A Vegan Cycling Tour

For vegetarian India, veganism is not totally alien but still strange enough a concept to evoke strong curiosity, interest and quite a few conversions. So when the Vegan Cycle Tour through the heartland of north India was proposed, it was anticipated with a lot of excitement. On hindsight, we at Kalypso say, “Justified excitement.”

What is Veganism?

Veganism in simple words is “the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals.” The deep sense of caring and empathy that is at the core of this belief, sweeps everyone off in its wake.

 

Days of learning- the equipment, the requirements

As in anything else, concept is king in the planning of such a unique tour too. Kalypso’s highly resourceful back-end team worked at a frenetic pace to iron out the sometimes frayed edges of the challenging schedules and to visualise and thereby prepare to meet any and every eventuality.

 

In the midst of the constant back and forth with the clients about their various specific needs, understanding the geographies involved, packing, loading and trucking the bikes, seeing the support team off to Rajasthan, unloading and assembling of the bikes on the spot, and the recce of the route to assess its highlights and pitfalls, Kalypso tour guides themselves were totally enamoured by the places they visited and were thrilled about the wonderful challenges they knew they were about to face. The spirit of the tour was already upon them and the anticipation levels sky-rocketing.

From start to finish of the expedition

Having landed at Delhi the group was transferred to Agra where the elegant Taj Mahal awaited their gasps of wonder. After a morning spent at the Bharatpur National Park, it was time to re-group, re-orient and get back to the nitty-gritties of the odyssey ahead. And focus they did indeed, during the tour briefing and the cycle-fitting that followed.

The much-awaited tour began the next day with the group being transferred to Bayana, a small town from where the Vegan Cycle Tour was to ride out on their 252 mile grand tour. And so after a short blessing ceremony, our cyclists set out, flower garlands and bindis in place to urge the group on with their benedictions.

 

What followed was a series of colour, pageantry and sheer joy mixed in with some hard cycling, tough roads, determination, and a never-say-die attitude. The food, the sights along the way -of people, landscapes, buildings and wildlife- the weather, the company of fellow vegans, the bonhomie, all memories now, but the reality of every moment then. The cows and goats and monkeys ubiquitous on Indian roads and who accompanied the cyclists at times certainly kept this group of animal lovers engaged as much if not more than the palaces and forts they stayed in and visited.  The exchange of vegan recipes with Kalypso cooks, the 100 guests who stayed spontaneously for lunch under a colourful tent, the school children who turned partners in fun, all point to a universality of human emotions and the triumph of the human spirit.

From Bayana to Karauli to Ranthambore, then Talabgaon, Dausa and finally to Ramgarh, the small towns they passed through, each had unique stories to tell and histories to share. The vegan cycle tour ended at Ramgarh. The celebration and the lunch that followed only reflected the sheer determination displayed throughout and the joy of completing the task. The extra day spent roaming the streets of Jaipur and visiting its palaces only carried forward the celebratory mood.

 

And the result? All smiles and happy faces and more…

The fact that our guests returned home happy with their experiences in India and having achieved what they set out to (they have been successful in raising enough funds for the conservation of 25000 land-farmed animals), the fact that we could facilitate this grand success with no hassles, the fact that it left everyone concerned feeling content are all motivating factors for us at Kalypso.  We hope that our guests felt the same. We hope they have inspired more people around the world to be kind to animals and help conserve them. We hope India and its distinctive ethos will bring them back on more such tours.

eBikes -unlimited potential on two wheels

Tours on two-wheels

In the world of bike tours, E-bikes are the new kids on the block! Fun, friendly and filled with possibility modern E-bikes take biking into the future in ways that were only dreamt of till recently.

Understanding E-bikes
An electric bicycle, also known as an e-bike, is a bicycle with an integrated electric motor which can be used for propulsion and runs on rechargeable batteries. Recognising India as a potential destination for biking tours, Kalypso took the timely decision to promote the use of E-bikes. We use custom-made pedal assist E-bikes and have been testing them for over a year now. Able to negotiate easily a daily average distance of 80 to 100 kms on plains and 50 to 70 kms on hilly roads, Kalypso recognises e-bikes as a special futuristic prospect. We provide it exclusively with our in-house expertise to upgrade normal bikes to E-bikes using E-bike kits.

E-bikes – Who can use and why
Are you an occasional biker? Is your fitness level something you wouldn’t want to brag about? Have you wanted to experience a biking tour, but felt limited? Or are you an intense biker – a veteran of many pedalling miles? Have you ever dreamed of an off-road biking tour? The answer to all these questions could very well be the quintessential E-bike.
Our pedal assist e-bikes offer you the choice of pedalling when you wish to and cruising along with your group at other times. It is a less-sweat, more-fun, and a totally safe and easy way of experiencing places and people.

E-bikes – potential unlimited
Be it hill roads or plains, paved miles or village by-lanes, E-bikes thrill the riders keeping them secure in the knowledge that the comfort and excitement come with an eco-friendly attitude. Faster than normal bikes, they cover more distance with less effort and in less time. In a country like India where much of its beauty lies outside of cities and along inaccessible roads, e-bikes can revolutionise the way you travel.

A recent tour
Even as we go to blog, we have just completed an eight-day e-bike tour of south India with two Australian guests. Being occasional bikers with middling fitness levels, they weren’t sure they would be able to complete the tour on the mostly off-road conditions on the itinerary. At the end of the eighth day however, both Els and Marie were two exhilarated ladies high on their triumph of not just having completed the tour, but having enjoyed it with enough memories to last them for a lifetime. This and more such tours like this in the past have motivated us to plan similar itineraries.

A thought to leave you with
Kalypso wants to re-imagine bike tours keeping them in the realm of fun and possibility. Our e-bike tours besides focusing on being eco-friendly are designed to drag out every moment of fun, discovery and the innovative.

 

Adventure filled Family Holidays

 

When Jack Kerouac said the road is life, he must have also meant those wandering souls who travel as a family and return with perspective. For during a family holiday perspective is definitely on generous offer when cranky siblings are vying for the best seat in the car or a sulky child has decided the world is an unfair place because he couldn’t sleep in or somebody is regretting last night’s gluttonous streak. Shared experiences, both the expected and the surprising, and the memories that they offer, will always be an integral part of all families. Here’s a tale of one such family who came to this little strip of land called Kerala on the western coast of peninsular India, so far away from England, their home, for a holiday that also packed in a bit of adventure, and took back with them, a lot of wonderful memories.

Andrew and his wife Lisa, both doctors from England travelled to Kerala, India along with their three children Nathan, Sam and Joseph. Their two-week trip began with a 3-day stay at Kochi, a city redolent in its age-old sensibilities.   Fort Kochi and Mattanchery, from where the dominance of Kochi began hundreds of years ago, together now form the hub of tourist activity sporting a quaint charm that is their very own.  As they were keen to take in first-hand the historical significance of the area, the family were ferried across over the next couple of days to Vypeen Island, from where they went onto the Chendamangalam and Paravur synagogues, and the Kodungallur temple. The last was a fascinating experience as they attended a wedding on the temple premises and participated in the brouhaha of an Indian wedding. The eye-popping colours of Indian weddings, their more than two thousand guests and the resounding decibel levels seemed like tidal waves on one’s senses.  The Kathakali performance at Fort Kochi in the evening was an eye-opener. The exaggerated and colourful make-up mostly made of natural dyes and rice flour, the exquisite face masks and umbrella-like costumes and the sheer drama of the whole performance made for a truly engrossing experience.

The second leg of the trip involved an eight-day stint in the hills.  Ascending the mountain roads past hairpin bends, the four to five hours drive from Kochi to Munnar was as picturesque as the scenery all around was diverse. The sudden and surprising burst of waterfalls alongside the mountain roads, the dense and dark forests slowly giving way to the lush serene stretches of tea-plantations were sights that drowned one’s senses in their beauty. On reaching the hotel located within the Cardamom Reserve Forest, the splendid kitchen on display at lunch pleased Andrew, who is an excellent cook himself. The birthday cake laid out for Joseph the youngest of the family was another pleasant surprise and a sweet memory.

The trek next day began at the top of the waterfalls along the riverbanks. The spectacular view of tea gardens, the little villages that sprouted near the plantations with their cottages surrounded by vegetable gardens – constant sights during the trek lent a picture post card quality to the images in their minds, according to Lisa. After the short break the trek continued following the stream and crossing the pine forest to the next destination, Rhodo Valley. As the name suggests, the valley, home to the rhododendron flower is mind blowing in its beauty when the flowers are in full bloom. Joseph was in the midst of a school project on butterflies, so there was one excited little boy in the group for he was thrilled to have spotted about 30 different species. The entire family were very keen to identify and understand the flora and fauna found in the area. The trek had begun with a ridge walk and it was a fantastic experience for them. Their previous record was 1200 m and they had more than doubled it with this ridge walk of 2640 m. They had broken their own previous record to set a new one for themselves!!! And such a great time they had had in the process! On their way back after lunch at the top, every step taken was with a heavy heart.  They knew they had been part of something special. But an early start to the hour-long trek back to the base camp had also meant spotting of wild elephants along the way, a lasting memory for sure.

 

After breakfast the next day, it was off to Rajamala. At the Eravikulam national park in Rajamala, home to the elusive Nilgiri Tahr, they sighted the legendary Neelakurinji flowers that bloom only once every twelve years. On the way back to the hotel aboard the local bus, Andrew aided a passenger who had suddenly become unconscious; a timely intervention. En route to the hotel they also managed to stop by the Tea Museum and Shrishti, the natural colour dyeing center, worked by the differently-abled, again a memory to carry back home. Andrew felt that the cooking demonstration back at the hotel which highlighted the use of spices, was both informative and delicious.

On the following day at 8 a.m. they set out cycling to their next destination, Thekkady. Having stopped for chai at a local tea shop, and having tasted a few of the local snacks, they were still extremely glad to reach their hungry selves to the hotel at Thekkady by lunch. But by then they all agreed that cycling was the best way to tour a place.

The next day promised a lot in terms of sights and experiences. They entered the Periyar Tiger Reserve in a park bus, and the full day’s program involved 4 hours of walking and 4 hours of bamboo- rafting. The Periyar River was crossed by raft and then they walked through the forest accompanied by 4 guides and a guard-with a gun! All the guards, being tribal folk from the area, were able to describe in great detail the features of the forest and the plants and animals that are native to the area.  And what great sights there were to see – the serpent eagle, the fish owl, bison, boar, sambar deer, medicinal plants growing in the wild, and the skeleton of an elephant-presumably left behind by a tiger! Making their way back involved some cycling, some rafting and some distance covered by bus. A tiring day indeed, but totally engrossing!

The subsequent morning took them on a 30-kilometer cycling trip via tea and cardamom plantations. And certainly they were shown how to distinguish the different types of cardamom. Lunch was a meal served on a banana leaf and eaten with hands without cutlery. Traditional Indian wisdom says this allows assimilation of food with all senses and is considered the ideal way to appreciate it. This over, it was back to the hotel as both Nathan and Sam were to take exams once back in England and had to begin making some inroads into their studies.

On day nine they set out from Thekkady to Alapuzha, stopping at tea shops along the way and finally reaching the renowned houseboat for lunch. The houseboat crew took them on a village-walk and the local toddy shop, where they tasted the freshly extracted brew. With spicy fish curry and tapioca, it made for a potent combination indeed.

On the following day they reached the homestay on Emerald Isle and visited the local temple and witnessed the rituals being performed. The kayaking part of their holiday began here. The relationship of the people and the place with the waters surrounding them was an almost palpable reality and easily discernible. The backwaters don’t just form a backdrop for transportation; they also are the arena for most of the everyday activities of the local people – mobile grocers and fish-sellers and vegetable sellers! The entire family was also very keen to visit the local school to understand the education system first-hand.

The thirteenth day of the trip saw them cycling to their next homestay along beach roads. They visited a coir factory on the way and witnessed the making of coir…the humble coconut fibre was so versatile. That evening a magnificent sunset at the beach awaited them.

The next morning which was also the penultimate day of the trip was spent being lazy on the beach.

On the fifteenth and final day, they left for Fort Kochi after lunch. Lisa wanted to buy a gift for her sister and Nathan for his friend. After about an hour of shopping and dinner, Andrew and Lisa reminisced about the trip with their tour guide Jeffin. They felt adventure had been on a slow burn throughout their holiday and by the end of the tour it had been redefined in a heart-warming manner. An energiser for the entire family! It definitely was a wistful end to a holiday which had so many great moments and would in the days to come always bring nostalgia. The family were then dropped off at the airport.

And yes, the road is life and the genuine traveller moves on.

 

Goa to Kerala Coastal Cycling

Cycling from Goa to Calicut on the western coast of India along a medley of beach, backwater and country roads was thoroughly fascinating. The refreshing breeze all along the route was a constant reminder of the Arabian Sea close by.

This group of 11 intrepid cycling enthusiasts from Australia having ventured on this tour organised under the leadership of World Expedition and facilitated by Kalypso Adventures in India, were surely in for once in a life time experience.

The ride progressed through ‘Karwar’ to ‘Gokarna’ – across a moderate and undulating terrain and with a few local ferry transfers. The daily pedalling distance of approximately 60-90 kms was accomplished at a comfortable and relaxed pace so as to not miss even the minutest details, scenic views and experiences.

Enroute to ‘Honnavar’ was the village school visit, the highlight of which was playing and interacting with the school kids; and savouring the mouth-watering cumin-flavoured milk, a traditional drink of the region.

After witnessing the mighty Shiva Statue of Lord Murudheshwara Temple at Honnavar, the ride again passed through the charming back roads of ‘Maravanthe’ and ‘Mangalore’.

The Lord Krishna temple enroute to ‘Malpe’, the Lord Ayyappa temple at ‘Nileshwar’ and the simple village life around were such humbling experiences.

The visit to Fort Bekal and ‘Kumbla’ showcased the historic relevance of these areas during the princely era.

Finally, being able to sight the Olive Ridley Turtle in a protected zone on the coast near Nileshwaram and the cycling in Nileshwaram village were both experiences straight out of a fairy tale.

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When auto-rickshaws roam a land…

Crammed with screaming kids while on school-rounds or taking the busy house-wife to the markets, the aspiring jobseeker who can’t afford a cab to reach his interview or even an itinerant traveller seeking up, close and personal experiences, the auto rickshaw is as easily available on the roads as it is maneuverable. A ride in an auto rickshaw has the wind playing with your hair and roaring in your ears, the sights and smells of the world you are passing by wafting in and shouting out tales that can only be honest and real. The ubiquitous pot holes and the chaotic traffic do not upset these relentless road-warriors who can access the most inaccessible spots on your city map.

  • When they were born…and as they evolved

At the time of independence when we had hand-pulled rickshaws, and then when we moved to the era of the cycle-rickshaws and fossil-fuelled vehicles, and further on to today’s compressed, natural gas-fuelled versions, the rickshaw has represented an evolution in Indian society.

  • And how well they connected to the environment…

Open on two sides, fuelled by CNG, these tough rickshaws barrel down Indian roads with a total disdain for the up-market, air-conditioned comfort of luxurious travel. By allowing the tourist a very personal glimpse of an alien land, it also declares clearly its green intentions.

  • …And then they were saluted.

India’s Bajaj Auto is presently the largest manufacturer and exporter in the world. Indonesia calls them ‘bajay’ while in Cambodia they are known as tuk-tuks. Having made their presence felt in various parts of the world, the autos as they are known in India, play an undeniably significant role in the social structure of developing nations. Darting in and about on India’s busy streets the omnipresent auto-rickshaws and their versatility reflect the innate honesty and simplicity of the average Indian.

 

Tuk-Tuk Adventures India

A tour on a tuk tuk takes your South India experience to another level altogether. For what other ride provides you with the time to take in and assimilate the mesmerizing landscape en route while at the same time giving you the opportunity to exchange a laugh or two with your travel-mate and stretch your legs every once in a while. Throughout your ride on this quaint, unusual vehicle you can be secure in the presence of Kalypso’s support staff that enables the tour almost seamlessly.

Our first tuk tuk challenge flagged off from the heart of Fort Kochi with more than 15 enthusiastic travellers to explore real India. From the flat terrains of Kochi onto the cultural heartland of Kerala, Cheruthuruthy and then to Pollachi in the neighbouring state and the surreal hill station Kodaikanal before re-entering Kerala at Bodi with its spectacular wildlife sanctuary and going on to Alleppey’s treasure trove of waterways prior to returning to Kochi…how much more can a tour offer in breath taking diversity and experiences. Experiences that promote the idea of interaction with local communities – weaving a coconut leaf or viewing the creation of the one meter chai or trying a hand at traditional fishing or in making a customary popular snack, we offer you experiences that are genuine as part of our attempt to share glimpses of real life in South India.

Kerala floods – Kalypso report 2018

As the flood waters recede in Kerala, its people look on – horrified and resigned, and with the embers of an undying determination simmering in their hearts. They see before them the long uphill road and realise that only a strong back, a stoic mind and a compassionate soul will help them take each and every single step along the way.

We at Kalypso salute the thousands of volunteers from across all spectrums of society and from all parts of India and the world who risked their own lives to rescue the affected population, to provide relief materials to the dispossessed and to clean homes and make them habitable and are even today continuing to do the same. The armed forces, the paramilitary forces, the fishermen, the local people, the health professionals and professionals from every field, all sterling volunteers prove beyond doubt that humanity still abides in the human being. Our own young boys from Kalypso involved neck deep in relief and rescue activities have heartrending stories of courage, humility, grit and kindness to share. The ordinary Malayali faced with a calamity not experienced in a hundred years is digging deep within to understand the responsibility of living in Gods own country.

May this tribe that puts others before self, flourish!

For it is only together that we can and shall overcome.

Three Peaks Challenge India 2018

 

After a month-long preparation, 14 Kalypso challengers were flagged off from the heart of Kochi on 10th June. Cycling off before sunrise in the light drizzle and low visibility, it was an exhilarating start. Later as the sun came out, they had to weave in and around peak hour traffic. Once the team reached the foothills, they pedaled through the area that receives the highest rainfall in South India, and stopped at Neriamangalam Bridge, from where they could look down at the rainforests below and also spot the mighty hills that called to the challengers. The gushing waters of the Periyar below were a sign of the continuous rainfall at the hilltops. Zipping up their rain jackets, the challengers started their uphill ride making use of all the technical knowledge they had gained over the years about the art of cycling. The spectacular waterfalls and lush greenery of the rainforests encouraged the tiring minds to continue pedaling.

A quick lunch at Adimali behind them, they continued their challenging climb up the Ghats finding their way through the narrow roads, speeding vehicles, chilly drizzles and frosty winds. By evening the group reached the summit, Munnar at 5000ft from sea level. As they touched their first peak, a warm cup of tea fresh from the tea gardens was waiting for them. They continued their cycling through the stunning tea gardens until they reached the campsite at Suryanelli. After some hot soup, the team got busy in getting the cycles ready for next day. Considering the bad weather and the challenges ahead, the senior team decided only the fittest six would continue with the challenge.

Early morning stretching exercises and a re-inspection of their cycles meant the team was well set for the second-day expedition, following a healthy breakfast.  The initial trail was through cardamom reserve forests and the winding downhill roads of Tamil Nadu. After having overcome the slippery tarmac and sharp turns down the hills, the team enjoyed the 3-hours of cycling through the plains along the Western Ghats, passing the busy towns of Cumbum and Theni. The terrain changed suddenly after they cycled 90 km as they had started climbing up the second peak. The team found the ascent more challenging, as they had to navigate their route through the narrow roads, often having to give way to the huge trucks carrying tea leaves to the factories. A sudden downpour meant the team had to take a break in the nearby village, recounting their experiences with the excited kids who had gathered around them. The challengers reached Perumalmalai before dark and stayed there overnight. After a quick de-brief, they were fast asleep with a sense of achievement.

The next day the men started early to pedal 170km to reach the final peak of the challenge. Cycling down Palani went pretty fast with pleasant weather and less traffic in the early hours of the day. With tired legs from continuous cycling, they then faced an unexpected challenge – high winds on the Pollachi-Valparai highway. The team was exhausted by the time they reached the lunch point at Sungam after having had to cycle against the heavy winds. They then looked to reach the third mighty peak 3 hours prior to sunset pedaling another 55 km.

The unwavering four decided to challenge the peak. The determined group started cycling the 40 hairpins overcoming the heavy rains and low visibility. The cyclists pedaled through the Indira Gandhi National Park where the freezing winds chilled their grip on the handlebars. They crossed their deadline and made it to Valparai to complete the 3 peaks challenge.

As part of team Kalypso, we feel proud of our cyclists who completed South India’s toughest 3 peaks challenge in just 3 days, covering a distance of 460 kilometers. This will be a great motivation for cycling enthusiasts and could be made an annual event for the cycling community.

https://youtu.be/T7lzRXJ9ILw

Kalypso Adventures featured in Rolls Royce Enthusiasts Club-2018

In a first of its kind honour, Kalypso Adventures, an adventure tour company with operations in India and Srilanka, has been featured in the RREC (Rolls Royce Enthusiasts Club) publication “In Pursuit of Excellence”, which was  released on 23rd March 2018 at Goodwood House, Chichester,London.

Kalypso Adventures is the only company from India to feature in this publication, which is owned by the owners of Rolls Royce and Bentley.

Kalypso Adventures was started here in 2000 by two former Indian Navy officers – Cdr. Thomas Zacharias and Cdr. Sam T Samuel.

Kalypso Adventures, Managing Director, Cdr. Samuel T Samuel, a former naval pilot, was excited to be contacted by a representative of St. James’s Publication house, London and was told that Kalypso Adventures has been shortlisted for feature inclusion in RREC  publication named “In Pursuit of Excellence”.

Cdr. Thomas Zacharias Executive Director quoted “This selection was done by the RREC, which was looking for a local experiential travel company from across the globe”.

He added “Over the last year or so, we were interviewed, data was collected and finally a two-page article was written about us that have been included in the RREC publication which has been launched on March 23, 2018 at the Goodwood House, Chichester, UK”.

The former naval officers had, after taking voluntary retirement from the Indian Navy, launched Kalypso Adventures and they were the first to introduce adventure tourism in Kerala at a time when adventure in India was restricted only to the Himalayas.

-An article from Business line.

 

Click here Read the Article   *

Article on Rolls Royce magazine

 

Further Reference:

More about the Event: https://pa-wood.co.uk/news-and-events/rolls-royce-enthusiasts-club-annual-rally-2018

Media Coverage:

Business Standards

The Quint

Sarah Cohen – the oldest living Jew in Mattancherry, Kerala.

At 95, Sarah Cohen – everyone’s Sarah aunty, is the oldest living Paradesi Jew at Mattanchery near Fort Cochin in Kerala. Once a thriving community in the heart of Mattanchery, now the Jews are a dwindling population, Sarah Cohen being one among the last 5 residing Jews here. She has a tiny souvenir shop named “Sarah’s Hand Embroidery” near the synagogue in Jew Town. ’Kippah’ – hand embroidered traditional Jewish caps are the main attraction here. Everyone passing through this area loves to visit her as she is always happy for an interaction.

Our guest Adam Glaser and family visiting Sarah Cohen in her home turned souvenir shop at Mattanchery.