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North East Chapter 1 - Reaching Nameri

by Payel Kundu on February 03, 2018

Why Nameri? I am not sure. It just felt right. When I started planning this trip, my first trip to north-east India, I was overwhelmed by the sudden realization of how vast it is. I had 10 days in my hand and there were precisely 7 states to consider. So like everyone else, I went with order of popularity. First there was Meghalaya, with the most popular name Shillong and other more beautiful destinations like Cherapunjee, Dawki etc. But I rejected Meghalaya considering the huge crowd at Shillong during this time of year. Next in line was Arunachal. But I found Tawang too cold for my taste and hence had to drop this route as well. At that point I thought of focussing solely on Assam, which meant tea-gardens and forests. With that in mind and factoring in my special interest towards forests, Nameri felt like the most convenient and desirable choice. And so I started my north-east trip with a visit to Nameri National Park.

En route to Nameri from Balipara

 

Flying in to Guwahati

It started at 6 in the morning. All packed up and ready to leave, struggling on phone to book a cab. There had been a call for Mumbai Bandh and looking at the vehicle free map interface on my phone it was obvious that people were actually complying with it. After some 15-20 minutes finally found an Ola share who agreed to go till the airport. Lucky for me, because turned out that was his last ride too. Anyhow, I reached airport by 7 am and was done with security in next 45 minutes despite heavy rush at airport.

Mumbai Airport
Dawn Breaking at Mumbai Airport

The flight took off on time and landed in Kolkata at 11:30, half an hour before schedule. So I had about 4 hours to kill before my next flight. Since I had checked in my luggage, I was free to roam around without hassle. I went outside the airport, walked till the main road, found a restaurant called Ethnotel (inside a hotel of that name) and finished my lunch there. I was back to airport by 1:30 pm, when I settled myself on a chair with a book and prepared to wait for boarding announcement.

Flight to Guwahati was also on time and landed there at 5:15 pm after 1 hour 20 mins of smooth ride. Outside the airport I found a lot of taxi driver waiting for passengers and shouting out Shillong, IIT & Guwahati (main city), but I had booked an Uber already. I found my Uber driver very engaging. He told me stories about Assam, the kite festival and different tribes living in there. Before I knew it I was at the location of my guest house, in a quiet lane close to Bramhaputra river.

 

Guwahati to Tezpur

ASTC bus
The Bus I took for Tezpur

One week before my trip I had started panicking about all the road journeys that I would need to make during my trip. And so to solve this situation to some extent, I had already booked bus online for the first leg of my journey, which is Guwahati to Tezpur. The day after I reached Guwahati, I woke up early, took bath, got ready and checked out of guest house at 7 AM. While Guwahati is a busy city with plenty of vehicles, my guest house had been at a relatively secluded street. So after waiting some time and not finding any auto or cycle rickshaw, I decided to call an Ola Cab. I got my ride and in 15 mins had reached the ASTC bus stop near Paltan Bazar.

Bus stop was a usual busy place with buses parked in the centre area and shops on all sides. At the furthest end there were ASTC booking counters and I headed there to check on my bus. Upon seeing my ticket the guy at the counter directed me to a bus parked towards the right side. It was not the usual Volvo bus, it was more like the AC bus that runs within city. It had a lower section of sitting at the front side and a higher one at the back, in the middle there’s empty space for storing luggage. I quickly grabbed some puris from one of the stalls and boarded my bus. Slowly more people started filling in. Only a handful of outsiders had made booking online, rest of the people were making reservation at the counter itself. This might have been even a little cheaper than the amount I paid for the ride (Rs. 253).

Rural Assam
View through the tinted window

The bus started from Guwahati at 8:20, almost on time and after navigating through the city for a few km it hit the state highway AH1. The route to Tezpur goes via Nagaon, then Kaliabor where it leaves the highway and goes towards Tezpur by crossing bridge across Bramhaputra. The road was straight and monotonous, landscapes were mostly rural areas with farmlands and small houses and occasionally some small towns. I fell asleep through most of the journey and when awaken I had to remind myself that I am in Assam given the landscape looked so similar to the roads of West Bengal.

After 3 hours of drive the bus stopped at a dhaba for food and rest. It stopped for 15 minutes during which time some people took their lunch. I decided to wait till Tezpur since we were already so close.  Soon we crossed Kaliabor and were at the bank of Bramhaputra. The bridge was long and smooth and in about 5 minutes we were on the other side of river. We entered Tezpur city a little after 12:30. Looking at map, I decided to get down at the intersection called Mission Chariali where the bus was taking left turn since my direction was on the other side. I checked time after deboarding and it was sharp 12:45 pm.

Bramhaputra
First glimpse of Bramhaputra

 

Tezpur to Nameri

I knew there were no direct vehicle for Nameri and I had to go via Balipara. So after getting down at Mission Chariali circle of Tezpur, I asked a few auto drivers for the direction of Balipara. I had to take the road perpendicular to the one I came from. I crossed the street, went to a small restaurant, had veg lunch for 60 bucks and then headed towards the cluster of vehicles standing on that specific road. First there were autos, but they didn’t go up to Balipara. So I went ahead and found some Tata magic cars which were getting loaded. I asked for Balipara and was answered affirmatively. They spoke to me in broken Hindi with a lot of words from Asamese. Although I was able to make out what they said, the language there differed significantly from the one I heard in Guwahati. In Guwahati, Asamese felt very close to my mother tongue Bengali. But further I went from there, I found the language more different and harder to understand.

Balipara - Assam
Somewhere near Balipara

They put my rucksack safely above the vehicle and settled me in the middle seat with three other people. The car carried around 15 people give or take (20 bucks per seat). Despite that it wasn’t very uncomfortable journey. With wind on my face and view of paddy fields & village houses, I moved ahead towards my destination. In 45 minutes we reached Balipara and it was 2 pm by then. I tried to ask my driver for next leg of journey, but I couldn’t make out much of what he said. He showed me ahead and so I went towards that general direction. Without having any clear idea of how to go next, I approached another Magic driver for shared cab to Nameri. He informed me that I would need to reserve since there’s no passengers for Nameri at that time. Looking around me I could tell he was right. The road was filled with locals only and unlike Tezpur there was no crowd around the parked vehicles. So I decided to reserve and go till the destination for 400 bucks. I didn’t negotiate even though I felt 300 would be right amount for 15 km distance.

Nameri - Assam
Sky was too clear that day

The car went ahead through a similar landscape as before, only this time there were more fields and lesser houses. And the houses also looked smaller in general. After 15 km or so we took a right turn and started going through a rough unsmoothed road. This was not the main road to Nameri (not that main road is in much better condition), but a lesser used road before reaching the actual turn. The road was around 2 km and it never got any better. After some time we reached Nameri Eco Camp. We had to take another right turn after that to reach my hotel Jia Bhorali Wild Resort. I finally reached my destination at 2:30 pm, after half an hour of journey from Balipara.

Click here for the second installment of this series

 

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