It’s no longer just raining. It’s pelting down like you can't imagine and there are more flashes of light than you’d see at a Hollywood movie premiere. And we’re just at Cooch Behar; I can't imagine what Mawsynram will be like. We move the cars as close to the hotel doorway as possible to get the gear (and ourselves) in safe and dry.
The whole gang is really looking forward to the day ahead, not least of all because of the very welcome drop in temperature. We’re going to Assam, and that means breathtaking scenery, scrumptious food and beautiful people.
But we’re not really off to a good start. The road out of Cooch Behar is riddled with traps, in the form of unmarked towns and sudden craters, and although we’ve had legs longer than today’s 340km, we know this is going to take us a while. The weather isn’t exactly accommodating either.
The rain peters out a little while later, and we get the chance to hop out for some photographs. There are lush farms on either side of the road, and their inhabitants (both human and animal) soon give our shoot an audience. The farmers are also great at warning us when traffic is approaching.
You may have heard about the infamous and numerous security checks around the border of Assam. It starts, understandably, at the border itself, where we spend a good ten minutes (which is shorter than usual) convincing the officers that we are just journalists on a tour of their fine state. The thing is, the checks keep coming long past the border, with the outposts ranging from properly constructed rooms to just chairs strewn across the highway. Two of the checks are less than 500 metres apart, definitely within sight of one another, but they happen nonetheless. When the uniforms give way to plain clothes, we can’t help but be a little skeptical.
There are crater fields here too; they don’t last as long as they did in Bihar, but because it’s been raining, they’re filled with water, and we can’t tell how deep each dip is. Luckily, this is a much wider highway, and for most of the bad bits, there is an alternate route. Still, it’s hard not to feel like Walter Rohrl coming out on the other side.
At Bongaigaon, the all-you-can-eat lunch we’re served just doesn’t seem to end, and we almost have to sneak out of the restaurant to make it stop.
Back on the road, what’s soon apparent is that traffic is much more civilised in Assam than in the last few states we’ve been to, even out here on the highway. There’s good lane discipline, people are happy to let you through when you want to overtake, and indicators are used properly. What a welcome change!
It’s after dark when we get into Guwahati and the rain is back. The hotel has underground parking with a steep ramp, so we have to gently ease the cars in. The bigger A6 is actually less of a handful thanks to its raisable air suspension, but the A4 really needs to be inched along. It’s a good thing the hotel has a car wash service, because once we get the Audis under fluorescent light, we notice they’re very, very dirty. But it’s the good kind of dirty, streaks of dry mud highlighting the cars’ lines - one of the marks of a great road trip.