Day2 - 3rd June 2013 Monday
This was supposed to be a very nerve wracking day for me. Thinking of crossing the Dalkhola level crossing gives you shivers down the spine. One of the major reasons why motorists want to avoid NH 34 is this crossing which may take upto hours to get cleared.
Throughout the previous evening I had been sensitising all on this and pressed upon them the importance to be on the road by 6am and to reach Dalkhola by 7 so as to cross it before the normal traffic sets in.
Got up early but not as early to make the 6 o' clock start. The tourist lodge at Raigung was right on the highway (NH 34) bang opposite the Kulik Bird sanctuary. In fact the tourist lodge in itself is an extetion of the Bird sanctuary and some of my earlier visits in Winter had seen quite a few species of them within the premises hangin on to the trees inside. But this time it was NOT to be and we moved on dissapointed.
But that did not deter me climbing up to the watch tower of the lodge to make an ariel survey
While coming down from the tower saw the Xylo had already been washed neat spick and span by a hotel guy whom we had requested the previous night and was sparkling in the morning Sun and ready to hit the Himalayas.
Started at 6.45 and first fuelled up. The Fuel Efficiency that the Xylo returned was a decent 11.46 k/ltr on bad road with full ac and good amount of load. Hit Dalkhola which was 45 km from Raigung by 8 am over some pathetic roads and before I could realise I was on the rail tracks of the Dalkhola level crossing which usually takes an hour for me to cross. My luck was so great that given a chance would have bought a lottery ticket.
From then on to NH 31 it was a breeze with the Xylo hitting speeds of 130k/hr at times. I am not including too many details of these roads from Kolkata. If anyone is interested in getting down to more details may find so in my earlier story on the same route in this link Kolkata Siliguri Reshi Sillery: Xylo Takes on the Heights of North Bengal Himalayas
The landscape changed very fast as we approached Siliguri. From the paddy fields and vegetable plantations it gave way to the tea gardens a clear indication that we were nearing the mountains.
It was a Monday.. beginning of a week for me in my professional life.. my company's branches open pan India.. doing business.. me getting calls but not picking up as I was driving.. but finally relented.
Parked the Xylo on the highway with tea Gardens all accross, the distant mountain, the cloud cover, the absent Kunchenjungha but always making its presence felt. Took out my mobile and Connected with my teams accross on SMS and made some quick calls wiith headquarters to assure that despite my leave I am still on the job (which I was).
The ambience was great but huge clouds loomed over us and threatened to spoil the mood. And they did even as I drove on to reach Siliguri by 10.10am on some very wet roads.
Stopped for a quick refuell for the xylo and then decided to fuel ourselves up. My favourite joints have been Sevoke and reached there around 11 and decided to take an hour break for a brunch.
From here on the Xylo hit the mountains and we kept on a constant cruising speed but roads around Kalijhora appeared to be a joke with craters, mud, dust, slush making driving extremely slow specially with the heavy traffic.
Reached Tista Bazar in an hour's time from Sevoke and stopped for a quick breack on the bridge over the Teesta which we needed to cross. My son was visiting the mountains for the first time and was enjoying it like anything though I really doubt as to how much he would be realising it and retaining facts.
Tista Bazar is a place from where the road bifurcates to Kalimpong and a road also branches of to Darjeeling. The Xylo took none of them and proceeded on to NH 31A towards Gangtok.
Just before reaching Melli stopped at the confluence point of the Teesta and the Rangit Rivers. The clear water of the Rangit was falling into the comparatively slushy waters of the Teesta. The sight was enough to energise me though I had seen the same confluence from the top of a mountain and it appeared a different vista from their.
It was rafting season and the jeeps were busy.
Reached Singtam on the route to Gangtok vis the Bengal / Sikkim border of Rangpo by 3 pm.
Here we were to leave the Gangtok route and turn left for Ravangla / Tarku to reach Temi Tea Garden. Till now I was in complete command over the road directions but from here though I knew the route still needed to be doubly sure with the locals.
I have never used the GPS navigation systems and for me the local paan walla, the taxi driver, the old man standing on the lonely road had acted as a navigation tool. Here also I trusted their instincts and very soon was driving through some deserted greenery, crossing streams and climbing uphill.
Reached Temi by 4.10PM. The first 2 days we were to spend in the PWD Bungalow and we learnt about it from Mr. T.D Bhutia who was a retired accountant of the Temi Tea factory. He stayed in Temi Bazar and we reached there, parked the Xylo and called him on his mobile.
And what a coincidence.. quite unkwowingly we had actually parked in front of his gate and even as Partha was speaking to him on the mobile we could hear him talking back though our naked ears only. We were glad to find him so easily. The selfless gentleman that he is he was glad to see us in his own backyard of Temi
He offerred to guide us to the PWD Bungalow and got in the Xylo. It was 2 km uphill from the Temi Bazar on the road to Namchi. The Bungalow at first glimpse was a hit and the isolation and completeness mesmerised us. The Xylo got parked in front and were bowled over by the warmthness of both the rooms with wall to wall red carpet complete with fireplaces. It had a large living room too.
The Tea Gardens started from the back of the Bungalow. My bedroom window caught a glimpse of them.
The Kitchen was like an outhouse and the foodie that he is Partha's first job was to make a quick inspection of it.
to conclude day 2 in next post as this has run out of pic capacity....