Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Day 5 - Tinsukia to Tezu to Numaligarh - 31 May 2017

It was raining by the time I woke up to get ready. Pre-monsoon showers had already arrived and it would rain almost every day, I was told. The hotel was pitch dark as the power supply had gone off some time during the night and the generator had not been switched on. As I had to get ready I walked cautiously to the hotel reception holding the mobile phone to show me the stairway. I woke up a chap sleeping on a sofa and asked him to switch on the power backup. In a short while the lights came on and I was able to make my cup of coffee to start up the day.

I had first met Seju Kuruvilla when he was Superintendent of Police (SP) of Lohit District of Arunachal Pradesh, based in Tezu, during my East-West expedition in 2013. The smart and handsome police officer and his wife Megna, who is an IPS officer too, treated me like family. Since then I have sought his help whenever a trip to Arunachal was planned, even though he and his wife are now posted in Daman. This time was no different either. Despite being on vacation he arranged to get me the Inner Line Permit (ILP) over a couple of mail exchanges. The ILP is required to travel in Arunachal Pradesh. Different ILPs are required for different parts of the state. The duration is also mentioned in the ILP.

The other resource I invariably tap is Rajesh who works for Arunachal Pradesh police. He had been deputed to accompany me from Tinsukia on my first drive to Tezu. At that time, in 2013, the border areas with Assam were disturbed and just a day before I was to leave for Tezu there had been a bomb attack on the border post at Kakopathar.  Many surrendered militants are housed in a special complex in this area. The situation was extremely tense and Seju considered it prudent for me to be accompanied by Rajesh. He was very interesting company and I got to know and understand the life and people of that area because of his almost encyclopedic knowledge and keen sense of observation. This time I needed suggestions from him regarding the road condition, the route and assistance to get the log sheet attested. I had read about the new bridge over the Brahmaputra that had been inaugurated by the PM a few weeks before, which took off a short distance from Tinsukia. Rajesh advised me against taking that since the road condition was not that good and it would be a longer route. He suggested the route via Alubari, where another bridge had come up across the Brahmaputra. The bridge had been under construction when I last went to Tezu in 2015 during the Trans-Himalayan expedition. In 2013 and 2015 I had crossed the river on a ferry that was made up of a raft on two wooden boats, powered by a couple of motors. Swift currents and the sight of a couple of handymen bailing water out of the boats could be a mightily scary experience r romantic depending on the age and mental condition of the traveler! When it rains, as it was copiously today, ferry crossings used to get shifted, even overnight. Rajesh had also spoken to the SHO of the Tezu police station to do the required attestation.

At the hotel I was told that it would take me about four hours to reach Tezu, but the decision to leave for Tezu at 4 am turned out to be a masterstroke. There was hardly any traffic on the road, save the cattle and horses that freely roamed around. I passed through the Kakopathar check post without being stopped. When I reached the Arunachal Pradesh border at Dirak I was asked to park the car and present myself to the post with papers of the car. After details of the car were entered in a register kept for the purpose, I presented the ILP too, which was found in order. The road up to Alubari was quite good and I made good progress. I knew that I had to take a turn to the right somewhere from a junction, but was not so sure. At that moment I found a gentlemen shielded from the rain by an umbrella getting out of his house. There was no sign of any activity at that time off the day; it was not yet 6 am. Mercifully that person showed me the turn off and for the next 30 minutes travelled through very lonely wooded areas across terrible roads. After what seemed like an era I reached the new bridge and then there was relief. Though the bridge has been completed the approach road on the Alubari side is still being compacted. In another season the access to Tezu would be pucca, I know. Once I got across the bridge I got excellent roads right up to Tezu and the drive was sheer magic with tall trees on either side of the road.

When I was about 15 minutes away from Tezu police station I rang up Ghosh, the SHO, who promised to come over to the station, even though it was not yet time for the official opening. I was greeted by the constable on guard duty at 6.30 am and made to occupy a comfortable chair inside the station. I had done the Tinsukia-Tezu segment of 128 km in just two and half hours! Ghosh came in quick time, apologized for keeping me waiting and completed the honors of attesting the log sheet. He also took down my details so that it would be entered in the station diary. In less than 30 minutes I started my return journey to Tinsukia, the first corner in the east done and dusted.

A cyclone warning had been issued last night. Despite the steady rain I was not inconvenienced. The return journey took a while longer as villages had come alive and I had to slow down. When the receptionist saw me at 10 am he asked if I was going or was already back! He was stunned to hear my morning exploit. He ordered an omlette and excellent pooris with potato curry for breakfast. And I feasted. Just before noon I was ready to start the next leg of the day’s journey, which was originally up to Jorhat. Last night, as I was pondering options I remembered Mr Padmanabhan who was MD of Numaligarh Refinery. He had played host in Guwahati during my expedition to Singapore. He had then invited me to spend some time in Numaligarh. I contacted him and he promptly made arrangements for my stay in the Refinery guest house, despite being on vacation with his family.

About 250 km remained for the rest of the day. Despite a leisurely drive and a brief halt in Hotel Piccollo in Sibsagar for a soup lunch I reached the refinery guest house at 6.30 pm. The setting of the guest house took my breath away. On the banks of a river, with deer and such other animals freely moving around, it was a fairytale end to the day. Since light faded very fast I could not enjoy the sights as much as I wanted. However, it was a tranquil location to relax the old bones, recover from the hectic schedule of the past few days and prepare for the toughest leg, Leh.

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