The experience of the previous day had conditioned me for the drive this morning. AK Sinha, the Commercial Inspector of Maldah who had accompanied me on the visit to Gaur yesterday evening, had told me that the Siliguri stretch would take me slightly over 5 hours. Since I had factored in exactly that much for drive yesterday, I mentally factored in about 8 hours – and I was not disappointed. The road condition was much the same as yesterday – two lanes, awful at many places, at the mercy of hand drawn carts, breakdowns and congestions at junctions and villages. The breakdown of a truck just out of Malda lined up trucks many miles. A helpful villager suggested that I take a diversion through a village road to ‘beat’ the traffic jam. For a while after I acted on the suggestion, I wondered if I had taken the right decision; the road was narrow and poorly maintained. The doubt was partly on account of the fact that none else followed the unbeaten path. Very soon I thanked the villager who had made the suggestion. I travelled through a couple of pristine villages, with paddy fields and vegetable farms on either side of the roads, water bodies that either farmed fish or singhadas, kids in uniform on their way to school on a bullock cart, mango groves and unhurried and helpful people.
A traffic constable at Raiganj broke into a wide smile when he saw the duty vehicle and noticed its registration. His smile broadened when I waved at him! Close to Dolkala I saw the amazing sight of a collapsed bridge. The girders had collapsed and the piers were intact. The rural beauty and unbounded greenery on either side of the road up to Dolkala made me take the bad roads with a smile, rather than a scowl. It was mentioned to me at Malda that the NH31 after Dolkala would be a four laned beauty. Yes, some of it was. Some of it was almost unmotorable – the pot holes were the size of lunar craters! Just after Islampur one gets to experience the tea gardens.
I noticed that the city of Siliguri has grown considerably over the past two years. This was confirmed by the Station Manager, Mondal, who has decided to settle in Siliguri despite being from Kolkata. An army jeep was ahead of me as I entered Siliguri town The rear seats were taken by those who looked like representatives of God’s Own Country, and they had cramped lots of luggage into the vehicle – I guessed it was some family moving in for a posting. One of the guys in uniform nudged his neighbor and both took turns at staring at the number plate of my car and an embarrassed driver!