Gossaigaon to Dhupguri 117km
Dhupguri to Siliguri 77km
I'm in a grump today. Last night, a little toerag, who was seemingly helping me, stole my rear bike light. I know how and when he did it, I just didn't realize he had taken it until this morning. As well, my cycle calculator isn't working. I'm not sure whether it's the battery, or the soaking it got in yesterday's storm. Then my Brooks leather saddle has split down the side. And to top it off, the traffic has been heavy today, and very aggressive. I'm ready to declare war on all bus drivers. My yelling abuse and gesturing today didn't make any difference, but it made me feel better. But I still don't like the Indian habit of horn blasting.
Yesterday started early. The guy in the room next to me was snoring very loud at 4.30am. Then the roosters started, the dogs joined in, the pigeons in the roof lining were waking up, a call to prayer added to the surround sound, and there were at least a dozen mosquitos under the mosquito net with me. I got up. But then I had to break out of the lodge. Sneak through the kitchen, over the serving counter, and unbolt the front door, and then back
through a side door....drat, the kitchen dog has heard me. Everyone in the Lodge is now awake.Once again Fiona and I had been locked in. Even just after 5am, there were plenty of folk about outside, but the morning was very gloomy.
Back out on the dual carriageway. Cows, goats, kids on bikes, families eating breakfast, all on the medium strip. Then the traffic stopped. For over a km, trucks, three and four lanes wide, stopped. It's the border between Assam and Bengal, and every vehicle has to be checked by customs, and the officials aren't at work yet.. Fiona and I cycle on through the stalled traffic, and the customs post. 2km down the road, same scenario, but heading the other way. At least the road is empty, but it's 7am and really dark and gloomy.
Then it rained. Heavy, heavy, heavy rain, and forked lightning. Very scarey. I dive for cover, under a corregated iron shed....hmmmmm. No other choice. Apparently the monsoon is here. An hour of torrential rain, and then it eased off. Now if you think Indian traffic is chaotic, you should try it after a rain storm. Huge puddles, flooded bridges, pot holes hidden under water, and all the normal traffic hazards. Adventure of the wet kind.
And still the stuff you'd only see in India keeps happening. A family showering under the back of a water truck, by just turning on the valve, while it's stuck in traffic. 6am, and on a park about the size of a rugby field, at least four different cricket matches being played. Urinating men, everywhere, at the side of the street....don't know where the women go, but some streets are very smelly, and you've got to take care about where you sit for a rest.
Lots of men ride bikes here. And they are very competitive. I'm riding along, and there is a strange noise, seemingly coming from Fiona. But no. Fiona is silent. It's the Indian behind me, on his one speed old clanger going hard so as to pass me. Once he passes, sweating and panting, he does a bit of a speed wobble, and pulls off the road, happy for the day.
The Indian public know more about NZ cricket than I do. Soldiers this morning were very enthusiastic about the Blackcaps, and were telling me which of them was their favourite player. India is backing NZ on Sunday.
India is the first country since Australia, where I've felt well feed. There are lots of "bread" options, roti,
chapati, and even normal bread. But the "normal" bread is very sweet. So I buy tomatoes, and green onion chips for my sandwiches. The chips disguise the sweetness. The only problem then, is finding somewhere to prepare and eat your sandwich. There is no such thing as a quiet corner or personal space here, so I have to put up with a group watching me eat. If the Guineas Book of Records has a record for fastest time to generate a crowd, I reckon I'm in for a chance. 50 observers, before I can get my tomato sliced is pretty normal.
There are lots of Muslims in this area, being so close to Bangladesh, and very close also to Bhutan, this part of India forming a narrow corridor between these countries. Many Bangladeshes have crossed back into India, after being expelled in the 60s. Life here is better than in Bangladesh, even when they are forced to live in tented refugee camps.
I was wandering the streets, taking photos, and a young man approached me. "Please Sir. If it is not inconvenient, would you honour me by accompanying myself and my friend to my residence, and having some discussions with my father?" So began yet another marvelous unexpected, experience. The young man, an
English teacher, doubled me on his bike, very uncomfortable, to his home. There I met his father, a retired professor of English, who spends every waking moment "studying" his passion. These two had the most "proper" English I have ever heard. "If I could ask you a question, please Mr Grum, about prepersitions. ."..... And so it went, including a meal. An amazing evening, as I tried to understand the very old, and proper English words they were using, and translated them into more common usage. "Should I say 'on the bed', or 'in the bed'?" "Is it Minister of Education, or Minister for Education?" Another experience you couldn't pay for. Cycle touring......it's fantastic, if you can survive the storms and the bus drivers.