Thursday, August 2, 2007

This is it, this is why I am here

RR Journal - June 26

590km-650ish km

We’re enormously glad we didn’t attempt this journey in the night cause somebody imported all the craters from the moon and put them on this road. It is a rather bumpy ride and at one point we even get stuck in some mud (nothing a good shove can’t fix); doing this at night would be suicidal, we feel immense pity for those who did.
It would have been a shame to miss the tea estates as well. Knee-high shrubs of the most beautiful shades of green cover entire hillsides. We stop at an isolated tea stall in the middle of a tea estate and have some tea and instant noodles (or chow-chow as they’re called in these parts) for breakfast. We wander through the gardens and breathe in deeply of the mountain air. This is it, this is why I am here, on this trip. For moments like this.

Tea Planations, Siliguri, West Bengal

It rained in the night, but luckily, there’s nothing more than a drizzle right now. Lucky, cause we realised that the ‘rain coat’ that the mechanics fixed to protect the inside of the autorickshaw from the rain is a compete farce.
We’d run into some heavy rain on our way out of Kolkata on the first day itself. The green tarpaulin sheets were immediately pulled down and we were safely cocooned inside the semi-darkness they created. But that was when the rickshaw was still. Once it started moving, all hell broke loose. The tarpaulin waving around crazily and actually letting more water in, since every 2 minutes it would unload the water that collected on top on us. It didn’t take us long to decide that we preferred being at the mercy of the elements than this bit of homicidal plastic. Thereafter, all the should-never-be-near-water things in our luggage (of which there were many: two laptops, three camera, one voice recorder, money, three passports and sundry paperwork) were piled towards the middle and protected by a wish (mine) and a prayer (Shez’s). So far we’ve done pretty well.
By 8:30am, we roll into Siliguri. The traffic in the city is pretty crazy and Shez has a harrowing time negotiating through trucks and cars and autos and cyclists. We make our way to the Bajaj showroom; a lot of the teams made straight for the border in the morning, but we want our rickshaws checked before we enter Nepal.
The expressions at the service centre, when we drive in, are priceless. They can’t fathom why sensible-looking people like us want rickshaws checked at nine in the morning. Once we explain what we’re up to, they are much enthused and even though it’s a service centre for two-wheelers they assure us they’ll give our three-wheeled rides a good once over. Rickshaws handed over, we head for breakfast. On our way out, we run into Barnaby and Jamie again. They’ve had a harrowing 48 hours with multiple breakdowns and no money and an all night drive to get to Siliguri. Shez gets a chance to do some more mothering, and between us we try to get the boys shipshape for the journey on. We rescue our autorickshaws from the service centre (where the workmen were spending more time taking joyrides than doing any actual fixing) and head for the border. On the way, we find another team in distress – their clutch stopped working, much like ours – and another rescue is in the offing. We find them a mechanic, explain to him what needs to be done and get them going again. Finally, we make our way to the border, our solo ride expanded to a four-auto convoy.
Shez and Akshay generously let me drive us across the border and I’m thrilled. This is my first border crossing by road and I’m driving a bright red rickshaw, whoo hooo!

cross posted on teesra

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