Travel travails in North East India in 1988

The company I work with is the premier in the quest of oil and gas in India. It explores oil and gas in every corner of India. The problems of logistics, politics & terrorism do not deter it in its pursuit of this highly prized commodity. In India, it was in Assam where the British struck the oil. The town of Digboi bears the testimony where the Edwin Drake prodded the diggers with the cry of “Dig boy Dig” and the place got the name Digboi. Our company is having drilling in many parts of Assam. One such place is in South Assam and is called Silchar which is the city from where it is engaged in the search of oil in the Barak valley.

In 1988, I was posted in Silchar, headquarters of Cachar district. The place was very quaint and visitors from outside feel transported to the ancient times. The district borders Bangladesh and most of the population speaks Bengali language. The particular dialect they speak is Sylhetti which is spoken in the adjacent Sylhet district of Bangladesh. At that time, modes of communication were very few. Not to talk of mobile phones, even the landline phones were available in offices only. Similarly, logistically it was very poor place. Due to the peculiar shape of Bangladesh, it was very long journey by train to reach there from Calcutta or rest of India. Even these days no trains of note run from the capital Delhi to Silchar. You have to cross the Cachar hills to reach south Assam from Guwahati in the North Assam. These are the same hills which find a mention in the Mahabharata. Here lived Hidimba which fell in love with Bhima because of his physical strength and had a son by him called Ghatotkach.  Only few trains run between Guwahati and Silchar. There were only two flights in the daytime from Calcutta which flew almost over Bangladesh.

Anyway on to the description of the journey which is the subject of this topic.

My brother-in-law was also working in the same company and was posted at a place called Nazira in upper Assam. He sent us an invitation to visit them. My wife was very happy and looked forward to the journey to meet her brother and sister-in-law. I also wanted to undertake this journey because I also wanted a break from the tough working conditions in the Silchar. We had two very small children at that time. We booked the tickets and made the preparations and boarded the train running one a meter gauge rail in the noon.  This train was supposed to reach Lumding junction at about 4 O’clock in morning where we had to alight from this train and board another train coming from Guwahati and going to Tinsukhia in the extreme East of the country. The weather was very good and became cooler as the train proceeded North.

The train crossed through the lovely picturesque  Barak valley. The farmers with chinese hats on their heads worked in the lush green fields. There were bamboo and banana groves here and there. On the Barak river there were boats sometimes looking so insignificant on the mighty waters spread in a very broad span. They were fishing boats and fish of very delicious variety is found in this river. The boats yonder looked like dots. Occasionally group of birds would take flight as if in fright. Since it was December, the days were short. Train was chugging long slowly but steadily in the plain.

It was still day as the train seemed to be running into the blue colored hills and crossing many tunnels on the way. The speed was decreasing because the hilly slopes had started. The train would stop at any place where it pleases and for a time which seemed interminably long. After a long wait, the train reached the Jatinga. It is a fabled place where on a particular night thousands of bird commit suicide by hitting themselves on the lights fixed on the bamboo poles by the villagers. The scenery at the railway station was breathtaking. The mountains in front looked like a solid blue wall. The water was making a purling sound in the rivulets nearby. As it was getting dark and chilly, fog began floating and seemed to be conversing with the trees. The smoke from hearths in the village huts seemed suspended as dense cool air made difficult for it to rise.

The train seemed to have permanently there. Passengers alighted from the compartments because a beautiful site beckoned them. Whole platform looked orange colored because it was strewn with oranges. There were heaps of them and local gardeners sold them in  special bamboo baskets. Everyone was busy in the bargaining for the oranges and forgotten the train.

By and by the night began to fall. The hill outlines became silhouettes and soon dissolved in the pitch black  night. The reality began to dawn on us that the train is surely going to reach late at Lumding and miss the connecting train. The train somehow began moving and as expected reached the Lumding station very late. The next connecting train was around 09:30 and 10:00 in the evening and specter of spending whole day at the station loomed over us. Harrowing ordeal began. These two coaches were detached and parked in the sidings. The mottled group of passengers became friendly with each other. The food was scarce. On top of it, there was strike in the town and whole town was deserted as reported by some passengers who were adventurous enough to go out. There was no facility for depositing the luggage and go out which in the present conditions was impossible. The day began to heat up causing uneasiness and restlessness among the passengers especially children.

After a wait of whole day, a train chugged into the station and our coaches were attached to it. The train was rushing into the pitch dark night towards its destination. Ultimately it reached Simalgudi station where we were to alight. It was 4 O’clock in the morning. A thick pal of fog hanged over the station and people looked like wraiths. We were complete strangers to the place and did not know how to proceed to Nazira which is about 15 kilometers. Fortunately, a Muslim boy who had become acquainted with us during the journey helped us to find a taxi. We asked him where he himself was headed. He told us that he was going to Sivasagar, which was the capital of Ahom kings which ruled Assam for a long time. We asked him how he would go there, he told that soon a bus of a company shall come and he would go in that bus. Surprisingly the bus belonged to our company and was a shift carrying bus!!!.

Such was the journey. So I called it “such a long journey”

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