A week in my neighbourhood: Day 2 ( Dec 17th)

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.

 

 

Tolatol Ghor

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).

 

Shiv Dol
Shiv Dol

North East trip starts: In Jorhat today

Blogging from the town of Jorhat in upper Assam.

I started my journey at 9 am today on the Assam State Transport bus ( supposed to be a “super” which means that it should only stop at a few places on the way. Nobody had told the driver this little fact, so we stopped all along the way whenever the driver felt the need to.  The bus ride was supposed to take 6 hours, it took 8. I was not overly concerned, almost expected it.

The leg from Guwahati to Nagaon was spent reading “The moth-eaten Howdah of the Tusker’ by Indira Goswami, translated into English by the author herself from the original Assamese. WHile reading about the “Sattras” ( seats of Vaishnava religion in Assam ) and the degeneration of the landlords ( the religious heads, or Satradhikars), my condition was deteriorating with the dust of the under-construction 6 lane highway.

The bus stopped for lunch at a dhaba – where I had a Assamese thali ( for 25 Rs – kola khar, maati dail, mosoor dail, bean bhaji, alu phoolkobi bhaji, salad, achar, rice). Good stuff!

Met up with other members of TEN at Koliabor, just after the turning towards Tezpur, where they climbed onto the same bus. While crossing Kaziranga N.P. we saw a rhino grazing in the wildland, and a wild elephant staring at us from the roadside. The view of the tea-gardens started right after – neatly laid out rows of tea bushes, dotted with taller trees.

Passed through Bokakhat and reached Jorhat at 5 pm after a really long and exhausting ride.

Update from Guwahati

I’m still here in Guwahati, at my parent’s place. Its been a tough one week, with N feeling very scared of the new environment and new people. So my travel has been postponed – will do 10 days instead of 3 weeks as earlier planned. She’s getting more and more used to my parents, so I’m hopeful it is going to work out.

Meanwhile, other folks of The Eastern Network ( NGO with which I am involved) have gone ahead – they are right now in Arunachal. I hope to join them in a few days in Dibrugarh.

Off to Guwahati tomorrow

Got an early morning flight to catch.  Its the first time I am travelling with N alone – wish me luck! I am armed with books and toys.. I hope it is enough to entertain her for 5 hours!

I’m going to travel in the NE for 3 weeks – leaving N with the grandparents. Yes, its ambitious. But I have to do it, sooner or later.  And I figured that leaving her with my parents and travelling so I can be back quickly in case something comes up, is the best way to start. Keeping my fingers crossed on how it goes.

N has already expressed her displeasure by developing an upset tummy.

I am really wondering how she will react to me not being there.

Will she cry incessantly and refuse to be held by anybody else ? ( in this case, back I come from whereever I am of course)

Will she – remember me when she needs comforting and be okay otherwise? ( should get her used to my Mum as much as I can in the next 3 days in Ghy)

Will she – not remember me at all and be very happy in the company of the grandparents? ( this will allow me to finish my travel, but when I come back she may not know me anymore. Horror of horrors. )

I will find out soon. I will also find out about how I feel leaving her and traveling. For the first time since she was born, I will be away from her. Whew! Its really a big deal.

Good Writing

As in the words of Somerset Maugham ( one of my favorite writers, ever since I read his short stories as a teenager, a long time ago):

“A good style should show no sign of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident.”

Unfortunately, the “happy accident” happens only after hours of painstaking work, rewrites, listening to friends and family critics, etc etc. I am finding out the hard way.