Up and Down to Dauki - Bangladesh + India x 2 - CycleBlaze

November 21, 2010

Up and Down to Dauki

back into Bangladesh and to Jaintiapur

The other night, when the bus that carried me for nine hours crested a hill and the lights of Shillong appeared like a blanket of crystals far below before we descended into them, I guessed there'd be some uphill riding to do to get out of this valley locale and I'm dead right.

There's a mountain to climb. Literally.

After one proper night in Shillong I'm ready to ride south. It's a busy city. What more can I say. 

The young helpful receptionist gives some precise instructions to me, but I'm not at my most attentive at seven in the morning and am thinking more about breakfast than right and left turns and leave the Rainbow to find I'm too early for the café, so just start cycling in the general direction. It is not long before confusion gets the better of me - within the first two junctions.

Around 7:30 near the Rainbow Hotel
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It's okay though as the street is interesting, with some homes built from what appears to be the remnants of a packing plant, with repurposed wooden pallets and sheets of metal, and odd spots of faded paintwork. The sun is out giving me an extra buzz - it's great just to be on the bike again after that awful bus ride.

The way out of Shillong is a climb alright and the route is busy with cars and buses doing local runs. It goes on and up for the best part of nine kilometres. This is a granny gear, knee-aching hill that makes me puff and one that makes you wonder where the top is. 

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My belated breakfast is a bottle of mango pop, which isn't as good as the stuff in Bangladesh but it fills me up with something and is better than nothing.

Tribal people become apparent as I climb, so I must be in the real hills now and I take some photos of them which they're pleased with. Then the road levels a bit and the traffic becomes less and I think about the container of Tide I bought yesterday and know it's still standing on a TV table in my Rainbow Hotel room - not tucked in my panniers like it should be.  Jeez.

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The wind is stronger up here in the open countryside and it's in my face, but I don't care. 

After 20-odd kilometers a village flanks the route and I spot some fruit for sale - just tiny oranges and tiny bananas and buy two oranges for five rupees each. I'll have them later, somewhere quiet. 

Across the street is a tea shop, so I pop in for a fresh cuppa to find the place run by women as in the fruit shops and there's a log fire heating a big blackened pan and smoke is filling the whole 12-foot-by-12-foot place and around the fireplace's back is what looks like meat stacked and hanging and the lady tells me it's pork and asks if I'd like some, but my reply is not just now, thanks.

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The tea is nice and sweet and perks me up and I take the young woman's photo even though she's shy at first - then the older women come in and take turns posing and giggle at the results on the camera's screen and although cultures differ and vary around the world there's no mistaking the sense of femininity and pride in appearance that these ladies have and how they want to look their best, regardless of the fact that most chew betel nut and have stained teeth that George Orwell wonderfully described in Burmese Days as being like red tinfoil. 

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This is a rare matriarchal society and one tells me they are khasi tribe and they won't accept money for the tea when I leave to continue my ride south to the border, to a place on my map called Dauki, which I've spotted signposted Dawki.

The blue sky above has become cloudy, though and as the day progresses it doesn't improve. 

The women wear tartan-like robes slung from one shoulder and there are fir trees on the ridges and by the road. I go through another small village and take a photo of an elderly woman carrying firewood who laughs after I do it and show her the snap, so take another and the people gather round to see it before I get back on my bike. 

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The day is now easier than I thought it'd be and much much better and after about 30 km a fork in the road leads right to Cherrapunee where originally I'd considered going to, as it's famed as the wettest place on Earth.Instead my wheels veer left and I keep on pedalling to Dauki on Route 40.

The top is reached. The road is super now - quiet and narrow. It curves around the contours of the hills and valleys which drop down below for what seems like thousands of feet and the views are stupendous and the area reminds me of England's Lake District, but minus the lakes and it's easy to see why they call this the 'Scotland of Asia' -or something like that.

Taking self-timed photos isn't easy at the best of times and when the clouds keep rolling across it's hard to know if it's worth the hassle because as soon as the tripod is put up and the camera's timer set the sunshine goes and it's been a waste of time, but I do manage to get a couple of snaps regardless. 

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Nothing can quite capture it all though. You need another person higher up and riding south into the sun doesn't help, as the views looking back north aren't as dramatic for some reason. However, the scenery in front is magnificent and anyone coming to ride India should make a point of riding this route. No kidding.

The road becomes single track and the route is level for ages - slightly down if anything. I cruise,not wanting to rush it, but enjoy the sense of freedom that you get from remote places like this. Then it drops more.

The sky becomes darker grey and it looks like rain is drifting over.

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I get a drink in a village called Pynursla and photograph a stall's metal front that's smeared with the white lime paste used by betel nut chewers and also a woman in the adjacent stall before continuing my ride and soon notice the landscape switch to moorland - it seems like Mongolia or somewhere. It's mainly grass.

I notice a megalith that I would have otherwise missed if I hadn't stopped and walk over the grassy terrain to get up close. My guidebook says they're only a few hundred years old, but these dolmen likely date to around 1300 BC.

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After a while there's jungle. It does rain and I shelter for a little bit - just 10 minutes - while it blows over. It spits again when I set off, but it's nothing too bad and my damp shorts and top dry off in the wind.

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I've already said it, but the route is super. It's less steep then riding from Bangladesh, so think about it. Really.

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A bridge across a river that's guarded by armed soldiers tells me Dauki is close and after taking some photos of fishermen in boats far below, I cruise the last couple of kilometres into the village but don't stop and reach the border crossing where I go through customs and whatever in a short time.

Inside the compound, an Indian guy says there's a resort two Ks away and so that's where I head for as the day's sunshine fades fast with the time being close to five now.

The resort looks odd, with a large modern concrete building looming up in the landscape with different coloured lights on and I soon get talking to the owner, who flits between New York and here. Big contrast! 

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There's a double room with AC for 2,300 taka and an economy room for just 300 taka. Some contrast. I end up with the cheap place, as 2,300 is a lot of dosh in Bangladesh and it doesn't seem that fantastic, even though the place is only about a year old. 

My 300-taka room is what might be described as garage-utility style, with bare walls and military-style beds (two), which are clean and hardly look used.

Dinner is in the resort's restaurant, then I clean my bike a bit as I can't do much else and it really needs doing - using a freebie toothbrush from a hotel to rid the chain of the worst mess. 

No computer and no book to read, except my Bradt guide, which I take a look at and learn about Sylhet - where I should be tomorrow as it's only about 50 km or so away.

The moon looks about full and begs to be photographed even though clouds obscure it every few seconds, so I oblige, observed by one of the hotel workers before going to bed with the ceiling fan whizzing around to keep any pesky mozzies away.

Today's ride: 85 km (53 miles)
Total: 876 km (544 miles)

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