10th October: It was good that I didn’t pass the first lodge in search of something more comfortable; I didn’t see any other signs of lodging as I left Islampur. Maybe the Monalisa is the only one. In fact, I was pretty quickly out of Islampur and back on the NH31. I hadn’t even found anywhere for breakfast… But, an hour or so later, I bought a two litre bottle of Fanta and a packet of sweet biscuits – enough to sustain me for a while.
No rain this morning, just level riding on a smooth surface with relatively well-behaved and considerate traffic. No near-death experiences. No rain or flat tyres. There was the occasional vehicle approaching me against the flow of traffic, contemptuous of the rules of the road regarding twinned highways (dual carriageways). And I was used to these by now.
At a place called Dalkhola, my route left NH31 for NH34, which is also the main route from the north-east to Kolkata. Quite a busy route but not twinned and very rough and pot-holed. My speed dropped considerably from the earlier easy cruising and it became a bit of a struggle. I had changed from sandals into cycling shoes with orthotics, my first real try with them, and pretty soon afterwards both
knees began to hurt. It may have been coincidence, since I’d had some twinges already in my right knee, but I’ll have to experiment over the next few days with and without my orthotics in my cycling shoes and trying sandals again, to see what works best. It was my first time wearing cleats so I practised getting in and out of them; there didn’t seem to be a problem. The issue, though, I soon realised was actually remembering that I was wearing cleats and to unclip when stopping! I had a couple of dramatic dismounts (accompanied by spectacular backward rolls) as I went to put a foot down only to find it was firmly attached to a pedal. I got some pretty nonplussed stares from the locals who witnessed these antics.
Tired and sore, I (again) tried the first lodge I saw, and it is reasonably comfortable. It is within the boundaries of the second largest bird sanctuary in Asia. I’ll have to have a wander tomorrow morning with my camera and check out the telephoto lens. I had toyed with the idea of a rest day, to do some course work, tomorrow but the cell coverage, and internet, is not good here. If I’m hurting tomorrow, I may have to try another hotel, if there is one, and hope for better coverage.
10th October, Day 4 – Today: 104.0 km, Avs: 15.7 kph, Time: 6.37, To Date: 271.2.
Google put today’s distance as 107 km but I’m not at the centre of Raiganj so my cycle computer seems pretty close.
11th October: I got on the road around 10:00, planning a fairly short and relaxing day. Relatively speaking. But it was not to be. The road was difficult, patched and potholed for most of the way. As well as taking a few kilometres per hour off cruising speed, it is also physically and mentally tiring. I spent a good portion of the day riding on the gravel at the side of the road, either because it was less jarring than the official road surface or to avoid some particularly aggressive driver approaching me from behind or directly at me on my side of the road. There seemed to be a lot of such drivers today.
It took about ten kilometres to get into the countryside and then it wasn’t for long. This seems to be a densely populated area even by Indian standards. I presume that many of the structures along the roadside are on public land and inhabited by squatters. The cloud had disappeared today making the greens of the countryside exceptionally bright and rich, but also making this cyclist very hot! And thirsty. I got through four litres of water (without needing a bathroom break) but still felt I’d had too much sun. I stopped in the shade and shut my eyes for twenty minutes around 2:00 pm. A few boys came to look at the bike and, this time, a young woman and an older woman. They were all obviously very poor and uneducated but it was nice that the women could approach me openly. One offered me water but I had my bottled water handy.
I had removed the orthotics from my cycling shoes last night, to see how my knees responded. But I started off the day with my Chacos – and rode in them all day. And, apart from each start from a rest or a time-out to avoid a menacing bus or truck, my knees didn’t cause me too much pain.
Just to the north of Malda, I saw a mirage. A beautiful, modern, luxurious hotel. I approached quickly, before it had a chance to disappear, and got a room. They wanted 950 plus tax (about $20) but we settled on 800 plus tax. I will be here for two nights (at least). I think I’d benefit from a rest day or two and I can do some course work. It’s about five kilometres from the centre of Malda but I’ll be looking at rickshaws to go into town and back (although the bike would be quite a treat without a load on).
Malda is known for a special type of mango that it exported worldwide. And as one of the 250 most backward districts in India. The power went on and off several times after I arrived and while I was eating: “Load-shedding” my waiter explained, a euphemism for power cuts that I hadn’t heard used since my last time in India, in 1991. But they do have good Internet!
11th October, Day 5 – Today: 70.4 km, Avs: 15.1 kph, Time: 4.40, To Date: 341.6.
(Googe gives the distance as 70.3 km, from Raiganj Bird Santuary to the Hotel Golden Park so I think my cycle computer is just fine!)
Note: The Lonely Planet describes the roads around Malda as some of the worst in India!