And it was a fine day on which I watched Madaari. Nishikant Kamat’s latest movie about the political circus in India. It builds up to a grand finish in which the Home Minister of Maharashtra spills the beans about corruption rackets. What does this have to do with travelling to Bhutan? Everything and nothing…
You see, when entire sections of what is arguably the most important highway in a state are riddled with pot holes the size of meteorite craters, you can’t help but be reminded of the culminating scene in the movie. The Home Minister figuratively slaps The People by saying that We are fools for believing the lies which politicians cook up. Such was the condition of the highway we used to travel from Kolkata to Bhutan. The infamous NH34 aka NH11.
The day began without much drama. We had managed to transport and prepare the bikes. Half an hour of riding and we had already lost our way. Apparently the following set of roads and bridges is somewhat newly constructed and the directions are dubious at best.
Looks are definitely deceiving. Twice we managed to get lost and on both occasions we were flustered. The only well marked direction post claims, rather ambitiously, that you are headed to Delhi. How about something a little more local? Like Malda for example? Maybe this is a cleverly disguised ruse to stop people from migrating to West Bengal. I don’t know o/
So we hit Grand Trunk road which is a butter smooth piece of tarmac. So much so that we began to feel drowsy. One of the triggers may have been the monotonous roar of the after market exhaust on the Classic 350 in front of me. There was none of the thundering rain which forecasts and relatives had warned us about, no exciting wheel wobbles, no masala except the myriad of honking tunes from buses going to Bihar. Our friend Abs decided to nap to stave off drowsiness.
We rode on slow and steady. Made our way through rural roads while the sun poured out its heart overhead. A quick pit stop for some dates and water. Dozens of diversions and pothole dodging manoeuvres later we found ourselves facing the dreaded Farakka-Malda stretch. Now for those of you who don’t fully understand the gravity of crossing the Farakka-Malda stretch, suffice to say that there are trucks, trucks and trailers and some more trucks, accompanied by a few hundred bikes ridden by the best stunt men of Bollywood, major markets, people and children and dogs, cows, goats, cats, rats … some more people, a few more trucks, a thousand more trailers, a dozen more bikes and for good measure throw in the meteorite crater potholes we spoke about earlier. Oh! Almost forgot … absolutely no rules none nada void N/A
Now you’ll have to excuse us but the immensity, the sheer jaw dropping nature of the traffic we encountered on this measly stretch of road drove our imaginations wild. We would never in our right minds stop and photograph such chaos for fear of being run over by a vehicle going the wrong way on a highway at twice the speed limit. If you’ve ever witnessed two ant colonies warring, you’ll be able to picture the scene no problemo. Our joy knew no bounds when this stretch of road was finally behind us. We quite literally hi-fived while riding our bikes, hit the rev-limiters and honked our heads off. Achievement unlocked !
We managed to find a decent hotel in Malda town. A good night’s sleep later we were up and about. Now the technicalities of Abs’s luggage mounting technique dictated that the operation could be carried out in no less than 30 minutes. At best it would take him 40 minutes to load up the bike in the searing heat of Malda. That meant 40 minutes of loitering about for me. Time in which I would chat up with the locals and practice my north-Indian accent. The day began with a bang when an air pressure gauge claimed that my (still cold) rear tire was at 45 psi! Nonsense. I imagine Mamata didi has invented invisible zeppelins to siphon air into unsuspecting tires. We rode on and encountered some smooth roads, a few diversions and then some buses whose axles were metres away from the buses themselves. Go figure!
Bhutan was the aim for the day and after clearing the rumble tumble traffic outside Malda, it was smooth going except for the occasional diversion.
A couple of hours into the ride and this happened
Spare bungee cords to the rescue and the day was saved. Not that the luggage was in any danger of falling thanks to the multiple redundancy tying technique (or the 40 minute preparation guarantee).
We were hoping to reach Bhutan that day but had to halt at Siliguri for the night. Calls were made, directions gleaned and before sundown we found ourselves riding to a friend’s house. Our arrival at Siliguri was unannounced and this family must have a golden heart to have accommodated us so suddenly and without question. We were served only the most delicious dinner ever complete with rasgullas, gulab jamus and mithais. The hospitality was heart warming. Shout out to Satya De for inviting us over!
Siliguri is a quaint little town situated in northern West Bengal. It is a major junction for people as well as goods being sent to north eastern India. It is situated near the foothills of the Himalayas. The quaintness seems to vanish the moment you step onto a major road in the city. Fanatical traffic erupts from every direction. SUVs and cycle rickshaws compete for superiority on choked up roads. The chaos is mesmerising. Awe struck by such sights, we picked up some supplies and Abs found a way around the iron-butt seat on his bike. More on that later
Stay posted! We enter Bhutan soon!