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December 25, 2013

A day in Assam

Assam is beautiful......

Assam is much more more beautiful than I ever fathomed. Images of riot happy souls, crowded villages, suspicious looking so called Bangladeshi immigrants tramping around, half of Bengal doing business was in my simple fallible human mind.

But that was not to be. Assam is beautiful.

The most striking villages in Bodoland, well kept Muslim villages, rice flowing all around, even the mofussil towns were neat and clean. Assam took my breath away, even more so than what I saw of the Arunachal hills.

The view from Tezpur to Guwahati as we ran parallel to the Tawang hills was romantic. That early morning on a fast running bus, I was almost sleepy with delight.



Guwahati was not bad either and we had a great time roaming around the town, embellished no doubt with a beautiful museum. What was more interesting perhaps was the ride in the Brahmaputra. As we went to try out the river cruise of 250 rupees, we found it to be full. We did what was the next better option. We took the local ferry to the other side and then came back. Nothing better than this....... And Brahmaputra took my breath apart......

The next morning was an exercise in spirituality. It was a strange decision as I had intended to go to the temple and run away as fast as I can. But that was not to be. We, me and Ashwin actually stood in line for 5 hours a glimpse of the goddess. I still can't fathom where I got the strength from, but that is what we did. Stand in line for hours with faithfuls all around us. And the entire gamut of spirituality or whatever it may be called - Kamakhya temple was bustling with energy. Goats being cut, yajnas being conducted, people patiently standing, a few fights, a few pushes, devotees all around. The sanctum of the temple was hazy with smoke, almost dipped in centuries old oil and we saw the goddess for all of a few seconds. I still do not know whether I saw the goddess or one of her friends. But that was what it was and we came back.

Back and then on to my next journey to Mizoram......

What I have been reading last few weeks

Maps for Lost Lovers - Nadeem Aslam

Kashmir - Wajahat habibullah

The Appalachian Trail

The Great War - Marc Ferro

Mountains of Mist - Ruskin Bond

Loads of outlooks and India Todays

December 2, 2013

The Toughest Road in India - Arunachal Diaries - At Tawang

The single biggest learning from this north-east trip is that this region is clearly accessible and not as remote as I had imagined. And Bhalukpong is another dirty outpost that increasingly makes its mark across the country. Dry, dusty, shady and resourceful - India will soon be a homogenous country.

And Bhalukpong is close to Balipara where we stayed for one dirty night, so here we were. About to embark to Tawang in a public bus, seated at the back seat through hills, hillocks, mountains and then the grand loftiness that pulls millions into the spiritual consciousness that the Himalayas are.....

The comedy was that we might not have reached Tawang at all as the hotel where we stayed at Bomdila had closed all the gates and nobody was to be found early in the morning. Frantically, we banged like crazed jailbirds and finally a yawn and someone opened up the gate.

In hindsight, it would have been good if we stayed back as the road to Tawang from Bomdila was insanely tough and sitting as we were in the cheapest means of transportation available to us was the toughest ride of my life. Just about no roads and only dust. When we landed at Tawang - the cold hit us hard. We just retreated into the silence of the room.

Ahh, the morning was glorious though.... Cold and biting, yet the promise of the sun made us get up and walk towards the 400 year old Tawang Monastery. People would be surprised but walking really brought the blood back to our legs. It was a great walk in itself as we could see the town just getting up, the odd bits of its ancient culture peeking through and we walking into the ancient monastery.

The Monastery looks more like a grand monastery compared to Dharamsala and there is another one just behind, perched like an eagle's nest. The monastery had an unique museum filled with photos of the HHH Dalai Lama during his flight to Tawang, his subsequent journey to Dirang and Bomdila, a young Sonia Gandhi running behind Rajiv and many more.

The museum had another interesting feature. A really old monk who was initially reluctant but then broke into a smile when we asked him where was he on the day the Chinese attacked. He laughed and said that we, all of us, just ran away to Bomdila and then came back much later. But one thing that he said was of value - he mentioned that the Chinese did not kill any civilian, though in his version monks are not civilians - they are a part of the enemy's setup.

Walking back again!!! we passed the peace rally against mostly NHPC and PWD. I really wanted to join the rally as there are two things clearly in abundance in Tawang.... NO Electricity and Bad Roads....

Strong Memory - At Jawswantgarh and the War Memorial - I was surprisingly proud of the fact that India has had the courage to remember its defeat and its deaths in such a poignant manner. Rarely do losing countries remember their defeats. India just did that and made me super-patriotic for some time that afternoon.

After tonnes and tonnes of momos at the Aunty Restaurant, we embarked on our great single page drive to Tezpur, a 16 hour journey through this great bad road. But in hindsight, it was a good decision as we sat in the first seat and the bus did not jump. Besides, there were so many people that the collective CO2 made the bus quite warm.

What also made the bus warm was that during the frequent stops, we would see people rushing towards the counter. Finally, out of curiosity, I got down at one of these stops and saw the lady of the house selling liquor by the glass. Super salesmanship this and later on saw this happen at quite a few places across the North-east. I love the north-east...

The key places we passed in this journey was Tawang, Jung, Jaswantgarh, Sela Pass, Texans, Dirang, Bomdila, Nagmandir, Bhalukpong and Tezpur....

There, we were at the the end of the Arunachal touch-trip. I am sure that the soul will call us back to this magic in the Eastern Himalayas.