Cuttack to Bhadrak. 10 March. 103km.
We were on the road by 7am, feeling guilty for having had to wake Bapu up to say good bye, but we had a big day to cover and wanted to be on the road early – and as has been the case recently we were already sweating before we left.
A highway cycling day of straight roads, lots of trucks and not much else to be honest. Video proof of that….
One nice deviation from the monotony of the road was our chai stop around 10am, which was literally a shed at the side of the road. There was the usual interest from the owner and a few punters who alternated between asking us questions and quietly staring at us, while the one female working there made the tea and served us. I need to retrace the story slightly to say that while we were at Bapu’s, his family gave us both a bunch of flowers, which despite the impracticality of it, was a lovely gesture. However these flowers were now on the back of my bike and slowly wilting in the heat, so when we finished our tea Nigel gave the hard-working lady a bunch…someone may as well have them while they were still alive! If we thought she was happy, all the men were more so and gathered around to take photos of celebrity westerner Nigel presenting her with them. It was very sweet and our feel-good deed for the day…which unfortunately didn’t stretch as far as taking a photo ourselves!
We had a tail wind pushing us along a flat road for the day so we were at base around 1pm. We didn’t have accommodation booked but had a hotel in mind and when we got there thankfully they had a room – as well as professional English speaking staff, a western toilet, toilet roll and clean sheets….pure luxury! We have just completed 12 consecutive days of cycling, some of which have been big days, so we were happy to just chill out on our room, snooze, have dinner and very little else…not that there was much to do here anyway we reckon!
Bhadrak to Balasore. 11 March. 68km.
Another day of functional highway cycling to take us nearer the Bangladesh border. But thankfully it was only 68km, as it got really hot from about 11am onwards.
The Kolkata region is apparently famous for its sweets. Although we are still about 300km away we have seen more sweet shops in the last few days, so when we stopped for tea this morning we decided to try some out. They didn’t taste of much except sugar so can’t say we are fans…they definitely looked better than they tasted!
For the second day in a row we found pretty decent hotel with a very air-conditioned room, which was just what we needed coming out of the hot sun – and after a wash and a snooze we wandered into the town to find a barbers shop for Nigel. Within 15 minutes he had a haircut, beard trim and a head massage….
…and reappeared looking about 10years younger – for the princely sum of about 65p!
….while I on the other hand, with the current humity levels, continue to look like Worzel Gummidge!
Interesting factoid for today is the swastika sign that is visible all over India…in homes, temples, on cars, motorbikes, shops etc.
Apparently it was originally a symbol of auspiciousness and goodnight luck in Europe until it was adopted as the emblem of the Nazi regime. Throughout India however it is as a symbol of spiritualism with different meanings in the many different religions eg prosperity and good luck in Hinduism or auspicious footprints of the Buddha in Buddhism. Until I came to India I was totally unaware of this so I was quite surprised to see it used so widely – but now I know…and so do you if are reading this!
Balasore to Digha. 12 March. 102km.
Cycle. Sweat. Eat loads. Sweat. Sleep. Sweat….much the same as the last few days really. But today our final destination was a seaside resort so we managed a walk on the beach before dinner, which was a nice change. Digha made us feel like we were at the seaside in England as the seafront promenade was very familiar!
Digha to Ramnagar. 13 March. 111km. (14 & 15 March, 0km!)
Today was not a great day. A 5am start to beat the heat, to then discover we were locked into our hotel….and it took a few phone calls and lots of banging and making noise to rouse a surly-looking hotel worker to let us out – 45 minutes later, our early-start advantage completely lost.
Off we went on what was the road to hell…..90km of dodging aggressive buses and trucks on a very narrow road. Despite the fact that is was a National Highway, parts of the road were too narrow for the trucks/buses to pass so it was a constant battle to cycle assertively so as not to be driven off the road. And some of the truck drivers were so angry with us for blocking their way that both they and their passengers were banging on the truck doors shouting at us to move out of the way….adrenaline-fuelled, heart-stopping cycling that made every bone in my body stiff with tension. But to our credit, we gave as good as we got in expletives and hand gestures….very unladylike I know but it did make me feel better at the time : )
Over the last week as we have come further east, we have noticed that the driving has become more aggressive – and the area is generally more populated. Every bus or car that passes is absolutely rammed with people, and in many cases coach passengers are sitting on the roof on top of luggage, clinging on for dear life as it speeds along at 100km+ an hour! We do know that Kolkata is a very over-populated area and Bangladesh too, so I guess this is something we have to get used to.
We had one little reprieve when we stopped for tea and had a very nice interaction with the family who owned the dhaba….until the dad ruined it by asking us for money!
We reached the small village of Geokhali after 1pm, where we would take a ferry across the Hooghly river. After buying our tickets, relieved to find that we could take our bikes on board the passenger-only ferry, we had time for a tasty lunch in a local shack…(Nigel takes me to ALL the best places!). Check out the colour of Nigel’s face – that’s road grime and dirt not a suntan!
We were served by a very enthusiastic business owner, while his wife washed her hair in the corner!
When the ferry arrived our hearts sank as the only way onto it was via a very thin 18-inch wide plank of wood. This meant everything off the bikes and poor Nigel had to carry it all onto the boat as I wasn’t brave enough to walk the plank while carrying luggage as well. All the while, the other 30 passengers just stared silently at us and not one offer of help. When we got to the other side it was slightly easier as the boat pulled up alongside a wooden jetty so we could unload the luggage directly onto that, but at that stage things just got too much for me and I burst into tears. 15 days of continuous cycling, averaging 90km a day had caught up with me but it only lasted a few minutes and it was back on the bikes for the last 10km to our hotel.
Thankfully the hotel turned out to be a bit of an oasis on the banks of the river Hooghly. We checked in and when we went to our room we discovered someone else’s stuff already there, so the nice manager decided to upgrade us to a nicer room because we were “special foreign guests” – and so we chilled out here for 2 days! The good thing about being in the middle of nowhere is that there really was nothing to do except eat, sleep and repeat, which we did, with a little bit of forward planning thrown in! We did spend quite a bit of our time sitting along the banks of the river, drinking tea, spotting river dolphins and watching the fishermen at work.
According to the hotel staff we were very fortunate to see dolphins on both days as they are quite difficult to spot….and it was very therapeutic just sitting watching the river and completely switching off.
Below is our picture of the day on our road to hell…proving that even on our bad days there is still something to make us laugh. We still can’t figure out if it’s emergency milk or an emergency van….!
Ramnagar to Kolkata (Calcutta). 16March. 83 km.
We set out at 6.15am for Kolkata, and I have to admit that after our traffic experience on Wednesday I was quite nervous. There had been a huge storm overnight so it was much cooler than previous mornings, and that in itself was a good start. Thankfully the first part of the morning was lovely cycling on quiet country roads that had more bicycles than vehicles and lovely green landscape, so within an hour I had relaxed and got my cycling mojo back!
Since we have been here we’ve have been on the look-out for the lucky charm that many Indian drivers have on their vehicles to ward of danger and bad luck……a string of lime and chillis. Today, our penultimate day in the country, was the first time we saw them for sale so quickly bought one each and attached them on our bikes…every little helps!
Our journey took us through lots of bustling little villages that were quite pretty and unlike anything we have encountered in India so far. In fact the landscape and people were so different on this route that it felt like a completely different country, apart from one stretch of road where the aggressive truck and bus drivers re-appeared, shouting at us to get out of their way. But our two days of rest and the fact that we had a shorter distance to cover today meant we were a lot more mentally able to deal with them, although the noise at one stage was absolutely deafening. It’s hard to describe, but the buses, trucks, cars, motor bikes and even scooters here all have horns that are probably as loud as emergency vehicle sirens are in London…so when they are all going continuously it really is ear-splitting.
Coming into Kolkata, which is India’s third most populous city and one of the world’s highest population densities, I was expecting to hit a wave of speeding traffic that would scare the bajaysus out of me, similar to what happened on our transit into Mumbai. But the traffic Gods were looking down on us today and it was actually an OK cycle to our first destination…that well-known Indian sports shop called Decathalon! Traffic was surprisingly slow and drivers seemed to obey normal traffic rules…again I felt like we had been transported into a new country without even realising it. When we had our Decathalon shopping finished, we had lunch in one of the many roadside shacks nearby.
We then headed off to the hotel we had just booked to be told that they don’t accept foreign guests, which then involved a bit of a faff to get a refund on our booking. But we managed to find another place just round the corner and when we arrived there it was much nicer anyway so the Gods were definitely looking out for us today. Maybe the chilli/lime good luck charm really does work!
As we are in a big city we decided to do a supermarket shop to stock up on essentials until we discover the lay of the land in Bangladesh, and this also gave us the chance to do a bit of exploring. If I am honest I had no expectations that Kolkata/Calcutta would be a place we liked. Granted that we seemed to have chosen to stay on the posh part of town….more by coincidence that anything else….but what we saw of it, we both really liked. It was probably the cleanest city we have visited in India, and the area we were in (Salt Lake) was green and leafy and had lots of really old-style colonial houses. Apparently it’s one of the cities in India that has retained its pre-independence feel and we definitely saw this during our walk….
….and yellow old-school Ambassador cars, which we haven’t seen anywhere else in the country!
And of course we couldn’t visit Calcutta within the seeing a statue of Mother Teresa!
The downside of being in a city in India (if you want to call it a downside!) is that it’s easier to find non-Indian food than Indian, as that’s what Indians tend to go for when they eat out. We have been told multiple times that Indians don’t eat out very often as the food they eat at home is generally as good as if not better than the same dishes they would order in a restaurant – which makes sense. But for our last Saturday night here we didn’t want to have pizza or Chinese so after much research found a local restaurant that served good local fare. So for a day that I was dreading when we set off in the morning, it turned into a really good day and it’s a city we are so glad to have visited, even if only for one night…moral of the story being that if you set expectations low, you can be very pleasantly surprised!
Kolkota to Bongaon (Bangladesh Border). 17 March. 73km.
Our early morning departure from Kolkata/Calcutta wasn’t as quiet and stress-free as our arrival into the city, but it wasn’t bad. And we passed this on our way out of town….
Once we got out of the city the road itself wasn’t too bad, but there were continual bottlenecks going through small towns and villages when we encountered the horrible bus drivers banging the sides of then buses and shouting at us to get out of the way. Not sure what we expected in terms of scenery, but it definitely wasn’t the tree-lined roads that we travelled, which were quite pleasant.
We reached Bongaon, the border town to Bangladesh, around 1pm and found a decent guest house quite easily. We followed our usual routine of shower, snooze, chill-out and dinner, followed by an early night to prepare us for our crossing into Bangladesh tomorrow. Our plan is to be at the border crossing point, 6km away, as close to the 630am opening time tomorrow morning.
And after almost 6,000 km in India over 3.5 months we are ready to move on. Who knows what Bangladesh will have in store?!
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