Monday 19th October. 80km.
The plan today was to take the scenic road – SH12 through Mirik – back to Siliguri. This is the road that Aad & Mike and Emiel & Claire had taken up to Darjeeling a couple of days earlier, whilst Karen and I had taken the main road – NH110 – up from Siliguri.
Our alarm was set for 06:30am, but we were awoken at 05:30am by the sound of singing and music outside. I went out onto the balcony and saw a street march below – maybe a hundred ladies walking up the road, accompanied by some men playing tambourines. The informal marching group came up the road, turned around almost directly beneath us and then walked down the road again, continuing their sing-song chant.
Looking up I could see the snow-capped peaks of the mountains in the distance, blazing orange in the first rays of the rising sun. The view was magical.
With our bike parked next door at the Phay Soul Hotel, Karen and I packed our gear and then went downstairs to a lacklustre breakfast of salad sandwiches and instant coffee before we went to fetch the bike. The track from the Phay Soul down to the main road below – Hill Cart Road – was very steep and slippery in the muddy section just before it crossed the narrow gauge railway, and a monk walking down the track behind me grabbed the top box rail and helped steady the bike as I negotiated the slippery railway tracks.
Loading the bike out the front of the Hotel Bloomfield proved to be another challenge, as the bike was almost vertical, threatening to topple over as the hotel staff raced each other to help load the soft bags and other gear. It took longer to load with their help then it usually takes Karen and myself alone, but they were pleased with their contribution, and they gave us a big wave as we rode away into the early morning traffic.
A few km south we turned off the main road and started our descent towards Mirik. There was some light traffic in the urbanised area, but when the houses fell away and we entered the forest we had the twisty road to ourselves. Aad and Mike had picked us up just before we peeled off towards Mirik, and we followed them along the misty mountain ridge.
The road was a riders delight, passing through forested areas, tea plantations and quaint little villages festooned with colourfully-painted houses. The road itself was sealed, and full of twists and turns and enough hairpin bends to keep us on our toes. The early morning mist had cleared and we were treated to some beautiful views of the valleys below and the distant mountains.
Mid-morning Karen and I stopped at a little tea shop to sample some local tea, but a jeep full of 8 or 10 guys pulled up as well just a minute or so later and they all started jostling around the bike with their selfie-snapping cameras, and as we just wanted some peace and quiet we just climbed back on the bike and rode away.
We rode through Mirik and continued the scenic descent down the mountain. We passed by some tea pickers hard at work and I stopped the bike so Karen could get some photos.
We arrived back in Siliguri, back at the Hotel Rajdarbar, about midday, ahead of Aad and Mike – which surprised both us and them as they were ahead of us on the road and we hadn’t passed them, but when we saw them almost an hour later we figured out that in Mirik we’d taken a different turn through the town, and so had managed to slip ahead of them.
We unloaded the bike and as we sat with Aad & Mike in the restaurant discussing the ride down the hill Emiel and Claire arrived in their Landcruiser. Emiel was almost boiling – pushed to the edge by the stupid drivers he’d encountered on the road – whilst it’s probably more dangerous riding a motorcycle than driving a big 4×4 here in India at least on the bike we are more nimble and can squeeze through gaps to get ahead in heavy traffic.
It has taken us about three hours to ride 80km, but today has been the most scenic and enjoyable riding in India I’ve experienced on this ride. Thumbs up for the scenic road from Darjeeling to Siliguri!