Assam Chronicles Chapter 2: Highway Horrors

September 10, 2011 § 3 Comments

Hell of an experience.

It was a clear night with a star-studded sky. But there were stars on the ground too, in front of my eyes, moving rapidly. Fireflies. As I got down from the bus, I saw small ponds shimmering slightly, located on left side of the road. And mountains on the right. Black shapes against a deep ink sky. Massive. There is something about seeing mountains as 2 dimensional entities – they look as if they are just giant beautiful paintings. But you know they are real. And that adds to the mystique.

Beautiful moments like these are like mouthfuls of air for a drowning man.

Yes, dear reader, I have been unfair, talking about Assam in the last two posts but not really telling anything. I begin now.

The moment with the fireflies was preceded by many moments of fear when the bus had stopped on the highway. There was a long line of buses and trucks waiting. What was it? Were some locals angry? Was there an accident? Did some militants pose a threat? How were some cars coming from the other side when we were not allowed go further? Was it like what had happened a few days ago when I was on the same highway in a car?

The bitter irony of Assam: breathtaking natural beauty coupled with a sense of dread.

Luckily, it was something like a traffic jam. But it was not that when I was in the car with 4 other guys and we had to turn around two times because of the burning…

I was not sure whether it was safe to travel by road that day. There were some warnings. But the guys with me were convinced that it was okay, they knew the situation. So we were off in an Indica. Me in the front seat near the driver, and three guys in the back. After sometime I let it go and enjoyed the forests, the mountains, the rivers. There were a few moments of discomfort when one of them asked the driver to speed up in an area, but that was okay after some time. I dozed off.

Then we were stopped.

It was around 3.30 in the evening. There was a line of vehicles held up and people in uniforms had stopped them. They were from the CRPF (Centre Reserved Police Force, yeah I too didn’t know). There was an issue on the road ahead. Some tribal people had found the dead body of their son who was missing since a year. In their anger, they were burning vehicles on the highway. It was not safe to go on. The CRPF was taking care of it. The place would be clear by about 5 pm.

So, while we were having tea and snacks in the nearby shops, I called the company HR people. We decided to turn back. We could take care of the meeting the next day. The guys with me were not in the favour of turning back, they would rather have waited. But I was adamant. We were going back to where we started from, no matter what.

But as we were moving, disturbed, hungry (we had had no breakfast or lunch) and confused, there was news on the phone that now another area (where we had speeded up our car), was having some tension and it was not safe to go that way. We had already travelled 3 hours.

Now one the guys was arguing with me. He said that had we waited before, the CRPF would have escorted us and other vehicles towards our destination. Now we were alone. But how was I to know that while coming back there could be a problem? I don’t know about the area, I don’t know what these guys talked in Assamese, I don’t know the situation, and I don’t feel comfortable leaving these judgments to people I don’t know !

But we had to take a call. So we took a U-turn again. Now the barrier here was lifted, and we safely reached Guwahati after 9 total hours of tense travel. I asked the guys to eat at the guest house while I moved to a Subway outlet to grab a sandwich. It was nice sitting there in an AC room with coke and a chocolate cookie and a saucy sandwich. Beautiful moments like these are like mouthfuls of air for a drowning man.

This was one story.

The highway is my connection from the town where I work to Guwahati, the company head office, where some meeting is held every month. It is a thin road in good condition and has beautiful forests around and you can really enjoy the ride especially when the weather is good – which it is, most of the time. But sometimes people drive rash and when I was first traveling on that road, I saw a bus rush by and said that the driver was crazy and forgot about it.

At a distance, we saw a crowd gathered on the road. Don’t stop here, my manager told the driver. I had no idea what the trouble was. There were some policemen moving around. As our SUV slowed down, I hoped there was no problem and that we could go on safely. Yes there was no trouble. No trouble for us, that is.

There was a bus upside down on one side of the highway, in the low lying area near the road. I could see the wheels.

My manager pointed out that it was the same bus which was speeding past a few minutes ago. I have seen road accidents before, but the fact that I had seen that bus a few moments ago and commented on the driver, somehow made it personal. And painful.

Hell of an experience.

So well, we have begun with the stories, and there is much more to be told. Hang on.

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