About the eastern lands of India, not much is said. They have always been far ignored, secretly kept and mysteriously hidden from the outside world. I happened to travel here in the middle of peak winter and witness some beautiful early sunsets, among other things.
“The prospect of spending a few days or weeks nestled in the mist, the clouds, cloaked by a determined history and a largely indeterminate future makes me both greatly excited and deeply concerned” I read in the travelogue by Sudeep Chakravarti titled “Highway 39” and I couldn’t agree more.
On my trip, I was accompanied by three of my girlfriends. After a tiring 55-hour train journey, we finally reached Guwahati on an odd afternoon. Odd, because we were welcomed by twilight at 4.30 p.m. It seemed unreal. Since it was my first time travelling to the eastern side of the country, it took me a while to get used to such a drastic weather change. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful experience to be there.
We were greeted by the relatives of one of our friends at the Guwahati Railway station and taken home, where we spent our first night. Itwas a warm house, much needed in the cold evenings of Guwahati. And having the delicious home-cooked lunch (especially after having the torturous Indian rail food for two days) was a huge relief. It felt like a home away from home. We were delighted to be in the company of a sweet chirpy Grandma who was extremely zealous to serve us hot food and a Grandpa who kept telling us stories from his youth about the time he was working with the forest department & had to hunt a man-eater Leopard.
Our goal, however, was reaching the land of Nagas and have a peek at the isolated lives of the tribes of Nagaland. The night drive to Nagaland was a little bumpy as the roads weren’t tarred and had zero street lights. We still managed, bearing through it all. On reaching the Zohenboto district, awaiting us was the Lumami Campus at University of Nagaland. We attended the YETI conference for two days and got to learn a ton of new science stuff that people from across the country were working on, meet some of the smartest minds and understand the way our world is developing because of these genius researchers.
But, after an overnight stay at the college hostel (where 7 p.m. felt like 2 a.m.) and many blissful walks under the moonlight (which was also the only source of light at night), we decided to head back to Guwahati to explore the beautiful (and highly recommended) wildlife. But leaving behind the beautiful Nagaland University, its lifeless jungles and the hars coldness was indeed an emotional moment.
On our way back, we stopped at a local hut for a cup of tea. The lady we met there made our belief in humanity stronger. Sitting with her over a cup of tea beside the fireplace and getting to know the story of her life within a few minutes was an endearing experience. She was overjoyed while talking to us. She felt proud of the fact that four young girls from a faraway land had come all the way to explore her home. When she found out that we had to travel the entire night ahead, she packed us some Oranges without charging a single rupee. It wasn’t just humanity, it was love. I think it was the first time I experienced such affection from a stranger. The Oranges she gave us were much more than just a fruit, for us they were the love & the warmth of her place that we got to carry along with us in the cold night on road that ahead and also forever in our hearts.
Next morning, we reached the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary. It was a secluded little place, bustling with wildlife, safely hidden from the business oriented tourism of Assam. Situated just about an hour away from the city of Guwahati, it was a heavenly destination.
Here, the layers of mist danced on both sides of the road. The bright water lilies rose up in the mist covered ponds and the vast stretches of mustard fields washed in yellow made for a perfect landscape. No words could describe the serenity of this place. The dull colored grasslands, over which the Rhinos were feeding, thousands of Lesser Whistling Teals by the water and the huge migratory Adjutants flying above our heads were just among the first few observations. As we explored further, we found out that the water alone was a storehouse of 90 different species of birds, 65 out of which were the winter migrants. And the number of birds on the grasslands were impossible to count.
At the end of the day, all we knew was that we never wanted leave and go back home.
But, like all good things, this trip to the North-eastern tip of India ended too. It left behind a permanent mark on our lives though. Our understanding about the people, about the life here, changed and changed for good.
We know that these lands are going to keep calling us back and we are going to head there every chance we get, perhaps to meet the chai lady and all the flying winter visitors.
A travel account from December 2014