Spoonful of Culture, Mouthful of Nature: Road Trip through North East India

Lands brimming with history, animal and plant kingdoms coming alive, taste of earthly geography, rising and ebbing emotions defining a life going by, swaying to country music, lip smacking food, heartwarming chats with people in language unknown while watching the sun move over the undulating hills and fertile plains ….Is that a fairy tale, I am interrupted? No! it is not, it’s the trip that I often yearn for, to the not so explored lands with friends who were young when I was too. That’s a perfect trip I am told, but what is perfect if I may ask?  Is it the place, the people or the journey?  Well, a trip is perfect when the mind is open to accept, enjoy, indulge and embrace the unexpected that comes its way at every bend!! In short perfection is in all the imperfection that may show up uninvited.North East India

20 years ago, when we were giggly teenage girls, we were chaperoned by a friend’s parents through the best of North East India. We have grown in different directions since then, occasionally meeting across continents to share glimpses of our lives. I am going on a 2 week road trip in November to North East India, with my girl pals visiting the same places and a few more. If you are keen to know who we are, well in short as similar and dissimilar like the fingers on the palm

Rooh: An ardent geographer and an ardent photographer, her lens does the talking

Emm: Sincere teacher ,bird watcher by hobby, history buff by nature and poet at heart

Joey: Wordly wise, lives in the predictable lane & lectures on environment studies

Chaw:  Weather woman from USA, busy predicting the unpredictable for mankind

Me– Once upon a time workaholic now swears by travel and songs of the soul

Now fasten your seat belt and get ready to feel, to taste, to breathe and to step out now and then to get a whiff of the country air as I paint the trip with my imaginary brush through Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. For all you know, you may find yourself in one of us!!! After a flurry of mails an Innova is booked with a driver cum guide who apparently has oodles of patience to tolerate the banter of 5 women for 2 long weeks. Much to the amusement of the travel agent, I requested for Ambi Pur freshness in the car to give us company while we reminiscence our days of yore with infectious enthusiasm. Joey and Chaw insisted on a bottle of lavender Ambi Pur air freshener as well just in case.

Day 1 –Meet in Guwahati Airport at Noon:  The years melt away when we meet in the airport lobby throbbing with excitement. The car is quite new and “Dheer” our driver calm for he is outnumbered for the 2 weeks to come. While I check all the booking vouchers and permits, Rooh engages him in the local dialect for she grew up in the lanes of this riverside capital city of Assam. We settle in our seats for the next 5 hrs and 200 kms watching towns and villages go by as we head to Nameri National Park. The eco lodge is a quiet peace of heaven which embraces us with open arms.

Day 2- Nameri National Park: After cups of aromatic Assam Tea in the morning, we trek through the national park spotting birds and animals. Rooh armed with her SLR camera attempts to climb trees and hang on to ledges to get that super shot.  Emm gives commentary on her first family (read birds) calling them by names and endearing sounds while I am lost in the sound of rustling leaves and the smell of wet mud. The yellow beaked hornbill honors us with a guest appearance for we came so far to get a glimpse of her. Chaw and Joey trail us discussing the soggy slippery soil on which they walk and their extended families. A sumptuous meal, some orchid collection and a sunset river rafting session later we sit around a bonfire humming favorite songs of yesteryear.

Day 3- Nameri to Ziro. The wind is chill and the air is pure and we have a long journey of more than 200 kms through Assam (NH 52) and Arunachal Pradesh (NH 229). My desire for anything that remotely sounds or feels numeric takes us to Ziro, the home of Apatani tribes. We animatedly discuss, weather, tribes, ecology, global warming while stealing a glance through the window as the beauty unfolds through narrow ways dotted with spring fed falls, orchids and pine. The drive was not easy on the bones and one look at Joey, Emm and I plunge headlong into the whys and hows of tribal life and egg her to get that rustic piece of art in Ziro with the zero’s in her wallet. We enter Ziro after our Inner Line Permits are verified. Are we foreigners in our own country or just an added security check for a border state?

Day 4- Ziro :  We open our eyes to the sound of music, soothing to the ears but words unknown. They are praising the lord in Apatani dialect.  We follow our local guide through pines and ferns and the slanting rays of sunrise in the land of dawn lit mountains which cleanses our soul. Emm sits on a rock pausing for breath with dreams in her eyes that I can see and Rooh is busy with the colours of nature with Chaw and Joey for company. Soon we stop by Hong village where we see older women of Apatani tribe with large black nose studs to ward off predators of other tribes. They are chatty and endearing and little children with twinkling eyes look at us with amusement. We tread back on the winding road and slack out with sips of “O”(local rice beer). Later in the afternoon, we do our own little things and then take long walks through the dense blue pines.

Day 5 – Ziro to Majuli: Through the hilly terrain of Ziro to the congested and narrow streets of bustling North Lakhimpur we head towards Khabolughat for a ferry ride to Majuli, the largest river island of the world. We stop by at a street corner restaurant for a delicious plate of fish tenga and piping hot rice. I relish every morsel with so much love that every virus and bacteria decides to spare me for good. We stand on the upper deck of the ferry to watch the sunset on the Brahmaputra and the water changes colours from bluish green to crimson. We come home to Majuli with the birds.

Day 6- Majuli: We go visiting Satra to Satra (Vaishnavite Monastery founded around 17th century) and the the earthiness of the people, the colour and the Vaishnav culture of the land comes alive. Chaw visits the government centre for some discussion on soil erosion and ecology and we hang around watching craftsmen at work. Later, Joey picks up handicrafts like there is no tomorrow and Rooh goes cycling around for some solitary time in her childhood land. While the rest of them quietly struggle at the sweetness of it all, I find traces of my grandmother’s love in the concoction of coconut, beaten rice(chira,muri, khoi), jaggery, milk and curd offered to us in the Satra at lunch.Assamese_thali-horz

Day 7- Majuli to Jorhat to Sibsagar:  We reach the ghat early to cross over to Nimati Ghat in Jorhat. A rickety ferry ride later the car ambles through narrow roads to reach Jorhat. We zip through the streets of modern Jorhat towards Sibsagar (60 kms away) the capital of Ahom kingdom for nearly 6 centuries. The next 3 hours is a lesson in history some from Emm and some from the guide through the glory days of the Ahom kings, the exotic palaces of Rongpur followed by a quiet lunch by the lake side. Midway through the trip, our feet are weary and our body too but we are not weary of one another!! As we drive towards the Rhino Kingdom of Kaziranga, I attempt to read the writing on the fleeting walls  for the script is similar to Bangla my mother tongue. We crash in bed as soon as we arrive since we have a morning date with the pulsating life in Kaziranga National Park.

Day 8- Kaziranga: At 5am, we are ready for our elephant ride except Joey who needs extra rest. We adjust and balance to the elephant’s gait and surprisingly my heart is not in my mouth like it was 20 years ago for the fear of falling off. Often the elephant grass rises above our head but we manage to get a glimpse of the rhinoceros and the wild water buffaloes through them. Emm tells us in hushed tones about the storks and eagles that circle above us. Later we take a gypsy ride and spot the swamp deer whose soulful look pierced through my heart. The jungle is silent, so are we but for Chaw and Joey’s fear of insect bites.

Day 9-Kaziranga to Shillong: After a comparatively smooth 5 hour ride through changing landscapes we arrive in the Meghalayan capital of Shillong. We head to the Bara Bazaar area to shop around. The shops are doing brisk business and Rooh and Chaw try their hand at haggling over smart pieces of artefacts. We watch in awe as hip and happening youth breeze out from cafes and whizz past on bikes and cars. We enjoy our mouthful of Shillong noodles while a local band belts out peppy numbers.

Day 10- Shillong:  The clouds came knocking on the window and I let them in to share our breakfast. Is this heaven on earth!! Emm and me make an attempt at poetry like we did in the student years. Later, we drive to Shillong peak through uber green ways and singing waterfalls. I feel young at the sight of radish fields where I feasted on stolen red radish decades ago. We spend the day walking in and out museums, exploring through the eyes of Nobel Laureate Tagore & Rishi Aurobindo who brought us name and fame. At dinner the local Chicken Mylliem melts on my tongue, it was definitely worth the wait!!

Day 11- Shillong to Guwahati via Cherrapunji:  We had our gears ready for Cherrapunji in case it rains. The thundering waterfalls, singing cicadas, unexplored caves and the soothing green under the mild drizzle makes up for all that we wanted to see. A la Alexander Frater, Chaw wore her weather woman hat and went in search of monsoon in winter speaking to local officials. I enjoy the romance of clouds and trees and plot the crux of my elusive novel while Rooh captures it through her lens all for posterity. The journey to Guwahati was the most picturesque ever, with shadows of clouds in crystal lakes and mushy waterfalls in wait for the beloved. As soon as we touch the city soil, we head to Kamahkhya Temple in gratitude to the goddess for the trip gone by.

Day 12- Guwahati: We are up and about fighting lassitude. After digging through the hearty breakfast we head to Sualkuchi where the masters breathe life in yards of silk. I am busy with notes and pictures to etch their story while everyone picks the best of stock. My eyes are set on the greenish blue one that reminds me of the land from where it came. We move around the busy bazaars and other sites and finally  sign off the trip with a visit to Umananda and a boat ride on the Brahmaputra in sunset hours. After a signature Assamese dinner of Puti Maser Tenga (fish), rice, dal, shaak and pitha its time to pack.

Day 13- Goodbye in Guwahati Airport: Dheer our driver is the unsung hero who lived up to his name (meaning patience) through the trip making everything a reality with a smile on his lips. He would keep himself busy with the car keeping it fresh and clean with Ambi Pur which loyally saw us through. He always came to our aid when we needed and often kept a watchful eye on us from a distance. He politely asks us to come again, with an honesty that reflects in his eyes. We laugh about our time together through Rooh’s lens, Emm’s attempt at poetry, my scribbled notes about the places and us, Chaw’s thoughts on the great Indian Changing Weather and Joey’s dozen purchases.

The two week trip through 3 states for nearly 1600 kms in the lap of rustic nature was an experience of rediscovering ourselves. While I have not focused on it, we did have our share of missed turns, untimely rain, food experiments gone horribly wrong and invisible fuel stations in highway stretches but it was all a part of the memorable journey. We seem to be quite the same as before except for our levels of endurance. Goodbyes are no longer as difficult as they used to be with promises to mail and chat regularly. Did you think it was a real trip ? Ha, No.. Will the trip be as I have painted it? Maybe yes and maybe no but I am open to every possibility, to experience spoonful of culture and mouthful of nature for Life is a Vacation on earth and I have miles to go before I sleep.

Acknowledgement – All the pictures have been taken from Wikipedia under Creative Commons License and merged together to get the collage form. They can be used in the way suggested by the original contributor

This is also submitted to “The Perfect Trip” by Ambi Pur and Indiblogger.

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17 thoughts on “Spoonful of Culture, Mouthful of Nature: Road Trip through North East India

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  3. Rita Mukherjee

    I enjoyed your beautiful writing .I have been to most of the places ,so your imaginations are so realistic .keep writing.

  4. Shweta

    Beautifully imagined & beautifully written…just stumbled upon your blog and following it 🙂 Also, liked your thoughts on taking life as a vacation…

  5. arundhatib

    We must soon plan out this in reality and relive those childhood travel days and places from some 20 odd years ago. Much is truly in the heart for we have indeed grown to be different from each other. Nevertheless it will be a soulful experience to weave our past with the present and discover each other all over again……till then ……..

  6. Pingback: Spoonful of Culture, Mouthful of Nature: Trip through North East India | Home Far Away From Home

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