This is the first of a series of posts on my one week trip to Upper Assam and Nagaland ( neighbourhood, so to speak!)
We woke up to a very misty morning in Jorhat on the morning on Dec 17th, dumped our rucksacks into the Tata Sumo, and took off to Margherita, a small town packed with the history of industry and war in Assam.
There was so much fog that it was a wonder the driver ( or anybody else on the road) could see anything.
K2 started taking her photographs immediately – starting with two cows locking horns on the road. She was hanging right out of the window to get her shots.
We decided to stop at Sibsagar – visit the Shiv Dol (and the tank, after which the town is named). After a breakfast of poori-sabji (greasy!) – we went to Rangghar and Talatal Ghar – on the way passing by the field where Ahom queen Joymati was tortured to get the whereabouts of her husband the king-in-hiding.
We stop at Dibrugarh to meet M’s uncle – who was to give us further contacts for down the road. He showed us the railway line to Ledo from Dibrugarh. At this time, I did not realize the significance of this railroad (later, thanks to PPM I got to know about the role of this railway in the development of this region). More about PPM a little later.
On the way, M points out to us latest construction sites, malls, etc – owned by SULFA guys. J is very impressed with M’s knowledge of all the local politicians – K2 and I are gradually getting to know more about the world of politics and conflict in the North East through M. We cross Tinsukia, Digboi – passing by glossy green tea-estates.
We reached PPM’s office ( PPM is a very high ranking civil administration official in the distt. of Margherita) at around 4:30. Introduction happened through M’s contacts. PPM seems extremely busy – consults the IPC( Indian Penal Code) for something ( he is also the Magistrate) , his phone is ringing all the time. Finally, he has time to talk. On hearing about our interest in the Stilwell road (a road built from Assam to China at the time of WW II, fallen into disrepair, and now much talked about as a possible land trade route) he takes out some very interesting black and white pictures of the road construction. We talk for a while – PPM finally decides he likes us, and takes us under his wing for the rest of our stay in Margherita! Through him, for the next few days, we learn a lot about the workings of our administrative machinery, of which PPM is the boss ( and makes sure we all know it) in this district.
In the evening, we go over to PPM’s heavily guarded house – PPM’s wife turns out to be a junior of mine from school, small world! We get a lot of advice on how to get to the Pangsau pass on Stillwell road, and possibly even beyond into Myanmar.
A little explanation is forthcoming here on our interest on the Stilwell road – M and J are researchers, J has a special interest in cross border trade. There has been a lot of hoop-la made by politicians recently about a Look – East policy for India ( expanding trade and ties with SE Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia) – the NE hopes to benefit from this, being geographically positioned such that land trade routes would go through the region, and being also culturally linked to SE Asia. J and M were trying to find out what exactly these benefits would be, and what were the ground realities about the road condition. K2 and I were along for the ride, so to speak. K2 for the photo ops and me for the stories. We too got drawn into the romance of the Stilwell road.
End of day 2. ( Photos courtesy the K2).