Land of The Thunder Dragon (Bhutan) – Day 5

22.12.2010 (Wednesday)
Malda (West Bengal) to Mala Bazar (West Bengal) = 379 kms

Starting Place: Malda (West Bengal)
Starting Km Reading: 4960 km @ Malda
Starting Time: 09.00 A.M. Morning
Closing Km Reading: 5339 km @ Mala Bazar Jalpaiguri (West Bengal State)
Closing Time: 12.25 AM A.M.Mid Night @ Mala Bazaar

With the beginning of the day 4 we saw many great expeditions and new experiences of traveling. On day 4 from Bhadrak (Orissa) to Malda (West Bengal) has added many beautiful memories in life. ON day 5 I had reached Malda at mid night 12.55 AM and had covered 713 km and in the way some of the roads were extremely bad and I was already feeling very tired.

I slept like a log I suppose and got up late. My wife did not wake me up after the alarm went off may be she wanted me to get some sleep. We all got up little late and got ready by 9 AM. The hotel where we stayed was very good & we paid Rs.1995/- for accommodation for the night stay from 12.55 AM Midnight till 9 AM morning & Rs.275/- for the mid night dinner & Rs.660/- for morning breakfast which was bread- butter sandwich, milk for kids & coffee for me.

Slightly on the expensive side but on trips like this with family some times we cannot be too choosy at mid night to get a decent hotel with safe parking. A price worth paying.

They gave me a room in the 2nd floor & it was pretty hectic for me to get all the necessary stuff (cloths, medicine, baby food misc etc) from the car & carry all that to the room. I had to do some 3 or 4 trip back & forth. More than the driving it is these packing / unpacking & arranging things in the Dickey that can be very challenging.

I washed the car clean by 8.45 AM & we left the hotel by 9.20 AM and went to a fuel pump to tank up Diesel. The temperature outside was 19 Deg C.

We stopped at Swagat Retail outlet of IOCL at NH 34 Narayanpur @ Malda and tanked up 27.29 litres of Diesel @ Rs.39.96 per ltr and paid Rs.1090/-. At this junction the road turns left & we have to head towards Siliguri & Dalkhola.



We came across some nice paddy fields & took these pictures below. Well imagine they were asking us questions in Bengali & we were replying to them in Hindi & Tamil.


Couple of local girls posing for photos.

I found this place very interesting to take some nice photos of our FIAT Linea against the field which was yellow. The picture has just come out awesome.

It was just early morning & we found few of the local children heading for their school & we just stopped and we had some children who were very inquisitive and came to meet us as we became their attraction.Just look at these young & innocent faces. You can see they are all well covered as it was cold outside.

I saw this jeep fully loaded to the TOP.

We crossed Raiganj @ 11.25 AM.We passed through the Raiganj Wild Life sanctuary. Maybe we can see some wild life in the night. The sad part is the wild life is shrinking due to the humans habitat being so close to the wild life.The road looks great here, well the happiness can be short-lived.

The road looks pretty bad here, it is a mix of both & you have to be very careful in driving a car that has a low ground clearance. There were so many pigeons flying around here.


Traffic jam in Dalkhola. The time was 12.36 PM afternoon. Luckily it cleared quickly & we did not lose any time.

Just after Dalkhola which in on NH 34 this road comes to a T Junction. The left goes to Purnia and we need to take the right here to go towards Siliguri which is NH 31. This is an important junction. HVK laid emphasis on such important junctions as these can be major turning points. Some times you might miss the sign boards as some huge lorry would be blocking the sign board & you will miss it.

From here Siliguri is 129 kms.The road from here on is a breeze. It is fantastic to drive in this part of NH 31. You can cover a lot of ground quickly.

The road itself was pretty bad here and to make the matters even worse for vehicles they had put speed breakers which even the bus & lorry drivers were dreading to pass. You can imagine the plight of ours.

Remembered my fellow Palio USer Group member & friend Raveendra who had advised me to take such humps with a S shape turn to avoid any bottom scrapping. There were 3 of them and it was terrible. We are now heading towards a road that is going to take us to Guwahati which is in Assam, Gangtok & Darjeeling which are in Sikkim & Jalpaiguri in West Bengal. You can see the quality of the road.

My best friend Ashwani Attrish from Noida called me and we spoke on for long time. He just called me when I touched 3000 km mark of our journey and we were passing through some of the best parts of the road. We were passing through Tea Gardens on both sides of the road & I was showing my kids where the tea is planted.The facility of the BLUE & ME technology inside the Linea is a great advantage.

You can hear the caller very clearly inside the 4 speakers as your mobile is hooked up through the blue tooth to the car’s Blue & Me.The microphone is so powerful Ashwani could hear my kids saying hello to him from the back seat.
When my kids said hello to Ashwani Uncle at their top of their voice I believe he would have held the phone away for some time he he.It was 4.27 PM evening and temperature outside was 23 Deg C. It was becoming dark. I was telling Ashwani that the sun sets here pretty fast and the day is short. By 6 PM it becomes dark.

We were reaching SEVOKE and the entrance of the city was all decked up to invite His Holiness Dalai Lama.

We passed the Sevoke Military Station @ 4.45 PM. After this we come across the very famous Coronation Bridge which is a sight worth seeing. Unfortunately since it was becoming dark by 6 PM & I could not capture the photos of this bridge.

We have to be very careful after this Coronation Bridge. Just after Sevoke Police Station there is a road that turns to the right called TIGER Bridge & we have to actually take this right turn to head towards Guwahati / Bhutan. The straight road actually goes to SIKKIM.

Just before the Sevoke Police Station there is a railway crossing & as we passed this my kids & wife saw some corn being roasted by the road side & asked me to buy some. This is a very narrow road & I just paused & stopped asked him to give 4.As I was standing in front of the man who was preparing the bhutta for us I saw a long que of vehicles piled up on both sides as my linea was blocking the way in spite of my pulling over to the far left. I had no option but to start & move.

My kids & wife felt cheated. The man was ready with 4 bhuttas & came running behind me & I paid him & we were soon munching on lemon, salt & masala quoted fried corn. I kept driving on and came to the TIGER Bride. It was 8.40 PM Night. I missed to take this turn as I saw some road repair work going on at this junction & the writings were not legible & clear.There was no sign board that said TIGER Bridge / Guwahati / Bhutan.The only writing in English were welcome to Gorkhaland & to Bacrakote. I was confused should I take this right I did not know. I could also not ask any one around as there were nobody there to ask.

I then made a major mistake of driving on straight on a road that was actually going towards Sikkim. I did not realise this until I started climbing hilly terrain and the road was extremely bad and I could see it was scrapping the car’s bottom.

We had horrible time driving on this road & I was wondering am I on the right direction to Bhutan?We stopped at an IOCL Pump that was Assam Oil with a sign of RHINO @ 7.40 PM. RHINO Logo looks great. I asked for directions & the guys at the pump were not very clear.

I tanked up diesel @ Suntalayoil Assam Oil IOCL, NH 31A, Lohakapool, Salugara, Sevoke Road, West bengal. 17.75 liters @ Rs.40/- per ltr and paid Rs.710/-. With the tank full at least I was not worried about running out of fuel.

We saw some sign boards that said BRO (Border Roads Organization) works today for your better Tomorrow.We drove on till we came across a sign board we saw that said GANGTOK – 64 Kms, Kalimpong – 16 Kms & Darjeeling – 47 Kms.
I was shocked to see this. All these 3 are inside Sikkim & just then I realised I had made a major mistake by missing that TIGER Bridge that HVK had told me to take to go towards Bhutan.

I was wondering where was this TIGER Bridge? I had already driven on this road some 35 plus Kms of extremely bad & hilly terrain road.Just then HVK called me & I told him about the status. I told him about the sign boards. He was very upset & said Man you are going towards Sikkim and not towards Bhutan.

He said I had made a major mistake in missing taking the right turn to take the TIGER Bridge some where after Sevoke Police Station.I accepted my mistake & said I did not find any sign board and HVK then asked us do we want to just cancel Bhutan Trip & just continue to Sikkim & cover Sikkim?

We said NO. That meant I had to turn back and find that TIGER Bridge again. It was almost completely dark and the time was just around 7 PM night.This is the place where we are supposed to take the right turn that I had missed it was written to BACRAKOTE and no mention is made about Bhutan / Guwahati.

This right turn takes us on the TIGER Bridge. Turning the Linea on the narrow hilly road and coming back down another 30 odd kms to find the TIGER Bridge was real tough thing. It was getting close to 9 PM night and we still had a long way to go towards Mala Bazar / Jaigaon which was supposed to be my halting destination as per the program by HVK. Jaigaon is the last border town on the Indian side.

I told HV Kumar that now we are on the road towards Guwahati & he said keep going & encouraged me on.HVK just told me to put our mistake behind & asked me to concentrate on driving & told me I just have 2 options to halt for the night either Mala Bazar / Jaigaon.

He said if I had not lost some 2 hours I could have been near to Jaigaon by now. On the way I found a dhaba & halted & we eat plain parathas with dal fry. It was very good & tasty. Just when we were running late at 10.00 PM Night, I just got a call from another traveller like me who was driving his TATA Safari from Pune who was on his way to Sikkim.

He was supposed to be ahead of me by some 8 hours as per HVK whom he was helping from Pune to Sikkim.This common friend had also taken the Tiger Bride to come to a place called Birpara and had halted at night with his brother-in-law who was in the Indian Army.

Birpara is a cantonment area. He was to spend some 2~3 with his B-I-L and the go to Sikkim.He asked me where I was and I told him the developments & the mistake I had made after Sevoke Police Station etc & I told him I am now driving on the road that is taking me towards Mala Bazar & Jaigaon and I will be passing through Birpara.
He just spoke with his B-I-L and he told me I should not be driving on these road now at this time of the night as it is supposed to be a major wild life crossing area and lots of Elephants & Rhinos cross the road at this time & it is not at all safe.

He asked me to turn back & head back towards Siliguri which was very far away which we had passed many hours back.The disadvantage of Blue & Me Bluetooth feature in the car is that the caller’s message is loud & clear for everyone to hear.The call got cut off due to poor signal before I could ask for further details or any possibilities of finding a night’s stay & resting place inside the cantonment area courtesy his B-I-L. It was a terrible moment.

My wife Jamuna heard this and was very upset & she got spooked as we had 2 little kids inside the car.She was very concerned and said if this friend’s B-I-L who is in the army says it is unsafe then we should not be driving around on this road. She asked me to stop the car & turn back & head back to Siliguri for safety reason.
I was in a major conflict. I told her that we had already passed the wild life crossing area as we had passed & read a sign board and to return & go back the same way was even more dangerous.

She was very adamant & I was forced to turn back. I was reluctant but did not want to antagonise her.Just then my saviour HVK came on-line and asked me the status. I told him about the phone call & I also told him that I was forced to turn back as the phone call had spooked my wife.

He said this common friend had also called him & updated him. HVK said he listened to him and told him as I was already very near Birpara meant I had passed through the wild life crossing area and I could drive on.

HVK – I should really hand it to him spoke with my wife calmly reassuring her and told her in clear terms with whole lot of conviction that he had full faith in the driving ability of MN and had in fact appreciated that I had done very well so far.

He said he was helping us from the comforts of his home / office from Mumbai when ever we spoke but it was MN who was driving on the ground & said she has to support MN at this time by not forcing him to turn back. Just 1 mistake does not mean it was an end. He said it does not make any sense to go back to Siliguri now which is some 150 kms away and another 3 to 4 hours of drive, which we have to again if we go back the next day to return in this same road.

He even told her about his solo drive on a Ind-Suzuki motor cycle way back in 1990 from Mumbai to Bhutan and how was chased by an elephant on that road at that wild life crossing late at night. Well it was comforting to hear him.
He assured her that he had full faith in MN and told her that he was again instructing me to turn the car back again towards Mala Bazar / Jaigaon.So once again I had to turn the car back. HVK told me touching Jaigaon will not be possible as I had lost a lot of time & asked me to halt at Mala Bazar. It was becoming 11.30 PM night and he said chances of getting a room at this time was grim.

He gave me some phone numbers and I kept calling. Finally I got through a hotel & at first they said no room. I told him I was travelling with my wife & 2 kids & told him we had got delayed etc. Once when I said I had children he asked us to come.

Finally I reached Hotel Kasturi @ 12.25 AM Mid Night and halted for the night there. It was very chill and the temperature was below 10 Deg C.I took both my kids who were fast asleep from the car into the room. By the time we settled down it was past 1 AM mid night. I was really tired & the days passing had made me feel upset.
With so many great adventure ends one more day of the beautiful land of the dragons (Bhutan) trip.

6 Comments

  • Asish K Das says:

    I don’t remember properly, but it looked to me that somewhere I had read similar blog. Is it Team-BHP? Nevertheless, it is an awesome effort, brilliantly narrated ! Hats off to you. We are also planning a trip to Bhutan. Our team members are waiting for the next parts of your report where you will deal on your travel within Bhutan territory. Just a small correction, it is not “Mala Bazar”, it is “Mal Bazar” & Hotel Kasturi is in Mal Bazar, close to WB Tourist Lodge. Thanks.

  • Abhijit says:

    Dear MN, great journey and great narration.

    About the mistake you made – you should have continued on NH 31 instead of going for the Tiger Bridge which is NH 31A. At around 1 pm you were 129 kms short of Siliguri. Reaching Siliguri at around 4.30 pm, if you had remained on NH 31, you would have been at Bripara by 7 pm for night halt.

    NH 31 reaches Birpara through the plains while 31A reaches Birpara through the mountains. Birpara is 60 km ahead of Mal Bazar towards Bhutan and just 50-odd kms short of Bhutan gate.

    Also, Darjeeling and Kalingpong are in West Bengal (Darjeeling district) and not in Sikkim.

    Cheers!

  • MN says:

    Hi Abhijit, I was on NH31 only and had passed Siliguri & was proceeding towards Birpara / Jaigaon. I crossed the Sevoke Military Camp at 4.45 pm evening. My directions were very clear & there was no problem and I came to the Coronation Bridge which I passed through and later came to the Railway gate crossing and crossed that and came across the Sevoke Police Station & after passing this comes the Tiger Bride and no where it is written Tiger Bridge.

    There was some repair works going on and right at the enterance of this bridge there is a pillar & on that they have written Bacrakote and showing an arrow mark and someone has scribbled Welcome to Ghurkhaland State and nowhere it is mentioned way to Guwahati/Birpara/Jaigaon/Bhutan.

    It was so pitch dark & not a soul on the road to cross check where was Tiger Bridge and here I was in a place with a wife & 2 small kids not knowing where I could confirm whether that was Tiger Bride and I missed taking that right turn and drove on and was soon climbing the hilly terrain that was leading to Darjeeling, Kalingpong and Gangtok Sikkim.

    If I had not made this mistake of going straight and if only I had taken the right turn at Tiger Bridge I would have passed Birpara, Mal Bazar & would have reached Jaigaon itself. Anyway that is now history and hope it will help some one if they plan to go thru Tiger Bridge. This was the only mistake I did in the entire 7400 km trip from Coimbatore to Bhutan & back.

    The roads were very bad & terrible in many places full of huge pot holes. There is absolutely no traffic at night as I believe many avoid driving through that part due to wild life and it was very chill at that time in December. People sleep early as it gets darker fast in that part of the world.

    The worst part was I was passing through wild life Sanctury animal crossing area where Elephants, Rhinos & Bisons cross the road regularly at night.

    Here I was driving through that road at mid night 11 pm and reached Hotel Kasturi @ Mal Bazar at 12.25 mid night. I agree Darjeeling & Kalingpong are in WB and Gangtok is in Sikkim.

    For some one who is from that part i.e West Bengal, Assam, Sikkim etc they will know the details well and will know how to proceed but for some one like me who is travelling in that part for the 1st time it was challenging.

  • To the best of my knowledge Coronation bridge and Tiger Bridge are same. Coronation bridge is called by local as Baghpool means Tiger Bridge. Can you please throw some light on it.

  • Samudra says:

    Pretty nice narration. I too long for such a trip. But understand that not everyone is gifted with your kind of family. I took my owned company people to Pokhara, Nepal, from Kolkata in my Xylo car and enjoyed every bit of it. Unfortunately my own family did not like it. I am preparing for another small trip to Jaldapara, from Kolkata, but facing an uphill task in making my family agreeing to that. I too have otherwise a nice wife, a safety freak 13 year old son and a nintendo freak 9 years old daughter. I have started feeling that I might need to arrange such trips, myself and my close friends only. I wish I can make trips to kannyakumari, Srinagar or Rajasthan border some day. But how do you get distant friends to keep you supporting on phone et al? I am normally staying in Tokyo but love India, like many of you and I divert all my energy and funds to make trips inside India. I really love it! I visited other places in world, due to my work, but never saw a place better than India. I truly love my own India!

  • MN says:

    Dear Samudra & Friends,

    Sincere thanks for all your comments on the Bhutan Trip we did from Coimbatore South India. I am happy you all liked it.

    To read a more detailed version of the trip please kindly visit my blog site

    http://mnlml.blogspot.in/2011/02/life-mein-linea-road-trip-coimbatore-to.html

    @ Samudra – I agree with you that the support of a family is very important & a must & without that it is next to impossible to pull off a trip like this on the road, with wife & small children couped up for so long time in a car in a confined area.

    Some times it takes a lot of convincing and please understand the story was the same iwth me too, my wife was against such road trips earlier but now we have successfully completed 3 road long distance trips.

    This year 2012 – 2013 I am planning a very very long trip of 8500 KMs in 15 Days. It will be also shared on Ghumakar. The start date is 21st Dec and finer details of the trip are suspense for now & I will update for sure.

    Wish you & all and your personal families and all @ Ghumakar family all the best. Take care & Stay well.

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