Day 10 cycling: Bolpur/ Shantiniketan - Berhampore
DST = 112km; RTM = 6hrs 29m; ODO = 837km; AVS = 17.1km/hr; cadence = 76; MAX =27 km/hr
Day 11 cycling: Berhampore - Lalbag/Hazarduari
DST = 15.6km; RTM = 1hrs 1m; ODO = 853km; AVS = 15.1km/hr; cadence = 70; MAX =27 km/hr
Day 12 cycling: Lalbag/Hazarduari - Farakka
DST = 98km; RTM = 5hrs 52m; ODO = 951km; AVS = 16.6km/hr; cadence = 69; MAX =81.2 km/hr (hmm... maybe an error)
Day 13 cycling: (a) Farakka - Malda
DST = 34.5km; RTM = 2hrs 3m; ODO = 986km; AVS = 16.5km/hr; cadence = 66; MAX =24 km/hr
(b) Malda - GAUR - Malda
DST = 39km; RTM = 2hrs 54m; ODO = 1025km; AVS = 13.5km/hr; cadence = 61; MAX =23.2 km/hr
Day 14: BUS from Malda to Siliguri ...
I'm now in Siliguri, having done some arithmetic & figuring out that I'd never make it to Darjeeling with the time I had left. I did consider hanging around Hazarduari & Malda a bit longer as there were interesting sights that I didn't get to see at both places, but then I thought I'd go for it, catch a bus & hopefully get back to Calcutta in time. It's building up to Holi, where people throw coloured water & coloured powder over each other & presumably over stray tourists. I don't relish the prospect given my limited repertoire of clothing. The six hour bus trip (cost for me & bike: Rs240) here was fine - I prefer it to the train as I know where the bike is (on the roof), although it's a lot less comfortable. I was lucky, as I got to the bus depot at 5am & got the front single seat, not that it mattered all that much as, surprisingly, it wasn't overly crowded. I felt like a bit of a turncoat, quisling, heretic ... whatever, travelling on a bus, given that they're such mongrels when you're on your bicycle & in their way.(Uh oh! .. there's powder flying around outside this cafe - no water thankfully)
I've been out of internet contact for several days; in Malda, the story was "no connectivity" when I enquired at the local internet place.
So, I left Shantiniketan for Berhampore on Wednesday morning. Finding the road out of town to Kirnahar was surprisingly easy, given the total lack of roadsigns (I didn't see one until the 74km mark) & my lack of a decent road map [memo to me: get a state road map next time]. The help of locals, as well as some of Bill Weir's notes, were pretty good though. The road was quite good for the first 50km or so, having been resurfaced in many places, and was nicely shaded at times by judiciously planted trees. There seemed to be kids hanging about everywhere, as has been the case through most of the trip. It's possible they're on holidays but I think it more likely that they just don't go to school. If you should happen to cycle this way, bring plenty of water as it's not easy to procure on the way - no Coke or Pepsi stops unfortunately. I took a wrong turning at the end (I went north instead of south) but eventually ended up at the Hotel Samrat after doing about 10km more than was necessary. The attached restaurant was quite good, although extremely dim as you sometimes find in India - to stop too close an examination of the food perhaps? The hotel itself however seemed a long way from the guide book's glowing comments of "excellent value ... fresh brightly painted rooms ... helpful staff ...". It was OK.
From Berhampore I headed toward Lalbag & Harzaduari - a short 16km ride. Unfortunately, Hotel Manjusha, where I'd hoped to stay, was full-up with several busloads of Indian tourists. I cycled back a little & found the Sri Durga Lodge. It wasn't very promising at first - no-one else was staying there, and it didn't seem anyone had for a while - they seemed surprised to have a guest. There was no ceiling fan but the supplied electric mossie repeller did the trick. The owner spoke with a very loud & clear voice, as though I was a bit of a simpleton; I later discovered he was a primary school teacher. He was a nice guy, and introduced his 22 year-old son to me, explaining, when I told him I was a psychologist (he asked), that his son was "crazy", making the universal symbol of this - circular movements of his figure next to his head - and telling me that he slept poorly & ate little. Later, while taking a farewell cup of tea with the family, his mother looked askance at her son & made the same circular motion to indicate she also thought he was crazy. Poor kid.
I ate my meals a kilometer or so away at the Hotel Indrajit, near the railway station. I really liked Hazarduari - one of the most pleasant towns I've stopped in to date. It was low key, relaxed, not very crowded at all. And the sights - including the impressive Hazarduari palace/museum, the Great Imambara, the new palace, and a number of other interesting buildings dotted around the countryside - were worth seeing. No westerners were to be seen but there were quite a few Indian tourists in town.
On Friday, after a good breakfast at Hotel Indrajit I headed off into the unknown, through the town of Jianganj, Lalgola & eventually highway 11 to Jangipur. I've noticed that my patience starts to wear thin after about 80km; what was charming in the morning (eg motorcyclists slowing down to my pace to peer & then have a chat) often feels very annoying by the afternoon. As always, India tests one's equanimity - the challenge is to maintain it [memo to self: keep cool Dave].
I've become quite interested in how different areas process their cow shit. They're often shaped into discs, which can vary from being the size of dinner plates to the size (and appearance) of Anzac biscuits. Around here, I've noticed that they're attached to sticks - like huge shish kebabs (or shit kebabs I suppose).
And so to the collision with a motorcyclist at Lalgola: he sped out from the left hand side of the road to cross it & head in the direction opposite to me. There was some hesitation on both our parts as to which side he should pass on. In the event, his bike swiped the side of mine, ripping the pannier off & hurling it into the middle of the road. It also swiped my little toe - for a second I actually thought it had been ripped off (and, oddly, I had the fleeting thought that ... well, I could get by, missing a toe...). Two very helpful fellows rushed to my aid, picked up the damaged pannier, found some rope & bound the pannier to the rack. Needless to say, a rather large crowd also gathered. The two Samaritans asked me to come with them, into a nearby paddock, under some trees - it was on my way - so their friends could see me. I was happy to oblige, give their help. Again a crowd developed - at least 30 or more young men (and 4 women) - and they began plying me with questions. The crowd clapped & cheered when I said that Sachin Tendulkar was my favourite cricketer. One fellow even asked me for my autograph (uncharitably, I wondered if perhaps I'd dropped one of my traveller cheques). Later, I discovered, amazingly, that my laptop/netbook which had been inside the airborne pannier was undamaged & my toe was swollen & red but intact.
The NH34 was a 2-laned highway only - one in each direction - meaning that much of the journey involved ducking onto the gravel shoulder to let trucks & buses - coming in both directions - pass. The most dangerous sight is that of a convoy of trucks heading toward you - one or more will always break formation and swing out in front of you. The message is: you have no right to the road, and it's your responsibility to get out of the way.
I arrived in Farakka feeling ... well, pretty farakked, having just zig-zagged my way through a MASSIVE traffic jam, several kilometres long. No idea what the problem was, and I noticed that even the nearby train was stopped, with passengers sitting on the tracks, waiting. I checked into a small place on the highway - Hote Asha (Rs 300 for a room). It wasn't too bad, although no hot water, and during the night (at 1:45 am) there was a loud, insistent, prolonged - & hence slightly alarming - knocking on my door. It was the man from the next room, clearly pissed, wanting me to come & have a drink with him & his mates! I told him to shove off.
From Farakka I cycled to Malda, checking in to Hotel Kalinga, a 2 star hotel on NH34. Happily, the makeshift repairs to my pannier (involving cloth tape & super glue) were successful. Once there, I decided to see the sights of Gaur - 2 stone pillars, Chamkati, Tantipara & Lottan mosques (1400's), Qadam Rasul mosque (with a footprint of Mohammad in it), tomb of Fath Khan (1707) and a few other places. Again, no other western tourists & just a handful of Indian ones. Again, crowds gathered when I stopped. The road was so crappy - probably the bumpiest, stoniest I've ever encountered - that I became quite irritable & snarled at a fellow at Chamkati mosque for following me wherever I went. Dave: equanimity! The road was shocking & there were hints along the way of roadworks to come. The Men at Work sign was perhaps a little too optimistic.
So now I'm at Siliguri, staying at the very basic Conclave Lodge (Rs300, with shared bathroom), sitting in the internet cafe where I can hear someone outside, very pissed, throwing up & making lots of noise - getting into the Holi spirit I guess. I've been advised to stay indoors tomorrow - but I had planned on cycling in the direction of Darjeeling ...