This is my first post for the #BlogchatterA2Z Blogging Challenge and I jump right in with my brand new blog, to share my travel stories. Now these stories are not about popular tourist places, landmarks, must see or the usual touristy stuff, but my own experiences of having lived in these cities and some quirky stories from the days when travel and tourism meant camping at relatives or LTC trip once in a decade. So here I go, A to Assam.
Like all other things trending and in trend, travel also comes with its ‘trends’. These days we see a lot of travel buzz around ‘adventure camps’, ‘close to nature’, ‘village stays’, nature retreats, ‘farm stays’ etc. I attended one such retreat during my corporate stint and laughed at the irony when all of us appeared in khakis, rough terrain boots, hats, DSLRs ready to catch every tiny bird flying past, marvelling at the sounds of some animal far away, some asking sheepishly if there’s any wild life around. We, the urban city dwellers can only imagine what living in jungle midst of nature is like.
Assam, the wild wild beauty, that adorns its true nature without pretence. It is deep, dark, dense, secretive and frightening. Nowhere does it make any attempt to please the visitor. It rather allures you with it’s mysterious, magical charm.
I reminiscence Assam from a 5 year old’s eyes. My father was in the Armed Forces and as I was beginning to get a sense of the world around me at the age of five, we were on a long train journey from North India to Tinsukia, an Army Station in Assam.
The ground floor house we were allotted in middle of thick jungle, had a small garden outside, lined with Jasmine shrubs. The fragrant white delicate blooms would fill the air with sweet aroma every morning and once in a while a baby snake would come crawling out on the hard ground outside. Snakes dwell under thick Jasmine shrubs, we learnt. I went to my school walking and during rainy season, well it rained most of the time, year round, we would have leeches crawling on our bare legs. Neighbours suggested remedies and we started carrying small boxes filled with salt to sprinkle on the spots that leeches were sucking blood from. Sometimes even salt wouldn’t work and one had to light a matchstick to repel the creature by heat. Not a pleasant memory I tell you. Mom thanked Almighty every day that only leeches waded in the ankle deep waters, not the snakes.
The water quality, weather, and vegetation everything was starkly different from what our systems were used to. It took us almost a year to adjust to the ringworm menace, mosquitoes and malaria. The realisation dawned quickly that here, in this jungle, we were an intruder in nature’s way, outsiders, not the other way round. The only solution to the mosquito menace was not to kill the mosquitoes but to save yourself, simply because mosquitoes, like snakes, leeches, fireflies, toads and other such species, outnumbered the humans present. This was not a beautiful lush jungle posting that people usually gushed about. This was dense, ferocious wilderness. This was the land of the untamed, the land nurtured by the fierce mother Brahmaputra.
Brahmaputra, the mighty river that blesses Assam and at the same time it’s the river that ravages many villages every monsoon and devours the land, eroding the alluvial banks. Every time I take my children for a day out to some park or lake, I am reminded of the picnic by Brahmaputra River that my father and few of his colleagues and families had planned. Brahmaputra is furious and scary, muddy waters and ferocious waves you’ll never attribute to a river. We had planned a steamer river cruise and as the steamer was getting ready for passengers, we waited near the bank, trying to peep into the water smashing the bank. Suddenly someone pulled me, my brother and Mom from behind and in a few seconds, we witnessed the chunk of the riverbank that we were standing on, breaking like a piece of cookie and merging into the river. The banks erode and river claims the land slowly, changing its course after the monsoon.
We stayed at Tinsukia for three years and those years defined the nature loving person who never quite settles in any urban city. My soul craves for the forest. It also spawned a lifelong love affair with train journeys. I woke up to the world around me through the long, slow and sleepy train journeys between Assam and North India we took during vacations to visit family back home. The three day train journey tested our young family in every sense. The food we packed would last one or two days and then we ate from the train pantry or stations. I would crave for homemade chapatti by the second the day and once I begged a beggar by the train window for a chapatti that he was eating! My parents would buy a stack of comic books for the eager reader who had just learnt reading. I ensured I finished the entire stock in a day and demanded more. The next two days would be spent gazing out of the grilled window, the beautiful changing vistas, verdant fields, farmers working in knee deep paddy fields wearing wide bamboo hats, tiny huts, trees rushing by, tracing the moon and checking every now and then if he was still with us or took a turn. Most exciting part was pushing your face against the iron grill to somehow catch a glimpse of the whistling train engine and other bogies when the train took a curved path. Waving to fellow passengers by the windows in other compartments was a thrill to no end.
When someone says life is a journey, I smile. Yes, life is a beautiful journey and I’d like to travel forever.
(Image credit: donvikro, Pixabay)