Ever since i started road trips, all i managed is visiting mandarmani, that too multiple times. Then i brought new vehicle in last June and seriously thought travelling beyond 200 Kms. Due to school schedule of my son, and my office works nothing materialized except another visit to Mandarmani.
Finally in last October, zeroed in to Hollong. Also had a hidden desire to visit Darjeeling. Better half was dead against of hill driving but agreed for the tour as a break was seriously needed and her elder sister stays in Siliguri. After going through Son's school calendar, booked Hollong for 2 days and Jaldapara Tourist Lodge for 1 day.
Then came another prospect of long drive as we had to attend a marriage ceremony in Jaunpur of UP that too before this trip. Inquired with some of the esteemed members about the road. Finally the date coincide with son's exams and the trip was abandoned. Prospect of 2 long drives in a months gap died prematurely.
Finally i focused to my very first long drive. Initial plan was to push to Siliguri in 1st day and proceed for hollong next day. After going through various posts i decided to stick to routes through bengal and route decided as via burdwan-bolpur-suri-rampurhat-morgram then NH34 all the way.
Initial plan was to start early so comfortably can reach Siliguri by late evening. the D-day was 28th Feb Sunday and plan was to start by 4:00 hrs. Day before the journey, i.e., on Saturday i went to office in early morning and planned to take tight sleep in the evening. Being my very first journey i was excited and final packing was still left, hence the much needed rest was compromised. Finally loaded all luggage and left home exactly at 3:40 hrs. Took Kona Expressway and reached Shaktigar at 5:45 hrs for first tea break. Morning Tea at Shaktigar
Soon we were on NH2B and took next tea break in between bolpur and purandarpur around 8:15. Enjoying tea amidst the greenery of paddy field was something i haven't experienced for long long time.
As soon as we crossed suri, my inexperience showed up, first i was patiently waiting in long truck traffic queue at mohammedbazar, then rampurhat. In both cases finally took the oncoming traffic lane and finally reached BP-Morgram. By this time i already lost considerable amount of time, more than 2 hrs. Being hungry taken some food from Bp-Morgram and proceed towards farakka.
Thankfully there was no hold up around farakka, traffic was slow but moving. Next came Kaliachak, although i took the opposite lane but remained stuck at one point of time. Finally being able to reach kaliachak crossing and took mothabari detour to bypass the traffic as much as possible. By the time we are back on NH34 i started to feel the fatigues due to improper rest of previous day. Crossed malda without any hold up and stopped at golden park on the outskirts of Malda for some food. It was almost 17:00 hrs at Malda and Dalkhola to be crossed to reach Siliguri. Son at Golden Park, Malda
As we won't be able to reach Siliguri before 22:00 hrs and considering my fatigue, decided to halt at Malda. The food break turned in super early dinner and hit bed by 18:30. in no time i was fast asleep with a plan to start at 3:00 hrs next day as we have to reach all the way to hollong. Proceeding towards Dalkhola
As planned, started exactly at 3:00 hrs, traffic was minimal, and with the first light of the day we were at Dalkhola. Although at Dalkhola truck queue was there but took the oncoming traffic lane and secured 4th position at LC. Soon crossed Dalkhola and reached BP-Dalkhola for refueling, morning tea and short bio-break. We had to wake up the canteen staff to get our cup of tea. The break become quite long almost 1 hour long. Being first day of week, siliguri bypass was quite congested and reached sevoke for breakfast around 10:00 hrs. After b'fast once we proceed for coronation bridge, wife realized it was prelude of hill driving. Road was superb with occasional diversion and bad roads due to widening of NH31D and finally reached Hollong at 12:30. Hollong bunglow is almost 7 km drive inside jungle from main road.
One gaur (commonly called bison) was also visiting the salt lick opposite of hollong bungalow. After our lunch 2 more turned up, there were number of peacocks and many other birds like hornbill( commonly called Dhanesh), parrot etc. Before sunset hog deer, wild boar were there. After sunset, staying outside is not allowed as animals often come to bungalow compound. The onduty security person called all the boarders number of times to show rhino. Day ends quite early at hollong as dinner is served by 20:30. Even after dinner the night guard called us for animal sighting, but each time we saw the sole rhino was trying in vain to reach the salt lick as there were more than 10 gaurs were closely guarding it.
Next day was for elephant safari in morning. It's simply experience of it's own. We have seen rhino and spotted python inside the forest. Whole day there were not a single animal at the salt lick. there were number of birds. Suddenly, wind became stronger, and we felt drop of temperature. soon it turned into storm. being spring, it was dry leaves everywhere as far as we could see. Left the lawn with the setting sun. Today night was for rhinos. at One time there were 4-5 rhinos including a baby rhino. One of the rhino stayed well after sunrise on next day. Elephant safari
Our Hollong stay came to an end and we left hollong for jaldapara. Initial plan was to avail jeep safari from jaldapara, but after the hollong experience we were sure that nothing new to be seen in jeep safari. So, instead of going directly to Jaldapara, we headed for Jaigaon-phuentsholing. Scenic beauty of this road is superb as it goes road goes through the Tea gardens.
Phuentsholing was around 1 hr drive from Hollong. We visited the crocodile breeding centre and Karbandi Monastery which is approx 4-5 km drive inside bhutan. No separate permission is required to visit these two places. Roads in bhutan, at least upto the monastery are superb, wide and well maintained. Tried some momo at the cafeteria in fornt of the monastery then headed back to jaldapara. As there is nothing much to do in jaldapara , just visited the Nature Interpretation Centre near by the lodge. Everyday evening a light and sound show is arranged inside the lodge premises, watched the show it's good but some of the lights were not working. Next day we left for siliguri around 7:30 hrs.
At Siliguri i was thoroughly discouraged for darjeeling drive, reason being it was my first long drive as well as hill drive, parking space problem in darjeeling and our plan of stay near mall. Next day we went to Darjeeling through Mirik in hired car. After Mirik, road was covered with dense fog/cloud and visibility was near to zero. In the evening went to Keventar's for some snacks. In our two nights stay in Darjeeling, only thing planned was riding steam loco driven toy train. Next day we went for Steam loco joy ride, to acquaint my son with the workhorse of indian railways bygone era and refreshing my childhood memories of riding in steam loco.
Joy ride was over by half past noon, walked back to hotel. rest of the day spent in roaming around mall, trying some pastry at Glenary's. etc. Next morning left for Siliguri through rohini. It was 6 th March.
Since I have to join office on 9th, instead of leaving on 8th early morning, it was decided to leave Siliguri on 7th and cover as much distance as possible and take night halt preferably in Bolpur or Berhampore, if required. on 7th we left siliguri around 10:00 hrs with packed lunch, reached BP-Dalkhola around 12:45 hrs for refueling. This time we ordered cold coffee, and the break became almost 30 minutes break. Before entering Nichitpur Nichitpur-College More road
Bypassed Dalkhola LC through Nichitpur-College Road. Road tarmac is well maintained barring one speed breaker and some 100 mtrs after that. This road passed through villages and each and every village the road passes through are neat and clean. Corn fields on both sides of the road was quite soothing for eyes. At a Stalkuri, parked car under a tree and enjoyed lunch. Lunch Break at Stalkuri
Still continuing in holidaying mood stopped at outskirts of Malda for tea. There was long queue of vehicles at Malda. This time took opposite lane as much as possible and crossed malda. To bypass kaliachak traffic jam, again took mothabari road. This time it was after sunset, windows were wide open, the road passes through mango orchards, strong fragrance of mango blossoms (aam-er mukul) just felt was heavenly. Thankfully at farakka traffic was slow moving and no hold up. Around 21:00 hrs, we were at Dhuliyan. Parents called up and advised not travel at night, therefore, Berhampore was going to be our night stay. First we tried at WBTDC tourist lodge, although rooms were available, but kitchen was closed and it was half past ten. we headed towards the bus stand and found a hotel called City Tower. Thankfully, kitchen was still open and agreed to serve food at room. Icing on the cake was basement parking. There was a catch, space being limited, the car had to be taken in reverse inside the basement. Once the car was parked, entered room, got freshened up, soon came the food and we hit bed before the date changed in calendar.
Home being closer, we decided to leave by 5:00 AM and this time also we were on time. As we had plenty of time, decided to take SH-7 through Kandi, Kuli, Futisanko, Burdwan. Road upto Kuli was broken but manageable, but after Kuli, road was simply superb. Yesterday, if lush green corn fields left a soothing effect on eyes, Today it was paddy fields which had same effect. Somewhere in between Kuli Futisanko
During our onward journey we were too early to enjoy "langcha" at Shaktigarh, this time home was just 100 kms away, so relished our breakfast with "langcha". Once left Shaktigarh, soon came Dankuni, then Nivedita setu appeared as symbol of tour has almost reached it's end. Finally reached home at 12:30 after 10 days, clocking 1687 kms. With this tour it become his favorite sitting Place in stationary car.
My initial plan was to drive to Darjeeling from Jaldapara. I tried to convince my wife that journey would be through Mirik which is scenic and not so steep, compared to Rohini Road but hidden agenda was drive through Peshok Road. After lot of presuasion from wife and other family members, i had to give up. Incidentally, during our journey to Darjeeling via Mirik, it was raining, dense fog/cloud drastically reduced visibility. Wife pointed out how correct she was being adamant in her decision. I gave up, but havn't abandoned the idea of driving to darjeeling and sikkim. Till that time i have to remain happy with my 4-5 km drive to Karbandi Monastery near Phuentsholing.
Few things i have learnt through this trip. Improper rest on the previous day of journey left adverse effect, and i learnt it on very first day. Instead of Raiganj, I took break at Malda, as all energy was almost drained out. For the first time i was behind the steering wheel for whole day, and i felt that road temperament is of different nature compare to my previous experiences of 3-4 hrs drive. Traffic varies from open highways to long queue of traffic, Spirited driving on 4 lane highways to patient driving in traffic snarls of district towns.
All set and done, this trip gave something that were either experienced first time or experienced long long back. To list it, enjoying tea amidst greenery of countryside, having home packed lunch by the side of road, fragrance of mango blossoms, driving in wee hours, storm in forest, memories of steam loco and beauty of rural bengal. Lastly, it left an desire, next road trip.
Hope, the narration is not much boring.