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.
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!
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…