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North East Chapter 5 - Majuli to Kohima

by Payel Kundu on March 26, 2018

Last night had been cold and painful. A chilly wind blew relentlessly across the field outside and poured inside through the countless holes of my bamboo cottage. On top of that, my leg muscles screamed their presence with rigorous aching, an aftereffect from the cycling earlier that day. My stuff were scattered across the room, some on the other bed, some hanging and some inside the almirah. I knew I had to pack. But neither getting out of bed, nor engaging my legs into any activity sounded appealing at that time. So I gave in and let myself fall asleep under two warm blankets. This morning, however, was sort of a miracle. I woke up feeling neither cold nor pain. I was as fit as I ever could be and the thick fog outside meant that the temperature had increased significantly. I got up, got ready, packed up and walked into the foggy morning outside to start off my long journey for Kohima.

Fog at Majuli
Foggy Morning at Majuli

 

For the first installment of my north-east story check this link

 

Island to Mainland

I was standing at the road outside hotel at 6:45 am. I wanted to reserve a car for the 8 km distance till ferry, but I was strongly discouraged by hotel staffs. They didn’t want me spending money when shared vehicles were easily available for only 40 bucks per seat. It was a dull grey morning. Sun would’ve been up by then, but I couldn’t see it through the thick fog all around us. In 5 minutes a car came and passed by – already full. Still, that was reassuring. Another 5 minutes and a car came and stopped next to me. There was exactly one seat available and I climbed into it.

The car moved on towards the port. I could feel the chilly air coming and hitting my face through the open window. The road was mostly empty and the car went on as fast as possible in those roads. Once two people stopped the car and insisted on getting in despite having no seats. After a small half-hearted argument the driver let them in and so it got really cramped inside there on. Last 2.5 km we rode on sand, remains of Bramhaputra, and finally reached the destination at 7:20 am. Perfect time for catching the 7:30 boat. I had gotten up especially early to catch this boat, because the next boat at 8:30 would be too late for my schedule. Little did I know!

Kamalabari Ghat
Boat at Kamalabari Ghat

I got inside boat and took a seat inside the seating area. Slowly it got filled and at around 7:40 I heard the boat start off and leave the port. I could hear the machine running for some time and then it stopped. I couldn’t remember if the boat actually moved soundlessly when I came. The slits on the walls (something like a window) were closed with tarps because of cold, so I couldn’t see outside to tell if it was moving. Not that one could tell in that fog.

Boat
Seating area inside boat

In a little more time it was clear that we had stopped and we were actually still at the bank. People started to get restless and many of them went outside to enquire. They came back with information or not I can’t say. I couldn’t understand half the discussion that was going on and a couple of people whom I asked were as clueless as me. But one thing was clear that it was an unusual event.

After a long boring wait, the boat finally started at 8:30 am. I still didn’t know what the reason for this delay was and I would never know that. The rest of the journey was uneventful and we reached the other side at Nimati Ghat at 9:40 am, after one hour and ten minutes of ride.

 

Reaching Jorhat Bus Stop

Nimati Ghat
Nimati Ghat at Jorhat

There was a decent size crowd outside Nimati Ghat. It was evident that I was back in a town. Upon leaving the boat everyone moved towards one of the parked vehicles. But the vehicles were not parked in orderly manner. They were all around, and it was hard to tell which one went to which route. The drivers didn’t shout out to people either, they already had enough people coming to them. So I approached a nearby Magic Car which was almost full. I asked for Jorhat town and he agreed (Rs 30 per seat). I was told to go in the front seat along with another guy. This much I had expected from a shared car. But before starting off he asked another girl to go in there. She sat somewhere between the driver seat and the next seat and I have no idea how she managed it so peacefully.

It took around 40 mins to reach our destination. They dropped us outside a bus stand, which was not the same one where I had come from Tezpur. After enquiring to some fellow passengers about Dimapur bus, I came to know that Dimapur buses were available at ISBT (bus terminus) and we were at the public bus stand. I took a plying auto from road and he dropped me at ISBT in 10 mins for 10 Rs per seat.

 

Jorhat to Dimapur

It was 10:40 am and I was standing at Jorhat bus stand. I had 197 km to cover to reach my destination and I was ambitious enough to think that I could reach Kohima before the sunlight could fade away. First I needed to reach Dimapur though.

A bus conductor told me that there were no buses to Dimapur directly. He could have lied, but I couldn’t afford taking chance anymore. So I bought some packets of chips (replacement for my breakfast) and got into the bus for Golaghat, 48 km from Jorhat on the route to Dimapur. The road was smooth, journey was uneventful and I was dropped at Golaghat at 12:15 pm. The town looked busy, but the bus stop was empty. I came out and had lunch at a nearby restaurant. Later by instruction from a few locals, headed ahead on that road to catch a bus to Dimapur.

I found the other bus stop where Dimapur buses start from. There were many buses standing and people were getting in. I still had hope of reaching Kohima on time. I paid 100 bucks at the counter and collected my tickets, climbed inside the bus and took a window seat near the rear end. To make my bag fit into the rack, I had to take out the camera bag. But fortunately bus wasn’t too full, so I could dump my stuff on the next seat as I started enjoying the slow ride through the narrow roads.

Bus
Bus from Golaghat to Dimapur

Golaghat to Dimapur distance is around 88 km. Based on my previous experience of traveling in Assam, I had expected to reach there in 2.5 hours. That would make it 2:45 pm, plenty of time to catch the next car. But here my calculation went wrong. The road condition had deteriorated significantly and so did the efficiency of the buses. The bus started at 12:50 from the bus stand, drove for around 15-20 minutes and then stopped after reaching a highway. It stopped there for almost half an hour while more people came and got on. But it was still not completely full when the bus started again.

The road was rough and dusty. Every vehicle that passed by looked like they are in desperate need for a wash. In between, we passed through a forest area for a long while, where the road ran through woods on both side. Even the trees had layer of reddish dust on them. I noticed the style of huts change a little as we moved ahead. It was noticeable mainly in the weaving of the bamboos. The very familiar criss-cross design was now replaced by vertical & horizontal lines. We were still in Assam though. Many people got in this bus for short rides. They never took seat though, even when it was empty. Once a group of kids in their school uniform boarded and got down somewhere after 10-15 minutes ride.

We reached Dimapur a little after 4 PM. The road was packed up with traffic and the bus moved ahead very slowly. This went on for some time and finally we reached the bus stop at 4:20 pm.

 

 

The Struggle at Dimapur

The bus dropped us at a place which could hardly be called a bus stand. It was just a clearance between shops which could park 3 to 4 buses. There was no way I was going to get a cab for Kohima from there. I asked the bus conductor and he asked me to head to railway station for same, which was about a km ahead on the same road. So that’s what I did.

The sun was already setting somewhere and the evening was starting to loose sunlight. When I reached other side of station, I found a lot of autos but only a few cars parked there. I asked an auto driver and he directed me towards a small counter on the other side of the parking. The counter was for sharing cabs, also referred to as “passenger car” out there. There were two guys already asking at the counter for Kohima taxi and they were being told that taxi was not available and wouldn’t be available till next morning. I thought that was as good a time as any to start panicking.

I saw the guy at the counter leave from backside door and the two guys looking for cab walk back towards the parking lot. But I stood there completely baffled about what to do. I looked around and found nobody to approach. Autos couldn’t take me there and the few cars that were parked seemed to be missing their drivers. After a while I saw those two guys talking to a middle-aged man near the taxi stand. I walked towards them and listened to their conversation. This man was a taxi driver, but he just did a round of Kohima and he was not willing to go back again.

He looked Asamese and not Nagamese and somehow he was more sympathetic to me than the others (maybe because I was a girl traveling alone). He called a few driver to see if they were willing to go, but didn’t get very good feedback. I finally asked if I it would be easier if I was to hire a full vehicle. He looked very relieved at that and immediately arranged for a young guy to drive me till Kohima for 1,500 bucks. They had to bypass the counter guy though, so I walked outside the parking and went till the main road before getting in his cab. It was 4:50 pm when the taxi finally started towards Kohima and I could regain my confidence on reaching Kohima that night.

 

Dimapur to Kohima

Roads in Dimapur were bad and full of traffic. We slowly navigated through the roads inside city and approached towards the route to Kohima. On our way we passed by Dimapur aiport and gradually left behind the shops and the markets. Sunlight was long gone and the dark night was all around us by then. The elevation didn’t start for quite some time even though the city was already behind us. Traffic also had disappeared with the city, but the road wasn’t empty either. I have to say I felt good about the vehicles, an empty road could have been scary at that time.

toll Booth
Toll Booth at Kohima

After a while the climb started and around that point a police check post was placed. There was man and a lady police, who stopped the vehicle, checked something and then let it go. I had read that road from Dimapur to Kohima was in good shape. But the truth was far from it. Road was at best rough with potholes, at worst there wasn’t any road at all. Later I would learn that this road was indeed pretty good until about three years ago, post which the government had been unstable and the road condition was never paid any attention to. So we moved on through the dark night riding on this brilliant road.

At some places road was dug and some work was going on, although didn’t seem to be for the betterment of the road. One time suddenly a few armies appeared ahead of us. They were walking on the side of road with their uniform and a vest on, guns in hand, knapsacks on their shoulders. I never knew where they were walking from and where they were heading. This happened again a little ahead and again after a while. Armies walking by the road seem to be a common affair in Kohima.

A little before 8 we reached a toll booth announcing the entry to Kohima, which was more like a bamboo hut at the side of road. We stopped again and after he had paid the toll we moved ahead on the road. Post this the city came to view. We were driving on a road on the side of a hill, with the cliff on our left. I could see the outline of the hills on the other side across the valley, which twinkled with lights all across it. It looked like a vast place and it looked beautiful. I was too exhausted to stop the car for a pic. We finally travelled through the already asleep city and reached my hotel in officer hill a little after 8. More than 12 hours since I started my journey, I finally reached my destination.

Nagaland
Glimpse of Nagaland

 

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