North East Retreat: Scotland of the East Monday, 14 June, 2010Posted by ~uh~™ in Travel.
Tags: Assam, Family trip, Guwahati, Kaziranga, North East, North East vacation, road trip, vacation
(It’s been long I have written on travel, so thought of writing on our recent brief vacation to North Eastern India. The article is tending to be rather long, so would publish in parts. Here’s the first part)
Since my younger son crossed 3 years I have realized, it’s better to have atleast another family of similar configuration to go on a vacation with. Otherwise, we end up doing the roughly same as we do at home. Kids fight and we try to manage them, sleep late, wake up late, chase the kids to get them ready and are then forced to skip a sight seeing spot or two which disrupts the whole schedule. Every meal lasts for 2 hours and rest of the time is spent on packing and unpacking. So I was very demoralized when my in-laws had to drop out because of a medical emergency in the family at the last moment. I actually wanted to call off the trip, but the financial damage (towards the non refundable hotel booking and airfare cancellation charges) was substantial to be absorbed, hence retracted.
Day one: Guwahati
So, there we were, four of us, on board in the hour long afternoon Indigo flight from Kolkata to Guwahati . Guwahati being the largest city in the seven north eastern states and a major commercial and educational hub, the airport is as crowded as any other major Airports; just that the terminal is much smaller in scale. The first difficulty we faced was that our mobiles could not catch any signal around the terminal building, so it took us some effort and time to find out the driver of the pre-arranged car. Later we were told all pre paid connections, including BSNL are barred in NE region due to security reasons.
While traveling through the city road, it was evident that Guwahati is a prosperous town and a hub for business, administration and education. We were told the IIT is little away from the main city; else I would have loved to visit the campus. We crossed the University, state secretariat and other admin buildings en route. After we entered the main city we could see the hugely wide Brahmaputra river on our right, that looked more like a huge lake than a river. As we neared pan bazaar, we could spot the beautiful graffiti and paintings on walls on both side: dancers, Rhinos, general landscape scenes. Indeed, quite an impressive but inexpensive way to welcome a visitor.
I could not help but notice the advertisement billboards and signage written on Assamese. Assamese script is almost like Bangla, except for few variations which can be identified without much effort. I could easily read them all. The funny this is Bengali ‘S’ phonetic becomes ‘Ch’ is Assamese. So City Bus becomes Chity Buch, Sarkar become Charkar and so on. I was amused to see the ‘Eich Ech Bi Chi Bank’ on the way ! Another interesting billboard was an advert of saying “Our North East, Our Stars”, featuring Bhupen Hazarika, Lou and two more ladies [see pic] . We later found that in different states the order of the persons were different. In Assam Hazarika was on extreme right, whereas in Meghalay he changed place !
Our vehicle and hotel were organized by family friends, who are one of the largest pharmaceuticals manufacturer and distributors. They are also into brewery business, mainly distribution and retail and they own the old and famous B N Dey & Co wine store. We stayed in Hotel Rialto, bang in the middle of the busy Pan bazaar area. It was a modest city hotel, newly built, clean and the food was just awesome. After having a lunch with butter naan with murg makhani, we took a brief rest before heading for Kamakhya temple. It was around 4 in the afternoon and we were told that the shrine closes at 5.The sky was becoming overcast and it seemed to be quite dark soon.
The temple is one of the most famous ‘Shakti” shrines in the country, around 5 km from Pan bazaar area at an elevation on Nilachal hills. On this context, I remember a late friend of my dad, who advised us to visit Kamakhya when we were planning our Darjeeling trip, some 25 years back. Of course Darjeeling and Kamakhya are far from being conveniently adjacent at all, and he is no more now but I still remember his suggestion. Anyway, I am not exactly a religious person. I dislike taking off my shoes in the dirt and much outside a temple, pay a hefty sum for my cameras and then make myself vulnerable in the crowd of devotees. So I decided to wait outside and watch the monkeys, who were available in abundance. However, it started raining when we reached at the temple gate. It got dark and the kids started getting drenched. So my wife religiously offered her sincere pranam which appeared to be directed towards the signboard ‘Keep your shoes here’ and we returned. In Bombay, 7 pm is what we call twilight, so 5 darkness of night at 5 pm was a good learning and a different experience. While we returned to the hotel, our driver mentioned, that heavy rain for an hour is good enough to get the Guwahati streets waterlogged.
After a quick change at the hotel we headed to the dinner invitation at the family friends place. We found their house to be a labyrinth. The lady of the house was rather conversation starved, who covered almost every topics Bengali’s typically converse with- food, weather, travel and a comparative analyses of Bengali and north eastern food for different season. We were served fine Assamese tea with Ujjwla’s Chanachur supplied from kolkata. So it was a very at home atmosphere. She also described the entire ritual of offering a Puja at Kamkhya, which is a hour long process involving crawling in a dark tunnel lit by candles where all the surfaces are covered with sticky soot. Also, it is said that the sinners are converted to goats and kept inside the temple. So, our decision to return turned out to be a wise one ! I had to take intermittent break from the conversation to organize the car which we planned to hire and keep for the next 5 days for the entire road trip. Later, we crossed around 5 rooms to reach to the dining room. Dinner comprised of Chinese cuisine, which we learnt later to be from one of restaurants they own, followed by fruit custard.
We retired for the day, prepared to leave for Kaziranga as early as possible next morning. Guwahati to Kaziranga is around 220 kms, so it was a long drive of 5 to 6 hours.
Day Two: Guwahati to Kaziranga
There’s a place called Jorbat a few kms after Guwahati city limits end which is actually a border of Meghalaya and Assam. The load on the left goes to Kaziranga (220 kms) and travels through plane land while the road on the right goes up through the mountains to Shillong (100 kms). At that point, an armed force personnel informed us that there’s a blockade as Jorbat, but some local personnel and vehicle are not allowed to go further. He guided us on the side of the road behind a long queue of vehicles. We were also told that the blockade is my female protestors so a special female troupe has been sent to disperse them. The young jawan from Jammu, carrying a Kalansnikov said, it’s actually quite easy for them to disperse a mob, provided they are given a free hand. Visibly he was frustrated not able to use his new AK47. We waited around half an hour but could not ascertain how long the wait would last. Fortunately, our driver Joydeb consulted with fellow taxi drivers and suggested we turn around and a take an alternate long cut instead of waiting here. The alternate route was to drive via Chandrapur and then meet the usual highway. The Chandrapur route turned out to be a better road, which was still under construction in parts to a 6 lane highway.
The 6 hour long journey was fairly smooth and comfortable. We took an excessively spicy lunch break at ‘Monophul Dhaba’. . On our left were green meadows meeting the clear blue sky at the horizon, with clouds interspersed. Herds of cattle could be seen grazing on the fields. Overall pretty simple scene, but as they as ‘ Simple is beautiful’. By the time we entered Kaziranga, the day started fading to dusk and we were tired too tired of the long road journey. No sooner than we entered the Wildlife corridor, we spotted two Rhinos- casually strolling on the grass. We resumed our journey after thoroughly documenting the duo, through still and video photography.
We reached Iora (Pronounced Aiyora) Resort just before sundown and as we walked to the reception, the beautiful flowers in the garden, the serenity around and numerous chirping of birds took away our fatigue. I have never heard so many birds singing/ chirping together. As we walked towards our cottage, the frogs and crickets started adding to the musical concord.
The room was superior with an attached balcony overlooking the meandering pathway and the garden. There were tea coffee maker and all other facilities an ideal star rated hotel should have. There was a facility of renting DVD for kids as well, probably for people who wanted their kids to be kept occupied indoors. The reception called us before dinner to inform that they are showing ‘Border’ the movie on the lounge as evening entertainment. However we preferred to have a quite dinner inside the restaurant, far from Sunny Deol’s patriotic war cry. Dinner was a la carte and the food was ample and delicious. Prices of food and alcohol were cheap compared to what we normally pay in resorts of such standard in other parts of the country.
The musical orchestra of birds changed to that of Frogs, crickets and other night creatures. The darkness of the garden was sprinkled with moving light points. For our kids it was a new experience as they have never heard such sound and neither seen fireflies before. In the snugness of the blanket, their sleeping faces emitted a radiance of joy, which made all the travel worthwhile.
[End of Part One]
To be contd…