Monsoon fiesta: A memorable journey through the eastern belt

It was a blessing in disguise to be entitled with an assignment which let us follow monsoon trail, escaping the heat of parched Delhi, which was then deprived of rain. The assignment entailed photography and documenting case studies on the unsung heroes of the Far East in the field of sports. Parveen and I set out on our adventurous journey on June 27, 2010, braving through the rough roads, insurgents, thunder, rain, and floods galore.

Route Map
The well laid travel itinerary was no less than race against the time…..we had to cover two states West Bengal and Assam in all means of communication possible within a stipulated period of 10 days, turns out, due to some unforeseen circumstances we arrive a day earlier than the scheduled date…
The route map and the mode of transportation used for the journey!

West Bengal
The effect of the FIFA World Cup fever was best seen in this part of the country, Argentina and Brazil were the two most celebrated teams there. West Bengal being one of the top notch football crazy state in India, had to stand true to it’s name…..thus our case studies led us to people associated with football in enumerable ways, community coaches, football camps, clubs, women football troop who won laurels at a national level.
Purulia and Bankura were equidistant from Kolkata, which were about 300 -350 kms. Both the districts were inhabited by the tribal community and also had some footprints of the Naxal insurgents in the neighborhood.

After reaching Kolkata we hardly had time for a breather, we hit the road on a highway and marched towards Bankura….no sooner we began our journey it started pouring cats and dogs. The dark cloud in the horizon brought us joy as well as apprehension for dampening the photo shoot the day later. The ride was comfortable with our efficient driver hitting the speed of 100 km/hr; we managed to reach our destination within 6 hours drive, stopping over tea and meals.

The next morning it was bright and sunny, we were in the field by 7 am. The little Bengali that I knew came quite handy to break the ice and strike a conversation amongst the locals. Apart from probing them about the area of sports we also had a good discussion on the ongoing world cup football matches and many participated with zeal and enthusiasm. After a long day we headed to the neighboring district Purulia.

Purulia is a hilly district located in the south west part of West Bengal. Purulia is well-known for its masked dance form known as the Chau, which was performed by the girls with rhythms of the dhol as a gesture for welcome. After meeting a couple of people we marched towards Kolkata. The ride back to Kolkata was memorable again, since the Maoist had declared a “bandh” there were no petrol available in the area. The driver had to use his last bit of petrol to reach a fuel station and literally camp and plead to the workers there to give us some petrol. We could do nothing except smile and look at them with desperation…finally the owner gave us some bit of petrol and we drove ahead to Kolkata.

The promotion of sports for development and community participation in sports and recreation does makes Bankura and Purulia promising hot-bed for sporting talent in the near future, they may have just started the journey, they have a long way to go, just like us who were traveling to the land of Ahoms, an unchartered journey through the gateway of the North-East.

Our first stop in Assam was in Guwahati, which lies beside the mighty river Brahmaputra. More rain and humidity caught us off-guard; the warm sultry weather in Guwahati was a little overwhelming for me and my fellow traveler. 

The same day as we arrived, we were taken to Morigaon by our local partners which were around 80 kms away from Guwahati where we had to document a case study on girls from a residential school named Mahila Sishkan Kendra.  On our way there, we crossed by a sanctuary named Pabitara, which is famous for the one horned Rhinoceros, who were undercover then, as we weren’t able to spot any of them. The landscape and the sight definitely was dream like, pristine and beautiful, but sadly due to the excess rain, the place was flooded. We were dismayed to see so many houses and family displaced due to heavy rain and flood. Nevertheless it was definitely a photographer’s delight to capture such luminous photographs of the water and the blue sky.

After we got back from Morigaon, we wanted to explore Guwahati, so we went to the river side to see the sunset. We were recommended to take a boat ride too, but we fell short of time and had to rush back to the hotel to watch the most awaited Argentina–Germany football match, I was supporting the Deutschland and Parveen was supporting Argentina, so lot of cheering and hooting followed when Die Mannschaft won the match 
Next morning we had to catch a bus to Dhemaji. The ride was exhausting which stretched for 12 long hours, which wasn’t so spine friendly due to the bouncy and rough road. We somehow managed to reach Dhemaji, which was situated on the northern bank of Assam. The district was bordering Arunachal Pradesh and mostly inhabited by the Mishing tribes. The following morning we had to ride to Bijoypur which was 100 kms away from Dhemaji, and we could see the hills of Arunachal at a stone throw distance. Accompanying the extremely rough roads were the Bihu songs blaring out of the van speakers which surprisingly aided us through the 100 km off-road trail.

Like other parts of Assam, Dhemaji was reeling under the flood, may be for this purpose Mishing community live on houses on stilts, stilts which have a big hall with a central kitchen for a large joint family, which could be climbed through a flight of 5-7 stairs leading to these houses. We had a grand lunch at one of the field worker’s home which was built using the same indigenous architecture. The experience was thoroughly enriching. 
On to Dibrugarh where we cross the majestic Brahmaputra on a ferry…The drivers who were able to drive their car in the ferry must be crowned auto genius, it was thrilling to see the cars being parked in the small ferry where the drivers had to balance and drive over just two parallel beams and get the car in and out of the ferry. Even though it was likely to rain, I choose to sit on top of the deck because I wanted the best view. I climbed up and sat in the deck to enjoy the drizzle and the marvelous sight in front of me of the calm waters of Brahmaputra. The ferry ride was a breather saving us a further 12 hour drive to our destination.

Dibrugarh falls in the northern most part of Assam, it is famous for its tea estates and tea plantation sites which runs in kilometers. One of the people whom I would always remember and draw inspiration from is of Dhurba Jyoti, young lad of 12 who has lost his limb but not a zest for life. 

Unbelievable experiences like planting the paddy along with the villagers, weathering all the slush and mud, having conversation with the old and the young people, their expressions, warmth and kindness would always stay close to my heart.

Before I finish my tales of beating floods and crossing mighty rivers, I just have one last tale left to narrate of the incident that occurred a few minutes as we were leaving Dibrugarh station.  Much to our relief an empty train chugged into the platform. No sooner did we settle down there was utter chaos as we heard of a bombing that had happened on the route that we were to take. Instinct took over as we scrammed out of the train and made cancellations. A stream of thought followed me as I flew over the numerous sparkling snaky tributaries of the Brahmaputra the next day as the plane slowly hummed and took us back to Delhi…

Jyotsna Rai

The jinxed trip!

A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” – John Steinbeck

Parveen and I couldn’t wait for the trip to start. Our route was to be Delhi-Punjab-Himachal-Delhi to document case studies for the Coffee Table Book.

We were looking forward to seeing the mountains, experience some nice weather, eat simple hot food, and travel in comfortable Volvo buses and most of all a chance to meet some amazing children with courageous hearts and grit to pen down their stories of struggle and victories.

But little did we know our expectations would bring us another kind of excitement.

Everything about the trip was jinxed.  Our trip included rickety buses thanks to the fact that we “just” missed our Volvo bus, amusing bus conductors and taxi drivers telling us to get off in the middle of the road to catch another bus or another cab because the driver didn’t feel like driving! Nights without food despite having booked in the guest houses, taxi drivers playing the same songs over and over again (‘ASHIQUE’ movie songs), driving through heavy rains, body aches which were anticipated, lack of sleep, etc. The list is never ending.

However still, honestly this jinxed trip was an amazing experience. Roughing it out was actually fun and we came back with unusual stories. 

We got a chance to meet some wonderful children with great spirit, we received special treatment at Patiala (we felt like high profile journalists), laughing at each other and at our situation, enjoying our rooms next to the Bahkranangal dam, good breakfast (the meal we managed to enjoy properly), the majestic mountains and many more small experiences that we will cherish for always.

Next time, I will just pack my bags and let the road show me the way…

Madhura Das Gupta

Soaked in the royal spirit of Gwalior

“Khoob ladi mardani woh toh Jhansi wali Rani thi”

This excerpt from the poem on Rani Lakshmibai by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan truly exemplifies the zeal, courage and spirit of Gwalior!
Madhura and I were in Gwalior for three days for documenting case studies as a part of the Coffee Table Book at Lakshmibai National University for Physical Education (LNUPE). The work went off really well. On the whole, we were treated royally by the people at LNUPE (I guess there is something ‘royal’ about everything in Gwalior!)

The train journey from New Delhi to Gwalior has its share of ‘wow’ moments! One cannot miss noticing the eerie Chambal valley; the wild land which has given us the bandit queen Phoolan Devi! Anybody would get lost out there even if you had a Google Map application on your mobile phone! The Chambal River is a sight too. The bluish green water shimmers when the sun rays fall across it, which looks magical. I am sure if I stood in the river, I would feel history flowing past me – a history filled with fierce warriors and daring dacoits!

Chambal Valley

Gwalior is a city brimming with elegance and historical importance; filled with forts and palaces which are a visual and aesthetic feast to your soul. The city has been blessed by the classical music maestro Miya Tan Sen, as well as the Rani of Jhansi, Rani Lakshmibai. Memories of the mighty past have been preserved with great care in the grand palaces and museums.

One evening, we headed for the Gwalior Fort. One cannot take an auto rickshaw up to the fort. The drive up, by car, is very steep. The fort overlooks Gwalior and you have a magnificent view of the city all to yourself. The walls are works of art in the truest sense! They have been exquisitely painted in blue and brown, with intricate carvings representing the culture and traditions of the erstwhile royal clan! The fort surrounds one side of Gwalior, and looks over the city like a watchful protector!

Gwalior Fort

The tourism department had a very small shop selling souvenirs. We walked up to a large board which announced “SOUND AND LIGHT SHOW”, which takes place on all evenings after sunset. The show basically provides the tourist an insight into the history behind the fort; on the battles fought, on the blood shed and the victories achieved.

Within Gwalior, it is best to move about in auto rickshaws*. A cheaper mode of transport is the tempos which serve as the local bus service (sort of!). While long distance buses are plenty, the local city bus service is more or less invisible. Gwalior is a small city. The maximum distance in any direction would be 10 kilometers. Keep that in mind when the auto guys come up with the ‘Kitna door jana padta hai’ excuse!

*Disclaimer: You have to bargain! In a short visit, you are bound to be ‘taken for a ride’ (Pun Intended) by the Autowaalahs. You see, the dacoits are not only in the Chambal!

Abhishek Neelakantan

Ek bar waqt se lamha gira kahin

It’s so beautiful!!

How many times have we “Safared’ to be able to utter these words and when they come, you do not know whether they were said to take care of all those journeys that you made without having the occasion to say this, or because there was nothing else to say.

As a tourist we have paid through our pockets (and sometimes through the linked FD or yearly bonus), travelled through airports (delayed flights) missed trains, rude immigration, horrible stations, crazy taxi drivers (and don’t forget the ubiquitous pan parag spit out with the door hanging half open), yet this may remain elusive.

Our safar through the hills of Uttarakhand though was a journey like none other that I have undertaken. Company apart, it was the breathtaking beauty of the misty mountains that one reads of in the travel brochures of SOTC or Cox and Kings. The mountains rose majestically above the clouds, melting against the early morning sun. There were thousands of wild flowers lining the roadside as we moved in  the dusty rickety jeep driven by a very able and competent Subhash bhai. Subhash Bhai himself was a class apart. I think it was a well thought of intervention by the One above. How else could both of us have landed (after millions of trav(ai)ls ) with a  driver who did not eat pan parag and guess what, did not believe in playing ear shattering music??

As I greedily drank in the beauty to be stored within my heart for years to come, so that when I close my eyes, I can still see it there, I thought of Wordsworth looking at the Daffodils and said to my companion “I know what Wordsworth meant now when he wrote , “for oft when on my couch I lie, in vacant or in pensive mood, they flash upon the inward eye, which is the bliss of solitude.. I know I cannot capture so much beauty in my camera..”
And I let my hand lie still and my heart become one with the clouds as they floated in a hurry, laden with rains that came drizzling now. Much, much lower down the Tehri jheel was sparkling green jewel  reflecting the soft light of the morning sun.

As we climbed up the hills the rains started falling and we got reports that there was  a jam on the way. (Don’t ask me how, but this system works quite well and I am sure even Phantom and Gurav would have a lot to learn from this, or maybe the Ghost who Walks is related to our very own Bholenath??)
Our fellow was quite brave and drove right up to the start of the jam.
The sight was frightening, to say the least, but at the same time, it was great to see the gang of Sardarjis, willing to help anyone who wanted to cross over.
The reason for the jam was simple.  A major part of the road had been washed away by water flowing from the top. The water was in great speed.
So much beauty and yet so hard to believe that it can cause so much destruction. Then I wondered, was it really destruction? Only because it inconvenienced mankind? What is it that Tennyson wrote?

Who trusted God was love indeed,   And love Creation’s final law- 
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw , With ravine, shriek’d against his creed- that obeyed not Natures law
Are God and Nature then at strife, That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems, So careless of the single life;

Poetry aside there was still the need to get across that work of Nature. Driver saab seemed very reluctant to cross the stream. And somewhere seeing his reluctance I knew that we would get stuck. That is just what happened. Bang in the middle, just as he should not have, he lost his nerve and braked to change gear. It was amazing to see how the stones just piled up against the tyres and the water started coming in the car.

We put up feet up and felt the car moving as the Gang of sardarjis, just came and started pushing the car. Where did they come from? Who called them?
What was this if not the very spirit of humanity that we search for? That we talk about in our trainings? That people pay thousands for us to take trainings on? What all do we talk about? Strategies to build teams? Who taught them?

The questions raced through my mind and somewhere in the background I heard them shouting instructions to or very very frightened driver. Then when they saw that this was no help, they simply lifted the car and egged him onto race it through to the other side.

Suddenly we were clear of the stream and on hard ground again.
Did I just pass through that? I wondered. The waters were very deceptive. The force with which the water was flowing was enough to wash away a car. We could have very well be one of the many statistics that fell down the hill, but who can beat the spirit of humanity. I sent up a  silent prayer to Hemkund Sahib where these travelers were bound and a call out to all our kavads to learn how to help. Bholenath!!

The bells brought me back to the present. The jeep was traveling now at what was actually the topmost peak of the mountains. And hugging the road. It was a single track, one wrong move and it was goodbye world!, but Subhash Bhai was good, very good. No hurry, no sudden brakes, a smooth ride. I could relax back and just watch the mountains, the clouds, the pines, the chinars, even the daturas looked all right here. Soon we will reach our destination, but till then there were these beautiful moments in the mountains. If you could hear me Vidya, Thank you for sending me here 
I should not be selfish, but did not want the journey to end, if only…..

Ek baar waqt se,lamha gira kahin,
Wahan daastan mili,lamha kahin nahin……
Thoda sa hasake,thoda sa rulake,

And , let me hold on to the memories  because…

Pal yeh bhi janewala hain

Varsha Chanda

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