The adventure in Alipur Duar cost us not just a day. It also put paid to our plan of visiting Sikkim, not just because of the time we had lost, but because we decided to protect the Old Reliable from the torture of the hill roads. So we set of to Siliguri on the third morning of our trip in fairly good spirits, though with a slight sense of apprehension about the condition of the OR. The road to Siliguri passes through 3 wildlife reserves and though we searched high and low for the tigers, rhinos and elephants that were advertised, we didn't see any. We did see some langurs, but only after we had left the reserve. Amy, reluctant photographer that she is, did not take any pictures of the forests, though they were certainly beautiful and inspiring. So you'll have to be content with the langurs!
At Siliguri we found ourselves in a quandary. Should we take the bypass and go on, or should we go into the town and see a 'proper' mechanic. We initially planned to go on, but later decided that discretion was indeed the better part of valour and turned back. The father of a friend had arranged for us to meet his mechanic and after giving the OR the once-over, he declared her in fine form and told us we were free to go. Though it took us 3 hours, I was happy we turned back since my mental equilibrium was helped no end by the second opinion!
The road through North Bengal was excellent which was a welcome change after the struggles on the roads in Assam, where some areas were literally just huge craters with just a hint of tar and gravel to confirm it as a National Highway! But about 100 kms into the drive, the OR began to show signs that age was finally catching up with her. The moment the speedometer would touch 70, she would begin to wobble. And wobble bad! Possessed of absolutely no clue about the workings of such a machine, the two of us ran through all the various possibilities and finally decided it must have something to do with the wheels. So we began to scour every town we passed through for a service centre that would check the alignment and balancing. Finally we found a Mahindra showroom in the town of Dalokha which, surprise, surprise had computerised alignment and balancing! It appeared that the computers had just arrived and about 20 mechanics gathered around to watch the proceedings, rather like what happens when a new surgical procedure is being attempted for the first time. All this was not very confidence-building and sure enough after much hemming and hawing, the head mechanic told me that they could not complete the job. But he exchanged the front and back tyres and said everything would be fine. Though I was not so sure, there was nothing else I could do and fortunately he was proved right!
The rest of the journey through North Bengal was just like driving through Shillong at rush hour. Being the road to Calcutta, traffic was really busy and the stagnation was not helped by the number of level crossing we passed. It seems that the road and railway lines run parallel and for some strange reason cross each other at multiple points on the highway! And in true Indian character, every time there was a jam, there would be a set of drivers-in-a-hurry who would overtake and form a second lane worsening an already bad situation!
(I climbed on top of a truck to take this picture!!)
But of course, there was much beauty on display and scenes like these seemed to pop straight out of a travel brochure.
And of course, every water body we encountered would have a scene like this - women washing clothes and children playing.
What with the breaks for the mechanics and all the traffic we made very poor progress and were only half-way to our planned destination, Asansol, when we had to stop for the night at a small town called Raniganj. We found a good little hotel called Hotel Vinayaga after some search - the other two we checked out looked extremely seedy! So if you ever have to stay in Raiganj (though I doubt that will ever happen!) - check out Hotel Vinayaka! Good food and value for money!
I leave you with a slightly embarrassing picture that my wife clicked. Though she was generally a reluctant photographer for most of the trip, she took quite a long series of this event!! I guess she appreciated my goodwill gesture to the tree!!
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