North Lakhimpur to Aalo (242 / 307 km)
The road to Aalo had two choices. The longer route consisted of mainly good highways with intermittent bad stretches while the other route, shorter by 70 kilometres, promised 70 kilometres of mountain roads. Psyched up by the previous day's excursion, lead rider Sarath suggested the shorter one.
The main road to Aalo passes through huge plains of Assam, a refreshing sight after Arunachal’s mountainous terrain. The roads in Assam are mostly straight and well-surfaced, making progress a quick and relaxed affair. It is a far cry from Arunachal where you end up navigating close to a hundred corners in a day. The mountains never leave your sight though, looming in the distance and reminding you of where you are. The mystical North East.
Bamboo is an important commodity here -- the houses here have bamboo walls with corrugated roofs. Both sides of the highway have little streams beside it and access to these homes is via small bamboo bridges. It’s a simple rural lifestyle with women in red and white sarees and men scurrying around on cycles. Most of the homes have small ponds with lilies whose fragrance wafts across the road. This feels like a slice of heaven.
We soon reach the crossroads and decide to take the more adventurous route. And the adventure starts barely 30 kilometres in. The road is closed as excavators carve a path through the mountainside. It takes an hour and a half until there is a path wide enough for a single truck to pass through. The smell of freshly dug earth permeates our nostrils as we waddle through the soft loose soil. This is just the start and the next 18 kilometres of dirt and slush takes three hours to cover.
The homes in the hills are built on stilts and have thatched roofs and the locals here, especially the elders, seem to stick to wearing traditional clothes. It is the women who seem to do the heavy lifting here and more often than not you see an old lady carrying a large stack of wood inside a conical bamboo basket strapped to her back.
The country roads, for the most part, are well surfaced, allowing me to push the Mojo up to 80kmph on the hills. The beauty of the bike is its flexible motor which allows the bike to cross 80kmph in third without stress.
The sun sets and it gets completely dark by 5 pm around this time of the year in this part of the country. Even as darkness descends and with precious time lost, the roads progressively worsen and I stop to clean the muck off the headlamps and tail lamp. 20 more kilometres to cover but the roads get so bad that my pace is reduced to crawling speeds. Darkness in the forest is far denser than what we are used to in the urban sprawls. There is light rain for added effect.
Soon I reach the edge of the mountainside and can see lights of Aalo at a distance. It will take me yet another hour to get to those lights. As I inch close to Aalo, I am stopped in our tracks by another crew clearing a landslide. This crew will work through the night to keep the arterial roads of Arunachal running and are kind enough to clear a small path for a single bike to pass through.
I reach the hotel in Aalo to be greeted enthusiastically by the group who reached before me. Barely 10 minutes after I enter the hotel the skies open up into a proper thunderstorm. The group that was tailing me gets stuck in the storm and decide to stop and spend the night in another village. This is the North East. Anything can happen here.
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