Giving India a second chance

We hadn’t planned to go to India for the first time, and although we survived that ordeal, we sure weren’t too looking forward to going back. Once again the universe was about to smack us in the face with a life lesson that we’ll never forget (p.s. it’s actually the third or fourth time we say that!!) …

The travellers coming in the opposite direction depicted a boring and busy picture, one we knew all way too well. But there was no other way forward and after what was probably the hottest day in the history of 421adventure, we had our last meal in Nepal and ventured across the bridge (there’s always a bridge) into India… Again!

It was so hot that our tires sticked to the tarmac. It was so hot that no amount of water was enough. It was so hot that twice we stopped next to someone washing their car/motorbike and asked them to spray us too. Well, initially we asked and they just laughed politely. To make ourselves being taken seriously we actually had to pull a serious face and tell them to!

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One of the first things you notice in India are these cool signs everywhere

The border at Mechinagar is dirty and chaotic but signs of improvement can be seen everywhere; the road is being widened and a new bridge is being built. We will always be puzzled on why there were people crossing the fast and deep river on foot instead of using the footpath though. The only possible explanation is that they must be paperless and the authorities turn a blind eye if they literally pass underneath the barrier…

On the Indian side we were welcomed by smiling officials who offered us water and reminded us that we were about to use our second and last entry into their country. Yes, we know.

The first few hundred metres passed in what can only be described as a truck resting area in which a night market was also being set up covering almost every inch of the ground and making our advance slow but interesting; as always borders are messy but a great study case for numerous human aspects.

Anyway, we managed to make our way through and off we were on a brand new dual carriageway. It even had road markings and it was not busy! It took us all the way to Siliguri, the city in which we had seen several accommodation options, but first we had to be reminded why this region is called Darjeeling; initially it looked like an intensely green lawn beneath large acacia trees but something was odd, the grass seemed super tall. Then it hit us; that’s tea!

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We had already seen tea plantations before but maybe it wasn’t during the rainy season because these were of the lushest green we’ve ever seen and bathed the whole area in an intense aroma which cannot really be described with words.

Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to wander further north where this region really gives every penny worth of its reputation in terms of nature and sceneries, but it’s definitely something which we’ve put on our bucket list!

The first few days in Assam, the biggest region in North-east India, were spent avoiding a big busy road by means of zigzagging through towns and villages and following the Brahmaputra river east.

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Going through villages is always very interesting

Generally speaking, it was beautiful and quiet but the world famous staring for which India is renowned for sometimes really got to us. While in Northern India, we would often have a break in big petrol stations where we’d have all the necessary commodities and people are too busy to stop and take a good, long peek at these two weird foreigners on loaded bikes. However, in this very rural part of the country those infrastructures are non-existent and you’re never too far from a village, settlement or house. Just to leave things clear, we had been travelling for over a year at that point and we were used to curious stares and people taking an interest in us. In India though, it all happens on another level and even the word “staring” seems too soft to describe this cultural phenomenon. What really makes it all bad is the fact that no one ever talks to you, no questions asked, no interchange of information, just staring from a uncomfortably close distance.

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Impossible to stop without drawing a crowd

The previously mentioned river we were following, the Brahmaputra, is actually one of the biggest rivers in the world. It makes its way from the Tibetian Plateau onto the Assam Plains, joins the Ganges (and many others) River and ends in the Bay of Bengal. It’s remarkably huge and crossing it is not easy. We did so at its narrowest point near Guhawati where the river is forces through some mountains and is only 1.5km wide.

We will always remember Guhawati since it’s the first city in which we ever took a Uber! We also had the pleasure of staying with the kindest of local families for a few days who taught us about local culture and traditions, met other cyclists who warned us about the forthcoming road and witnessed animal sacrifice for the first time in our lives! Although it’s not the only big city in the region, it’s definitely worth spending a few days here since it has a lot to offer.

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Alpana’s family made our stay in Guhawati a special one
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Alpana made Aurelie a fresh and stylish cycling shirt in her workshop

Having crossed the Brahmaputra, there was only one thing left to do; start the climb into Nagaland and slowly get closer to Myanmar where we had a very important RDV with Ana and Daneto, a couple of friends, and 421adventure fierce followers and supporters, who had decided to take the chance to meet up with us in Bagan and spend their holidays, our holidays, together.

Without any doubt, in a couple of years, this remote yet beautiful part of India will be an absolutely wonderful place to visit, but for the time being the only connecting road is like hell! Most of it is under construction and the wet climate makes progress very slow. The stretches which are not mud valleys are pothole fields!

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But hikers, trekkers and nature lovers in general would be terribly wrong not to visit this hidden gem. Unfortunately most visitors to the Subcontinent tend to stay in the touristic hot-spots and do not voyage to these remote areas. Ironically, here is where foreigners are really welcomed and where true, substantial and worthwhile culture can be experienced.

Apart from the troublesome road though, we utterly enjoyed cycling in Northeastern India and adored the kindhearted people and their way of life. You see, although this is technically India it feels a lot more like Southeast Asia already and even people’s physiognomy reminds us that we’re almost there. In Kohima, where the famous battle took place, we would think ourselves a lot further East than our current longitude.

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People of Kohima; amazing humans with huge hearts!

Another curiosity of this area is the fact that it’s immensely Christianised and so, outside of big settlements, the only biggish buildings around are Churches, a lot of them! In one such holy place, perched above a small hill at the beginning of the last mountain range before crossing into a totally different world, we spent our last night in the Indian Subcontinent overlooking Imphal with a million starts over our heads.

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If you enjoyed reading this entry, you’ll love the video we’ve made about this region of the world; Bike touring Northeast India – A totally different experience …and if you’re wondering how our first trip to India went, here’s the first entry about it; Nothing like India and it’s corresponding video LINK


 

 

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