In February our cyclists took on an incredible challenge to raise money for Veganuary. Read our Development Officer Stuart's diary of the trip.
Film by DOUBLEXAIR / www.doublexair.co.uk. Music by Solomon Onyemere featuring Man Ray Sky.
27 cyclists arrived in New Delhi, India ready and raring to go. Many were from the UK but others came from the US, New Zealand, Spain, Norway and Korea. Not everyone was vegan; some were transitioning and some were vegetarian. For many people, it was the first time in India and most were travelling alone, assured that they would be joining a supportive Vegan Cycle India family! There were different levels of cycling fitness and a range of backgrounds. Introductions were made and stories exchanged as we journeyed to Agra and settled into our hotel.
The next day began with a visit to the iconic Taj Mahal before a bus ride to Bharatpur where our bikes were fitted and we were briefed by our guides Kalypso Adventures. Once the group had seen the top-of-the-range mountain bikes and met the capable team, everyone was really excited to get going with the cycle!
Day 1 – Bayana to Karauli (70km)
It was an early 6.45am start before a bus ride to Bayana, the starting point of our cycle. A local priest came to bless us and keep us safe on our journey. He placed a red bindi on our foreheads with his fingertip and gave us each a garland of flowers to wear. The blessing attracted quite a crowd of locals who were intrigued by the spectacle.
Attracting crowds was a characteristic of our day – lots of children running to high-five us, young men on mopeds smiling, women working in their gardens stopping to wave. We were travelling off the beaten track, where tourists are a rare sight, and the locals found us curious. However, all were welcoming and kind – keen for us to see the best of Rajasthan. There were lots of animals en route too. We saw loads of cows, goats, dogs, camels, monkeys and a fox.
The cycling was tough: 70km with the sun bearing down. There was a steep climb at the beginning of the day, and the tracks were often bumpy and dusty. There were one or two grazed knees after a couple of spectacular dismounts! We encountered several tire punctures too, but these are par for the course on Rajasthani roads, and the Kalypso team were always on hand to repair any flat tyres.
Despite these challenges, the team pulled together, rose to the challenge and arrived in the town of Karauli where we checked into our stunning hotel, Banwar Villas Palace.
Day 2 – Karauli to Rathambore National Park (99.9km)
Day 2 was to be the longest distance we would encounter at 99.9km. In the morning we experienced the urban sprawl of Karauli with trucks ahead of us kicking up dust and blasting out Indian pop music. We stopped at a local school and entertained the children with a game of ‘What time is it, Mr Wolf?’.
After lunch, we cycled through beautiful rolling fields of mustard, with mountains in silhouette on the horizon. As the afternoon faded into evening, the mountains turned blue, the shadows grew long, and the road was dappled with sunlight shining through the trees. The call to prayer drifted from the distance. Shortly before we arrived at the hotel, we cycled through Ranthambore National Park, a prime example of Project Tiger’s conservation efforts. Our cycle took us along the edge of the tiger reserve. This was rural India at its best!
It was idyllic, but everyone was exhausted, sore and a little braindead. Emotions were running high as we arrived at our hotel, The Tiger Den. From this beautiful location, we watched the sunset over the mountains, listened to the crickets chirp and drank beer. We’d definitely earned it!
Day 3 – Rathambore National Park to Talabgaon Castle (90km)
We saw a different side to India’s countryside on Day 3. Gone were the yellow mustard fields stretching to the hills. Instead, we followed a track alongside dusty red mountains as the midday sun glared down. We crossed the bed of a huge dried up river and saw flashes of turquoise above our head as beautiful birds dived through the sky. Then it was a tough, rocky climb to lunch.
When we arrived at lunch there was a spectacular sight – about 500 colourfully dressed locals crowded around our lunch tent! They were from a local village and the Kalypso team had sought special permission for us to stop and eat there. The villagers speak a dialect of Rajasthani that even our Kalypso guides didn’t understand. There was one young man in the village who spoke English and acted as a translator. He told us about their culture: they mainly farm mustard, they marry people from neighbouring villages and they have a small temple where they pray. And for fun? TV of course!
The cycling after lunch was the toughest of our whole ride: about 10km on loose, dry sand. No one managed to complete this without, at some point, getting off the bike and pushing. Even our guides struggled. We kept our spirits up with jokes, songs and silly games. The highlight of the afternoon was ‘tractor man’ who blasted music from his tractor, hopped down and demonstrated some Bhangra dancing. It was a roadside rave in the middle of India!
Our hotel for the evening, Talabgaon Castle, was a 200-year-old castle with beautiful colonial period Indian architecture and landscaped gardens. Over dinner, we were treated to a display of traditional Rajasthani music and dance. Women danced with pots of fire balanced on their heads. A male dancer walked on swords and broken glass.
Day 4 – Talabgaon Castle to Umaid Lake Palace (95km)
By Day 4 the exhaustion was really starting to set in. Our legs were stiff and sore and we were like zombies as we made the slow walk to our bikes. The big challenge on Day 4 was the heat. By 10 am it already felt as hot as it did at noon the previous day.
We stopped for lunch in a small village where we learned to make chapattis or were dressed in traditional Indian head-scarves. As we left the village, the route took us through the middle of a funeral procession. It was both serene and moving – a crowd of men dressed all in white, walking in silence, carrying a body wrapped in a shroud.
The afternoon cycling was satisfying, with smooth roads more like those we are used to from back home. Gradual climbs gave way to long downhills. We were able to stretch an arm to the sky and feel the air through our fingers. The day’s ride finished with a stretch along a ridge with a fantastic view either side over lush green farmland. We were plagued by punctures during this stretch. When we arrived at our hotel – Umaid Lake Palace – we were greeted by drumming and petals were dropped over us from a balcony. It was a fitting greeting to a spectacular spot with palatial grounds and gardens.
Day 5 – Umaid Lake Palace to Ramgarh (40km)
After the intensity of the previous days, our final day of cycling felt like a breeze! We were emotional as we passed over the finish line in Ramgarh, greeted by drums, petals, balloons and dancing. The participants shared hugs and pats on the back.
We’d done it! 254 miles cycled and over £30,000 raised!
We celebrated that afternoon with poolside cocktails in a stunning Jaipur hotel. It was all topped off with a delicious banquet that evening. The next day the participants had a free day to explore Jaipur – the ‘Pink City’ – before catching flights home.
The whole experience was unforgettable – an amazing opportunity to explore a country off the beaten track, forming the kinds of friendships that last for a lifetime. Beyond the bike ride, we slept in wonderful hotels where we had the space to relax and the time to bond. Despite veganism being little known in this part of India, we were catered for brilliantly with delicious vegan curries morning, noon and night. We were truly able to sample the culinary culture of the region, not just in the hotels but also with an amazing catering crew following us during the bike ride.
And best of all, every cyclist met their fundraising target of £1,000, generating over £30,000 to support Veganuary’s work. We will use the funds to help thousands more people try vegan. In doing so we can save many more animals from a lifetime of suffering and reduce the devastating impact of animal agriculture on the environment.
Congratulations to each and every one of our Vegan Cycle India participants. And thank you to everyone who helped them complete this incredible challenge with kind donations.
Has this whetted your appetite? You can join Vegan Cycle India in Kerala, 8th – 15th February. Email [email protected] to request an information pack.