On a memorable road trip
Day 3 : We woke up early by 5:30 AM, fully recharged then we made an interesting discovery for ourselves, the place we spend the night was the final resting place of Buddha, Kushinagar. All the resorts and hotels primarily catered for the pilgrims, mostly were foreigners. We had to approach the Hotel again to use their wash rooms that’s when we met the manager, he was pretty apologetic when he figured out that we spend the night in the vehicle. He was more than obliged to let us use his room and not willing to charge for it, in our exit we did manage to have him a charge for the service.
We were back on the road by 6 AM, intended to stop for breakfast by 8 AM. As soon we entered Bihar the road conditions started to deteriorate. It was blessing in disguise for us not continuing the previous night. As we were driving by the broken patch we noticed at a distance a group of boys wielding bamboos sticks and logs were trying to stop vehicles. The vehicle in front of us without heeding the group just drove past by, it took us sometime to realise what was happening , then our instincts was to do exactly what the vehicle in front of us did. The Vehicle in front of us zoomed off while we were trying to figure out what just happened - it was an attempt to rob us. We were very weary of the road by now , being alerted by just a sight of people at distance. That drive through the patch was straining. After around 15 kms of the encounter we got a sight of similar group of people but this time they managed to stop a vehicle unfortunately it was our guiding vehicle. The 5-6 boys were trying to break into the car - we can only imagine the plights of the poor passengers. We noticed the boys made an attempt to stop us , by coming right in front of us - wielding their logs and bamboos. Being alert paid us, we were at a high momentum and completely averted them by going off the road. One of them ran towards us and only could manage to hit our car’s Bull guard. We raced off, at the commotion we realized our guiding vehicle could also manage to escape and manage to catch up with us. From thereon it was kind of symbiotic relationship that we formed, covering for each other throughout, though not a word spoken or gesture made but we knew that we are covering for each other. We came across similar groups twice but they were not as aggressive as the last encounter and we manage to slip pass from them – mastered the trick by then.
Later after crossing Gopalganj the road started to improve, we kept on driving and we were not comfortable to stop for breakfast. The change in the landscape was prominent, more thatch and muds, lot of weeds growth along the road. It was usual sight for locals using the designated area for the divider to answer nature’s call, that area play an important role to the local’s lives and they made good use of it – recreation area, grazing their livestock, Paddy storage etc. you just name it! This new experience had started to wear out the unpleasant experience that we just had , by 10:30 AM we reached the first toll of the day; that spot looked safe for us to stop and cook breakfast. This time we choose to cook inside the car , ready to take off given an unpleasant situation. We successfully made a lovely brunch, we call it hunter’s meal – Sardine, Egg Scamble and corn chips! With some ginger tea. Being comfortable with the surrounding we prepared some more tea for the road and managed to clean up our dishes with our backup water.
With our bellies full we were off on the road again. The “utility area” aka the divider made us feel very weary, because people would just bolt out without heeding the traffic. There were countless livestock left to graze there and the road kills were numerous too, it become a very usual sight. We drove very cautiously maintained a distance from the divider to avoid a situation. We made another stop after crossing River Gandak, the river surrounded by huge dykes and the sight of the wet lands was just amazing. We couldn’t resisting the urge of stopping there, sipping our tea we were just admiring the wetlands the variety of birds that inhabited it, as far as we could see there were no human inhabitation along the dyke.
We reached Punia by 1 pm, stopped for tea again , right at the junction where NH27 takes a diversion left to Siliguri. This time we opted to buy tea from a dhaba, it was by far the best tea we tasted in our entire trip since we started from Mumbai, we liked it so much that we took some for the road too. A couple of kms from the Dhaba, our worst fear came true and despite being so careful, a lamb got run over by our car. The sight kept on playing in our heads , we couldn’t get over it, there was very little we could have done and had strong urge to stop but the dynamics of that area is known to be hostile and hence we opted to continue on.
We came across endless open paddy fields and we started enjoying the journey once again. We entered West Bengal by 3 and by 5 pm we were passing through a narrowest region of India also known as “the chicken neck” of India. Demographically it appeared to be most diverse society, a very interesting mix of Aryans, Dravidians and Mongoloits feautures.
Both in Bihar as well as in West Bengal we notice the Idols in Kali Puja Pandals had a fair complexion, a complete contrast to what we have known Goddess Kali who is of tenth complexion, we kept wondering. By 5:15 PM it was already getting dark and clubbed with the narrow road with mostly broken patches had really slowed us down. The entire route was very busy overtaking needed extra nerve, only few who dared would aggressively overtake. With our adrenaline in high , we did attempt but weren’t as successful as others, we ended up blocking the incoming traffic. It was quite an embarrassing situation, swallowing our pride somehow managed to catch the left lane back. The road was tricky too and zig-zagged and couple of diversions very difficult to make out where we were heading. By 7:00 PM we reached Jalphaiguri and pulled over in a narrow patch to switch drivers, the route earlier was strenuous required a lot of patience, with a fresh drive on the wheel the speed picked.
Throughout the road after Siliguri there was a jubilant celebration, bursting crackers right in the Highway that further slowed the traffic down, at times massive traffic Jam. At certain spots entire road was block out and the traffic diverted to a narrower road. This happened in Dhupuri City because of which we lost our track, we were unable to stick to NH27 because a Kali puja pandal was established right in the middle of the road, there was a massive crowd with festivity in the air and crazy bumper to bumper traffic. There was no indication and could not stop to enquire either, instead of driving towards east we kept on driving towards north. The only option we got was to stop until we were out of the city , which was around 15 kms. It was absolutely pitch dark and we could hardly see the landscape, it was a pretty uneasy moment for us primarily because by then the morning unpleasant experience was refreshed in our minds. Google did suggested couple of routes but in the dark didn’t have the heart to follow, the best bet was to stop and enquire with the truckers and figure out a way to connect back to NH27.
Surprisingly entire traffic Vanished, officially we lost our way, could attempt to turn back but didn’t want to get sucked up the bumper to bumper traffic again. We kept on driving north until we spotted a driver with his truck parked , so we took the driver's advised and he suggest us to continue north and take the diversion towards left also a caution came along that we should avoid the route through the forest. We followed the route as suggested but somehow we bungled up again we missed a turn and proceed headed in NH317 which we were asked to avoid. So long the road was clear that didn’t bother us , there was rarely any vehicles seen even if we spotted one, it would be imported Toyota trucks with red number plates - bhutan border was close by. Return was no option , an ego which did not want to be bruised so we kept on driving because NH317 too connected back to NH27 but it cost us additional 150 kms approximately.
The Entire route in NH317 was a great thrill lone road with lot of broken patch and under construction bridges and absolutely pitch dark. We could only imagine the landscape by referring the maps. The route took us through Buxa wild life Sanctuary, there were signs of cautioning of Wild Elephants at a regular intervals. That’s when real fear gripped us, it was a thrill to experience. We only were wishing for another vehicle accompanying us through this lonely patch. It so happened our wishes were granted, a bus with AR registration just glided pass us, was a moment of joy after seeing a fellow northeastern in the route. The bus driver knew the route from the back of his head, well maneuvered the route avoiding all the potholes. We glued ourselves to the path followed by the bus. We finally caught NH27 just before crossing river Ghadhar, this route NH317 was in fact a blessing in-disguise because we could avoid lot of cities and the traffic.
We proceeded ahead with a decent speed, we were very happy to be back in NH27 again where it had restored its pride, the road was of four lane with divider. But the happiness was short-lived after reaching a toll plaza we realized a major tragedy has befitted us, one of our cash pouch that sponsored the entire trip was missing from the car. It contained identity, Driver’s license, Car RC, Debit/credit and many other possible valuables, we somehow managed to pay the toll with the change that was being collected in the dashboard throughout the journey. We scanned through the entire vehicle with every possible spots and gaps around the seat but no luck. Finally concluded that must have fallen off while switching drivers in Jalphaiguri. It wasn’t an easy feeling to overcome and way forward to be determined. Firstly deactivated all the cards by calling the banks - a tedious process indeed, thereafter determined the cash in hand.
We were disheartened but our spirit were still high we were close to home. By 11:30 PM we reached the Assam - West Bengal border, we had to cross two check one in each side of a bridge, it felt like we were crossing a high security international border. In the Assam side we were stopped, the car was thoroughly checked and interrogated. The Para military guards took to fascination after noticing the internal modification, they were keen to know more but they had duty to perform. After recharging greeting we left the check post. Just then we realized that both of us had a driving license in original to produce. One of the License was lost today and other before the journey 7 days ago in Shillong, there was a FIR copy to support the incident.
The road ahead started to incline was obvious it was steep climb but could barely make out in the dark. In Gossaigoan the road condition ahead miserably deteriorated, we were literally driving at speed of 20 kms/hr, and the potholes were massive felt as if there was an air-strike. Almost every bridge we crossed there had a caution board mentioning the bridge was weak. At certain spots the road was so uneven that car like Scorpio underneath was getting scrapped. Surprisingly the carrier trucks took the same road, by far this was worst patch in our entire journey. When the road started to improve we were pretty unconfident to speed up not knowing what is ahead.
By 1 AM we were entering Kokrajhar, the area has a reputation of its recent ethnic turbulence. Those thoughts started to tickle our minds and dreaded for another Tragedy. When such thoughts were strong in mind, far away at a distance in the dark we saw lot of lights flicker. As we neared the lights we realized they were men having assault rifles strapped at their backs wanted us to stop. It was a great respite to us when we realize they were Assam Police. Realizing that they were police we immediately lowered the headlight beam so that they can see us. And As per protocol we slowly pulled over to the left, being fully aware that any abrupt movement would result in mistaken identity in resulting the Police to immediately fire. At first they interacted in Hindi and in responding to them Assamese changed the dynamics they cops addressed us with respect after enquiring they let us go. They too were filled with curiosity about our journey. The best part was they apologized for the inconvenience.
The crossing the outpost just in another 10-20 kms we went through the same process. We went through 7 such checking. We realized that each checking would rob us around 10-15 mins for our journey time. By 2 AM we made to Bogaigaon our energy was going low in the entire commotion of loosing our way, lost wallet, road kill we missed our dinner. We had to recharge ourselves and contemplate the way forward without getting further stalled. After crossing Bogaigoan town we pulled over in a Dhaba located in a junction just before the Bridge crossing Manas River. The Dhaba was almost closing, the owner there was very welcoming and warm. We ordered for tea only there no scope of dinner and so we didn’t mention. The host was very keen to hear about our great journey, he was well informed too, he clearly described the goons in Bihar Highway, as per him it’s a trend to rob. By then we our energy levels already diminishing we made up our minds to sleep for the night. We were treated like family the host offered us beds to sleep and promised that would wake us up. We settled in our car itself post convincing the host.
Day 4: Next morning we got up at 6 am , we were still exhausted with body ace but the excitement of nearing Shillong made us motivated . So we took little time to freshen up and by 6:30 am with were off again. By 10:30 am we reached Guwahati and by the time we reached Khanapara it started to rain, for the first time in our journey we let our window glasses down to feel the fresh air and feel the droplet in our faces. We could almost feel and taste the fresh air of Shillong. By 12:30 pm we had reach Umiam and we felt that we were already home. We could not resist to stop for some Jadoh and Doh khleh. And by 2 pm we were back home in Shillong. It was a moment of jubilation and Triumph and dream that was lingering in our minds had finally succeeded. This journey is not the end but just the beginning once at home there are more journeys to be planned and fulfilled.