Trail of the unexpected: Cycling in Delhi

A cycling tour in the Indian capital throws up some peculiar challenges, as Nick Boulos discovers

The correct way to go round a roundabout? Ask many of Delhi's motorists and the answer is simple: "any way". Braving an onslaught of oncoming scooters and auto-rickshaws with only my bicycle's bell for defence, I pondered my choice of morning activity.

On the face of it, the Indian capital is a bike-friendly place. The terrain is largely flat with miles of cycling lanes. Despite this, few tourists are foolish enough to tackle the chaotic roads, at least at first, without a seasoned pro by their side.

A guided biking tour organised by resident Dutchman Jack Leenaars offers the solution. He launched the tours in 2009 to explore the city's sights and hidden corners.

And one part of Delhi can now be tackled at speed as well. This weekend marks the first time the Formula 1 tour has visited the city's Buddh International circuit. As an example of India's full-throttle drive to modernisation, it's hard to beat.

In the 17th century, Old Delhi was known as Shahjahanabad, a walled city named after Shah Jahan, the fifth and mightiest of the Mughal rulers. His 30-year reign is considered the golden age of the Mughals. He created some of India's iconic monuments, notably the Taj Mahal. I was set to see some more.

The seven-mile bike tours begin early in the day to avoid the worst of the city's heat and traffic. As we set off, my guide Shashank revealed the cardinal rules of cycling in Delhi. "Always use your bell and always give way to vehicles," he said. "And cows."

Crows circled above us as we departed from the Delite cinema, posters of vivacious Bollywood stars bursting from its faded white façade. We veered into Chawri Bazaar, a hardware market and wild scene of honking vans, rickety cars and dazed cattle jostling for space and supremacy. I negotiated my way across, as though caught in the eye of a storm. An auto-rickshaw careered around a corner heading towards me. I braked sharply, but the driver swerved nonchalantly before carrying on without so much as a backward glance in his cracked wing mirror.

Shashank led us to an alleyway, where a crowd of people, dogs and goats were now joined by a succession of tourists on bright orange bicycles. Electricity cables dangled perilously low overhead. Bollywood love songs played on crackling radios, while smiling children skipped to school. The alley narrowed and twisted past shops of sparkling saris and shrines to the Hindu God of Ganesh.

We alighted outside the Gadodia warehouse and ventured up the steep staircase at the back of its dark interior. On the roof, Delhi spread out towards the horizon. Bonnet macaque monkeys somersaulted across the rooftops to the cries of market vendors.

And then rush-hour hit us. We were soon stuck in a grid-locked street of shouting drivers with horns blaring. Poised between a rusty rickshaw and an ox with sad eyes, I turned to find a brazen individual trying to hitch a ride on the back of my bike. As I was going nowhere fast, he thought better of it and vanished into the crowd with a wink.

The roads emptied as we travelled north through the Civil Lines district, where the British settled in the 1850s. We cycled along wide, leafy streets, lined with whitewashed buildings before turning right on Maharaja Lane. Time for chai.

In the shade of a peepal tree, I savoured the quiet as much as the sweet brew. But the tranquillity was not to last. We set off again, bound for Chandni Chowk, Delhi's most frenzied thoroughfare on the eastern end of which the formidable Red Fort stands proudly.

Ahead, a heaving group of people chanted and waved their hands in the air. A protest, I presumed. Drawing closer, I realised it was a funeral procession. The deceased, wrapped in white robes, carried on a bamboo stretcher and showered with crimson rose petals, was en route to the holy Yamuna River for cremation.

I had come to realise that everyone here knew their place on the road. Somehow, it all worked. I still felt vulnerable, but the journey was now exhilarating rather than terrifying.

Jama Masjid, India's biggest mosque, appeared through a cloud of smoke with its unmistakable dome and slender minarets. During Shah Jahan's rule, the great leader arrived for Friday prayers each week in flamboyant style with a procession of elephants. I wonder how he would have fared on a two-wheeler.

Travel essentials Delhi

Getting there

* The author travelled with Travelbag (0871 703 4240;, which offers return flights to Delhi from Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic and three nights at the Taj Mahal Hotel from £1,219 per person.

* Delhi is also served from Heathrow by Air India, BA, Jet Airways and Kingfisher.

Cycling there

* Guided tours with Delhi By Cycle (00 91 11 4661 2428; cost from Rs1,450 (£18).

More information

* India Tourist Board: 020-7437 3677;

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

    Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

    Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
    General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

    All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

    The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
    How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

    How Etsy became a crafty little earner

    The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
    Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

    King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

    Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

    The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
    Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

    Don't fear the artichoke

    Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
    11 best men's socks

    11 best men's socks

    Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
    Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

    Paul Scholes column

    Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
    Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
    London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

    Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

    Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

    Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
    Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

    Khorasan is back in Syria

    America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
    General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

    On the campaign trail with Ukip

    Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
    Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

    Expect a rush on men's tights

    Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
    Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

    In the driving seat: Peter Kay

    Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road