I left Dhulian with neither regrets nor breakfast and rode back out to the highway at around 8:30. The road was as expected – lumpy, bumpy and pot-holed – and difficult to make any speed on. There were a few sections that had been resurfaced in anticipation of twinning the highway and they were much better. Even better were
the sections where I could use the future highway and have the benefit of a smooth surface and no traffic (except other cyclists like myself that could navigate on to these sections). The countryside was very flat, with areas of bright green where rice was being grown.
At Jangipur, after about 30 km, I left NH34 in favour of a state highway and the character of the ride changed dramatically. The surface was variable again, some nice, some not so, but there were trees shading the road in many places, houses along much of the road as villages stretched on almost to where the next began, and lots of local traffic. Bicycles now were as common as trucks on the national highway. The surface didn’t allow for much speed increase but it was generally more pleasant.
But I did begin to fade. A handful of biscuits weren’t enough to sustain me and I supplemented them with a bunch of very tasty bananas. I just didn’t see anywhere I felt like eating. I was pretty tired by the time I arrived in Murshidabad and found the Hotel Manjusha. Also, I’m beginning to wonder whether I’m the only Westerner between Darjeeling and Kolkata!
Finding something for dinner was no easy matter; as far as I could tell, the first place I tried and the one recommended by the hotel manager, had no warm food until 9:00 pm. Do they eat that late in West Bengal? I wandered the dark streets through the bazaar aiming towards an upper-market hotel I’d seen on the ride in but tired of this exploration and had chicken chow mein at a scruffy place down a side-street. It was tasty, and cheap; I just hope I can hold on to it!
Day 8 Today: 88.8 km, Avs 14.0 kph, Time 6.21, To Date: 560.3 km.
18th October, 2012. 8:30 am. I’ve just spent a very pleasant couple of hours out on my room verandah, with only my bicycle for company, watching the river in front of me come to life.
Today will be a sight-seeing day. There were no adverse after-effects from dinner last night so it might be time to search out breakfast.
6:30 pm. A low-key day but it was all I felt up to. Breakfast was basic Bengali – rice, lentils, potatoes – but for 60 cents (30 rupees) it was a deal. I walked for a while, then returned to Hazarduari and wandered the grounds for a while.
Then, consigning my cameras and phone to the bagage counter with a few misgivings (neither are allowed within the Hazarduari palace/museum) and paying my 100 rupees (Indians pay 10 rupees but it’s hard to begrudge the foreigner surtax, and there were lots of locals taking advantage of the inexpensive admission), I wandered around the museum. Quite impressive collections of old guns, some paintings, all-in-all pretty good. Not really my thing so much, though.
Outside the Hazarduari, I tempted fate by having an orange popsicle – it was so cold and delicious that I immediately had another. At twelve cents each, I could probably have afforded another but a tonga driver (if that’s what they call them here; a pony pulled cart) offered me a ride to Katra Mosque which I’d passed yesterday before I reached Murshidabad and which I thought was a fair distance away.
I decided on a good meal tonight, to fortify me for tomorrow’s ride. I took a rickshaw to a plush looking hotel I’d seen on the ride in and ate there. It wasn’t quite as plush on the inside but I had a nice chicken masala, curd and roti. And watched the first half of a game between Barcelona and Real Madrid. (If you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand ;)
I found the bazaar area of Murshidabad quite scenic; there is a gallery of photos here.
19th October I was on the road around 7:30 am, an early start for me. (On my previous trip, I was often on the go at daybreak and riding until dusk – approximately 6:00 am to 6:00 pm – but my legs aren’t strong enough for such days – after all, I now live a sedentary life and am almost approaching middle-age. Here, in the east of the country, it would be more like 5:00 am to 5:00 pm. Maybe in a couple of weeks…but I’m not in a rush.)
The breakfast places were still shuttered so I took my quiet shortcut lane up the couple of kilometres to Katra Mosque where I got a cup of tea from one of the roadside stalls. The road to Berhampur was straightforward although I took a wrong turn after rejoining my old friend, NH34, for a few noisy and bumpy kilometres. Once back on track, and on the state highway towards Kandi, I was rewarded with quiet countryside, frequent shade from trees and a smooth riding surface.
On the far side of Kandi, it was back to the normal mixture of some reasonable riding and some of the bumpy pot-holed variety. And my speed dropped down as a result. And so did my probability of making it to Shantiniketan (shanti = abode, niketan = of peace!). In the early afternoon, a retired air force ground-technician and current revenue inspector came out of his office, a small single room building on the outskirts of Kandi, to check that I was not having problems as I stopped for a drink of water. I accepted his offer of tea and his information about a good hotel in Suri (still 40 or 50 km distant) gratefully. I am now in the Bequest Inn, an oasis of cleanliness and calm! Air-conditioning (no choice), a good TV, a nice bathroom, clean sheets, a clean bathroom (!) – luxury, and a welcome break from the dirt outside which is getting a bit tiring; it’s good to get a treat now and again before going back into the fray! I’ll stay here for a day to catch up on some course work, and to let my legs rest a little. I could feel them on the stairs (although not enough to wait for the elevator for the one floor I need to climb).
On the ride today, I began to think about where to go for Christmas. Will I be finished riding by then? If so, Varkala is only 140 km ride from Kanyakumari and I enjoyed it in 1991. Or perhaps Hampi, for a spot of climbing?
Tonight in the hotel room, Google Maps informed me that it is about 2,000 km to Hampi from where I am, if I continue to detour through Puri. It would be nice to ride from Hampi to Mysore (my favourite Indian city), then out to Pondicherry and down to Kanyakumari from there; that is about 3,000 km. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself; I may burn out mentally or physically long before then.
Looking at my Nelles map, I noticed that I’m not so far from Susaina Hill, where ‘rock-climbing’ is marked and an elevation of 441 m. The road won’t be high (I think…) but it might be nice to see some break in the level topography. If I can hike to the top, there should be some great views. And a chance to use some different leg muscles. So, I’ve canned the idea of Shantiniketan and am planning on the supposedly 97 km to Susaina Hill tomorrow!
Day 9 Today: 106.0 km, Avs 14.5 kph, Time 7.18, To date 666.3 km