About the challenge
India offers a broad diversity of landscapes, people and wildlife, with an incredible mix of colourful cultures and fascinating history at every turn. From the most spectacular, serene landscapes to vibrant, bustling villages and towns – India offers an unforgettable experience! This exciting and adventurous challenge takes us to the famed Golden Temple of Amritsar, in Northern India, before heading into the beautiful mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh. Our route follows the contours of the western Himalayas, passing through dense forest, scenic tea plantations, farming terraces, remote villages and historic colonial hill stations, with a spectacular backdrop of snow-capped mountains. There are some demanding climbs and thrilling descents as we ride through this mountainous country. Our route also takes in Mcleod Ganj, the mountain-top home of the exiled Dalai Lama, and ends in Shimla, the former summer capital of British India. We celebrate our achievements with a ride on Shimla’s scenic narrow-gauge railway that winds its way through the mountains.
Day 1: Fly London to Amritsar
Day 2: Arrive Amritsar
We arrive in Amritsar and transfer to our hotel. We will have time to visit the world-famous Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of the Sikh religion, as well as the memorial to the Amritsar massacre of 1919. The Golden Temple is enchantingly beautiful and atmospheric both during the day or floodlit in the evening; this is an unforgettable way to start our adventure in India. Night hotel.
Day 3: Amritsar – Pragpur – Kangra
Drive approx. 4-5 hrs; cycle approx. 4-5 hrs / 45km
An early start sees us driving east to Pragpur in the Kangra Valley, on the edge of the Himalayas. Pragpur (610m) is India’s only UNESCO World Heritage Village and is a lovely place to start our ride. After checking our bikes, we set off – towards the mountains! Our route takes us along the quiet back-roads of the Kangra Valley, passing through a sub-tropical landscape of pine, sal and bamboo forest, cultivated fields and small bustling villages with colourful streets full of people, scooters, trucks, street-vendors and, of course, sacred cows – a great introduction to the variety of cycling in India! The terrain is undulating with short climbs and descents, not gaining much in altitude for the majority of the day. Our first day of cycling ends in the small town of Kangra (735m), once the capital of this region. Night hotel.
Day 4: Kangra – Mcleod Ganj
Cycle approx. 5-6 hours / 45km
We set off early again, making the most of riding in the cool of the morning. We continue pedalling through the rolling Kangra Valley and reach the base of the Dhauladhar Mountains, the outermost range of the Himalayas. The majority of the day’s cycling is over rolling terrain with relatively short climbs and descents, but the last section is all uphill – our first big challenge! We ascend approx. 1000m over 20km of hair-pin bends as we ride up to Dharamsala and Mcleod Ganj (1770m). There are wonderful views across the valley below us and of snow-capped mountain peaks towering before us – many of them over 4000m – which encourage us to keep going! This is a hard end to our first day, but Mcleod Ganj – home to the exiled Dalai Lama and known as Little Lhasa because of its high Tibetan population – is worth the effort! We should arrive mid-afternoon so you will have time to explore the sights, such as the Dalai Lama’s Temple, and experience the Tibetan culture – there is also great souvenir shopping here. Night hotel.
Day 5: Mcleod Ganj – Baijnath Camp
Cycle approx. 7-8 hours / 80km
We set off early again, with a great descent taking us back down the road to Dharamsala (1457m). Our route then contours along the valley slopes, following quiet roads through unspoilt villages and small but frenetic towns. Our road undulates through the foothills, with some great descents today; above us loom the peaks of the Outer Himalaya, 4500m high. The landscapes start to change as we ride through one of the region’s prime tea-growing areas towards Baijnath and its impressive medieval Shiva temple. The highlight of today’s ride, however, is really the scenery – tea plantations, grazing buffalo, wild forest, and daily village life all set against the backdrop of the Himalayas. We camp overnight near Baijnath (1230m). Night camp.
Day 6: Baijnath Camp – Mandi
Cycle approx. 7-8 hours / 81km
A more challenging day today, as we head for Mandi at the foot of the Kulu Valley. We pass through the town of Joginder Nagar, roughly marking the end of the Kangra Valley. We are getting closer to the mountains and the vegetation changes as we move higher, with pine, oak and horse chestnut trees becoming more prevalent; we also pass lots of tea plantations. We follow the line of the Dhauladhar ridge; there is lots of climbing to tackle including some steep ascents, before descending into the market town of Mandi (830m). With its houses clinging picturesquely to the banks of the river Beas, Mandi is a bustling town which is home to over 300 temples; there may be time to explore if you wish. Night hotel.
Day 7: Mandi – Jingo Camp
Cycle approx. 7-8 hours / 70km
We rise early as usual, and get pedalling! Today our surroundings become more mountainous; some long climbs await us, but the scenery is fabulous! Our route cuts through the Outer Himalaya, following the Beas River into the Kulu Valley. The landscapes are striking, with the mountains rising steeply on each side as we ride through terraced fields and fruit orchards. Our road follows a long lake which twists between the mountain slopes, and not much of the terrain is flat! We pass Larji (1075m), a small settlement in a stunning position between the torrents of two rivers; our route then takes us towards the fringes of the Great Himalayan National Park – home to bear, leopard and wildcats. The last part of our day is the most challenging – a steep 10km climb towards our night’s camp. We pass the small town of Banjar, with its attractive wood-fronted Himalayan architecture, and continue on further to our campsite lying in terraces below a guesthouse. Night camp.
Day 8: Jingo Camp – Jalori Pass – Sainj Camp
Cycle approx. 6-8 hours / 72km
Our road continues uphill today, towards our hardest challenge yet – Jalori Pass at 3130m. We set off early, riding on hard-packed dirt tracks which take us up towards Shoja (2525m), a picture-postcard village surrounded by dense forest and apple groves, overlooking the valley from its mountain ledge. The gradient is fairly steady most of the way, but there are some steeper sections, so we take it gently and try not to overdo it! The climb to the pass is approx 14km from camp and should take us around 3 hours. The forests of pine, fir and oak give way to sub-alpine birches and rhododendrons as we ride above 3000m, and these diminish in size as we approach the tree-line. We may see a few patches of snow. Look out for birds of prey such as golden eagles, lammergeiers and Himalayan griffon vultures gliding in the skies above us. From the pass there are spectacular views over the Pir Pinjal range and Tibetan peaks. Once we’ve soaked up the splendid views, we get back on our bikes for a wonderful descent, some of it surfaced and some on-road. The last part of our day takes us alongside a beautiful Himalayan river, towards the small town of Luhri (940m); our camp lies a little further on. Night camp.
Day 9: Sainj Camp – Tikka Camp
Cycle approx. 6-7 hours / 85km
Another early start sees us pedalling along quiet, narrow roads and tracks. Much of the day’s remote, spectacular route takes us alongside the River Sutlej, which starts its journey just west of Mt Kailash in Tibet. We follow a narrow road cut dramatically into the steep cliff-sides, with the mighty Himalayan river to one side. Mainly on dirt roads with some tarmac, the road undulates as it twists its way west towards Tattapani. We then climb, leaving the river behind us and emerging back into the hills as we tackle this narrow ascent of approx 30km. Keep your eyes peeled for monkeys! Night camp.
Day 10: Tikka Camp – Shimla
Cycle approx. 2-3 hours / 30km
A shorter day today and our last day of cycling, though the hills haven’t finished with us yet! We follow a quiet rural road to Shimla, which is predominantly uphill and again provides us with wonderful views over the deep valleys and across to the snow-capped peaks which have been with us for most of our week. We pass small villages and see women and children working in the fields. Our destination is the hill station of Shimla (2205m), the state capital of Himachal Pradesh, and the former summer capital of British India, and we’ll greet its appearance on the hill-slopes with elation – we’ve made it! We should reach the town by lunchtime, and have the afternoon free to wander round the old colonial buildings which stand testament to the days of British rule, such as Christ Church, the second-oldest church in Northern India. It’s a great town to stroll around or sit with a cool drink and watch the world go by. We meet up again at our hotel for a slap-up dinner and an evening to celebrate our huge achievement. Night hotel. (Lunch and Dinner not included)
Day 11: Shimla – Kalka – Delhi
Toy train approx. 5 hours; Delhi train approx. 4 hours
Today we enjoy one of the main tourist attractions in the region – the famous ‘Toy Train’ narrow-gauge railway which runs through the foothills for almost 60 miles (97km) between Shimla and Kalka, over bridges and through tunnels, with breath-taking views over the mountains and villages. This is a great way to relax and enjoy the landscapes you have conquered! On arrival at Kalka we connect with an onward train to Delhi, arriving late in the evening. Night hotel. (Dinner not included)
Day 12: Fly Delhi to London
We transfer to the airport for our international flight home. Depending on our flight departure time, there may be time in the morning for some sight-seeing or shopping.
Discover Adventure reserves the right to change the route or itinerary for safety reasons should local conditions dictate.
Discover Adventure reserves the right to change the route or itinerary for safety reasons should local conditions dictate.
The cost includes all accommodation as well as all flights and transport; camping equipment (except sleeping bag and sleeping mat); all meals except three as specified in the itinerary, and entrance to any sites visited as part of the itinerary. A bike is also included. Experienced Discover Adventure leaders/mechanics and doctor (depending on final group size) are also included, along with a local support crew of guides, cooks and drivers.
It does not include personal travel insurance, airline fuel supplement if charged by the airline, three meals as specified, tips for local crew, entry visa or international departure tax (if applicable). It also does not include any entrance fees to any optional sites or attractions. Remember to allow extra for drinks, souvenirs and other personal expenses. Please note that costs may fluctuate and we have no control over any changes. We strongly recommend you carry a credit card in case of personal emergency.
Group flights leave from London Heathrow or Gatwick, (we regret that we are unable to book connecting flights), and are booked through Discover Adventure Ltd under ATOL licence 5636. By travelling with Discover Adventure you are protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
We are most likely to fly with Jet Airways, however, we don’t always fly with the same airline so this is a guideline only. You will usually receive confirmed flight details several months before departure. Our itineraries are always based on current flight schedules and are therefore subject to change by the airline. If you prefer to book your own flights please ask us for a land-only cost.
We camp when cycling for four nights and stay in hotels for the rest of the trip. We usually camp in two-man tents and have a large dining-tent, great views and a sunset bar! Hotel accommodation is on a twin-share basis; rooms are comfortable and clean with private facilities, but standards may vary between hotels. Please do not expect the same standards as you would in the UK!
The food is great and there is plenty of it – expect meals to be local in style, and varied. Three meals as detailed in the itinerary are not included.
Being vegetarian or having other dietary requirements is not usually a problem provided you let us know well in advance. Please do not expect as much variety as you would have access to at home – we will be in rural areas and among people of a different culture who may not understand your requirements, however willing they are to help. If you know there are plenty of foods you cannot eat you may wish to bring extra snacks from home so you can top up your energy supply.
Any meals not included are listed in the itinerary and are generally when we are in towns or cities and you are free to explore and try other culinary experiences! There is always something to suit every budget.
Discover Adventure Crew
Your trip will be led by experienced Discover Adventure leaders. Our leaders are selected for their experience in harsh wilderness environments, knowledge of travel in remote areas, friendliness and approachability, sense of humour and ability to safely and effectively deal with any situation that arises. They are also trained in expedition first-aid. You are in very safe hands with a Discover Adventure leader.
All our leaders are from the UK or other English-speaking countries. Most work for us on an ad-hoc basis and have ‘real’ jobs in-between trips! We never send our leaders to the same destination for months on end – we want them to be as enthusiastic about your trip as you are.
Although our leaders are trained in expedition first-aid, they are accompanied by an expedition doctor or medic (dependent on group size) – who is there to look after the well-being of the whole group and deal with any incidents. They help the leaders to ensure the trip runs smoothly and encourage you when things get tough.
Local Support Crew
Our local support crew is made up of local guides, drivers and cooks. Your local guide knows the local area well, and is a great source of knowledge about local customs and lifestyles. Drivers and cooks do not always speak English but are very friendly and approachable. The Discover Adventure crew work closely with the local crew to ensure your trip runs smoothly and safely.
Your leader will arrange a collection of tips for the local support crew at the end of your ride. Tipping is not obligatory, but once you see how hard they work on your behalf you will be happy to donate something! All our local crew are paid wages, but bear in mind that the average wage in this country is far below what you would spend on a normal night out.
Support vehicles are with the group all the time. All luggage, spares, food and water is carried by them. Space is limited and hard-sided luggage is not suitable, so it is essential that your kit is packed in a soft sailing bag, rucksack or expedition kitbag. Ask us about our specially-designed low-cost kitbags if you don’t have one already. You should also bring a small daypack or large waist-pack for items needed during the day as you will not have access to your main luggage until the evening.
Your safety, and that of the rest of the group, is our highest priority. Our trips are designed and planned with safety in mind. Your crew will be equipped with radios and emergency satellite phones, mobile extensive medical kit, first-aid kits and other safety apparatus where necessary. They always have access to our 24-hour emergency back-up in the UK. Our leaders are responsible for safety on the trip, and will make any changes to the itinerary they deem necessary should local conditions dictate. Pre-trip administration – such as compulsory medical questionnaires and travel insurance is all done with your safety in mind.
Preparing for the challenge
On full cycling days the distance averages about 70km, though there are some shorter days. Cycling is on a mix of tarmac roads – some smooth, some more worn and uneven – and some dirt tracks. The cycling is varied, with some days undulating along valleys and other days with very strenuous climbs and long descents through the mountains; there is very little flat. Our highest point is the Jalori Pass at 3130m; some effects of being at altitude may be felt, although there is plenty of opportunity to acclimatise. We are travelling through remote areas and weather may have an impact on road conditions. Traffic is usually light and we will cycle at our own pace, but when we pass through a busier section we may go through as a group. Even small villages can be very chaotic, and you must be vigilant. We will always take safety into consideration and reserve the right to change the itinerary on that basis. We are always happy to talk through the trip in more detail with you if you are worried about your fitness at any stage.
We will be using 21-speed mountain bikes fitted with off-road tyres. If you are unsure whether to take your own bike or use one of ours, please just contact us. It is imperative that you supply your own helmet and wear it at all times while cycling, with straps done up.
There will be a range of spares in the vehicle along with a full tool kit; however, it is impossible for us to carry spares for every eventuality. It is vital that if you bring your own bike it is in excellent working order before departure.
Temperatures range from cold to hot, depending on elevation and time of day! Rain is a probability, and the weather can change quickly in the mountains. We should be prepared for anything!
Clothing and Equipment
We are travelling through remote areas where we could be exposed to difficult conditions at any time so be prepared for all weathers and temperatures. We provide you with a detailed packing kit-list on registration, as well as details on useful discounts you are entitled to as a Discover Adventure customer. We are always available if you need advice.
Our challenges attract people of all levels of experience and fitness, all ages and backgrounds. We expect all participants to train hard in advance to achieve this challenge, but we respect everyone’s limits. We design our challenges so that everyone can go at their own pace: this is not a race. For logistical and safety reasons we sometimes need to re-group, so the front-runners will find themselves waiting for the slower ones. Please relax, and remember that this is a team effort that enables people to achieve their personal goals and earn sponsorship.
Passport & Visa
A valid ten-year passport is essential; it should be valid for at least six months after departure from India. There is also a visa requirement for UK citizens; other nationalities should check entry requirements. For UK nationals, India has outsourced its visa application services to VF Services (http://in.vfsglobal.co.uk) and applications at the embassy in London are no longer accepted. There are also Indian Visa Application Centres in London, Hayes, Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
We insist that you have had a Tetanus injection in the last ten years, and highly recommend protection against Polio, Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Malaria is graded low-risk in this region, though you should check for the most up-to-date advice. You should always check with your GP or travel clinic for up-to-date travel health advice as it does change.
For most people, the main attraction of travelling to a different country is to see new sights and enjoy new experiences. Sometimes those new experiences can make life harder or more inconvenient than you may like, such as toilet hygiene or different food, or simply a different attitude to solving problems. This is all part of the challenge you are signing up for!
We are very privileged to live in a country with a high standard of living, and travelling exposes us to different challenges – all of which help broaden our horizons. We can guarantee that coming face-to-face with experiences outside your normal ‘comfort zone’ will help you bond with your fellow cyclists and provide you with plenty of things to laugh about! A sense of humour and sense of adventure are two of the most important things to bring with you! Our experienced tour leaders and local crew will help bridge the cultural gap; take advantage of their knowledge so you can come away with an understanding of a new culture as well as the achievement of completing a challenging cycle ride.
Worldwide Sustainable Tourism
Long before ‘Responsible Tourism’ became a recognised phrase, we designed and ran our trips to ensure they made minimum impact on the environment and a positive impact on the local communities we pass through. AITO, our Trade Association, has recognised the work we do in this area and has awarded us 5 stars as a Responsible Tour Operator.
We actively encourage all our customers to offset any emissions connected with their trip. You can offset at any time in the lead-up to departure by visiting Climate Care via our website and making a donation to a worthwhile project supported by them. Alternatively, if you wish to take more practical action you can volunteer for a day with TCV and work on an environmental project local to you. Work may include construction footpaths, dry stone walling, creating wildlife habitats or planting trees in your community. Volunteer today at www.tcv.org or call 01302 388883.