Sunday, 15 November 2015

Month ends had always made me happy and you know why. Friday was one of those days when my bank balance was balanced again. So we left office early, went to Spencer to get some food and wine.

There was a weekend plan going in background by Sumitro and Rajsri for Ayodhya hills. We knew about that but ignored as I was suppose to visit my home town. At around 8pm suddenly me and Rianka started discussing if it was a good idea to go for a weekend drive, rather sitting at home. We can always sit at home and enjoy our weekends, but it wont be very frequent where you can go for a weekend drive with friends. Ayodhya was a dicey destination for me, I have been to Garpanchkot few months back and thought of Ayodhya to be same. So with a confused state of mind at 8:30 pm we decided to go for the weekend drive. Contacted everyone through our whatsapp group.

We reached home, packed very light and waited for 1am. The plan was to drive the entire night and reach Ayodhya early morning. Ajodhya Hills is located in the Purulia district of the state West Bengal, India. It is a part of the Dalma Hills and extended part of Eastern Ghats range. Highest peak of Ajodhya Hills is Gorgaburu. The nearby populated town area is Bagmundi. There is a myth which is related to Ramayana, but that is not the reason why its name is Ayodhya. According to Hindu mythology, Rama and Sita had come to Ayodhya Hills and stayed during their exile. Sita was thirsty and Ram pierced an arrow through the Earth's soil crust and through that water gushed out. Sita quenched her thirst. The place is known as Sita-kunda. During the full moon day in Baisakh (Baisakh is a bengali month, which starts from mid April) every year tribal of nearby areas come and join in the game of hunting wild animals. However we didn't find any wild animals other than few foxes.

Ayodhya is around 350 kms from Kolkata, so ideally it would take around 7-8 hours, including breaks. We started around 2am and the first stop was Saktigarh for some tea at 4am. 4am is bit colder than the rest of the day due to winter. Saktigarh is famous for its Langcha (a kind of sweet in Bengal, check this) and other sweets. We had tea and took some sweets for our journey.

One can go to Ayodhya using different routes, the one we took was from Asansol, where we had to take a left turn and bypas the main city. This route took us to Raghunathpur and then to Purulia town. Few shots from early morning.

Roads till Raghunathpur was not so good, bad patches and bumpy. When we reached there it was already 7 am. After Raghunathpur the road condition started increasing, may be due to the fact that there were many tourists places and before Raghunathpur it was only small villages. From Raghunathpur it took us 2-3 hours to reach Ayodhya Hill, While going up and deep in the forest we got a beautiful view of the region

The next task was to find a place to stay. Ayodhya hill has very few hotels/hostels, so finding a good one was a difficult task. We started visiting each of them and at the end we couldn't find any good one. Even the Lions club in that area had few staying places but had shabby rooms. Eventually one of the locals suggested to check Bharat Sevashram. For those who doesn't have any knowldge of Bharat Sevashram please read here. We spoke to the person in charge there and he offered us 3 rooms. Rooms were clean and better than any other hotels over there. And damn cheap, only 300 per room. The only downside was there was no food available and we couldn't consume any non-veg item there. The ashram had a large compound where we could keep our car easily.

It was almost 11, half of the day was gone and by this time we could only find a place to stay. We had many places to visit that day, but we were too hungry and we didnt even had our breakfast. So the first thing we did was freshened up and had our lunch in a nearby hotel.

Ayodhya hills has many waterfalls, deep forests, tribal villages, water dams and wild animals. After lunch we started with Brahmi falls, local calls it Bamni falls. It was the nearest one and the only fall one we visited. One has to get down from the road and walk 10-15 minutes downwards to see the actual fall. The fall is quite nice and covered within stones. We also got an awesome view of the nearby dam from the walk.

It took us almost an hour here at the waterfall. The locals advised there were few more falls down the road and few barrage and villages. We took the only road available to us which took us to the below places.

The road let us to a water reserve in Baghmundi. We went to the top of the reserve.

We wanted to stay there for long, but there were other places to see and the sun was coming down very quickly. We came down from there and started looking for a petrol pump. Both the cars had very little gas and we didnt see any petrol pump since yesterday. We asked few locals and they showed us the direction to a pump, they also mentioned the same route will take us to Mukhosgram.

Mukhosgram is a name given by the locals of a specific area beside Ayodhya hills because they had many mask making workshops. The actual name of the place is Charida. The masks were made of clay and newspaper. These masks were used mostly in decorating house, in few cases in Chow Dance. The masks were pretty cheap as well.

Though we didn't buy anything, the owners were very eager to sell something. We took few pictures and returned. The next and the last place to visit for that day was another Barage. This time we took a different route from which we came to Baghmundi, that route took us this last dam of the day. It was a pretty empty place and no one else beside us. We spent few minutes over there knowing that it was the last thing to do for the day, because there isnt much to do where we were staying. It was also not a advised to roam around Purulia during night.

At night we had our dinner at a hotel nearby to Sevashram. Local chickens are very famous over there, so one should definitely try them. The rest of the night was spent talking politics and what not.

We started at 8am next day for Kolkata. There was another dam at Murguma, 17 km from Sevashram. The road to murguma was completely within small remote villages where people have never seen a Thar or a EcoSport, so wherever we went people turned their head to look at our cars.

Ayodhya is very scenic and beautiful, every year lots of tourists come to this place and Ayodhya. But I felt tourism here was ignored by local people and Govt.. They should focus on building new and better staying places and public transport. Purulia is one of the few districts of West Bengal which has lots of natural beauties. My last trip to Garpanchkot and this one gave me the impression that any weekend trip to Purulia is still far better than South Bengal.

While returning we had our lunch at Durgapur Sher-a-Bengal restaurant at around 4pm and then non-stop back home. A very well spent weekend came to an end.

Road Trip Stats -
Total distance covered - 731 km
Total fuel consumed - 46 L Diesel
Route - Kolkata > Durgapur > Raghunathpur > Purulia > Ayodhya Hill > Murguma > Purulia > Bankura > Durgapur > Kolkata.
Sevashram overnight cost - Rs. 300
Foods and Extra - Rs. 2000
Weekend Drive to Ayodhya Hills
8:16 p.m.

Weekend Drive to Ayodhya Hills

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Prologue - Elessaar is the name of the car I own now, i.e. Ford Ecosport. I bought it 2 months back. Odo was around 3200km + before the trip. I bought the EcoSport with the sole purpose of touring. The first destination which we planned to do in our new car was Zuluk. I called up a fellow Team-bhp member Sumitro, who was also interested in this long weekend drive. There was a holiday on 2nd October, which was a friday. Using this holiday we planned a 4 day road trip. The place and other plans was Sumitro's idea. Sumitro had a friend, Norden Bhutia who lived at a place near Padamchen. We planned to do camping on a hilltop which Norden and his family owned for 2 days. They also has their own house before hill top, and in case anyone of us isn't interested for camping he/she could stay at their place.

After a long discussion and planning 7 of us joined this road trip. Sumitro decided to take his Bolero, along with his wife and 3 other person. Me and my wife in our EcoSport. Kolkata-Siliguri via NH34 is notorious due to its bad condition, so we decided to take another router till Beharampur, to bypass most of the bad patches, via Bardhaman and Morgram, but all hope of driving on a good tarmac were in vein. The map shows the route as below, slightly more kilo meters, we actually drove 750 kms.

Day 0 - We started from EcoSpace, Rajarhat at 5pm on Wednesday evening. We knew we would drive a lot though out the night and stopping every alternative place in the night was not a good and safe idea, so we took lot of food with us. Both the cars were tanked full. The journey till Siliguri was boring and plain, so I don't have much to write about it. Only few stats -

EcoSpace - 5:00 pm (3183 KM)
Saithia - 9:20 pm (3390 KM)
Farakka- 1:42 am (3527 KM)
Dalkhola - 6:30 am (3690 KM)
Sevoke Bridge - 9:32 am (3833 KM)

The road before Farakka to Malda was the worst road I have ever driven. To be honest those were not roads, even the big Volvo buses was struggling to speed more than 20 km/hr. A small car with smaller ground clearance would scrap the under body numerous times. There was also a huge traffic just before Farakka bridge. So we had to go down from the main road, use the side spaces to avoid traffic many times.

Day 1- We drove the entire night to reach Siliguri with minimal stops. Hills starts after Siliguri and just before Sevoke Bridge. This was the gateway to Sikkim and Northern Bengal. This was also my first time in hills, so it took me a while to get used to the driving style. And after I understood it, it was fun to drive. The roads were broad enough for 2 vehicles to pass side by side, but I had to slow down . We took the road to Rongli via Rongpo, this is the same road that goes straight to Gangtok as well. We had to take a turn somewhere after Rongpo. We reached Rongli after few hours.

Rongli is small village few kilometres before Padamchen. A vehicle/tourist has to take ILP (Inner line permit) to visit places in East Sikkim. This permit can be obtained either from Rongli or from Gangtok. As we decided to take the eastern route Rongli is the place for us take permit. A permit can be obtained from Rongli to Gantok and vice versa. However these days there are some problems in getting permits in personal vehicles. We faced similiar situation.

Norden Bhutia was supposed to come to Rongli and help us to get the permit as he was a local. Unfortunately he had some other professional commitments and couldn't arrive on time. The SDPO was closed, hence permit was supposed to be given by the Police Station. Me and Sumitro went there with all papers and forms and gave it to one of the police men. After looking at the paper the first thing he enquired was if we had private or hired vehicle, and after hearing that we have our own vehicle he simple told us that he cant give any permit and we have to hire local taxis to visit any point further. We were shattered hearing this. We came so far, crossed so many kms of bad roads, and we were not at all prepared to hear this. After lot of negotiation they were still not ready to allow us take our vehicle. We were already exhausted after whole night's drive. Fade up with our situation we started thinking to visit other location. In the mean time Sumitro constantly tried to contact Norden and his brother Nadu. Nadu was a police officer, so he had better contacts. And finally after 4 hours of fighting and arguing and waiting we got permit. EcoSport got permit with me and my wife, Bolero got permit with Sumitro and his wife, but the other 3 person had to hire a taxi. We started from there as soon as possible. First checkpoint was at Lingtam, 10 km far, where we had to submit 1 copy of the permit. Norden and family has a shop a Qkhola. They invited us for tea when we reached there. It was already late and dark outside and everyone was exhausted, so the plans for camping was dropped for that day, We were invited to stay at their place. But we had to go up 3-4 kms to their house, and the problem was there were no roads after monsoon. Both our cars started for that place but EcoSport couldnt climb that offroad after few 100 meters, while the Bolero 4WD went up easily. There was 2 big stones lying in the middle of the road and to bypass them I had to slow my car. After slowing down the tyres were not able to find traction anymore. After a lot trying and burning the clutch I had to reverse my car around 500 meters and came back to their shop. While Sumitro and others had reached to their house, me and my wife waited for Nadu to come back from duty and take us up further in his 2WD Bolero. I kept my car standing beside their shop for next 1 and half day, which was little worry for me, but according to them that was completely safe. Before Nadu came we had little chit chat with Norden and his wife and his little daughter Kizangla. Nadu came after an hour and took us up. Even his 2WD bolero hit underbelly twice on that road, so it was not the place for the EcoSport to climb. The 2WD bolero couldnt climb up till the house, was stuck just before in slush.

They offered us 3 rooms. Rajsri (Sumitro's wife) in the mean time started cooking with help of Abhijit, Upal and Anindya. We got refreshed and went to the kitchen. The kitchen was a typical north eastern Kitchen. Few photos from there.

We had a nice dinner, did some chit chat with everyone and went off to sleep. We all needed rest after almost 24 hours of journey.

Day 2- Woke up at 9am in the morning. Everyone else already had their morning tea by then. The weather was so nice and the view was also brilliant from their house.

We planned to trek till hilltop, visit a monastery and a pokhri, but no camping as we heard it would rain later that day. Had wai wai for breakfast and started for hilltop. Sumitro decided to take his bolero up in 4wd mode and 5 of us jumped in. Anindya and Upal treked till hilltop. It was a difficult ride but the bolero made it successfully. Only at one point of time we had to come down from the bolero and put some stones as the road was broken at one side. After that the bolero went smoothly.

Bolero was parked near a pokhri (small lake), which was very sacred according to our hosts. Even you are allowed to smoke around it. Its a small water land, and they are not sure where the water comes from but not from rain they said. They asked us to visit the pokhri and offer prayer. Every time they come to hill top they offer prayer here. They made their own incense stick out of items from the surrounding plants and trees. Lighted that and offered prayer.

From here we started walking to the monastery. A small walk, hardly took 20 minutes for us, but a steep one. The view from there was amazing.

We came down to the place where we were suppose to camp. Very nice place, few pictures from that location-

All of a sudden the weather started changed and it looked like it would rain. So we had to come down as soon as possible. Rain started on our way back. I clicked few pictures of the Bolero on the terrain it rode on, to be honest I became fond of the bolero after that.

The rest of the day was spent at home. Norden and his family were very nice people. Their warm hospitality made us at home. They offered dinner. They prepared chicken and fish with rice and daal. The food was really tasty, unlike the food we have in Bengal. We had a gala dinner.

In the middle of all of this there was puppy, named bruno in that house, a very naughty little puppy, who used to love sleeping beside a shoe. He was favourite to most of us.

Day 3- Day 3 plan was to come down, take my car and go till Kuppup and drive to either Rongpo or Gangtok. Plan was to start at 6 am. However due to heavy rain previous night the already broken road has became worse. The 2WD bolero was stuck in the slush again. The rear wheel was loosing traction and the car was not moving. Nadu ji - the owner of the bolero was pretty worried, also because his reporting time at Gantok was 10 am. 5-10 men from nearby houses came to help as well. Sumitro's bolero was also ready at the behind in case we need to pull the car using a tow rope. With all these help and struggle the car came out of slush after half an hour. These locals are very hard working pople, they did things in minutes which we cant even think of at times. We came down to their shop, I was happy to see my car standing there. We started for Zuluk, Nathan Valley and Kuppup at around 8 am.
The next check point was at Padamchen. After that the famous steep roads of that area started. All hairpin bends, with 360-40 degree steep. It was very fun to drive the EcoSport there, but was very risky. EcoSport has a very bad initial starts, hence I could only drive in either 1st or 2nd gear. if I put the car in 3rd gear it couldnt climb any more or stop. We stopped at several places to click pictures. In one of those place we had stopped we discovered that my rear left wheel was flat. The side wall was cracked very badly. Even the left front side wall had a minor crack but was still working. I had to replace the rear tyre with the spare wheel, but the front wheel made me worried. The bend was so steep and zigzag that the front tyres were getting a lot of pressure. I was worried if that kind of pressure would make the front tyre flat. So I had to slow down for the rest of the road. We stopped at Old Baba Mandir, Nathang Valley and finally at Kuppup.

I hoped for a clear view of the famous Jalebi road of Zuluk, but we could only get fog everywhere. It was so foggy that I could only see 10 ft at times. But the scene was very picturesque.

We even couldn't see Nathan Vallery from distance properly.

Kuppup was the highest point with a height of 13000 ft. One could easily get AMS (Acute mountain sickness) at such height, so we had to be very careful.

We had our food at a local shop at Kuppup. Our permit was till Kuppup so we could go no further. While returning the weather was better than before, so we got the view of Jalebi road from top.

We came back at Norden's shop around 4 pm. They offered tea once more. After spending a little time over there we bid them good bye. We decided to stay at Rongpo that night, because Gangtok would be very far from there. We checked in a Govt. Tourists lodge at Rongpo at around 7:30 pm. Rs 1500 per double bed room, room was clean and tidy.

We were told the best restaurant was Rickies, where they would serve delicious Pork. We ordered 3 plates of them and other food as well. The food was yummy and the bill was great too :). This was the last dinner of the trip, next day was only driving and going back Kolkata.

Day 4 - The only thing I kept on thinking was I have to cover 800 kms today and I don't have any spare tyre and one of the four tyres had a minor crack. The roads were already worst and anything could happen on the road, and I could be stranded in the middle of nowhere. So I started earlier than the rest of the team for Siliguri. I called up a Tyre Store from Google, asked them for help. The Store managed arranged same tyre for me at 9am in the morning in Siliguri. Finally peace of mind while driving the rest of the journey. Thanks to the store manager who managed the tyre so early in the morning.

Rest of the team started half an hour later. We met somewhere after Bagdogra. The only major stop we at Dalkhola for lunch. After that we drove towards Kolkata via Purnea-Bhagalpur-Dumka-Siuri-Bolpur-Bardhaman-Kolkata. This router was 80 kms more but had only 30 kms of bad roads. Again, nothing much to write about the return journey.

This was my first trip to the Himalayas and believe me not my last at all. I had so much fun to drive that I am planning to go somewhere there very soon. I cannot forget those morning teas with mountains in front of you. Elessaar gave average mileage of 14.9. Highest speed was 162 km/hr on the highway to Dalkhola. I have hit underbelly slowly twice and suspension once very badly. Overall the car performed very well and according to my expectation. Total distance covered was 1633 kilometres.
Drive to East Sikkim - Zuluk, Nathang Valley and Kuppup
9:57 a.m.

Drive to East Sikkim - Zuluk, Nathang Valley and Kuppup