I woke to rain at 7:30 and riding today began to look doubtful. The weather forecast showed rain in the morning, afternoon and evening. But there wasn’t much that made me want to spend the day in Siliguri (although I could have spent the day trying to sort out why my 3G account with Reliance wasn’t working but I suspected that would be a frustrating, and ultimately fruitless, task that could wait until I am settled somewhere for a few days; meanwhile my account with Airtel is working fine) so, when the rain stopped and the clouds looked lighter to the south, I headed out.
Rather than heading north a little and west a little to the southbound National Highway 31, I headed south out of Siliguri on State Highway 12, the only alternative to NH31 in this, the chicken’s neck, narrow part of India between Nepal and Bangladesh. And I was actually on SH12 at some stage – but I wasn’t sure for quite a while since there were no signs and no kilometre marker stones.
It took a while to get into the countryside; these Indian cities seem to spread out a long way along the roads with stretches of shacks and businesses catering to virtually every need. But the countryside was nice when I reached it: some tea, some grazing of tethered cattle and goats, and some crop (presumably rice?). Before long, though, it began to rain again. But I was commited now…
It was cool riding weather. I swapped my shirt for a singlet, not normal riding attire but OK in the countryside and better in the rain. Villages were simple, some house walls out of woven bamboo. People were friendly and returned smiles. (I presumed they were smiling, not laughing at the crazy Westerner out riding in the rain.) Eventually, my route led me to NH31 and I headed south towards Islampur. It was getting late, and a night arrival was looking more and more likely. Then I noticed my rear tyre sliding sideways – it was almost flat. I pumped it up, surrounded by an instant crowd of onlookers, and hurried on. In a couple of kilometres, the same thing happened. I pumped it up again, without a crowd this time, and continued. But it was no good so, instead of pumping it up again, I found a dry shelter at the side of the road and changed the tube in the gathering gloom. Back on the road and in the rain, I continued. It was difficult to see anything but there were plenty of unlit bikes on the road; when it was pitch black the big trucks reluctantly, it seemed, turned on their headlights. I was glad of my flashing rear light. If I’d had a front light, I doubt that it would have helped much in the rain, except as a warning of my presence for those vehicles travelling the wrong way on the divided highway. Of which there were quite a few; why go over to the far lanes if you’re only going a kilometre or two?
There were several sections of roadworks where traffic shared one or the other of the two directions which presented some exciting moments in the dark, riding through water-filled potholes. But, finally, the road became two-way, businesses along each side began to appear, cycle-rickshaws made their reappearance, and I saw a sign for the Monalisa Lodge in the distance. It’s a bit grim but it’s only for one night’s sleep.
Day 3 – Today: 73.2 km, Avs: 15.5 kph, Time: 4.43, To Date: 167.2 km.
(Pictures to follow; check back in a week or so.)