Tuesday 20th Oct. 460km or so.
Up at 04:15am, departing the Hotel Rajdarbar in Siliguri for the last time, bound for Guwahati, 460km to the east. Guwahati is roughly halfway between Siliguri and Moreh, the Indian border town we need to be at in seven days time so we can cross into Tamu, Myanmar the following day, and whilst we had looked for an interim destination halfway or so between Siliguri and Guwahati to shorten the ride distance we couldn’t find any accommodation online, so the only real choice was to suck things up and go for the big day.
Our route took us north initially, retracing the start of our ride to Sikkim and passing through the military base on the outskirts of Siliguri before entering the forest. Rain started to fall at the edge of the town and the road surface glistened with wet oil – not an inviting look but at least the traffic was light in the early morning. We entered the forest section with Aad in the lead and Mike in front of us, and it was a surreal view to watch their bikes riding through the mist and drizzle as the sun rose up with an orange glow.
We picked up Highway 31 heading east, a roller coaster ride that bounced up and down and swerved around the river it followed, with monkeys sitting on the rock wall at the edge of the road. The road eventually straightened up and the trees gave way to tea plantations, blanketed in shrouds of morning mist. Tea pickers were walking along the road side on their way to work.
We pushed on for a hundred kilometres then stopped at a little village to have a drink and a bite. Karen and I had some bottled water with us and some biscuits wed bought a few days earlier so we munched on some of those, Aad and Mike bought some potato crisps and mango juice from a little shop. A recording of a girl singing or chanting was being broadcast over speakers attached to power poles along the main street we’d stopped on. It had taken us about two hours to get this far. Karen was cold in the early morning chill so she dug out her removable jacket panels and reattached those, and borrowed my old gloves to keep her hands warm as she still hasn’t been able to buy a new pair of gloves after losing a glove in Pakistan.
There was little traffic on the road as we continued east. We passed by one nature reserve that had a big statue of a rhino out the front, and a short while later entered a tiger reserve, but other than lazy cows munching on grass by the side of the road and goats wandering around we didn’t see any animals.
At some point the road doubled in lanes, from two to four, with a wide median strip running down the middle and used by the locals to graze their calves on, and it’s at this point the riding became quite nuts – or possibly just normal by Indian standards. The concrete road surface was broken up in many places, and often traffic was directed across a little track and onto the opposite side of the road, bypassing the more serious bits of broken road. Diverted traffic didn’t always return to its correct side after a detour was discontinued however, and often we had oncoming traffic on our side of the road, which was quite unnerving at times. Easily – about 10% of the oncoming traffic that passed us today was our side of the road, often in our lane, and you needed to be constantly on the lookout for these vehicles.
In some places no diversion had been created and we then had to start off-roading across the rocky and dusty remains of the old road. Potholes and water and mud all added to the excitement but at the same time these obstacles also kept our average speed down as we couldn’t settle into a steady pace for long without having to brake for another section of crappy road.
Around lunchtime we pulled alongside Mike and gestured to him that we needed a drink break, and he radioed to Aad ahead, who quickly pulled off the road and stopped at a little dharba he’d just spotted. We looked in the simple kitchen in the back and there was a small, old lady there cooking some vegetable dishes – potatoes and dahl- and roti, so we ordered four serves, and sat on the wooden-planked table-cum-daybed and eagerly ate our simple but tasty and filling lunch. As we mopped up the last of our dahl we saw Emiel and Claire drive by in their Landcruiser, but they didn’t stop. Our lunch stop was about 140km out of Guwahati, and was the last stop of our ride in.
We passed the turnoff to Manas National Park. Roshni, the young lady we had met at the Darjeerling Zoo a couple of days earlier had suggested that we visit this World Heritage-listed park if we had the time, but last night when we googled accommodation and entrance/activity fees at the park we were put off by the approx AU$450 it would have cost us for two nights accommodation plus a safari in a jeep, so we scrubbed this from our wish-list.
Turning south towards Guwahati the roadside started to show more signs of urban build-up, and then we were on a very long bridge crossing the Brahmaputra before entering the traffic chaos of our destination. I hadn’t put the coordinates of our hotel into the GPS so I was sticking to Mike like a magnet, and whilst that worked out well we managed to lose Aad at one stage as he’d got ahead of us, but then rode out of intercom-range with Mike and took a wrong turn. Mike and I returned to where we had last seen Aad, and about ten minutes later Aad showed up, which was great as he didn’t have the address of the hotel on him.
Arriving at the Hotel Prince B a few minutes later we found the staff there reneging on their permission to have us park our motorcycles inside the hotel lobby, and with a small crowd milling around the bikes where they were parked just off the street we remounted and headed to another hotel that offered proper secure parking. For an additional 1,000 INR a night ($20) it’s cheap insurance, and the rooms here at the Hotel Green Valley are nicer than Prince B, according to Aad.
After a long but successful day we were glad to shower, and then go down stairs for an early dinner of vegetable pakora and egg chow mien. Tomorrow the plan is to ride the 100km or so south to Shillong, and then spend a couple of evenings there before heading out to the border.
We’ve been in India for five weeks now and have seen some amazing things. With just one week left we’ll fit in some more sightseeing, and also about 500km – 1,000km more riding. Chatting with Aad, Mike and Emiel last night I think everyone is in the same frame of mind – we’re all ready to leave India, and the challenge is to finish what remains of our time in this country without any accidents. The driving here is absolutely manic. Either there are no road rules here, or no one gives a f@ck about them as they all drive like madmen, ignorant of the risks they present to themselves and others. Fingers crossed hey!!!