It was the November of 2014 and as usual we were planning for the mandatory Christmas trip in the following month. 25th December was a Thursday so on taking a leave on Friday we again had the weekend in hand. That meant we were free to plan a 4 days’ trip. It is however easier said than done. There were so many factors to be considered while deciding the destination. For some destinations four days were too short whereas most of the others were doable within one or two days. But our plan was to utilize the hard-earned leave fully, so much discussions and web browsing commenced/ensued. Eventually we came across the place called Daringbadi in Orissa. It was then a less known hill station in the Kandhmal district in Orissa. Situated at an altitude of 3000 ft it is a beautiful place of pine jungles, sunny valleys and coffee gardens. The name Daringbadi also had an interesting history. During British rule a British officer named Dering named this place after himself as Deringbadi, where ‘badi’ means village. So, effectively we were going to spend our Christmas holidays at Dering’s Village. It seemed the perfect destination being just 800+ km from Kolkata. We were sure that the road (NH16, earlier NH6) leading up to Bhubaneswar were butter smooth as I had traveled on those roads up to Vizag in October, but the condition of the road connecting Bhubaneswar to Daringbadi were unknown to us. So, we decided to take the shortest of the three routes that were available according to google map. Till now our team constituted of me (Ayandeep), Raneet, Rahul Pramanik and Rahul Gupta. After the plan was finalized, a few more people joined our group. Abhrajyoti, Mugdha and Raneet’s parents would accompany us from Kolkata, while Ateesh would join us in Bhubaneswar and two more of his friends, Bharti and Rahul would join us directly in Daringbadi.
While searching for accommodation in Daringbadi, we got the reference of Hotel Utopia from Raaz Rakshit, a very accomplished traveler. We called up the hotel and booked rooms for our stay from 25th to 27th. We didn’t know what type of rooms we would get, so we decided to take sleeping bags along. Accordingly, we rented sleeping bags from the alpine 360 store in Howrah. The motorcycles were serviced to prevent any unwanted surprises enroute and saddlebags were packed. As the day to leave approached, our excitement grew. The year had gone by without any major trips and what better ending could it have than a trip to the Kashmir of Orissa?
Day 1: Kolkata to Bhubaneswar (Thursday 25th Dec, 2014)
The morning of 25th was extremely cold. All of us had been chatting late into the previous night, pre-ride excitement keeping us from falling asleep, though it was imperative that we had a proper rest before embarking on the trip. But, anyway, what can we do if our brains decide otherwise and release anti sleep hormones in our circulatory system? As an obvious consequence I woke up a bit late at 6:00 AM instead of 5:00AM and found numerous missed calls and whatsapp messages. Our very own Rahul P tried to wake me up by texting in WhatsApp hoping Jan Koum himself will kick me out of my bed. I jumped out of my bed and after making a call to assure the group that I was awake and will be at the meeting point in half an hour, I rushed through the usual morning activities, mounted the saddle bags, got dressed, put on my riding jacket, waved bye to my parents and left towards the meeting point which was Dakshineswar Ticket Counter (DTC).
Once I reached the others gave me my deserving quota of rebukes and we finally got ready to leave at 7:15 AM. Little did we know that our seemingly uneventful trip will turn into an extremely eventful and memorable journey and we left in high spirits towards the open highways.
Our biggest miscalculation was thinking that we can cover the stretch of Kolkata to Daringbadi in one riding day. However, oblivious to it we started riding happily enjoying the cold air and open roads. 5 of us were on our bikes, me and Abhrajyoti on our pulsar 220s, Raneet and Rahul on their yamaha R15s, Rahul G on his Apache RTR 160, Uncle and Aunty i.e. Raneet’s parents on their Volkswagen Polo and Mugdha alternating between being a pillion and the passenger of the car. We had our breakfast after crossing Kolaghat at a roadside dhaba and continued onwards to Kharagpur. We had decided on taking minimum number of breaks as we were already two hours behind schedule. On reaching Kharagpur we faced a little confusion. Instead of taking the left from Nawab Ali Oval Park towards Bhubaneswar, we took the underpass and turned right after crossing the Oval Park. After cruising along for some time we had a hunch that we were on the wrong path and decided to check the map. Google confirmed our misgivings and we had to turn back. Thankfully, we hadn’t gone too far and soon we were happy to see a headboard showing us the distances of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar. The weather was extremely beautiful and we made good time up to the border of Bengal and Orissa. Near the border we had to ride a bit cautiously as the road was under construction and there were sudden sharp ridges protruding out of the otherwise smooth highway. These types of potholes and ridges are potentially very dangerous. Accidents are bound to happen when you suddenly hit a sharp-edged pothole at such high cruising speeds. After crossing that stretch and reaching the first toll after crossing into Orissa we decided to take a very short butt break as the car was stuck in the toll line and almost all of us were feeling a bit sleepy.
We were on road again after 30 minutes. We crossed Balasore at around 1:30 PM and pressed on towards Bhadrak. A lot of people ask me why do we ride, what is the requirement to take so much risk when you can also travel by train etc etc. Sometimes I wish I could make them feel the sensation of the wind rushing against your face, the incessant beat of the engine below you, slight music in your ears as you keep cruising on the highway looking at the lush greenery around you towards an unknown destination crossing several towns and meeting new people. It is a feeling you can never get while traveling cooped up in a train compartment hearing the boring conversations of your fellow passengers.
Anyway, it was almost 2:15 PM and all of us were hungry. So, we decided to stop at a dhaba just before Bhadrak for lunch. Though I do not remember the name of the place and we forgot to take any pictures as we were in a hurry to be on schedule, the food was well prepared and the staff was courteous. Though it can’t be said that it was the best food we ever had, but to our rumbling stomachs it appeared to be nothing less than that.
After spending an hour for lunch and rest we left Bhadrak. Then the first incident happened. After riding for some time we noticed that Abhrajyoti and Rahul G were not with us. We decided to wait for sometime so that they can catch up. Soon Abhra called up to inform us that Rahul G had met with an accident a few kms back. We took the nearest U-turn and rushed to the spot. A small crowd had already gathered at the accident spot. A local villager was injured and was in shock. We came to know from Rahul that there was some spilt engine oil/petrol on the road and he had skidded on it unable to stop. He fell and slid on to hit a cycle with two people on it. While Rahul was saved by the riding gears he was wearing the villagers were not so fortunate. One of them was lightly injured while the other had a lot of bruises. Though the local people were not interested in helping the victims, some of them were already trying to find the best way to extort money. We decided to take all of them to the nearest hospital. Thankfully a young guy was very helpful and accompanied us to the nearest health centre. At the health centre while we were arranging for the guys’ treatment and medicines some local hotshot dropped in with his immense concerns. He called the local police and in no time a police car entered the premises. As we were not trying to escape they could not charge us but I noticed that we were getting photographed. After some discussion we decided to be bold and approached the constable who was taking the pictures. We had a conversation where we pointed out that we were willing to pay the required compensation to the injured persons. This seemed to convince the policemen that we were decent people and they asked as to follow to the Bhadrak Police station premises. There the matter was settled amiably. We provided some compensation and all the medicines required to the injured and in the meantime we also got road directions to our destination from the Officer in charge, as his hometown was in daringbadi. The narration would remain incomplete if I don’t mention about Mr. Dabang (cannot disclose real name), the first constable that we talked to. He was a very helpful and decent person and he also took the pains to escort us up to the highway after the matter was resolved.
So, after a very long delay we were again on track. It was already 7:30, and it was very unlikely for us to reach Daringbadi on that day. So, we decided that we will make the final decision on reaching Cuttack. We reached Cuttack at around 10:00 PM. We called up Ateesh to inform him that we will be staying in Bhubaneswar and as he was already there asked him to search for a decent hotel. After having some tea, cutting my hand while trying to cut a wire with a blade and applying first aid we started on our final run of the day. We reached Bhubaneswar in half an hour and met up with Ateesh. But trouble seemed to be a team member now, as it never seemed to leave us. Ateesh had found a hotel but we did not like the ambience or the safety so we decided to search some more. We couldn’t find even a single room as it was festive season and all the rooms were booked. Suddenly I remembered about a dormitory which I had seen when I had been to Bhubaneswar previously for my PhD interviews. We found that out somehow and though the entry passage and stairways were not very clean, it seemed decent enough to spend a night. We booked the whole dormitory and after unloading went off to search for food. We were surprised to see not a single shop was open even though it was Christmas. We decided to go to the railway station and get some packed meal. On platform no.1 we found 7 packets of cold egg biriyani. Option less, we had to take those and share among the 8 of us. Thus, ended the very eventful first day of our trip. We went to sleep thinking what else was in store for us over the next three days of the trip.
Day 2: Bhubaneswar to Daringbadi (Friday 26th Dec, 2014)
The alarms very punctually started to ring at 5:30AM, the time we had decided to wake up. But all of them were silenced in a few seconds and it was 8:00 AM when we finally woke up. Then ensued the all so familiar rush of getting ready to leave, and at 8:45 AM we could start to burn some rubber. We decided to skip breakfast for the time being and do it somewhere on the road.
Now, we were confused about the route to take. We had a pre decided route but ongoing inputs from the local people had put us in a dilemma. We weren’t able to decide which route had good roads so we planned to stick to the original decision. So after crossing Khurda we turned left from Jankia towards Bhanjanagar. Within a few kilometers we were left regretting our decision. The whole stretch of the road was crowded. There were small markets and temporary food junctions all around with the local people spilling on the road which was also in a bad shape. The rate of our progress was very slow as we were extra cautious after the previous day’s incident. Eventually we reached a temple where we decided to park our bikes and have our breakfast. The distance to daringbadi was not too much and we were sure that even at our pace we would reach by the afternoon. Obviously we were wrong but I will come to that. On proceeding further we left the crowd behind and the road was clear though it was a poorly maintained single lane highway. We kept on riding at a decent pace enjoying the view of the changing landscape. Slowly we started to gain altitude and the foliage began to change from lush green to a bit rough nature. Around afternoon we reached Bhanjanagar and had our lunch. The sun was setting and we were starting to get a bit worried. Still nobody could stop us from enjoying the few twisties that we encountered on our way. Everyone started cornering to the extent of their abilities. Abhra was wearing a fluorescent orange jacket which was visible as a beacon for us in the corners and also throughout the trip.
Just as the sun was about to set with it’s golden glow spreading across the sky we came upon a rocky area overlooking the valley. Everyone took our bikes on a large flat rock and the DSLR was put at work.
After everyone was satisfied that they had a few months’ worth of dps and cover pics we resumed our journey. As the sun set and the temperature dropped our enthusiasm started decreasing. We had expected to reach by this time and were supposed to be chilling under blankets/ sleeping bags with plates of hot food. But, as our luck would have it, we took a wrong turn and got lost in the forest. We became very concerned as we knew these were maoist infested areas and not a single person was visible to ask our way out. As soon as we switched off our lights it was pitch dark all around. in better circumstances we would definitely have noticed the thousands of stars in the clear sky overhead and the thousands blinking in the dark around us, the fireflies were numerous lighting up the whole forest with the chemistry within and between them. But, we had a destination to reach and it was already very late, so we decided to go back at the crossroads and get proper directions. Soon, we were in the main road leading to daringbadi and were relieved to see buses plying on it.
We reached hotel Utopia and found that they had made separate arrangements for us in a nearby building as the main hotel was packed to capacity. They provided extra cots and blankets and of course we had our own sleeping bags too. Bharti and Rahul had already reached in the morning and were waiting for us. Mobile network was not available and we had to go to a nearby hillock to get network coverage which only available at a specific point on top. As the temperature was falling quickly we decided to inform our parents first about our safe arrival and then settle in. After completing all the chores and having dinner we went to sleep eager to explore the surroundings the next day and to witness the famed snowfall that happens at this place, till we came to know the reality.
Day 3: Sightseeing in Daringbadi (Saturday 27th Dec, 2014)
We had already made a list of the places to visit in the Kashmir of Orissa. It included the coffee plantation, the Doluri river and the Putudi waterfall. On the morning of the third day everyone woke up late owing to the tiredness of the previous two days’ ride. As this was a sightseeing day we decided to take it easy and get as much rest as we could for the return journey. I woke up marginally before anyone else and after dressing the cut I sustained on day 1 I set out to explore the town a bit. The building we were staying in was a two storied building located at one end of the town.
The road sloped down from our residence towards the main chowk of the town where all the shops and market was situated.
On either side of the road there were buildings. Small hills were visible all around.
There is ample scope to explore around the town along the slopes of the hill on which the town is situated. Small paths made by the feet of the local people can lead you to beautiful spots from where you can see the sunny valley and hills around. As I was walking from our building towards the marketplace I found a small school on the right at around 500 m. I went in to find a small child playing badminton. On noticing me, he offered one racquet to me. As I had nothing else to do I played with him for some time. After getting warmed up, I decided to go back and check on the others. On reaching the place I found everyone was up and busy with starting their bikes. So, I started working on mine too. An hour was spent in tightening the bolts, cleaning and lubing the chains. Local people were staring at us wondering what 5-6 crazy people were doing revving engines and throwing around tools and oil cans. After completing our impromptu service of the bikes, we had our breakfast and set out to explore. We wanted to visit the waterfall but little did we know that it was hard to find without a local guide as it is very less traveled tourist path. Instead we got lost in the forest while enjoying the off-road ride on gravelly hill roads with its ever-changing gradients. But this time it was broad daylight and we knew the direction of the town so we were having fun.
We came to a clearing where we found a small tea shop. We refreshed ourselves with some food from there and had a few cups of tea.
Then going a bit further, we found a picturesque place. A boulder covered road led down to a lush green field which had a small stream flowing through it and bounded by the slope of a nearby hill. We parked some bikes on top while Raneet, Ateesh and Rahul took their bikes down the rough road to the side of the field. As usual local people had gathered to look at us and our bikes but they didn’t bother us. The ladies of our group had their pictures clicked and everyone dipped their hands and feet into the cold refreshing water of the flowing stream. After that we explored a bit more, climbed some hills, laughed at Ateesh’s antiques, clicked several photos and just basked in the sun on the warm rocky outcroppings. Everyone forgot about the river and waterfalls and were content to enjoy the nature to its fullest extent.
As all good things must come to an end the sun was setting and we had to go back to our hotel. On reaching we had some snacks and went for a stroll along the town. Bharti and Rahul had to return so we saw them off at the bus stand. At the market we had some delicious chowmein. Later we had our dinner in a nearby restaurant and put the lights out. It was planned that on early morning we would visit the coffee plantation. We also came to know the secret of the snowfall. It was nothing but frozen dew in the open fields when the temperature went too low. We were informed that we would be able to see that view near the coffee plantation so we decided to kill two birds with one stone. Afterwards we would leave for Kolkata.
Day 4: Daringbadi to Kolkata (Sunday 28th Dec, 2014)
So, we had reached the final day of our trip. But still we had the toughest part of the trip in front of us. We had only one day to return from Daringbadi to Kolkata which meant we had o cover 800+ kilometers in one day. From my previous experience of Vizag ride I knew that even on the best of roads it takes almost 20 hours to cover so many kilometers. For us it was bound to take more as we were riding in a group and butt breaks were more frequent and longer compared to solo ride. So we woke up quite early as we had to see the snow.
We reached the coffee plantation just as the first rays of the sun were striking the valley. We were directed to a place a bit further away from the coffee plantation to an open field. There we were happy to find dew frozen all over the field and on the leaves of trees and bushes. It was a very different sight than what we were accustomed to. We were just in the nick of time as the snow already had started to melt as the temperature was rising. And of course, photography ensued. Everyone wanted to freeze the memory permanently.
After that we went to visit the coffee plantation.
It was a pleasant experience. The attendants were helpful. We found them warming themselves by a small fire that they had made, so we also took the opportunity to increase our body temperatures. We had very less time in hand so after a quick tour and collecting some samples we left for our hotel.
We hurriedly had our breakfast and packed up to leave. This time we took detailed directions so that we didn’t stray off and kept to the best route up to NH16.
The morning environment was refreshing and we completed the first few kilometers of broken hilly road patch without getting much tired. When we reached the plains we took a few minutes break and were in a good mood that we were keeping good time. Little did we know that one last surprise was awaiting us.
Most of us were wearing black jackets and making hand signals while riding. The car which uncle and aunty were driving was red in color. While we were crossing a small town called Tikabali we noticed a jeep desperately honking for pass. As we were riding on a busy single lane road we couldn’t provide the space immediately. Later when the jeep was passing by us we noticed a person inside wearing a camouflage Tshirt, black trousers with an AK47 in hand. The Jeep stopped after crossing us and that person came down and signaled us to stop. We were a bit scared as we thought that we had fallen in the hands of Maoist activists. When we stopped and disembarked a police inspector came out from the other side and started scolding us as to why we were not stopping inspite of repeated signals. So we gave our excuse that we thought they were Maoists, to which they smiled and the tension was released. We came to know that as we were riding with a red car and making so many hand signals the locals became concerned that we ourselves were some radical group trying to raise a propaganda and informed the police. A routine check up ensued and after they were satisfied with our paperworks we were allowed to proceed. The roads after that were smooth as butter inspite of being single lane. At a certain place we had an awesome view of the hills of the Chotanagpur plateau surrounding us with open fields and large water bodies in between. We crossed some small crowded towns enroute and at around 2:00PM reached the national highway at Khallikot. We had our lunch at a roadside dhaba and sped on towards Bhubaneswar. The ride was uneventful except for the incident when Ateesh’s miracle stunner decided to let off some smoke from the exhaust but it was nothing serious. We suddenly saw a board proclaiming Chilika lake was just 2km to our right. It was almost time for the sun to set and we could not resist the temptation to watch the sunset by the lake, though we had a lot of ground to cover.
Eventually we reached Bhubaneswar at 8:00PM and bade goodbye to Ateesh. We decided to move on without staying at Bhubaneswar as all of us had office to catch the next day. The temperature was decreasing and the ride was getting tougher. After having dinner the tiredness of the long ride started to make itself felt and everyone felt sleepy. Rahul’s loud daytona exhaust and some hot cups of tea kept us going till 5:00AM. Then it was very clear that we needed a long break otherwise some mishap was bound to happen. Near the border, I spotted a tea shop which had just opened for the day. The owner was putting fresh wood into the oven and there even cots present. So we decided to take a break there. Raneet and Rahul went to sleep immediately whereas I preferred to stay awake with a steaming cup of tea. In the meantime Abhra and Rahul G had sped forward as they said speed helped then counter the cold and tiredness. I guess to every person his own. After being well rested we covered the last 100km to Kolaghat quickly. After having breakfast I parted ways with rest of the group to go towards Haldia where I work, looking forward to a good sleep on reaching.