But before we get there, there is still 450 km ahead of us on Nepalese soil. We will be surprised to find a cheese dairy selling camembert, comté cheese, tomme cheese made with « Made in Himalaya » milk. Not all the cheeses on the menu are available and it is a bit expensive, but not bad at all for the one we choose!
We will also be witnesses to the most beautiful landscapes of rice fields steeply sloping towards the bed of the rivers, bathed in the light of the setting sun: majestic. All on an impeccable road, with markings, slides and even sometimes reflectors on the ground, such as we have never seen in Nepal.
We then find the plain. Already back in India? No…but it’s just like it: saris are coming back in force, as are the pastries full of honey and oil, Hindu temples, and chewing red tobacco (and the rejections that go with it…). And this impression will not leave us until the border crossing, especially when the driving gets involved: accident between a motorcycle and a minibus before our eyes (with minor injuries, but impressive anyway), and mishap for us with (again) a minibus which hit us after a badly negotiated turn! No big damage, but it’s a matter of principle: a small chase, photo of the plate and denunciation to the police who will block it 30 kms further, and that will result in a small financial compensation after some discussions at the police barrage. Nothing big enough to spoil our last hours in Nepal, but still, we could have done without it!
We could not do better to be in the front row: after a night in the customs parking lot of Raniganj, we will be almost the first, at 6am, for the exit formalities, as simple as at the entrance. That’s it, already finished with Nepal, a bit fast certainly and not in the season which would have made it possible to appreciate it at best, but we are delighted to have crossed it!
The only vehicle apart from a few tuk tuks, we are advancing along an arm of the Mechi River. A quick glance at the Indian customs officers from outside the cell will suffice to have the entry stamp, before passing in the immigration offices, almost still asleep (a bit like us…). This is it, officially for the second time on Indian soil, in the northern part of Western Bengali! We find Arty, before passing by the endless line of trucks and leaving the place under a crowd of curious eyes.
Come on, no more dragging, 9 days to cover more than 1000 km to the Burmese border, on roads we imagine will not be easy. Fortunately, it’s not for now: almost impeccable bitumen, and almost no toll. We take this opportunity to move forward and cross « the sweetest part of India », south of Darjeeling. We will not go to this city, with the evocative name of romanticism and colonial times, but the hills dotted with immense plantations have their small effect.
The road then descends, to cross nature reserves, populated by elephants, felines, wild boars, hinds…none of which will show the tip of their muzzle, the traffic being congested. Even more and more dense, and we will understand better by realizing that we are almost along the border with Bouthan, and that a good part of the heavyweights that we meet are registered in this country.
All that inevitably drains a little more, but no way we’re going to stop on a station full of trucks; so we decide to try a foray on a small side lane near Jalpaiguri, which leads us to the heart of a small village nestled in the jungle. It is not to everyone’s taste, which we understand, given our size, the width of the road, and the height of some cables! We finally stop near a house whose owners will agree to have us as neighbors for the night…not about to start for us! Villagers follow one another, some a little drunk, to try to convince us not to stay there and to spend the night in the service station (which we avoided)…because we are apparently on a path frequented by elephants! No way, fed up with driving, we will stay there counting on the common sense of the pachyderms, that ultimately will not come to rub Arty!
Inevitably, we will be the big attraction of the village in the early morning, with the young Erina who will come to help us finish our homemade chiapati, before inviting us to her house. We will have a great time in the company of her adorable family (with the mom with almost kinky hair, rare in India, who will appreciate having a hair girlfriend): shower, delicious meal, and lots of small gifts and attentions, we are almost embarrassed; but above all we regret not being able to stay a little longer with them, because we have to continue our journey…
After two big stops and slowdowns caused by bridges to a well-damaged road, we will arrive in Guwahati, in the state of Assam, only in the early evening. This time, no fuss, we will stop at a service station…fortunately under construction, so rather calm.
No elephant when waking up, but much smaller animals: an invasion of ants! A branch touching the cell was enough for them to find their way to us. Fortunately not aggressive, we’ll just have to move to cut the link with their anthill; we will still keep a certain number of them wandering inside for a few days.
About 50km further on, a loud bursting noise. Is it us? Yes, a glance in the rear-view mirror confirms that we have our first puncture! After 25,000 kms, not too bad… It is one of the twin wheels at the rear, no impact on the road handling, and we can quietly stop on the side of the road for a small inspection: tyre tread torn off and chin spoiler, already scrapped, completely dead now. We drive a few kilometers before stopping in front of a tire repairer, as we often see those along the roads. Nice pick: he is nice and speaks good English. Loïc will still have to go back and forth to the next city to buy a new tire (too lazy to get the spare tire out in the sun and almost in the middle of the street).
A full afternoon and a lot of sweat later, we are back on the road, direction Shilong, in the Meghalaya, before the end of the end of India and the state of Manipur!