Day 9 – In the dark of the night
We awoke this morning to the coolness of a fresh sea breeze, coupled with lightening and the smell of imminent rain. A refreshing change from the subarctic air conditioning we’ve been sleeping in.
The restaurant waiter agreed to open the kitchen at 5.45am to serve us coffee before we hit the road. Like everything associated with checking in and out of an Indian hotel, this took longer than expected. Coffee is served white with way too much milk, way too much sugar and not much in the way of flavour. We requested it black with no sugar. The no sugar request almost always garners a baffled expression. Indians like their drinks sweet. The caffeine hit is a welcome start to prepare one for the 12 hours ahead on the chaotic, death trap that is the Indian roads.
Today we bid farewell to our friend, the ocean, and drove by the morning village activities. I will miss the ocean, it has bought us calm and reprieve at the end of long days on the road. It’s quite beautiful in the cool of the morning to watch the village wake. It begins slowly with fruit vendors displaying their wares and cyclists and rickshaw riders claim the roads before the onslaught of automated vehicles squeeze them out to the edges. I’ve painted a calm and tranquil picture and its true unless you happen across market day – the village traffic then becomes worse than the NH 5 as you find yourself squeezing between a rickshaw and an ox while trying not to stall as you navigate the crowds of people moving in all directions and vendors with their wares spilling onto the roadside. Essentially it’s like a mosh pit, you have to move with the flow of the mayhem. Too slow and you bring the organised chaos to a grinding halt, too quick and you’ll kill a cow or a villager – neither is a situation you will navigate your way out of in a hurry.
Today we found oranges and sourced a fresh stash of apples and bananas. Poor Uggi blew another spark plug and the bolt that holds the battery casing together went a miss. With no spare bolt, Chris cleverly secured it with a cable tie and we all headed off for the NH60, the NH5 ‘s poorer cousin.
One might be mistaken for thinking the NH60 had endured an earthquake. It has a large zig zagging crack right down the centre of the left lane, adding yet another layer of danger to the days journey. Uggi’s wheels are pretty small and the entire stability of the vehicle doesn’t take well to hitting that crack. In attempting to avoid it, you risk being wiped out by any number of vehicles overtaking on your left or right unannounced, not to mention the ones coming straight at you. Truck drivers in West Bengal are a little more polite, if they know you are trying to overtake, they’ll wave you through. Today Markus was kindly waved through by a truck driver directly into an oncoming bus, yeh! thanks for that.
If we were playing a computer game, and it feels like we are – then today we’ve advanced a level. Markus’ unwavering Indian calm went out the window. With a few expletives and some serious honking, we endured an onslaught of trucks hurtling toward us with their high pitched screechy horns blasting, for a good few hours. I think the Indian roads could well be used as an interrogation tactic. The prisoner will be driven around India until he relents.
Seeking reprieve, we decided a lunch break was in order. Chris in the lead Tuk Tuk guided us into a roadside restaurant that had a bakery and supermarket, the only western style shops we have come across in all our travels. It was pure bliss as they had refrigerated chocolate and the supermarket was air-conditioned. Thank you Temp Store.
We had a lot of discussion last night about the route we should take and ended up agreeing to skirt the edges of Kolkatta. What we hadn’t counted on was Tuk Tuks not being permitted on the NH6 Toll. Despite language barriers, this was made abundantly clear as 7 uniformed toll guards advanced toward us, shaking their heads and saying ‘No Auto’. Alrighty then, 7 of you are in agreement about this, so I guess there’s no room to move. I am dismayed that rules such as this are so strongly enforced, yet infringements such as speed and travelling in the wrong direction down a national highway don’t get a bat of an eyelid form the authorities. In fact, the only vehicle I’ve seen travelling faster than a bus is a police vehicle, and I can positively assure you, without a glimmer of a doubt that they weren’t chasing a motorist.
So, we are at the Toll Booth with 2 lanes of traffic advancing in a single direction towards us and the toll booth guards are pointing to a road on our left, running parallel below us. Great we have another option, but how do we get to that road? Oh yes of coarse we turn around, advance into oncoming traffic and back track 500 metres to the exit ramp. The funny thing was that none of us batted an eyelid at this suggestion, and off we went happily into oncoming traffic. We’d barely made it a kilometre on our new road when the police signalled with a very stern finger and expression for us to pull over. You’re kidding me right, with all the life threatening mania going down on these roads, you want to apprehend 3 foreigners in a Tuk Tuk for a licence check? A silly waste of everyone’s time.
Shortly onwards we hit the NH 34, which Adam has aptly named ‘National holeway 34’. This highway has potholes that look like meteorites have been pummelled into the road. Markus and Chris navigated this section of road and I don’t envy them, it was a tough stretch. Literally pothole after pothole, the size of 2 truck tyres. I’d hate to be on this road in wet conditions, how you’d navigate potholes filled with water is anyone’s guess. We were later than expected and had taken about 12 hours to do 375km and daylight was beginning to die, a bit like our car lights. Adam and I, passengers in the back, enquired as to whether Markus had the head lights on, ‘Yep’ the big German replied, “It just has to get darker to see them”. We weren’t seeing any light and with trucks and buses hurtling at us en masse I insisted we pull over and review the situation. I’m fine signing up to drive a Tuk Tuk across India, I’m even OK getting my motorbike license to do so, but driving with these mentally deranged motorists in a Tuk Tuk at night with no lights is one step further than I’m prepared to take it. It was Chris to the rescue again quickly using gaffa to secure a spare light he’d brought from home, and onwards we went in the dark of the night with only faith to guide us. We had light, but now our horn didn’t work. There’s one thing you don’t want to lose in India and that’s your horn. We had to decide horn or light – we went with light.
We arrived safely at Hotel Haveli a little after 7.00pm to find a bar and Chivers Regal whiskey. Well Hello India, somebody drinks. We had a great night with Carol enjoying Pina Colada’s and I the Chivers. These are the rewards for surviving yet another day.