One Living Life: Motorcycling across Sikkim | Day 2 | Siliguri to Okhrey

Friday 16 December 2016

Motorcycling across Sikkim | Day 2 | Siliguri to Okhrey

Although, a 600 km ride resulted in troubled bones and muscles, a good night's sleep over a few drinks ensured a fresh start for the day. Three of my friends (Sumalya, Ipsita and Duti) were to reach Siliguri by train at around 9 am. They had a car booked and the plan was to ride along with the car. Meanwhile, Siddhartha kept planning his route for the day. He was still unsure whether he would be heading to Gangtok or Mangan directly for a permit to Gurudongmar.

Starting from Siliguri
After a quick breakfast, I started off early to reach NJP Station and head to Okhrey with my friends. It was a packaged trip for 4 of us, apart from the car, since I would be riding my 'Black Beast'. A 2nd breakfast for the day with friends was always welcome and we stopped at Salughara for the same, just before leaving the boundaries of Siliguri.

For the 2nd breakfast of the day @ Salughara, Siliguri

By this time, I was gradually getting used to leave my motorcycle with the saddle and tank bags tied. Of course, I took my phone and GPS along when I left my machine out of sight for a few minutes. The road that takes you out of Siliguri is pretty good and linear. With thick green canopy on either side of the road, it is a pleasing way how nature welcomes you to ride higher along its curves. Initially, I tried to ride along with the car which was a rented Tata Sumo Gold but pretty soon, I had to overtake that, as keeping such a slow pace was cumbersome. I never ride fast, but narrow lanes always give 2 wheels its due advantage. Initially, I took it slow and easy, being extra cautious about the curves and held myself not to lean too much. But, how long can you hold the excitement when the fun is right in front of you? A twist of the throttle and the 24bhp machine pushed ahead with excitement. It was time to enjoy the good roads, nice bends and lean myself with those heavy saddle bags. I was a little bit surprised that I could enjoy the leans and curves with those heavy saddle bags more than I expected.

The greenish-turquoise mighty river Teesta showed up soon after and I felt so happy.
"This is everything I wanted to do in my whole life"
, I said to myself. There were a lot of fights and disagreements but finally, I thanked my mom for letting me come on this trip and especially remembered that encouraging pat on my back that my father gave just before leaving. It was a slow and easy ride. Thereafter, I kept getting lost at the beauty of the road and the Teesta flowing aside to such an extent that a little bit fear of ramming onto oncoming traffic crept in at times.

Stopped at the Teesta Bridge while crossing the river...
Ipsita, Sumalya, Me, Duti (left to right)

A few groupies...

Entering Sikkim through Melli
I had confirmed the route from our driver and Google maps was almost showing the same way apart from some minor diversions. We halted at Melli for our lunch. As for me, I never prefer heavy food while riding and happily restricted myself to momos. Melli is the point where you leave West Bengal and enter into Sikkim. At the gates of Melli, any of your valid Photo ID proof works and being an Indian you get entry without any hassles.
Entering Sikkim at Melli

And, its here from where things start looking bad. The roads are crazy! I'm sorry!! There are no roads!!! Its broken rocks and dust. Its so dusty that my black saddle bags turned grey when a single truck crossed passed me. My muscles were already stiff and the bad roads only meant, I need to forget about pain and push myself ahead. Actually, at some spots, authorities were busy constructing roads which means, in another year or so, the roads from Melli to Okhrey should be good enough. I did not dare to ride slow with our car that lagged way behind. I sped up with control so that I could ride past that traumatic stretch of road. But, then it was to continue for long. I rode and halted to stretch my limbs frequently. Meanwhile, all through the way, I kept wondering if my tires would hold themselves together till the end. I loved my motorcycle and never ever did I ride my lovely machine on such bad roads. It was a well maintained purring beast. Not anymore, I guess!!!

Therpui onwards a few stretches of good tar start giving some hope. The sunlight seemed to fade faster than usual. It was about 4 p.m. when the usual gleaming sunlight seemed to cease its existence. I did not care but I never wanted to ride in the dark unless it was absolutely necessary.

There were 2 things in this journey that I knew would trouble me. And, I was prepared for neither of them. The first one was a foggy visor (Sol SM1). Monsoons in Kolkata gave ample experiences to such instances and I was pretty much sure that the hills and cold would weave a bad enough fogged visor to deter me. I did not have a pin lock visor or any other way to stop that. The other stuff was proper riding boots. I used my Woodland high ankle leather boots but that was no way to protect your foot from deep water crossings.
Somewhere after Melli
Bad roads had already ensured darkness by the time I reach. I guess it was around 30 kms away from Okhrey when the turns started getting steeper and altitude is gained rapidly. The sun was setting across the valley and anywhere you looked gave you a stunning splendid view.
The sunset and splendid view before reaching Okhrey
There were in-numerous such landscapes to stare at and get lost amidst them. With the sunlight gone, the temperatures dropped rapidly, the winds became very cold all of a sudden and my fingers were getting numb. I took out my woolen gloves and wore them beneath my regular riding ones. Okhrey was around 15 kms away and I expected to reach before complete darkness.

But, then future has always something else in store for you. Darkness was about to get creepier. And, things were about to get scary and ugly.

Getting lost in Okhrey
I did not ask Sumalya or our driver about the homestay (pre-booked) location. I kept riding as per Okhrey on Google maps and also confirmed the same from a few locals. And then, there was this normal uphill turn where I was trying to play some music through my helmet headset. A dog barked and jumped towards me. I was already fighting the chilly winds of the journey, riding myself for the very first day on the hills. Probably everything, coupled together with the dog that caught me totally off-guard made things so worse that I crashed straightaway onto the narrow stream that was flowing by the roadside. It was a small accident which I felt extremely silly about. A local helped me get my motorcycle out of that mess. I kept cussing myself for that silly incident and thanked god for being lucky enough not to ride to the void side of the road. This incident was also recorded on my helmet camera.

I rode very slowly and steadily after that but no matter how careful you are, luck was not in my favor that evening. I rode to the point where Google maps said, "You have reached your destination!"

And, there I was amidst complete darkness staring at the jungle uphill and downhill. There was absolutely no one around. Nor, were there any huts, cottages or buildings!! I was surprised at this audacity of Maps to drag me to such a place and name it Okhrey!!!

I had no other option but to ride uphill and hope for a quaint little village like Pooh/Nako in Spiti valley. But, there was none for the next few kilometers. I called Sumalya and was informed that our Homestay was just beside Okhrey Government School. Fed it into maps and a 3G Vodafone connection favored my luck. It showed my destination to be 25 kms away. Now, in that darkness and cold, I was in no mood to ride downhill and uphill on that route. It meant another 1.5-2 hrs at least considering the fog, darkness and my tired muscles at that time. I was lucky to meet a local and he intimated me about a shortcut 2-3 kms ahead. So, I started riding uphill and ahead when I was yet again lucky to meet another person who said "upar aur upar". It was kind of odd that they spoke in the same way. Being completely dark, the feeling was eerie and so I reconfirmed him about the distance. "Baas, 2-3 km aage" (just 2-3 kms ahead). I had no other inputs and so, I rode ahead keeping note of the tripmeter. After 3 kms, I was once again amidst complete darkness apart from my headlights that gave me the only ray of hope. So, the only option was to continue until I find some good place.

I now knew that I had taken a completely wrong route. With maps having no clue, as to where that place was, I rode until a cottage came which had its lights on. My muscles were fatigued and I decided to stop for a few minutes. I turned off the engine and kicked out the side stand to park the motorcycle but before I could lean my motorcycle to the left, it had already leaned right and was out of my control. The next moment, I had a fully loaded motorcycle lying on its right side. I knew that it was nearly impossible for me to lift up the machine once again, without any help. I tried a few times and failed; kept breathing heavily until I realized that I need to walk downstairs to that cottage and ask for help. Probably the sharp altitude gain from Siliguri to Okhrey in a few hours made me gasp for breath too much. Also, a hard ride on the extremely bad roads from Melli to Okhrey had drained all my energy. I knocked at their door and realized after a few minutes that there was no help around.

In my mind, I was considering 2 options. 
Number 1: To try my best once again and lift up the motorcycle...
Number 2: Leave the motorcycle there and walk downhill until I get some help...

I sat on a rock by the side of the road. There was not a single sound except the chilly winds slightly whistling upon hitting my visor at a certain angle.I was definitely nervous at that moment. A few words from my mom kept ringing at the back of my head. It was just my nervousness that brought me into such a state of mind. I took a few deep breaths, calmed my nerves and rested for about 3-5 minutes. It was going to be my last attempt in lifting up the motorcycle and this was necessary in order to get to my destination quickly. This part is pretty much unexplainable. It might look simple and easy. But, that moment, those tired muscles, darkness, state of mind and cold still makes those minutes unfathomable. I gave all my energy, forgot all the pain and tried my best as if it was the last effort. In the end, I had given it all and I could get it up. It felt like squeezing out every drop of effort I had. I remained seated motionless on my bike for the next few minutes, staying focused on keeping a firm hold on the ground this time.

I continued riding and this time, I came to a point where the road split into 2. The one that went right (upwards) was a freshly gravel laid road which suggested that it was under construction. A bulldozer and a road-roller parked diagonally across the road ensured that it was closed ahead. So, I chose the path that was going left (downwards). Here, there was a small shelter open from all ends and written "Zero Point, Okhrey". The tar stopped from this point onward. I was yet to understand the gravity of the situation and dared to take that road. By now, darkness and the feeling of having not a single soul around had skipped my mind. 2 small accidents before this made me feel if ever I would be able to complete this journey. I just wanted to get to some homestay, somehow. This path was not on Google Maps and there was no network here. I rode for a few hundred meters on that path until it started getting too muddy. The plants around started getting dense and were creeping onto the path. I did not care and moved ahead until the road got so narrow that it now had started looking like a walking trail by the edge of a mountain. Had I gone just a few meters ahead, I doubt if I would have been able to get the width to reverse my loaded motorcycle in the opposite direction. I knew I was completely lost. Of course, I got a bit more scared as there was no network and I was far away from a marked road on Maps. I did not want to try my luck any further.

I turned my motorcycle and started riding back to an area where I would get a signal. As soon as the bars showed up, I called Sumalya and let him know that I was not in a good situation and probably it would take around 2 more hours because now, I had decided to take the 25 km route shown by maps. I had also decided that if I came across any homestay/hotel, I would stay overnight there itself. A few kms downhill, I met this police who was probably coming back from duty. There were 2 others with him and after I explained my 'lost' situation, he offered to help me. One of the persons with him agreed to ride as my pillion and show me the route. So, once again I was riding uphill. With those saddle bags, I am sure the pillion seat was not a good one to ride on. Thanks to that person who showed me the route. I crossed the "Zero Point, Okhrey" board and this time took the newly graveled road amidst the narrow opening left in between the bulldozer and road-roller.

The day did not end yet. But, thankfully there were no more accidents in store. I dropped off the person at his place and he showed me the route ahead. I was relieved because this time Vodafone accompanied me. I reached Okhrey Government School and called my friend. His voice echoed from above and after riding a few meters uphill, I had finally reached my destination.
Dinner with friends at the homestay, Okhrey
By now, all the feelings had turned into an exciting story, an adventurous day straying into nowhere.

So, it was a story to tell over some chaang (a local drink) and a few joints ;)
You know what!! ;)
The local drink of Sikkim, Chaang
 Day 2 was to be etched in my mind forever.

The compiled MotoVlog for Day 2:


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