I checked out of the hotel for the second time in two days, hoping that I wouldn’t be back again tonight (which would prompt a name change – from Hotel Kalinga to Hotel California), and joined the traffic heading out of Malda on NH34. At the Gour turnoff, I decided to have another go at the cross-country route that stumped me yesterday; I had more time, wouldn’t be spending time exploring ruins or the way into Bangladesh, and if absolutely necessary could retrace my steps in time to get to Farakka Barrage before nightfall.
There was more truck traffic today (maybe the Bangladesh border isn’t open on Monday?) but it was still a nice ride down to Gour on the smooth surface. The turnoff for Firoz Minar was exactly where Google Maps said Firoz Minar would be so I began to feel more confident about the rest of the Google information.
There was a turnoff within 200 metres of the specified location – this was the route I had planned to take yesterday before a helpful gentleman on a motorcycle sent me away with different directions – and I took this; a narrow lane, with a few local cyclists, through shady trees.
A call of “Left! Left!” brought me to a halt. A man was pointing in the direction of a track off the lane to the left and signing curves that in the current context probably indicated an Archeological Survey of India (ASI) site. Today wasn’t about culture and history but I was there so I took the detour. Sure enough, there was the twelve-domed Gunamant Mosque, thought to be built around 1484 AD. These ASI sites are nicely maintained, often with surrounding gardens, and the mosque itself was quite impressive; a good side-trip.
I continued along the lane, no longer sure about my directions, through unspoilt Bengali countryside and through villages. I had to retrace my route a few times but by taking turns in a southerly or westerly direction I continued in the right direction. Sometimes there was a road surface, sometimes a mud track (fortunately dry at the moment). I came across a road over quite an impressive bridge and someone with a smattering of English indicated that I should go left, away from the bridge, but when I mentioned my destination of Farakka, he pointed rightwards. So, over the bridge I went, and the road almost immediately turned into a narrow dirt track through more villages. Lots of goats, some only a day or two old by the looks of it. I stopped to have a drink and looked down to see a tiny jet-black kid licking the spokes of my front wheel. Two similar siblings were nearby. And a local woman in her twenties was there, unnoticed at first, and not at all bothered by my presence.
Then the highway was ahead of me, and instant gridlock. Horns blaring, of course. Rough surface. The tranquillity of the countryside was left behind as I tried to make my way through the motionless transport trucks. There was no reason for the hold-up that I could see but I eventually made my way through to the front of it and could see clear road ahead. I stopped for drinks and samosas down a sideroad before leaving the village that somehow had been the cause of the lines of stalled trucks. Bumpy, frustrating, national highway progress brought me more quickly than I’d anticipated to Farakka Barrage and I had my first view of the Ganges in 39 years (since an earlier trip to Varanasi, then known as Benares). Here, it is very wide; I should have measured it but I guess a least a couple of kilometres. I took some pictures, then got reprimanded by a senior looking soldier although there didn’t seem much of significance. From my vantage point, at road level, the barrage was a long bridge, carrying the highway and a railway line although there are clearly flow control structures below that influence the river flow and help to prevent annual flooding that brings so much hardship to the region.
I had planned to stay in the town here, and had found directions to a hotel, but it didn’t really appeal to me so I carried on to Dhulian, which is where I am now. It was a slow ride off the highway, walking pace and bumpy, crowded with pedestrians. Finding somewhere to stay was difficult; the first two places were full. I was directed elsewhere and a rickshaw rider took me to the new place; also full (I don’t think so, just that the young boy in charge couldn’t deal with a foreigner. Finally, I am settled, in a roughish place down a backstreet for 300 Rs. The manager is very helpful; I asked for a towel and one was bought (I think I own it now). A mosquito coil was bought and lit for me and a mosquito net set up – services, I am sure, not offered to regular guests. Certainly not posh, though.
16 October Today: 72.7 km, Avs: 13.4 kph, Time: 5.26, To Date: 471.5 km