“I’m on the Highway to Heaven!”
With the wind ruffling your hair, bike’s engine roaring and beautiful sceneries passing by, a bike trip in India sure feel like a Highway to Heaven. From the high passes of the Himalayas to the forested hills of South India, to the royal Thar Desert and even the exotic lands of the Northeast, India is full of wonderful paths for the explorer in you. If you love the wanderer’s spirit and just want your soul to run free, then in 2021 you should take a bike trip in India.
Biking will change you as a person. You experience all that the route has to offer first-hand, unlike a flight where you don’t get the chance to encounter the ground reality. You will be out in the element, overcoming all the challenges to have the journey of a lifetime. So don’t be surprised if biking becomes a passion as soon as you get on that bike.
Now, you must be urged to get on that bike and zoom past India’s diverse trails. So let us not beat around the bush and get right into it; here are the best routes to take for a bike ride in India! Get ready for the ride of your life!
Day Bike Rides
For those who are just getting into the world of bikes and road trips, it is suggested you start simple; with single-day trips. With these, you can gauge whether life on the road is for you or not. It will also help you gain some experience and perspective on how it is to ride a bike for a day. All metro cities have ample options for biking around them. You can partake in these trips when given a chance. Here are some of the best day trips.
Mumbai: Lonavala for lush green surroundings, Alibaug for a romantic getaway by the beach, Malshej Ghat for mountains, waterfalls and forests, and Igatpuri for its Bollywood level scenery (quite literally as many Bollywood songs are shot here) and pleasant weather.
Bangalore: Nandi Hills and Ramanagara for picturesque views, Anthargange and Savanadurga for large rock formations, Sangam and Mekedattu to relish the river and play in the water and Kunti Betta for some great trekking trails.
Hyderabad: Ananthagiri Hills for woodlands, Nagarjuna Sagar to admire remains of Buddhist settlements and the massive dam, Shamirpet Lake for a picnic with friends and Nalgonda for a bucket load of history that dates back to the Paleolithic age.
Chennai: Kanchipuram for its silk sarees and age-old temples, Mahabalipuram for rich Dravidian architecture and temples by the sea, Pulicat and Nelapattu Bird Sanctuaries for birds and Nagalapuram for trekking and hiking.
Delhi: Agra for the experience of driving on the Yamuna expressway and obviously Taj Mahal, Neemrana for Rajput forts and ziplining, Kuchesar for an ‘authentic UP experience’ and Manesar for a great picnic spot plus to see a winged paradise of Sultanpur National Park.
Kolkata: Tajpur for blooming coasts and gorgeous beaches, Mayapur for a spiritual escape and ISKON Temple, Raichak to experience the calm village atmosphere by the Hoogly River and Chinsurah for Dutch settlements and colonial churches.
Short Bike Rides to take in India (2-3 days)
1. Chennai – Rameswaram
Ah, the legendary East Coast Road! Brushing along the mighty Bay of Bengal, you can hear the waves crashing against the coast. The drive from Chennai to Rameswaram takes you along this road with the beach just a turn away. Going on a bike makes it even better as you can smell the gentle sea breeze wafting into your nose. If you start early, you can also witness the sun rising along the East Coast as well. Just stunning!
One more reason for you to take this ride is that there are so many incredible destinations on the way. The ancient temples and structures of Mahabalipuram, the rustic French quarters of Pondicherry, the austere Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville are all fan favourites. For a more adventurous endeavour, head to Kovalam Beach, where you can go surfing and SCUBA Diving. Alamparai Fort is another important piece of history in the way of Chennai to Rameswaram. So if you want to drive past the remains of Pallava Empire, mini France, hip surfing locations and soothing ashrams, this is the drive for you.
Nonetheless, this trip ultimately leads you to Rameswaram. So you may ask, what to do in Rameswaram? As everyone must be knowing, Ramanathaswamy Temple is the main attraction of Rameswaram town. This divine temple is made in mesmerising Dravidian architecture and is over 700 years old! It is also an important pilgrimage site in Hinduism and is one of the Char Dhams. There are many other temples of religious prominence in and around Rameswaram, so the spiritual among you have got to come here.
However, you’d be mistaken if you think that Rameswaram only has religious sightseeing. Dhanushkodi, which protrudes out of Rameswaram Island is awesome for so many reasons. It houses a temple in ruins to interest you and while driving down to the final tip, you can watch the sea on both sides of the road, making it an absolute gem to drive in. From the Ram Sethu View Point, you can even just see Sri Lanka above the horizon, as it is the closest accessible point to Sri Lanka in our country. Kunthu Kal and Ariyaman beaches are made for the ocean lover in you. One can marvel at the engineering wonder of Pamban Railway Bridge, which incredibly folds for ships to pass through! Abdul Kalam’s house and memorial are also situated in Rameswaram.
Rameswaram is an all in one package that will create all the memories for you to cherish. A bike trip here will just compliment that.
Distance: The ride along the sea is 560km long and takes 10 and a half hours. So it could be suggested to take a break in Pondicherry.
2. Mumbai – Goa
“When life hits you with boredom escape to Goa. If it doesn’t, still escape to Goa!”
Goa is every Indian’s (and Russian’s) ideal vacay destination. What better way to reach it than to take a bike trip?
There are two main routes to take from Mumbai to Goa, both with their own advantages and places to see. One is NH66 which takes you through many natural beauties to enjoy. Karnala Bird Sanctuary for bird lovers, Murud for dolphin spotting and an island fort, Sawantsada and Tamhini Ghat Waterfalls are all spectacular. Near Sawantsadi are Moti Talao Lake, Pandava Caves (believed to be built by the Pandavas) and Koyna Dam. On this path is the town of Pen, where you get to observe the masterful artisan go about their skill as they create massive Ganesha idols. Ganpatipule is for water sports on a pristine beach while Kolad is for a more adventurous white water rafting. Most of the ride will be along the Western Ghats, so be prepared for a scenic drive.
The other route is AH47 and takes 1-2 hours lesser than the previous one. The road is much smoother in this one but the ride is just as green, only without the sea. Also, tolls are more. But even this road has its fair share of attractive places. Nature enthusiasts and the Valley of Flowers, alias the Kaas Pathar Plateau, is a match made in heaven. Lonavala, also on the way, can also be visited to see Duke’s Nose, Tigers Point and Amrutanjan Point, for nice geological formations and views. Belgaum, in Karnataka, has places aplenty for you to tour such as Kittur Fort, Belgaum Fort, Gokak Falls and offbeat Jamboti Hills. Finally, once you reach Goa, you will pass through Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary, teeming with wildlife and nature. Dudhsagar Waterfalls, Tambdi Surla Temple and Devil’s Canyon are the must-see places in this wildlife sanctuary.
Once you are in Goa, we all know what to do, right? Beach, Party, Repeat! Other than this obvious statement, you can enjoy its Portuguese architecture, greenery and watersports. In the end, if you are going to Goa, go on a bike.
Distance: NH66 takes about 13hrs while AH47 takes 11hrs. However, it is recommended to take a day or two stop in the middle to fully enjoy all the places on the way.
3. Bangalore – Valparai
If you ever wondered what the earth looked like before humanity came to existence, look no further than Valparai.
Placed perfectly in the Western Ghats, this tiny town is rapidly gaining popularity among biking and road-tripping communities in South India, and for good reason. The area around Valparai is covered by tea plantations, hills, valleys, rivers and the ever so green forests. In fact, after your drive to Valparai, you will think that different shades of green are the only colours in the world.
You have to take NH44 and later NH544 on your way to Valparai from Bangalore. While there aren’t too many attractions on the way, once you hit the Western Ghats, you will be seduced as you pass through the Annamalai and Alliyar Forests. The beauty of these lush green, unadulterated forests cannot be put into words. Add to that the clean, shiny streams, and landscape of the Ghats and you can see why even the most urban loving person would ditch the city for Valparai. This bike trip is made even more special for avid bikers as the hairpin turns and the sudden drops make it more challenging and exciting.
Upon getting to Valparai, take in the relaxed environment, misty skies and sea of green in every direction. Monkey and Chinna Kallar Waterfalls, Athirapally Waterfalls, the dense Manampalli Forest, Aliyar Dam, and numerous vantage points like Nallamudi Viewpoint are all top-notch places to explore. Annamalai Tiger Reserve, however, should be on top of all your to-do lists in Valparai. With animals such as tigers, leopards, elephants, pangolins and crocodiles all coexisting in this wild space, you can awe at the forests that make Jungle Book come to life.
In a simple equation, Bangalore-Valparai = one of the road trips to take in 2021.
Distance: You have to drive about 9hrs to get from Bangalore to Valparai.
4. Kolkata – Bhubaneswar
Underrated and Unexplored, Odisha is India’s Best Kept Secret (that is their official travel logo as well). A bike trip from Kolkata to Bhubaneshwar is the ultimate way to explore Odisha.
The road from Kolkata to Bhubaneswar is well maintained and passes through many rural areas that carry the true essence of India. Driving from Kolkata to Bhubaneswar, on one side will be the hilly and forested Eastern Ghats and on the other, the Bay of Bengal. On the way, you will pass cities like Cuttack, Kharagpur and Bhadrak. In Cuttack, you can visit Chandi Temple, Barabati Fort or Dhabaleshwar Island. This NH16 route is certainly one to keep an eye out for if you are hailing from Kolkata.
Bhubaneswar is fairly close to all the major tourist attractions in Odisha. Puri, Chilika Lake, Cuttack, and the many wildlife sanctuaries of Odisha are just a few hours’ drives from Bhubaneshwar, so having your own vehicle or bike comes in handy. In Bhubaneswar, Lingaraja Temple, Odisha State Museum and Dhauli Giri are all popular sites. Pipili, a few kilometres south of Bhubaneswar, is the premier arts and craft location in Odisha and suitable for shopping handicrafts. Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves, are the ever so impressive Jain temples that were carved out of hand by Kalinga artisans over 2000 years ago! Gulp.
In proximity to Bhubaneswar is Chandaka Forest, where you can indulge yourself in safaris, trekking and the rich and diverse wildlife in the display. Puri is another popular town near Bhubaneswar. The Shri Jagannath Temple in Puri is one of the Char Dhams and is as important a religious site as it gets. To submerge yourself in piousness, Puri is the place to be.
Chilika Lake, the largest saltwater lake in Asia, is also close to Bhubaneswar. Chilika is heaven for birdwatchers, as you find a wide assortment of birds, both local and migratory. Terrestrial animals like jackals, hyenas, blackbucks and deer also call the region around Chilika Lake its habitat. Nevertheless, Irrawaddy Dolphin is the main attraction of Chilika. This endangered species is only found here and in one other lagoon. There is also a bountiful of other animals; marine, terrestrial and avian, that live here.
Bhubaneswar has a lot more that will surprise you and should be the next bike trip to take in 2021.
Distance: 442km and 9 and half hours separate these two cities.
5. Hyderabad – Hampi
An abandoned medieval city, rich history, and a backpacker’s haven, why on earth would anyone want to not go to Hampi!
To visit Hampi from Hyderabad there are two main routes, via Raichur and via Kurnool. While the road on the Kurnool path is much better (being on NH7), going via Raichur is closer, takes lesser time and has more marvellous landscapes to gaze at. On your way, you can stop by at Mahboobnagar, where the main attraction is the 700-year-old Pillalamari Banyan Tree (even the fauna has a history in this route). Raichur is another good place to take your mid-ride break. Try visiting the Raichur Fort here.
If you take the alternate route from Kurnool, you can bike across Daroji Bear Sanctuary, a great place to spot sloth bears. As you see, while initially seeming quite mundane, riding your bike to Hampi can be quite intriguing, to say the least.
Hampi is mainly known for its Vijayanagara era structures, buildings and temples. Temples such as Virupaksha or Vitthala or Underground Shiva Temple are all notable for their stunning craftsmanship, vivid colours, carvings and paintings. Actually, all the paintings on the walls and ceilings depict stories from Indian mythology such as Ramayana. But historic monuments aren’t Hampi’s only speciality. Swimming or boating in the Tungabadhra River can be a very gratifying trip. The boulders and rocky formations of Hampi will be part of any rock climbers dreamland. Oh, and there is even a hippie side to the town, and for this reason, is also very famous among international backpackers.
So whatever type of trip that you are looking for, you can find it here in Hampi. Hyderabad to Hampi is truly one of the best road trips in India.
Distance: Hyderabad is 370km from Hampi and it takes around 8 and a half hours to traverse.
Long Bike Rides to take in India (4+ days)
1. On top of the world – Ladakh and Kashmir
The mother of all road trips, all across the world, is this one. Ask any road lover and they will tell you: “A bike trip to Ladakh is the ultimate test.” You will have to combat freezing cold, terrible roads, high altitude sickness and thin – very thin air. But in the end, it will be an extremely rewarding trip. It will take you to the top of the world and back. It will challenge you, it will awe you, and by the time it gives you back to the normal world, you will be a changed man. The views from the height of the Himalayas are also worth giving your all for.
Normally, Delhi or Chandigarh is taken as a starting point for a bike trip to Leh. In a day you will be in Manali. This is where the real trip starts. From Manali to Leh, the drive takes about 12hrs but it is suggested to take a pit stop for the night in either Sarchu or Jispah to ensure your itinerary isn’t too hectic. There is a canyon in Sarchu with an unbelievable drop into the valley that is perfect for pictures. Of course, keep in mind that this can be said about many places in the Himalayas.
In Leh, Alchi Monastery, Shey Monastery, Shanti Stupa and Royal Leh Palace are all there to provide some history, backdrop and brilliance to the town. These are just a few of the hundreds of monasteries and Buddhist monuments in the region. For a day trip from Leh, go to Pangong Lake, by the Chinese border and the location of 3 Idiots shooting. Khardungla Pass (one of the highest motorable passes in the world) and Nubra Valley on the other side are also must-see in the region. Nubra Valley adds its own charm to Ladakh. Magnetic Hill, which appears to revolt against Newton and his laws on gravity, is a road that will intrigue everyone. White water rafting in the Zanskar River is also a proper thrilling adventure.
The next leg of the trip is from Leh to Srinagar. Again, this may be hard to cover in a single day, so better stopover at Kargil. On the way to Kargil is the Lamayuru Monastery in a striking setting. In Kargil, visit Zanskar and Dras Valleys, Kargil War Memorial to pay respect to the martyrs of Kargil War and also Hemis National Park is situated just south of the road from Leh to Kargil. This is one of the few areas in the world to spot the elusive snow leopard.
From Kargil, the ride to Srinagar will mark the end of an amazing journey. From the cold dry deserts of Ladakh, you will enter new heaven on earth, Kashmir, with green pastures, valleys and forests. In Srinagar, staying in a houseboat, paragliding, skiing (in winter) and visiting tulip and flower gardens are the main attractions.
Apart from all these places to see, a bike trip to Ladakh and Leh is mainly for the ride. Simply the best in the world.
Route: Delhi – Manali – Sarchu/Jispah – Leh – Kargil – Srinagar. Overall it is 1400km and 36hrs drive time.
2. A Royal Ride – Rajasthan
Pink City, Blue City, Golden City and a White City; Rajasthan is vibrant and full of colours. Majestic and regal, Rajasthan has a great deal of culture, art and history that is intertwined with the desert, Rajputs and royalty. So to want to ride your bike all over Rajasthan is only natural. With some of the flattest, smoothest roads, fine desert sand on both sides and a few small villages dotting the way, Rajasthan never ceases to impress you.
Jaipur has to be the first destination if you are commencing your expedition from Delhi. On the way, Sariska Tiger Reserve will show you a different and wild side of Rajasthan that is often not commented on. In Jaipur, the brilliant Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jantar Mantar, Nahargarh Fort and City Palace will all give you your first dose of royalty in Rajasthan. For adrenaline junkies, ziplining, hot air ballooning and trekking in the Aravalli range are extremely enjoyable.
Udaipur, with its whitewashed houses and myriad lakes, should be your next destination. Udaipur City Palace, Lake Pichola, Fateh Sagar Lake, Gangaur Ghat and the thriving art and handicraft scene in Udaipur will all make you considering spending extra time in the city. Jodhpur, the Blue City, will enchant you in its own way too. Mehrangarh Fort, rising above Jodhpur, is the best place to see in all of Jodhpur, not only for its opulence and genius architecture but also because you get picturesque views of the blue-tinted houses of Jodhpur in their full glory. You will think that it may be a reflection of the sky. Strolling around the blue streets, visiting Mandore Gardens and Umaid Bhavan Palace are the other major activities in Jodhpur.
Onwards and upwards from Jodhpur is the golden city – Jaisalmer. It is most famous for the Jaisalmer Fort, which is the largest living fort in the world, meaning people still live in it! Bustling bazaars, magicians, puppeteers on the street, restaurants and more all add their own flavour to this fort. From the zenith of the Fort, you can view the whole city of Jaisalmer with the barren Thar Desert forming an incredible background. The most fun experience, however, is renting a car or a jeep to go dune bashing in the sand dunes around the city.
Bikaner is most well-known for its namkeen and mithais. But there is more to this city than just-food. Junagarh Fort is one of the most well-kept and colourful in India. Blue, green, red, white, gold; you name it and the colour is there. Karni Mata Temple is another famed and quirky aspect of Bikaner. 25000 rats call this temple home and you can see them rambling around the floor. Despite this, it is one of the holiest sites in Bikaner. Camel Safaris, shopping at Kote Gate, exploring the old city and visiting the camel farm are other recreations to be amused by.
Since the roads are good, even beginners can savour this ride. Truly one of the purest and most serene bike trips is the one to Rajasthan.
Route: Delhi – Jaipur – Udaipur – Jodhpur – Jaisalmer – Bikaner. Almost 2000km and 35hrs of drive time.
3. Authentic Northeast
“It feels good to be lost…. in the right direction.” In India, the Northeast is the right direction.
There are many states, customs and cultures on the other side of the Siliguri Corridor; so a lot of different and diverse routes for you to go on. Nevertheless, one of the most surreal courses to take is Arunachal Pradesh, Kaziranga and Shillong. From some of the highest mountains to plush grassy forests to the wettest region on earth, all in one bike trip!
Guwahati is where your travels begin. From here you can start your drive to Dirang. It is better to start early as the sun sets by 5 pm in the East. The roads initially are very good as they are on the Assamese plains but once you get to the Himalayas, the roads become somewhat sketchy. But hey, that’s part of the fun, isn’t it? All along the Arunachal roads, you will see towering peaks, stray yak, smiling people, military bunkers and photogenic sceneries.
Dirang is a stopover town for those trying to get to Tawang, but it does have hot springs and kiwi fields for you to discover. Now time to head over to Tawang, on the westernmost edge of Arunachal Pradesh and just a few kilometres off China. The main tourist hotspot in Tawang is Tawang Monastery, which is the second-largest monastery in the world! Yet, you will sense only humbleness, tranquillity and beautiful decorations, architecture and statues of Buddha. Nuranang Falls, Shungatser Lake and Sela Pass are the geological intricacies near Tawang that you will not want to miss.
Onwards from Tawang, it’s time to get back to Assam, and Assam will gladly welcome you back, and in some fashion. The Kaziranga National Park is huge and a hotbed for flora and fauna. Even while driving through the park on your bike, turn your head left or right and you can view rhinos grazing the fields peacefully within touching distance. Take an elephant safari to get even closer to the animals like the endangered Indian rhinoceros, tigers, leopards, elephants, hog deer and Asiatic water buffaloes. Stay in a resort within the Park for a pleasant vacation.
The cleanest village of Asia, see-through rivers and bridges that are alive; Meghalaya is awesome! When in Meghalaya, Shillong can be your base. If you go in autumn, you can even see cherry blossom as you ride your bike. The cleanest village of Asia, Mawlynnong, is also in Meghalaya. Just walking through the village will take you back in time, as you don’t see a single speck of plastic or rubbish on the ground. Breathing in the fresh air rejuvenates you. Close to Mawlynnong are bridges that have been shaped over centuries by local tribes; living root bridges. They are made by wrapping thick roots together to create sturdy formations that help the people cross rivers and streams. From here, Bangladesh is the next destination – quite literally! The water of the Umngot River is so crystal clear that you can even see the riverbed. This river forms the border between India and Bangladesh and when you go boating in the river you are on the international border!
So much action is packed into this bike trip to Northeast India, so make sure this goes on your “Bike trips to take in 2021” list.
Route: Guwahati – Dirang – Tawang – Dirang – Kaziranga National Park – Shillong – Guwahati. Overall it is 1200km and 34hrs drive.
Other Roadtrips in India for 2021
There seriously has to be a part 2, 3, 4 and even infinity for a volume of breathtaking bike trips and road trips in India. Since the internet would crash if that were to happen, here are some of the other greatest bike trips to take in India in 2021.
1) A tropical tumble- Western Ghats: Ride through the exuberant foliage and greenery of the Western Ghats and places like Munnar, Nilgiris, Coorg, Chickmagalur and Mahabaleshwar.
2) Riding through the salt – Rann of Kutch: Visit some of the largest salt marshes in the world, and also the remarkable excavations of Dholavira from the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation.
3) God’s Own Country – Kerala: From the pristine Arabian Sea coast to the backwaters to the Western Ghats to forests such as Periyar National Park, there is a lot in Kerala to road-trip for. Fun fact, Kerala has the highest road density in the world.
4) Himalayas’ forgotten valley – Spiti Valley and Himachal Pradesh: Snow, coniferous forests, winter sports and serene lakes all elevate Himachal Pradesh to biking hall of fame. Add to that the mini Ladakh that is Spiti Valley and it automatically goes on every biker to visit list.
5) The Heart of India – Madhya Pradesh: Thick jungles full of the man-eaters (tigers), Shanti Stupas, stone age rock paintings, marble rocks of Bhedaghat and a bucket load of history and temples. In Madhya Pradesh, you are in for a ride!
India certainly has a thing going for itself when it comes to road trips, whether by bike or by car. So many unforgettable bike trips to take, so little time. So don’t wait anymore, get on that bike and ride till you can! Go where the road takes you, and have a blast! Do tell us the fascinating memories that you create in your journeys.
Meanwhile, I’ll have to get my bike engine running. Vroom! Vroom!