It took us around two and a half hours to reach Shillong where we stopped for lunch. The rumors which we considered news was good, there are fair chances that the road will be motor able by the evening. We were elated. It was a bright day but by the time we crossed the Badapani on the way it was raining. Maybe it was monsoon, maybe it was Meghalaya, the abode clouds, maybe it was a pre-staged act so that the memories we take away is Meghalaya is wet.
We finished our truly mainland lunch to which only local addition was pickles made of bamboo shoot. By the time we returned to our vehicle, the driver refused to take us any further. He said he can’t go, he won’t go. He will arrange for another vehicle. Better if it is from Jaintia Hills, so that it can take us straight. To which he was bombarded with set of questions.
Is it how you treat visitors in your state?
Now I know why tourist fear coming to this part.
But he was calm and in an accent directly taken of rock songs he played so far he replied,
“I belong to a different hill tribe. The place you guys are going is different. We don’t run business in their area they don’t run in ours. Besides you don’t want to be in any danger because of our tribe rivalry.”
We had no more arguments to make and no time to waste.
Do it fast, whatever you want to do.
We don’t want to lose time because of it.
After fifteen minutes and a couple of phone calls made by driver from phone booth on opposite side of road, a vehicle came. Our luggage was shifted to it and again we started – for journey through hills of Meghalaya.
I have seen enough of natural greens. The mighty hills of Kanchanjungha Biosphere Reserve covered with dense forests. I grew up with hills like a dark green canvas laid for a painter and at times in solitude and profound pondering I used to think what should I paint on it. Sometime the same green would haunt me as monochrome. It was one of intimidating if it was not the snow covered peaks on the horizon.
The hills of Meghalaya appeared different. It was too bright of green, but was majestic. We saw farmers working in their terraced fields, kids running down the roads, hamlets with smoke coming out of individual houses and ground dripping wet with rain. It was a different world altogether… We stopped by a road side stall where a pretty lady was selling plums and bamboo shoots, cucumber…we bought plums.. They were good like the one my friends used to bring in school fresh from his orchard.
Unlike in the urban India and on highways in the mainland, the billboards were absent on the lone winding highway. The only signs were of Project Dantak of Border Roads Organization. As we progressed in the afternoon, the panorama of beautiful green hills fit for the landscaped golf course turned ugly. What we were seeing now was mutilation and exploitation of nature-of monstrous propensity. If it was not the Sardar uncle on the front seat of cab, an Indian Forest Services Officer, we would never know these mines were illegal…for these shallow mines they had cleared vegetation the hills are bare with patches of greens left. But, who will ruin such a beautiful adobe for a couple foot thick layer coal. It is madness, Crude madness…
It was touching in the sense that you felt sorry for the level of degradation human greed can take us. At the same time, we were thankful that such a thing is not there in Sikkim. Sikkim is still beautiful. Cutting trees is still considered as a last resort… Leave alone mass clearing of forests. The coal mines gave way to limestone quarries. And then, the cement plant in Jaintia Hills… Believe me that is one odd place I have ever seen a cement plant in life like a blemish on a beautiful face.
Amidst all these thoughts the driver hinted that we are nearing the landslide spot, may be another 10 kms. A couple more kilometers, we can see trucks parked on highway side, first sparingly, then in groups wherever they could find enough place and then it started as a chain of trucks… All loaded with goods, grains, vegetables, and domestic gas cylinders, woods and the things I didn’t know behind those dark tarpaulins… The driver said it’s been like that for more than 10 days now. The stench of rotting vegetables, fruits was unbearable as we passed such trucks. There were drivers cooking by the road side, a few were having their meal, bit late for lunch time. The driver stopped by what appeared to be a lone grocery store…he asked us if we are carrying rain coats.
We said no.
Buy a few meters of polyethylene sheets each, you will need it to keep you and your luggage dry. It has been raining so we went by his wise words. It was not a permanent grocery store but a temporary one erected to cater to the stranded people.
(Yet to reach Silchar … dont kill me, it was a long & arduous journey… more to come in next post)