Day 12 – Siliguri – Bongaigeon (292km)

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Day 12 – 4WD Day

There are some magical places that fill your soul with joy and elation, it’s such a powerful feeling it manifests itself physically and emotionally. The urgency with which this feeling rushes through you can only be described as spiritual.

That’s precisely how I felt this morning as we left the dusty roads of Siliguri behind and skirted our way through the foothills of the Himalayas. The winding roads and lush green forest guiding our way.

We stopped at a dry river bed to take in the glimpses of this beautiful mountain range. A herd of cattle emerged being guided through the rocky terrain. Children stopped intrigued by us. It was still early and I must say a magnificent start to the day.

We crossed many bridges with river beds exposed, still and lifeless, it’s the dry season. This brought back childhood memories, in my primary school years I spent a number of years pondering 3 things:

1. Did you really die if you hit the bottom after jumping in a dream?

2. What was a ‘Wing wong for a gooses bridle’?

Whenever we asked my father what something was that he didn’t want to explain, this was his answer. The fact that it is etched in my mind means he was either very lazy or we were asking some difficult questions.

3. What would be at the bottom of the ocean if it emptied, who would get all the treasures?

I loved playing marbles and I once dreamt that the ocean had in fact emptied and it ‘s floor was sprinkled with stonkers and cats eyes.

We’ve hit military territory with several army training bases. We saw much of the morning activities of the Indian services with men training in the exercise yard and heavy trucks leaving the base. The first base was signed “Indian Army, no better friend, no worse enemy”. The second base was signed “Ghurka – Blood and Guts”. Ironic that one of the most beautiful and tranquil places on earth is home to the place that trains men to kill.

We don’t often get breakfast at the hotel, as 5.30am is just too early for the kitchens. However, the Apollo Hotel had a 24 hour kitchen and no issue in preparing toast and coffee. I miss toast, haven’t had it for weeks. Our daytime food consists of whatever fruit and snacks we can source from roadside vendors.

Our first stop was a small village where Markus recharged his prepaid phone. The people were beautiful and friendly and one man thought Chris looked like Max Walker. It’s funny, the villagers all seem to refer to the old school cricketers such as Max Walker, Alan Border and even Sir Donald. I’ve heard Ricky Ponting mentioned twice and Shane Warne only once. Poor old Shane’s more famous for his sexscapades and shagging Liz.

After 120km’s of smooth sailing the road turned into a sludgy mix of mud, rock and potholes. Uggi got her first taste of 4WDing. Unsealed road for kilometres on end in a Tuk Tuk takes some mental strength and really isn’t that much fun, as pothole after pothole slows you to a snails pace. In my opinion, it’s easier to take as the driver rather than the passenger, as concentration commands your attention. As the passenger, all I can think is ‘When is this going to end?’

The landscape and people change again and it barely feels like the India one imagines. We are most certainly in the north. Roadside shops pop up crafting furniture and pots. This region is what I call “Rich/Poor”. Rich in spirit and pride. There is no wealth as we know it, but people are well groomed and have a sense of pride about themselves. Their eyes have a knowingness to them. They command respect. Everything feels richer when the dusty roadside is replaced with grass, the lush forest creeps up to the road and the traffic thins. There is no stench of rubbish littering the roadside and the mud brick houses sit perfectly with no extraneous bits of material needed to keep them standing. Elephants rest peacefully in the fields. I think we are passing through Utopia, a short and welcome reprieve from the chaos.

I was about to launch into a poetic description of these beautiful hay houses that have started to appear and consulted Adam on matters of materiality when he burst into laughter (the kind that says you stupid woman) and informs me they are haystacks not houses. Well I tell you they are darn big haystacks. On my fantastical journey, they will remain houses. I’m migrating the pink cows to live in this region and I’m bringing the Oompa Loompa’s here to retire.

Uggi broke down again, of course in one of the most remote areas we have passed through, she liked it so much she wanted to stay a bit longer. Markus and Adam inspected the usual suspect – the spark plug, but thought it looked ok. Chris checked the petrol filter, pulled the carby apart, checked the air filter and to cover all bets, changed the spark plug. Another fabulous fix from Chris Patterson and we’re off again.

A short way onwards, in search of fuel, a lovely man offered to grease the nipples on Uggi and half a tribe’s front suspension. A godsend really given the roads ahead. An unsolicited random act of kindness from another beautiful Indian.

We are now travelling on the NH 31C
Which has great stretches of good road in parts and then deteriorates into a 4WD lovers dream and a Tuk Tuk’s nightmare.

On another bad stretch of road we came across a village festival in full swing. People dressed in beautiful, bright garments, colourful tents erected and the lively sounds of spruikers and music emanating from the tented enclosure. The roadside was littered with food vendors and people making their way to and from the festival.

In these parts, and probably for the past 4 days, it’s not uncommon to see small minivans transporting people. Every possible inch of the vehicles exterior, including the roof, has someone hanging from it. It’s a sight to behold.

We arrived into Bongaigeon at about 6pm to a thriving hub of activity and a bigger township than we expected. It seemed odd as this place had the least available accommodation options. We had the Apollo Hotel book our rooms ahead as we had no luck on the phone with anyone speaking English at the few hotels available.

Raj Palace was basic but clean and our dinner was one of the nicest we’ve had. After 12 days of chicken, I’ve finally gone Vego. So that’s me – no beef, no wine!!









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