The subtle (and slow) art of bikepacking
The allure of ditching luggage carriers and carbon-emitting transport for multi-day adventures on your bike has brought a new wave of travellers to some old and new destinations.
The allure of ditching luggage carriers and carbon-emitting transport for multi-day adventures on your bike has brought a new wave of travellers to some old and new destinations. Embarking on a bikepacking journey entails a unique blend of traversing the terrain on a bicycle while carrying all necessary camping gear on one’s back.
Peddling through busy cityscapes and calming wilderness to experience a culture other than your own has been around since the late 20th century. It was first used by cyclist and expedition leader Dan Burden in a National Geographic Magazine article published in May 1973, where he defined the term as “the synthesis of all-terrain cycling and self-supported backpacking.” Now a prominent category of travel in India, this hybrid phenomenon along with a rise in increasing health awareness—even when people are travelling—has exploded, bringing experiential tourism to both popular cities and offbeat towns.
“While this form of adventure travel has been a pre-existing niche in India, more people are immersing themselves into the traditional bikepacking experience, committing to learn the art and skills required to carry out a multi-day trip, all while relying on a light carry-on attached to their cycle,” said Sudhanshu Verma, athlete and bikepacking expert.
From up-close encounters with nature to taking up chores of firewood-gathering at a local homestay or wild camping, bikepacking is the ultimate realisation of how travel can look without instant gratification and commercialisation.
“People learn about the terrain, the wind patterns and what unfiltered nature and life look like in a destination away from the glamour of tourism,” says Nikhil Parnami, recreational travel expert and founder of Bikepacking India adding, “one such experience is bikepacking through Amer Fort’s backyard, a journey that begins from the Citadel of Maharajas and takes you through one of the rarest parts of the Amer town that tourism hasn’t touched.”
Tso Kar and Tso Moriri
At an altitude of 4530 meters in Ladakh, adventures here begin at the scenic edge of Tso Moriri lake before meandering through a plain stretch carved with winding routes. Soon, the trail opens up into one of the highest inhabited of the Changthang region of Ladakh before continuing to the Polokangla pass to reach Tso Kar lake, known for its salt crust and rare black-necked cranes amid a rocky outcropping where you can lean into the region’s rich cultural history.
Gangtok to Nathu La
Nestled among the Himalayan peaks, Natula presents itself as a regal mountain pass, spanning the Indo-China border and linking the Indian state of Sikkim to Tibet’s southern border in Yadong County. Located 56 kilometres east of Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital, and a staggering 430 kilometres from Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, the route from Gangtok to Nathula is a stunning journey at a height of 4,310 meters above sea level, with the terrain shifting from lush sub-tropical forests to the frigid alpine tundra, where yaks are a familiar sight and serve as beasts of burden in many hamlets.
The Nilgiri Hills
The Nilgiri Hills, a lofty region in the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu, India, rise abruptly from the encompassing plains to reach an elevation of approximately 6,000 to 8,000 feet. Among these peaks stands the majestic Doda Betta, soaring to a pinnacle of 8,652 feet, and reigning as the loftiest point in Tamil Nadu that you can reach by bikepacking. Furthermore, the hills enjoy a cooler and wetter climate than the neighbouring plains, with their upper reaches adorned by lush, rolling meadows.
Jaipur to Sariska National Park
As you spin through the switchbacks of the Aravalli Range, the historic city of Nayla looms in the distance. This tiny walled city has borne witness to over 400 years of history, a testament to the resilience of its people and culture. Continuing your journey, you’ll encounter the serene landscape of Ramgarh Lake, once host to the 1982 Asiad Games’ rowing event. Further ahead lies the ancient archaeological site of Bhangarh Fort and the final destination, Sariska National Park, which is spread across 800 square kilometres, housing the Garh-Rajor medieval temples.
What to keep in mind:
Check tire and suspension compatibility with terrain: The air in your tire and the suspension pressure should always increase proportionally to the weight you are carrying.
Maximise on water cages: Remember, you can never have too many water cages.
Don’t forget to pack backup batteries for your phones and GPS.
Don’t have a pro bikepacking bag for travel, a dry bag can do the trick by attaching it to your seat post.