This is the first point in a journey by motorbike in India covering 16 confluence points. The next point in the series is 22N 85E.
The point visit is described first, followed by some background on the trip and its progress.
From our overnight stop at Kharagpur we rode 180 km down the NH6 to Joshipor. The road was busy with trucks and there were blockages comprising hundreds of trucks waiting for clearance documentation to cross the state border (West Bengal/Orissa). We passed a pair of “tame” elephants whose riders collected money from truck drivers in the middle of the road – presumably a good luck token. Later we passed a third, less obviously tame, elephant standing on his own in the road. This animal was putting his trunk through the windows of the trucks – I presume he was more interested in food than money. There were also many monkeys on and around the road as we passed through the first range of hills – the eastern ghats.
At Joshipur we turned right at the end of the village onto a good road heading the few kms to the point. The last kilometre was on rough tracks. We initially went up the east side of a lower lying area full of paddy fields – then we decided that we would probably be closer on the west side. We parked a couple of hundred metres from the point and walked along the ridges between the now dry paddy fields to the point.
Degree of Challenge:
2 – The motorbikes enabled us to get close to the point. (1= very easy - drive to the point; to 5= a death march – glad it is over)
3 – Typical farmland with rainfed paddy fields probably growing wheat and rice. Rough pasture and trees on the higher land. Rather dry at this time of year. (Scale: 1= not interesting at all; 5= take your breath away)
2 – Nothing special here except a small shrine on the edge of one of the fields. (Scale: 1=dull; 5= most stimulating)
On returning to the bikes we accumulated a small group of silent watchers – with no common language it is difficult to make much contact – the only response to smiling is passive observation. A shame that we couldn’t allay any fears or establish some contact. Back on the bikes and off west towards the next point. The road gradually deteriorated and was our first taste of rough riding. John’s bike objected with a flat tyre when we were 5 km from our destination (Champua). While I went to get a new inner tube and find a hotel some locals came and sorted out the bike for John. We still have the spare tube that I bought – a guarantee against further punctures maybe. Never mind we had knocked one off and were ready for anything that India could throw at us – It threw a lot the next day. See 22N 85E
Background to the trip
The idea for a trip to India to visit some points came sometime in summer 2007 when browsing confluence.org. It seemed that there were a large number of uncharted points in northern India between 20 and 24 North. Was this due to a lack of awareness of the project in India or the presence of man-eating tigers? John decided that he would like to revisit India but wanted to fulfill a long-held ambition to ride a Royal Enfield motorbike around the countryside. This left me with a dilemma – should I go by car, go pillion/sidecar or quickly learn to ride a bike. Always game for a challenge I decided on the latter course – it can’t be so different from riding a bike can it? What with winter and working overseas most of the time I did not get the chance to sit on a bike until just before Christmas but with a few lessons and 2 failed tests under my belt I was fully confident to go by the start date. I had originally planned to go in November/December 2007 but work got in the way and we finally fixed on 27th Feb to 14th March. Earlier would have given us a cooler ride but we did not want to postpone until next winter. We decided to fly to Kolkata (previously Calcutta) and go west along 22N and then, when half our time was up, go south to 21N and head back again. This was our simple plan and it worked out pretty well. I prepared to visit points from 86 E to 74E knowing that it was better to have too many points researched than too few. We had little idea how fast we would be able to travel on the bikes – this would depend on the roads, our health, the bikes’ health, other attractions, heat etc.
In preparing for each point we had 3 main sources of information: Firstly there is a series of road maps (published by TTK Healthcare Ltd) covering individual states of India. These are rather small scale and not very accurate – but do give place names and the major roads and distances (when they remember). Secondly the “Series U502, U.S. Army Map Service, 1955” maps of India are available from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at The University of Texas Libraries. Each of these sheets covers 1.5 degrees east-west and 1 degree north-south. This means that the points are all on an edge of 2 maps or the corner of 4 maps. The maps themselves are more than 50 years old and are based on surveys done between 1913 and 1946. Despite this, they show the topography well and are useful for village names. They are hopeless for roads and bridges of course. The third source was Google Earth and the similar (same?) EarthSat MrSID images available from NASA. These were downloaded and looked at through OziExplorer. The satellite images were the least valuable except for the few areas where high resolution images were available.
We set off from Scotland early on Feb 26th and traveled to India courtesy of BA, arriving at 1.00am on 27th. The hotel that had been booked was very small and nobody answered the door at 2.00am. The taxi driver took us to another one around the corner where we gratefully fell into our beds for a few hours of sleep.
The Royal Enfield 350cc bikes had been hired from Andy at http://indiabikes.com/ (highly recommended) and we collected them from Andy’s father’s house in the south of the city. After the formalities (officially we had to buy the bikes as renting is not legal) and sorting out our gear we were ready to set off. David had never sat on a 350cc bike before or used a kick-start and was thoroughly confused by wrong advice that the foot controls (gears and rear brake) would be completely reversed from UK bikes. After a few hundred metres of quiet road we launched into Kolkata traffic John led and David tried to stay in contact – but not make contact with anybody else. We had excellent instructions from Andy’s father – first to the bookshop to buy the one map that was missing from our set and then on to the new Hooghly bridge and the Mumbai road. After crossing the bridge we turned onto the Grand Trunk Road – this sounded good but was actually the road to Delhi – all wrong. We found are way back to the bridge but no way to turn without crossing the river again and paying the toll of 5 rupees each way (not a lot). At this moment our first fairy godmother (aka Srikumar Choudhury) arrived in the shape of another Enfield bike rider and enthusiast. He offered to show us the way out of the city and suggested that we go via his office and a cup of tea. We followed Srikumar back up the slip road against the traffic (this is normal practice but was new to us!) and out through the suburbs to his office where he gave us tea and gifts and sent us on our way. What a nice encounter on day 1. Once we found the Main highway we rode till 5pm and found the Great India Hotel (not all that grand but very welcome) in Kharagpur where we had the first of many excellent meals and were entertained by spotting the small furry animals running in and out of the comfortable stuffed armchairs. The next day we set off for Joshipor and the first point.