Friday, January 18, 2008

Day 18: EPIC

Seems to be the word most frequently thrown about to describe today.

It started at 0530 as we tried to clean the room of the last shards of glass from the case of beer we dropped the night before. We wanted to be gone before they discovered that we used the curtain to mop up the mess, and fortunately the guys with guns in the lobby had made sure our rickshaws didn't "wander off" overnight. There was a heavy fog, but we were itching to get out of Bihar so we decided to press on. We encountered a toll both that had been staffed by some friendly locals. Normally we run such setups, and Tommy did, bringing one of the locals along with him who'd grabbed the center pillar. Since Slepak's bags were in the back seat due to the broken roof rack, I decided that 10 Rs. was a reasonable bribe for them to ask and paid it to save Slepak's bags.

The roads were pretty good and we could make about 30kph and still be able to see oncoming traffic. The tricky bit is that some of that traffic is ox drawn carts which are really slow (and don't have lights). The lorries can't really pass them so they end up going slow too and you're really tempted to pass them. But you can't see oncoming traffic. But Tommy's leading. And he's crazy (rode a motorcycle from London to Mongolia) And no one wants to be alone in the fog in Bihar. So you assume when Tommy passes someone, it's safe for you to follow. And then he swerves left way too quickly and you see the close set headlights of a tractor hauling a cartload of sugarcane. And then you find your brakes are surprisingly effective as all three wheels lock up and you frantically skid sideways trying to tuck in behind the lorry and miss the tractor. And you give the guys in the chase rick a heart attack.

We decided to stop for breakfast, of amazing puri, to let the fog clear and lecture Tommy on passing etiquette. Neither worked. Fortunately the finished portion of the road ended and passing on broken dirt went much more sedately. It also kicked up a lot of dust which turned to mud on the windshields.

Eventually the fog burned off and the road returned to being paved and we sped on to guided by by helpful signs like the above. A quick stop by the Bajaj Service Center to tighten the muffler yet again, and an entertaining railway crossing where a 5 year old was walking around with a big snake in a basket offering to let us take pictures (100 Rs, sorry no pictures) and hit the mountains.

The road to Darjeeling tenuously clings to the hill side. On your left, there's a sheer drop to terraced tea plantations. On your right, there are jungles. A railway line weaves back and forth across the road as you drop the rickshaw into third gear, open the throttle and race up. Along the way all the locals smiled and waved. With the sun streaming it was one of the top 3 all time drives we've been on.

By 4:30 we had crested 7400 feet and severely damaged two rickshaws (broken fuel and battery mounts) and ended up in Darjeeling proper. We had High Tea at the Windemere and checked into the Hotel Elgin for the evening. After hot showers, a delicious dinner and scotches in front of the fire, we closed the day.


b mathew said...

Has there been a picture of Tommy yet? Best of luck with the next leg

Rob said...

Fantastic description... thanks, I think I was there.