Thursday, May 19, 2016

Day 4 – 16 May Farakka to New Jalpaiguri

As the day panned out I came to believe that the change in itinerary to halt at Farakka was a God-sent. The NTPC guest house has seen better days. Lack of maintenance has eaten into the facilities available. This was made up by the extremely friendly staff of the guest house. I woke up early and thought that it had become daylight already. I went out and saw that all the lights fans in the guest house were on, in the corridors and other common areas. I wanted some hot water to make coffee. A helpful attendant immediately agreed to fetch me some. When I got back to the room I realized that the water was less than lukewarm. Had to make do with that and I did.

I had paid the guest house charges the previous night, which included a princely amount of Rs. 40 for the room. By 5 am the bags were loaded, wind shield and windows cleaned and the engine was revved up. Within 5 minutes of leaving the guest house I joined the massive queue that was patiently waiting to cross the Farakka Barrage bridge. For almost 15 minutes nothing happened. Vehicles were not even coming from the opposite direction and I could not understand why it was a complete standstill. I got out and sauntered across to the driver of the truck that was right behind me. He told me that there must be some vehicle breakdown on the bridge, otherwise it does not get so delayed, he said. However, my experience has never been pleasant here. I have been over this bridge at least 7 times in the past. Every time I have suffered huge delays. And almost always the delay shave been caused by breakdown of freight trucks on the bridge. The bridge is considered to be a strategic asset and hence, prominently displayed at many locations is the warning that photography is totally prohibited. The bridge is also guarded by the CISF, a para military force. It has beyond y understanding as to why a recovery truck is not kept in readiness to reduce the delays caused. Besides that the maintenance of the bridge is so putrid that even a normal truck passing over it will be in danger of breaking down. Why it is maintained in that condition again begs a thousand questions.

I followed a police vehicle by breaking the queue and got to the head of it. There I explained to the CISF personnel why I should be permitted on priority over the bridge. They graciously waved me on. I thought my ordeal was over. I could not have been more mistaken. It took me almost an hour to move from the Farakka end of the bridge to the Malda end, the distance of which is about two km! When I reached the exit point of the bridge I found that many broken down vehicles were parked on one side. Poor controlling of the traffic, I see, as one of the primary reasons for the needless holdup. As I was patiently waiting for the mess to clear up on the bridge I found that six trains had cleared the section. The efficiency of the railway system, in comparison to road, was amply demonstrated. This makes out a very strong case for the road bridge also to be brought under the control of the Indian Railways with security support provided by the para military force.

Once the bridge was done and dusted the next nightmare to be dealt with was the Kaliachowk, a notorious junction point. Fortunately I did not get too delayed there, however, road works all along the stretch to Malda further set me back. The worst was yet to come. I could not believe what I experienced between Raiganj and Dalkhola. Traffic slowed to a crawl and often times stopped for long periods. At times I had to be irresponsible and aggressive, qualities that I normally do not display on the road. The approach to Dalkhola was a complete disaster. I had done just 140 km in nearly seven hours since leaving Farakka! The fact that the Champion survived without a scratch was the only saving grace. The poor road infrastructure, vast hordes of humanity and crass indiscipline continued up to Kishenganj. I wonder which country Modiji would have alluded to had he visited the Farakka-Malda-Raiganj-Dalkola-Kishenganj road section that lies in the states of West Bengal and Bihar, since Somalia is already taken! But then Modiji is busy selling Make in India to the world at large. I wish he would make sure that India makes it for India in India before we sell dreams to the rest of the word

Finally after nine hours and 295 km I cut the engine in the Kanchenjunga Officers’ Rest House in New Jalpaiguri. Within a short while the initial confusion about room allotment was cleared up and I settled comfortably into the commodious suite. The Caretaker and staff recognized me from the Singapore trip, when I had halted at the same guest house. It was too late for lunch and I settled for two cups of tea instead.

Over the past few days I had not found time to get into the normal groove of routine I am used to in the expeditions. With the result I was way beyond the blog updation. I decided to spend the entire evening in the room completing the documentation. Besides, I had to arrange the photos and videos. All that was done by the time I decided to call it a day after a dinner of rotis, dal and two tasty subjis.

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