Not wanting to take any chances I had asked the hotel reception to give me a wakeup call at 4 am. However, I woke up quite some time before that; again excitement. But no. it was more of apprehension than excitement. The Kolkata-Farakka stretch is a major challenge too because of slow moving traffic and severe congestion during the daytime. At the time of the checkout I was handed over a packed dry breakfast, which I had requested at the time of check in. after lodging the overnighter and the media bag in the car I shifted gears for the Bhubaneswar-Kolaghat highway, NH6/60.
Just a km or so after I was on the highway from the hotel a biker overtook me and greeted me. I wished him too. Then I struck me that it would be Siddanth Misra, who had spoken to me last evening. He had wanted to meet me and I had given him time before 5 am at the hotel. I had forgotten all about it and left the hotel a few minutes before 5 am. We stopped at a convenient place on the highway and I apologized profusely for the mistake. He was very sweet about it. The young man has been an avid biker since 2006 after his parents gave him sensible advice to respect the road and never to be rash. His prized possession at the present is a lovely KTM bike. He works in Bhubaneswar and is an active member of the Xbhp biking group. He told me that he had biked extensively through South Odisha. Even this morning he was togged and fitted out for a ride to Puri with his ‘gang’. The ever smiling Siddanth was the right tonic to start the day; positive and open with an ever ready smile.
The drive through Balasore and Kharagpur was without any hassle. I decided to stop at the Sher-e-Punjab restaurant in Kolaghat for an early lunch. I had stayed at this place on my return trip of the Trans Himalayan Highway. The restaurant is always cramped to capacity for the lovely Indian food they serve, and the superb location. This day, too, it was full. I found a place in the AC section and ordered rotis and chana dal. Then I flipped open the social media sites. I found a message from Deep Banerjee, founder of Indian Roadies. Last evening I had asked him for inputs on the drive to Farakka. What he suggested opened my eyes. His first option was to continue on NH60 from Kharagpur to Darjeeling More near Panagarh and onwards to Suri and Moregram. I had overshot that and, therefore, thought of speaking to find out what I could do to remedy the present situation.
Deep was so forthcoming with suggestions that I thought it better to get into the car and write down his instructions. I gulped down the hot lunch as fast as I could and got back to the car. Deep suggested that I take the Burddhaman-Panagarh Delhi highway and then at Darjeeling More get on to the route he had initially suggested. He wanted to meet me and told me of a meeting place. Eventually I overshot that and waited after the Patli toll for Deep to catch up. In a short time he told me about his vocation and how he founded the India Roadies group, their activities, etc. He told me that he had suggested the route because it would be fast moving and least congested. His detailed description of the route left me speechless. The encyclopedic recall of junctions and road conditions was absolutely invaluable to one like me. And his ready smile and humble manners immediately struck a chord in me. Once I had completed the drive for the day I thanked him in my mind for the most useful information.
The first part of the diverted route was the NH2 – a carpet beauty and I reached the Darjeeling More in very quick time. The More is quite busy but traffic moves without being stagnant. I turned on to SH14 and set my sights to Suri and Moregram. From the More I had to travel nearly 220 km to get to Farakka, as the GPS said. This meant that I would be travelling about 770 km more than I would have had I taken NH60 from Kharagpur. But I was not disappointed because the extra distance was covered in much less time than I would have otherwise, thanks to the lovely NH2.
Though the SH14 was a single road with two lanes the road conditions were quite good and seemed to be recently done up. It also had a fair share of freight traffic, which mercifully did not clog the road. I drove on at medium speeds and was careful at villages and junctions. Since the route was through farming villages it would not be uncommon for tractors, children and cattle to stray across the road. Despite being extra cautious I was involved in an incident 20 km short of Moregram. From a distance I saw a goat crossing the road and set my course to avoid it. Halfway through its journey to the other side of the road the goat decide to return to the side from where it had come. And it got into my path. I just could not avoid hitting it. As soon as that happened a motorized cart almost came bang in the center of the road asking me to stop. Knowing what may happen if I stopped I deftly avoided the cart, said a silent prayer for the ‘dirty double crosser’ (the goat) and sped off. it was sad but I could not avoid the incident, try as I did to. Later Deep told me that the route I had intended to take initially would have been more troublesome than what I had encountered.
Along the road I had a few stoppages for ongoing road works but overall the infrastructure was good. However, as in most places, purposely driving on the wrong side of the road was a menace. I often wondered why more accidents did not happen with such poor road discipline. The only solution I can see is to confiscate the vehicle! Tractors, public transport and two wheelers are most guilty in this regard.
I reached the Bhagirathi Bhavan guest house of NTPC in Farakka by 6 pm. The accommodation was very basic but the location was great. I was just a few km away from the Farakka Barrage. Later in the evening I had a surprise visitor – Pradeep Kumar, the Law Officer of NTPC. He got curious after seeing the stickers on the car and asked if he could meet me. I spent some lovely time with chatting about the trip and his job. The 2100 MW thermal plant was commissioned in 1979 and is one of the oldest in the country. I was thrilled to know that a substantial part of its thermal coal requirement was being transported on National Waterway 1. Pradeep promised to visit me after the Trans-Siberian expedition to know more about the trip.