Thursday, April 1, 2010

Back from the wilds of the North East

I can now say I have been to Assam (where my favourite tea is grown) and can report that it is a little ODD. Because the North East (Assam, Meghalaya, Arunchal Pradesh to name but a few states) shares very porous borders with places like China, Bhutan and Bangladesh, security is on High Alert. India likes capital letters, but more on that later. So satellite phones are banned (as the calls cannot be traced), and all other mobile phones are blocked by ‘The Forces’ unless they are a North East issued number, and even then they are hit and miss. The internet is similarly affected. So, if you want to get away from technology may I recommend a trip to Assam? In its favour I must say that it shows the most beautiful shades of green: dark tea plantations, iridescent rice paddies, bright banana groves and all around heavy red clay soil that makes everything grow so beautifully. But then when it rains (as it did most of my visit) it gets very boggy. VERY. And as I was being whizzed back from Tezpur to Guwahati for the flight back to Delhi, we got caught in possibly the hugest hailstorm I have ever been in. The road had no verge, so we couldn’t pull over. The driver, bless him, ploughed on with hazard lights flashing at only about 50kph (well it makes sense to slow down) as that was somehow preferable to stopping in the middle of the road.
Which got me to thinking about, in particular, Indian road travel. I am reading a really good book just published here: “Mother Pious Lady” Making Sense of everyday India by Santosh Desai. If you love and are mystified by India you must get a copy. It explains so much about India that has often set me wondering. Like their love for Capital Letters. So, as I said I got to thinking about road travel in India. And I figured there are some golden rules:
Do Not Show Fear
Do Not Wind the Window all the way Down
Do Not Sit in the Front
If you show fear, your driver will either a) go out of his way to scare you witless or b) slow down so much that you are overtaken by donkeys. Neither of these are good options.
If you open your window, you may find that when you are passing a public bus you get more than you bargained for. Indians, women in particular, are notoriously bad travellers and vomit at every possible opportunity. If you happen to be passing just as they feel ill, you will get a nasty surprise in your lap.
If you sit in the front you can see what you might crash into. You will also get your leg felt up every time the driver changes gear, which can be surprisingly often. If you sit in the back like Lady Muck, you can gaze pointlessly out the window safe in the knowledge that you won’t know how close you came, and that the front seat is a large airbag between you and the windscreen.
And so what of brave sir Robin. Well he called last night from somewhere called Mirkung Selek (sounds like he went to Bali not Arunchal Pradesh) and was staying in the BIUTI Hotel (we figure it means beauty). He had a rather dreadful 12 hour road trip in the cold and rain, and has another one today to get to Tuting, the start of the trek. They had planned to take the scenic route but there was no bridge, and since there was also no scenic thanks to the weather they took another road. I think he is itching to get walking again. Poor Pema, who flew from Nepal on Sunday, can’t believe the time and distance involved in going for a walk in India!
So I am back in Delhi with Carmen, my Spanish friend, enjoying a cold beer and watching IPL cricket.
Hope you are all looking forward to the easter break.

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