The goat index.
Hili to Siliguri
Having left Bangladesh, the next week was spent riding north across West Bengal and Bihar towards the Nepalese border.
These are two of the poorest regions in India and feel like forgotten lands. No evidence of investment, of basic infrastructure, of federal care or help. To me this is India at its worst, the country famous for its charm and colour seemingly a world away.
Looking up from the saddle there was very little to see outside of grave poverty and desperation. The poor, the malnourished, disabled, frail, all living by the roadsides. Feral dogs, goats, cows wander the roads feeding off litter, naked children search through rubbish dumps, ladies mould animal dung by hand to use as fuel.
It is difficult to know how to act when passing these scenes, whether to smile, look away or just stare down at the tarmac. We are such a symbol of wealth and privilege you feel ridiculous, cruel, above all helpless.
We get the same shouts, the same attention, but in the towns or cities we pass through the feeling is not was it was previously. The interest remains but the friendliness has withered.
I can’t help feeling a constant and relentless fury at the situation. To my eye, rarely is governmental priority so confused as the $1 billion each year spent on India’s space program, when 2/5ths of its children suffer malnourishment and half the population do not have sanitation. Imagine how quickly those two situations could be improved using that money and expertise. It makes me want to scream.
I celebrated my birthday in the city of Purnea which we hoped might be somewhere to explore, but it was run-down and desperate even by the standards of this region. Finding the only guest house we celebrated with a big veg curry and an ice cream. Before bed i sat on the front step enjoying a secondary ice-cream, the view ahead was a small pile of dead dogs, a cow rummaging through a litter pile and a few families lying underneath buses trying to get some sleep.
Goats have become a daily source of amusement to us, partly because they are usually funny characters behaving curiously. We have also devised the Goat Index. The quality of the goat population surrounding a town seems to tell you much about the quality of the place itself. A high Goat Index (G.I.) with healthy, energetic looking scamps, will mean the town will have decent shops to get supplies, maybe a town square, maybe even somewhere to sleep. Whilst the number of goats around will give you an idea of the size of the town. It isn’t fool proof, but it’s about all the fun there is on offer at the moment.
Reaching the city of Siliguri, both Scotty and i are unwell so take a day’s rest to recuperate and visit Darjeeling. Being off the bike and visiting this more developed and touristy town was a welcome relief to days gone by, and the first opportunity to meet and talk to English speakers for many weeks and enjoy a rest.
We rose early and watched and incredible sunrise over the Himalayas, staring into the horizon at the snow capped peaks and our next challenge that lay ahead.
Sunrise over Darjeeing.
One of those is Everest.
Misty Darjeeing morning.
Batasia Loop war memorial.
Hairy and sick again.
Early morning tea.