, for sure! 🙂 I did the same back – as if surprised by her suddent presence. Rides were fun!
Mostly it’s welcome, encouraging waves. Once a scooter driver came alongside me and we spoke while driving. I challenged him for the next hill.
Speed. The hills in Karnataka side are steep. It seems the local road planners don’t have a problem drawing lines straight up the mountain (in neighbouring Kerala they seem to be gentler and prefer zig-zags, based on my limited exposure). Once the downhill was too steep for my guts. That felt weird – leaning back on one’s bike… This means you’ll need good breaks, preferably disc breaks.
Gloves. I bought a pair. I think they were mostly an emotional confidence boost but nevertheless, they worked.
I feel I should mention a little bit more of the “surviving” side… As long as you are seen, and act in a predictable way, all is fine. Once, I didn’t, and I fell for problems immediately. Don’t try anything stupid, or strange shortcuts. Rather go with the flow.
There are some fellow bicyclists on the roads. They mostly ride in the mornings (very pleasurable; lot more oxygen in the air than later in the day). Another slot that I mostly found myself using was 3..6pm. Make sure to come back in time. Towards the evening the sun starts to set, but also the traffic gets more intensive. The mid of the day I didn’t ever try.
I will definitely ride more on my next visit to Mangalore. As with good hikes, the next ideas for the “corners that were missed” are already there in my mind. This time, I’ll take some snacks and maybe try to gather a small group.
Thanks for the people in Jyoti Cycle and Fitness in Kadri, who made all of this possible. Ask them for help – they know the local circumstances and can reserve a bike for you.
If you wish to see where I rode, the routes are there in my Strava profile: https://www.strava.com/athletes/26497940
Mangalore regular visitor