I had three alternative plans for the day. Plan A was to reach Alipurduar, which meant 900 kms, Plan B was halt in Bongaigaon after 780 kms and Plan C was to abort the drive at Guwahati after 600 kms. The adoption of the final plan depended on the ferry crossing. Hence, I was suitably nervous about the first 4 hours of the expedition. The early morning was dark and cold. I ensured the complete loading of the luggage and priming of the car before Seju, Rajesh and staff turned up by 4.15 am to attest the log sheet and send me off. The fact that Rajesh was going to be with me till Tinsukia provided relief. Seju handed me a farewell ‘gift’ of dried bananas – I had relished it the previous day on our visit to Bhismaknagar. I felt guilty of taking it from him as he had brought it from Kerala on his last visit there. But, then, I was a symbol of affection and friendship. Seju attested the log sheet and we took a few photographs. At the stroke of 4.30 am I left for the first leg of the second expedition – Tezu to Tinsukia.
I made good time to the ferry. The route to the ferry involved a couple of stream crossings and driving on the river bed for a few kilometers. Just before reaching the ferry Rajesh confirmed from the operator that they were ready. And they were. There was absolutely no delay at all. And the condition of the ferry was also better than it was when I made the trip to Tezu. I had allocated an hour to get across from Tezu to the other side of the ghat – I made it faster. I rewarded the boatmen with a good tip for the superb timing at the ghats. Despite the poor road condition I reached New Tinsukia railway station by 7.30 am, an hour plus ahead of schedule. On the way I stopped a moment each to click a few pictures of the Buddhist monastery at Tengapani, a rear view glance of the Digaru gate and a peek at the ULFA camp at Kakopather.
J.D. Goswami (JD), my senior colleague in the railways had asked me quizzically why anybody should agree to attesting the log sheets, particularly railway officials. This weighed on my mind when I went in search of the Station Master at the New Tinsukia railway station. A young lady was on panel duty. When I identified myself as a retired railway official and explained my mission she did not hesitate one bit to put her signature and stamp on the log sheet. I took leave of Rajesh – he had been a great help during the past four days – at Tinsukia and moved on. I was traveling fast and ahead of schedule – Plan A was definitely in operation. I stopped at the retail outlet of the Hathikuli tea estate, near the Kaziranga National Park, to buy their premium CTC tea. I had discovered the outlet during my visit in 2010. My brother rated the tea very high; he had been a tea taster and that certification was enough for another stop at the retail outlet.
I reached the Nagaon highway crossing by 2 pm – Alipurduar was only 500 kms away. I walked into a Dhaba restaurant on the highway for attestation and quickly got that done. I do not know what was in my mind, for I just drove on to the portion of the highway which I thought would take me to Guwahati. I was happy that I was making good time. After I had done about 40 kms I realized that I was on the road to Silchar. I went absolutely cold when I calculated that I had lost 80 kms and over an hour. Plan A was jettisoned then and there. I rang up Surender Kumar to confirm Plan B. I only hoped that I would not make any further mistakes and land up with Plan C. Travel to Dispur and further attestation in Guwahati (which made no sense at all) cost me further time.
When I reached Bongaigaon I was happy that I had settled on Plan B – I encountered heavy fog just short of Bongaigaon. I even missed the turning to the CH from the highway. Surender Kumar had arranged for a pilot to the CH from a check post. I reached the CH by 10 pm and was happy to get a warm bed and rasai for it was biting cold outside. Thus, it was 870 kms for the day, of which 80 were on account of losing my way in Nagaon; 120 kms short as per Plan A. However, considering the fog, I feel that it was His way of showing me what was best.