Saturday, January 19, 2008

Train of thought 4.75 - One hour in the last town

Note: This is one of a series of posts about this journey. Other episodes of this trip are here: numbers 0, 1, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4, 4.5, 4.75 .


Dibrugarh station is about as big as some of the double-track town-stations through which express trains whizz by without a second glance. The overbridge stands out, emphasised perhaps by the paucity of people on the platforms. The sun is up-and-shining by now, the 5:40am here is like the 9am of elsewhere. Still, the weather is beautiful and clear – no fog or rain, tis bright and cloudless.

Going past the mud-and-puddle filled front yard, I move out of the station, and walk towards the row of cycle rickshaws. I don’t quite know where to tell them to go. I think I should perhaps just walk around town. I’ve an hour here, and no idea how big the town is, so a rickshaw would be in order after all.

“Okay. Take me on a trip around town.”

“Uhh? Where do you want to go?”

“Well, I’ve an hour here, so I want to see the town.”


I’ve seen that ‘you’re crazy’ look before, yesssir.

“Okay. Take me to the bus stand. How much is it?”

“10 bucks.”

En route, I tell him to chuck the bus stand and just show me what’s worth seeing in the town.

“But there’s nothing worth seeing here.”

“Well, the streets. The shops. The like.”

“It’s not even 6. Nothing’s going to be open now.”

Ahh. It’s warm, nearly getting hot, I forget that it’s effectively a different time zone.

“That’s okay. Let’s just go around the big streets of your town.”

The empty ‘big streets’ seem to have no other prominent attribute other than their width. The ‘big streets’ haven’t been claimed by commerce – they are residential just as well. They’re just uber-wide bylanes. There’s not too much of a concentration of signboards and shutters and hoardings around. Mostly homes and porches and parked cycles and bikes and coloured wooden doors opening out onto the street.

Once in a while, there’s a wide front lobby that my rickshaw-man points out as a ‘major shop’, but most places are closed, boarded up. I have to remind myself that it’s still 6am, even though it’s broad daylight. There’s one two-storied building with a glass fa├žade that I’m told is a prominent hotel – would I like to stay here? For a fraction of a second, I’m tempted to agree.


“Perhaps you’d like to see the river?”

“There’s a river here?!”

“The Brahmaputra”

Augggh. Dammit. Brahms!? Why didn’t I know that before? Of course, because I refused to look up information online, because I thought that would be like skipping to the last chapter of a mystery novel. Because I thought it’d sour any element of surprise.

“Sure thing. Go right ahead.”, say I, camouflaging my excitement with a difficult, unstable calm.

We pass a private bus agency. To be precise, we pass the painted board above the closed office. I remember the milestone on the road just outside Dibrugarh telling me Jorhat is 145km away. Temptation wells up again, growing steadily until it threatens to overwhelm existing plans. Plan B seems tantalizingly possible. I know there is a Jorhat Guwahati train leaving around 2pm, and I tell myself I’ll comfortably catch the Dibrugarh-Amritsar Express in Guwahati. For a couple of hundred bucks, that’s great RoI, say I.

Practicality, unfortunately, arrives. Some consideration, and plan is shelved. Some more money, some more time on my hands and I wouldn’t mind the uncertainties of that unscheduled detour. Not today, alas.

Hindsight vindicates me – I find in the evening that the Jorhat train's arrival is half an hour after the Amritsar one’s departure. Still, I cant quite help a tinge of regret at missing out. Next time, I’m coming here without reservations.


From the main road, we enter an opening between buildings that’s supposed to be a path. Stones and hardened-mud lie ahead. The rickshaw guy tells me the river’s just beyond the end of this lane. The rickshaw struggles over the stones-and-hard-mud, so I just tell him I’ll walk – no point torturing his rickshaw on this monstrous path.

We walk between a row of huts, and then pass a board advertising a ferry service across the river. Temptation puffs up yet again. This time, it brings some regret along, perhaps knowing too well that the trip cant be done.

When we reach the river bank, I’m puzzled. This is a small water body – some 30-40 metres across, staid, calm, almost like a canal. Surely this isn’t the grand swirling mini-sea that I saw outside Guwahati? No, no, tells my rickshaw guy – what you see is just a mid-river island across the water. There’s a massive part of the river on the other side of the island – it’s bigger than you've imagined. If only you had the time, he adds with a tinge of infectious regret.

I fold my arms and brace myself, for there’re gusts of cold air, even as the sunlight beams down. There’re some 20-25 men and women in sweaters and scarves waiting on a bench for the morning’s ferry, whose services are advertised by another board. The ferry, my rickshaw guy says, is the only way to go across – there’s no land route.

Sigh. The few times you manage to resist temptation end up being the few times your best experiences loom ahead.

The chill in the air is suffused with the warmth of the sun that’s sprouted and fully come out. There’s a wall-less shack that exhibits glass-jars full of biscuits and rusks. We walk in, sit down on the raised-planks of wood.

“Two cups of tea.”

“Biscuits? Nashta?” asks our 10 year old waiter.

“Nahi. Phir kabhi lenge.” I so want to mean what I said. It’s 6:15am, and I so do want to come back here. Perhaps spend a couple of days, drive around town, go across river, explore roads and places in the vicinity of the place.

The tea is a sugarless, strong concoction with very little milk. I let the intense, almost-bitter-ness of the taste linger on my tongue. The heat of the glass-tumbler-with-vertical-rims passes through to my chilled hands.


I have to hurry the poor rickshaw-man on our way back to the station – he halts at the station gate with some 3 minutes left for the train’s departure. For a moment, I mull about how much to pay the guy. Quickly making my mind up, I thrust a 100-buck-note into his hands and go in.

The guard tells me there's five minutes left, so I manage pick up a couple of omlettes with some scrawny, thin bread. As I walk alongside the train, it jerks itself alive and into motion. I clutch the left railing, and balancing the food in my right hand and bag on my back, hoist myself into the now-inching-ahead bogie.


Karthik/SK/wimpy/SKimpy said...

you have way too many DDLJ moments!

and as for the jorhat plan, have you heard of the triangle inequality?

QKumar said...

[Dubj] - Umm. DDLJ-moment! That's a good way to think of it, da. Only, no damsel longingly looking on from platform, alas. :-).

Triangle inequality are known, ra. Detour got chucked because I was a lil wary about jumping into an impulse-decision - esp since there was only a 15 minute time bracket in which to decide.

Gee said...

converting to a bunch of ash isn't fun.

Harish Kumar said...

Your travelogues just rock. I have been tempted to undertake one journey like this myself.

Aniket said...

i'd like to make it worse for you - Jorhat's really great! Used to go there for vacations. Pity you didn't alight at Tinsukia, it's a pretty little town. And if you were awake between Tinsukia & Dibrugarh, you might just have noticed a small station called Dinjan in between. THAT's where I used to live!

QKumar said...

[Harish] Thank you, saar. Yep, the best part of freestyle trips are the surprises they keep popping up.

However, I must point out that you are very much on my people-to-be-envied list, what with long trips to AELTC and London and their ilk!

QKumar said...

[Aniket] - Dinajan would be the place by with the station by the side of the one-lane highway? Goody, nice it must have been actually staying there!

Yes, Tinsukia station was explored on the way back(not the town, unfortunately).

Alas for missing Jorhat, Tinsukia town and all. Time and money budgets occasionally force one that way. Still, one hopes to be able to go back there and see everything!

Edgar Dantas said...