Saturday, September 25, 2010

Through the Dooars.

Another long road trip today.

Destination?  Bhutan!!

We woke up bright and early in Kalimpong. Sanjeev had told us that although the driving distance to Phuentsholing, Bhutan is only 185 km, the roads were really bad and so it would take us more time than we would expect it to under *ordinary* road conditions.





Kalimpong sits up in the highlands. Our journey started with a descent down the mountainside to NH31A and then to the flood plains of northern West Bengal....otherwise known as the Western Dooars. From there we headed north towards the India/Bhutan border.




When we first arrived into the flood plains of the Western Dooars, the roads didn't seem so bad.  I was sitting behind Raju and I rarely saw or felt a bump in the road and there was barely any traffic on the road.  We were cruisin' along at a nice clip and for a short while, I was able to sit back and enjoy the lush green scenery we were passing by. 

It was a beautiful day for a roadtrip!

Towns and villages dotted the landscape all along the way.  We were back in rural India.


Some villages were just made up of small clusters of buildings nestled among the trees.


Others were really little towns, with all the dust, dirt and clutter of larger cities. 








Scattered between the towns and villages were tea estates.  Women were out picking leaves.  Marc really wanted to take photos of them so he asked Raju to pull over.  Since we were the lead car, the others followed suit.  We all clamored out and surreptitiously took photos from afar.  Thank goodness for my zoom lens!

More often than not, some of the most memorable moments from my trips are not the scripted visits but the unexpected happenings.  As we were snapping our photos, a small group of curious village children came up to see what was going on.







Next thing I knew, Rhonda was taking pictures of the kids.
























Then, it was Marc's turn.  I don' t know who was having more fun.  The kids or Marc :-)


















And last but not least, it was Libby who captured the attention of the kids.  She passed out stickers!!  Her challenge was trying to explain to kids that they had to share.  Sure....lucky for them, they didn't understand a word she was saying :-)


















I happened to lock eyes with two boys who caught me trying to take a photo of them and they automatically posed for me.


So, although our intention was to take photos of the women picking tea, we actually ended up having  better time interacting with the kids!

As we drove off, we waved good bye to them and they to us.  That was an enjoyable journey break.

By this point in our roadtrip, the roads had turned incredibly bad.  Large sections missing pavement.  Potholes and ruts everywhere.  Off roading in West Bengal.  Woohoo!!

Between trying to avoid bad road and the madness of Indian traffic, Raju often ended up driving on the shoulder....which in India is barely a few feet wide.   But, he was a very safe driver and so he drove with caution which also meant that we were now going at a snail's pace.  It was going to be a long day's journey to Bhutan :-(

And for some inexplicable reason, I always have the giggles when the road gets to be really bumpy.  Perhaps it's because my insides are getting all jiggled around and rearranged.





Around mid morning, we took a break.  Snack time!  Place?  A town called Binnaguri.  Not a scenic town but that didn't matter cause by this time, the only thought on our minds was FOOD!  It had been hours since breakfast and we were all ready for a bite.










Of course, even in rural India, there's a cow needing some household supplies and there's always someone ready to sell him what he needs :-)





I'm guessing that Sanjeev has been to Binnaguri before because he knew exactly where to tell Raju to pull over.  We parked right across the street from an Indian snack shop. 

Everyone made themselves comfortable and ordered their snacks and drinks.  I sat with Sanjeev and Raju and shared food with them.  After the first bite, I decided it was tasty enough for me to order my own plate. While I was at it, I ordered another one for the guys to make up for my munching from their plate.  I'm so greedy.

Of course, you can't go to the snack shop and not leave with something for the road :-)  These two handsome young men were standing behind the sweets counter.   Not that I needed an excuse to buy anything they were good eye candy and I'm a sucker for a nice smile from a polite young man ;-)




Our short break was over.  Back the bumpy road. More villages, towns and tea estates to drive by.  More women picking tea.
 


It was early afternoon when we arrived into Jaigaon.



Jaigaon is a border town. It was at the frontier check post here that we had to fill in our immigration departure forms and get our passports marked with the required exit stamps.  Bye bye Western Dooars!  Bye bye India!  I'll be back soon!!