Monday, November 1, 2010

Day 31 - Kolkata to Malda

An early morning start was scheduled for the trip to Malda, as I was warned that the route would be congested. What I experienced was the most enervating leg of the journey thus far, taking nearly 9 hours over 350 kms (when I shared this with a friend I was told that this is just preparation for the NE, where bad roads will be encountered in hilly terrain!). The NH 34 is a two lane road with high shoulders on the sides. Every conceivable mode of transport that can be put on the road was on it - hand cart, motorized cart, bullock cart, oversized autos, head load, Kochi-type private buses (including the drivers, I felt), etc. There are no bye passes for the NH, the result of which is that there are traffic hold ups at every junction and village. The high shoulder of the roads does not permit the use of the service lanes. I encountered two accidents and a breakdown that delayed me considerably. Vehicles pile up in either direction for miles following any disturbance. After the first hold up I learnt to navigate smartly, and some would say selfishly – angry honks and spiteful gestures did not either annoy or provoke me.
I had planned to visit the site of the Battle of Plassey (Palashi), the Hazarduari at Murshidabad and Gaur. Thanks to the lack of any direction boards or indication of these historically important locations on the roads, which is a must for tourists, and the congestion on the roads (added to the normal chaos was the arrangements for the visit of the Union Finance Minister to lay the foundation stone of the MDI and a NHAI function in Murshidabad), I missed the landmarks in Palashi and Murshidabad. Maybe, just maybe, I will get another chance to visit these places. The Farakka Barrage is a sight to behold. The location is manned by the CISF and there are multiple warnings not to exceed a speed of 20 kmph over the bridge - there should not be any concern about this, for the condition of the road on the bridge will not permit anyone, with some concern for his vehicle, to even contemplate a speed even nearing that!

I visited the Mahdipur border post (Bangladesh), near Malda (referred to as ‘English Bazar’ in the National Motoring Atlas of Mapmy India). Cement, foodgrains, etc that get exported to Bangladesh is unloaded from railway wagons in Malda and moved by road via the Mahdipur border post. About two kms from the border, on the Bangladesh side, the goods are transshipped from the Indian truck to a Bangladeshi truck; vice-versa for goods originating in Bangladesh bound for India. The ruins of the southern entrance to the Gaur territory (Kothwali Darwaza), built around 1235 AD, can be seen at the border. The BSF deployment reminds you very gently that photography is prohibited. A good view of the border post and the Bangladesh border territory can be had from atop the ruins. I only had time for the ruins of Lottan and Tantipara mosques, which are quite impressive. It gets quite dark by a quarter past five.
In the morning, the ‘send off’ from Garden Reach was an emotional one. Gopal Mohanty and his wife insisted on a 0630 breakfast, to facilitate an early getaway from Kolkata. The excellent masala dosas and soft idlis with badam and coconut chutnies made me spent more time at breakfast than I would have otherwise on the way. Ms Mohanty insisted that I carry special Lonavala chickkies for a munch on the way. (“The best way to resist temptation is to give in to it”, it is said. So it was with the chickkies – they did not last even till Barasat, a distance of less than 30 kms from Garden Reach!). Then, Ms and Mr Manoj Singh came with a huge parcel of food (complete with disposable plates, spoons, tissue and water), part of it for lunch, part for dinner and some for many days thereafter! Every gesture of friendship and affection make me send up a silent prayer of gratitude to the Almighty for the friends, family and acquaintances that He has given me. Besides a few photographs taken with the families, Gopal took me to a vantage location just outside the SE Railway HQ building – he had identified it the previous day! – for a few more. The sojourn in Kolkata had come to an end, but they are filled with memories of affection and care. Your life becomes more meaningful when you feel wanted. And I did feel exactly that during the last five days.
The lovely ORH in Malda (Kalindi Bhavan) was my destination for the overnight halt, thanks to Ambrish Gupta. I was informed that the former Railway Minister, Shri ABA Ghani Khan Choudhary, used to hold his ‘Durbar’ in this ORH. By the time I reached there I was all aches and pains. A cold shower and the company of a certain 'Johnny Walker' put some ‘josh’ back to complete the blog post of the previous day.

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