For a 4.30 am start I keep the alarm for an hour earlier. So, despite the late night after the grueling drive, I was ready in time in the Railway Officers' Rest House in Alipurduar. Light rain accompanied me to the Champion parked at the entrance of the ORH. The caretaker, as eager as ever, was there to see me off. A jolly fellow, he became extremely serious when I asked him to pose for me with the car, and it showed in the photo. To get to the highway I had to cross a level crossing gate near the ORH. At that time, however, the level crossing gate was open. The scheduled halt for the day was Sibsagar in Assam. Accommodation was not confirmed at this place prior; Rajiv Shah had taken on the responsibility of getting it done at short notice. I banked on his expertise in the field, as I knew how well connected and resourceful he is.
Within the hour of leaving Alipurduar I reached the Srirampur check post which is the border between West Bengal and Assam. I was amazed at how busy the check post has become. In 2010 when I traveled to Dhubri in Assam I had to take the Bakshirhat check post. The experience was not very pleasant, in fact it was downright scary. A mafia used to operate at the post to extort money and material from unsuspecting passenger car owners with ‘foreign’ car registration. They got very aggressive with me and I was ‘saved’ in the nick of time by the then Superintendent of Police, Dhubri. I later understood that cars stolen from different parts of the country are smuggled to Nagaland for sale and it is this segment that the mafia targets. After that experience I have steadfastly refused to take that border and travel via the Srirampur border. One reason why the Srirampur border was not popular till late is because the Bodoland issues had made that route risky. With seeming peace the border has become more intensively used. The second reason is that the roads from Srirampur to Guwahati via Bongaigaon and Rangia and further beyond up to Nagaon have become extremely good.
By about 4 pm I was at the outskirts of Sibsagar, where I was supposed to halt for the night. Except for short stretches, where the road was bad, the drive to Sibsagar had been smooth. Rajiv Shah had made arrangements for my stay at the Hotel Piccollo. At the last minute I decided to extend the day's drive to Tinsukia, which meant that another 130 km would have to be done for the day, knowing fully well that the drive from Dibrugarh to Tinsukia could delay me. The drive beyond Nagaon was scenically outstanding – tea gardens and the Kaziranga wildlife sanctuary. The countryside of West Bengal and Assam are incredibly beautiful. I am certain that if it were not for the problems that beset these places, political and otherwise, tourism would have been a major stay of the economy of this region.
Showers ranging from light to heavy slowed my progress to Tinsukia. Despite that, a little after 6 pm I reached Hotel Highway for the night halt; 793 kms had been done in slightly under 14 hours. I was forced to take a superior room because the basic rooms were all damp and uncomfortable. At the time of checking in I informed the clerk that I would be leaving early morning for Tezu and returning to the hotel by 11 am, after which I would check out. He agreed to the suggestion. Over a very light meal I completed the documentation and turned in for the night, with the intention of waking up at 3 am for the next day’s schedule.