I’ve lost count of the number of times the first drops of monsoon have reminded me of the Marathi film Killa. The mind can’t stop replaying the eros the amorous rainclouds unleash over the Konkan coast: the sea frothing with passionate intensity, the verdure of the Western Ghats attaining a luscious lushness, and four schoolboys witnessing the primal union as they race to the killa (a fort) on their bicycles—one of the countless citadels of the Western Ghats.
It’s the uncomplicated leisure of a bicycle ride with the jagged hillside and the spirited sea, the hair-raising turns and descents of the trails of the Sahyadris, that make cycling here a pure joy, especially in the monsoon. We list five important trails that you could do if you’re looking to race to the killa.
Navi Mumbai to Shilim, Maharashtra
The best time to do this two-day trail is just about starting. You will begin your trip from Vashi in Navi Mumbai, and once past city limits, witness the hilly verdure till you reach Lonavala. The air is bracing and the temperature dips while on course the ascent adjoining the Aamby Valley township. You can end the day in Lonavala and resume your ride on the morrow, when you will be headed for the village of Shilim, past wild flowers and butterflies. Enjoy the pristine monsoon landscape here and if you can’t have enough of it, throw in a hike up to the grass-carpeted Lohagad Fort.
Lonavala to Rajmachi Fort
In case you’re only looking at a moderate-level opportunity for off-roading where you can also return inside a day, this is the trail to do. Few cycling experiences come close to the thrill of riding on the rough trails flanked by the sylvan forest cradled in the rolling Sahyadris. The Udhewadi region, where the Rajmachi Fort is located, is also home to the Manaranjan and Shrivardhan forts. Hardly a kilometre away is the lake Udaysagar, where you can take a dip.
Bangalore to Ooty to Coonoor
The Nilgiris, which join the Western Ghats in their southern reaches, towards south of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, are, without a doubt, the crème de la crème of riding trails down south. There are various versions of this epic 300km ride that takes one through forests, villages, steep climbs, goose-bump-inducing descents and other sights and sounds. En route to Mysore, make sure to stop at the artisan haven of Channapatna, and at Srirangpatna, ride past vestiges of Tipu Sultan’s rule. On the way to Ooty, the hors catégorie Kalhatti climb, with its steep gradients and hairpin bends, makes even the best huff. You can make a stopover at the scenic hill station before resuming the ride. On the stretch from Ooty to Coonoor, witness lovely tea and coffee plantations.
Those looking to toil more can undertake the eight-day, 900-km Tour of the Nilgiris that takes you through the wildlife sanctuaries of three states—Bandipur (Karnataka), Wayanad (Kerala), and Mudumalai (Tamil Nadu). The tour concludes in the scenic hill station of Munnar.
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The Sahyadri Classic
This one-day tour, modelled after the French La Marmotte, is one of the best climbing trails in India. Started by Siddharth Hivarekar, it has two versions, namely the 4 Ghats Challenge (for professional riders) and the 2 Ghats Challenge (for amateurs). The ride includes splendid views of the Koyna backwaters and the pristine stretches of the rolling Sahyadris as riders attempt to be the first to scale the ghats of Pasarni, Tapola, Medha, and Ambenali.
The hills are calling. Saddle up.