April 18th (8.45pm) to April 19th (6.30pm)
My drives are usually Day affairs and not night ones. I still belong to the old school of thought of work hard and party hard. Rather Drive hard during the day and party hard during the night. But this was an exception as we were cramping up a lot of things in a small time. So the tentative plan was to start of by evening 8 pm and move beyond Siliguri the next day.
18th was a week day and I had my usual busy chores in office and returned home (early) by 6.30 pm to take a short nap before taking on the steering wheel. The group met up in somewhere in South Kolkata to kick off the show. I was not part of it as I was enjoying my rest and subsequently throughout the tour sacrificed (happily) some of the enjoyments since I would be behind the wheels steering the Xylo to what would be escape to "freedom" for us in our own style of Zindagi Na Milegi Dubara.
The meet in South Kolkata was from 7.30 pm and short and crisp.
I caught up with the gang at 8.30 pm outside the joint and before anything exchanged our hugs and took the first goupfie.
Shubhomoy had landed from Mumbai the previous evening to attend this and it was great meeting him after some time as it was with the others the soul connects of a school some decades back. Apologise for the picture quality though.
5 adults and naturally the luggage was quite generous in numbers and size, but the Xylo gobbled them up all easily.
Next up was quenching the thirst of the Xylo and we promptly were at it.
It took us some time to wriggle our way past the evening traffic of Kolkata but once out of Dankuni it was a breeze upto Burdwan which took us a little more than two hours from my residence. Though we all technically had had our dinner, we all started feeling hungry as we searched for all the eating options by the highway we knew of. But unfortunately post 10.30 pm all were closed and we found one unknown dhaba by the way side and decided to stop. Food was good and we ate to our heart's content and chatted so much that it was almost an hour before we once again took our positions in the car. Again picture quality apology.
We were to take SH7 from Burdwan and not the conventional NH34 which we usually take. This is slightly longer till Moregram but is a good metaled surface and relatively traffic free. We drove into the darkness and emptiness of the Burdwan district with just about the odd truck to overtake and the odd one coming from the opposite. The Xylo was not expressly fast but on a steady and cruising speed. We were inside the cabin chatting away in a different era altogether. By 3 in the night we were nearing Moregram and we decided to start checking on the first available tea shop for a mini break. We found it after some time hidden behind a barrage of stationery lorries. The dhaba as usual was nothing impressive (though it had an aquarium), but the lemon tea was immensely refreshing and recharging. We said cheers to the life that we were about to live for the next four days.
By 5.30 am we had hit Farakka but the usual traffic hold up also hit us. We suddenly found us behind a pile up of trucks which as per the local driver's estimate would take 2 hours to clear up. Looked behind for an escape route but in 2/3 minutes time the trucks from behind had also take their position surrounding us from all sides. I gave up, swithced of the engine and opened a biscuit packet. Partha, the khalashi (lovingly called as he accompanies me in most of my drives and being an accomplished driver himself on the highways I gain valuable add on inputs from him on a regular basis on the tarmac) did not give up. He got down and interacted with the truckies and by then Subhomoy and the others too had started applying there mind on how to break free. The drivers were extremely cooperative and they offered us help in trying to drive over the divider to the wrong lane and drive all the way up to the barrage. But the divider was huge. One of the lorry drivers came and told me the he had driven Xylo earlier and it had immense power to get up on the divider. I too knew it, but there were big shrubs and wild plants on it and I was not willing to risk a stem scratching or sticking with some delicate under body parts. Partha and the others by then had convinced some drivers (they were too good and readily agreed) to move the lorries that extra inch forward and some backward to make enough space for the Xylo to reverse and go back to the nearest cut in the divider. The angles were cut out, the gaps inch perfect and we were on the wrong side of the highway within minutes. But it took us almost an hour to cross the barrage and it too had extremely slow moving vehicles on it.
Hit Malda at 7.30 am and crossing it was hardly any problem as it had no traffic. We decided to give a breakfast stop in the Golden Park hotel about 10 km ahead of Malda. It was an expensive and luxurious option but we could have used their washroom facilities also which we did. Breakfast was good and filling.
Post breakfast I took a power nap in the sofa alongside the restaurant even as others were finishing off their food. It charged me up well and the others also had a much needed break and we were ready to roll on.
Another school friend of us from the States, Kaushik Mitra had called checking on our progress and particularly if I was sleeping by then. We took our snaps and sent it back to him. He was highly encouraged by our progress.
Malda to Raigunj we did in less than an hour and by then we were back to normal momentum. But Raja had his cousin staying in Raigunj, who has his own restaurant right on the highway and he wanted to stop to say hello. We were not very keen as it would break the rythm so soon after lunch and just as we were pacing up things. But reluctantly we gave in and once we met Raja's cousin Raka, we realised that we would have missed meeting a great human being had we not stopped.
Apart from the restaurant called Megabyte, Raka also has his own truck service center alongside with facilities of PUC and tyre repairs. The Xylo had a PSI check and got a much needed wash too.
Driving on from Raigunj we skipped the usual route via Dalkhola to skip the Traffic snarl at Dalkhola level crossing. We took the Botolbari Dhantala route instead and it was narrow with chicken of the size of a sparrow moving all across the road. It took special concentration to avoid them. Even as we were nearing the main highway once again we took a bio break. And here Partha discovered some soothing paddy fields and decided to check on them. He went don from the high road and went deep inside the field.
No sooner than he did, we followed suit and discovered some immense peace within the greenery and simplicity.
We rested for quite some time even as Raja was busy with the camera and suddenly we discovered that the tree under whose shadow we were sitting was having a lot of Jack fruits in it.
Saibal also tried posing with them.
It was well over half an hour that we "wasted" here but this waste of time surely will have enough memories in our mind to last us a life time. We were back on the high road and ready to move.
We reached Siliguri by 2.30 pm and crossed the Salugara crossing and stopped for lunch at a restaurant in a mall. Now it was time for the hills and by 4 pm we were winding our way up to Melli and from there on to enter Sikkim and reach Jorethang. The Teesta was green as ever and we stopped multiple times to capture it.
Reached Melli past 5.30 pm and even as we entered Sikkim here by crossing the Teesta bridge the Sun went down enveloping us in darkness. The Xylo relentlessly moved on cutting across the sweeping slopes, the winding roads, the slushy surface at areas and the good tarmac at places. Reached Jorethang by 6.30 pm and decided to call it a day.
It was almost 22 hours on the road though with more than normal required halts and stops. We found a nice cosy hotel. Took up 3 rooms in it. Ordered for our dinner. The town is a very small subdivisional town and closed by 9 pm. So even as the dinner was being prepared we took a walk to the bridge on the confluence of the River Rangit and River Little Rangit.
Came back to hotel by 10.30 pm walking through deserted streets and a ghostly town. The keys of the main entrance of the hotel was with us as everyone else would be asleep by then. Came to our rooms to find our dinner kept on the table. Food had got a little cold but we enjoyed and retired for a good night's sleep.
Next day the climb for the Xylo from 900 feet to to 9,000 feet and subsequent trek for us.