Saturday, 28 November 2015

On guardian angels and the adventure of a lifetime - Part 1

In my last post I wrote about random acts of kindness that I've been on the receiving end of. Since then I've experienced such incredible good fortune and aid from the most unexpected of quarters that I'm almost convinced that I must have a guardian angel or dozen watching over me. That, or, like I used to imagine when I was little, I'm the unsuspecting avatar of some goddess and I'll finally come to realise it one day like in those mythological movies of old.

Anyway, story time. I wrote the following the old-fashioned way with borrowed pen and bits of scrap paper, while I was alone in a secluded guest house in Nongriat cut off from both civilization and technology. The former I dispensed with voluntarily and willingly. The latter... well, that's what the story will tell.

I woke up at 7:15 am. Had spent the night at By The Way, the backpacker's lodge in lower Sohra. The Lithuanian wasn't in his bed, the Israelis were still asleep. Walked over to the loo, found the shower was occupied, so came back to our room to put finishing touches on my packing for the overnight stay in Nongriat. I'd thought packing a 45 l backpack was hard, but a tiny daypack was harder still. I really suck at packing light, but in this instance my overpacking came in handy. By the time I was done, the Lithuanian came back from his shower. So I grabbed a hot shower, dumped my old clothes into my backpack, left the backpack with Heprit (guy who runs the lodge), draped my damp towel over my shoulder and set out to catch my bus. The bus stop was right across from the lodge. Took my place with the local crowd and waited for the bus that would take me as far as Mawshamok. From there it was about a 1 km walk to the head of the 3000 step descent to Nongriat where the double decker living root bridge was.

While I was waiting at the stop, Heprit came over and we chatted for a bit until the bus arrived at around 9:30. A small mini bus, it was packed completely. After letting the couple of people who got down out, I hurriedly squeezed in afraid the bus would leave me behind. I needn’t have been in such a hurry though, because nearly half the bus emptied out at lower sohra and I even managed to get a seat.

At first the ride was nothing special, just some dusty roads. But soon things took a turn for the awesome. Winding, twisty roads with the most gorgeous views. At one point I could even see past the mountains into the plains of what I assumed was Bangladesh! And so I grinned all the way to Mawshamok.

By the time I got down I was starting to feel a bit hungry. Luckily I found myself right outside a tea stall. So I went in, took my seat and asked for sha. Shopkeeper girl made me and the local customers some dud sha (milk tea) and distributed it along with poori and what looked like sweet potato. She only had poori by the time she got to me, so I took it and ate it plain following the lead of the others around. No sabzi wabzi for these hardy folks. After finishing my tea, I politely took my cup over to the back of the shop where she was doing the dishes, and still got overcharged (I think) - 20 rupees for a cup of tea and a poori!

Got out and took the road that lead straight from the bus stop, only to find after about 10 minutes that I was heading towards Laitkynsew and not Tyrna. Headed back to the crossroads and took the other fork. Turned on my GPS just in case, and sure enough, I was on the wrong road again! Back at the main road, I asked a construction worker for directions and he told me I needed to go back a bit (along the road the bus had come by) before taking the left at the fork. Finally on the right track, having lost about half an hour in all this back and forth, I set forth for Tyrna, cursing myself for not taking a look at the map before setting out.

And doubly cursing myself for not checking weather conditions out there. Hot and humid as fuck it was during the day, and my jacket was just weighing me down (though it turned out to be a good thing that I’d brought it).  I wore my jacket over my head (a la tea pickers) and trudged on in the heat, drawing odd looks along the way.

I’d learnt my lesson by now, and so stopped at every single fork in the road and asked someone for directions to Nongriat. At one of the last such forks I met my first guardian angel of the day – a villager from Nongriat who was heading back home after carrying up the luggage of some tourists from Assam. I think his name was Raju (at least that’s what I heard), and he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever known. He kept me company all the way down to the village, and even after I told him I had no money to give him, he still acted as my pro bono guide. Waited for me each time I fell behind (walking down so many steps really tries the knees!) and offered time and again to carry my bag as well. I thanked him in my barely passable Hindi and asked him to go ahead and not wait for me. He still persisted and even took me along some secret shortcuts only known to the locals, saving me at least a few hundred steps.

The going soon got very tough indeed. Never-ending stairs, and though the jungle and hill views were nice at first, my enthusiasm started flagging after the first 1000 odd steps. Fortunately just as my legs and spirit were about to give out, we arrived at the single decker long living root bridge at Nongthymmai. What a sight it was! So exciting to see such a marvel of human ingenuity meets nature’s bounty. Loved crossing this long bridge, and equally enjoyed the return route jumping and climbing over the rocks at the bottom, back to the other shore. After this I was back in full glowing form. So so happy to be there and then. :)

Past the long root bridge, the going was much more...not easier exactly, but definitely much more fun! I started getting more adventurous as well – walked/climbed along the sides of the actual steps, which I always find easier somehow. Stairs hurt my knees (guess I’m getting to that age, ugh), but clambering up and down rocks comes naturally to me. I’m quite at home among boulders, or so I thought until..but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Raju was quite amused by my child-like glee in all this and seemed to take a liking to me. He was even kind enough to say hum dono achche aadmi hai, in response to me saying he was one. He also included me in the garib aadmi club (I think because I told him I took the bus to avoid having to pay the exorbitant cab fares), and even offered to pay me when I shared one of the appam-like snacks I’d got from Sohra market with him, bless his soul! Then he gave me the most brotherly advice to find naukri because it wasn’t good to while away one’s time, and to also get married and have kids (heh). On enquiring about him in return, he said he wasn’t married and nor did he have any parents. :(

Once he realised my fondness for the rough trail as opposed to the laid out one, he took my by a shortcut to the guest house where I was planning to stay for the night. Saved me another hundred odd steps at least. When I found out he would have to backtrack quite a bit to get to his own house, I asked him to go on home and told him I’d find my own way to the guest house. But he wouldn’t leave me until I was safely settled in (which was a good thing too because there were many places where I could’ve gotten lost along the way). I really wanted to give him something to show my appreciation for all he’d done. Money was out of the question, so I dug around in my pack and found nothing at all suitable for a guy. I finally decided to give him the rest of my stock of appams. Had to practically force him to take it too. He thought he was depriving me of my breakfast! I thanked him with all my heart and all my stock of Hindi too, and headed out to the double decker root bridge which we'd bypassed on our shortcut.

Continued here...

Friday, 20 November 2015


There's nothing quite like the kindness of strangers or near strangers to warm one's heart. It always inspires such hope; hope that, despite all the shit we see and hear all around us, this world of ours will be alright after all. A reaffirmation of the basic goodness of my fellow creatures.

I've been on the receiving end of such random acts of kindness so many times in my life that I almost feel guilty. It can't be fair for one person to be so fortunate.

There was the classmate back in college who hardly knew me but noticed I wasn't well on a trip to Shimla and made sure I got back to the bus safe and sound. The driver from the other side of the freeway who saw me lose control of my car and go flying into the snow filled median and came to my rescue despite, I'm sure, having somewhere to be. The nice gentleman who saw me struggling to change out a flat tire and came and helped and vanished back without so much as waiting for a thank you. And many, many others.

These last 10 days I've experienced even more such kindness as I've been travelling in a far off region as a solo female backpacker. And that too one without much of a grasp of Hindi, which, as it turns out, it is absolutely essential to know to survive anywhere in India outside my own home state. Special thanks to D and her husband for watching out for me in N Sikkim and for the use of that hot shower (I know this isn't the book I promised you but someday maybe).

Not sure if this counts but my best friend's best friend has shown me such kindness and care and concern and consideration that I almost wish I had an older brother. Perhaps I should have tied you a rakhi as well when I came to your house that time, R. That hair toussle I shall treasure always. Now I know how Arya felt. I had such a wonderful time these last few days in no small part thanks to you.

The immediate push for this post came from a really kind soul who not only took the trouble to intervene on my behalf with the train guys on this Saraighat express to attempt to get me my dinner or my money back, but also when she found out that I had nothing to eat, offered me roshogollas that her mom made for her. Tastiest ones I've ever eaten and sweetened by more than just sugar. Thank you, D!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

I want to believe

If travel is searching
And home what's been found
I'm not stopping
I'm going hunting
I'm the hunter

Heard these words last night whilst trying to find the right music to lull me to sleep. The opening lines to Hunter by Bjork. I've listened to the album and this particular song countless times but never really paid attention to the lyrics all that much. It was striking to hear this on the eve of my departure on my first (of hopefully many) travel adventures at home.

Coincidences abound this past week. And this just continued that trend. What does it all mean? Is it all some cosmic conspiracy trying to point me in a certain direction? Or the overactive imagination of a sleep deprived excitable mind?

The Scully in me thinks it's the latter. But the Mulder wants to believe.

P.S.: Forgot that the very next song on the album starts off with the lines

All these accidents
That happen
Follow the dots
Coincidence makes sense
Only with you