By: Kamal Baruah
This is a fascinating tale about a journey, where we ventured out into the wilds of Jaintia hills during monsoon. When the region has endured months of incessant rain, the people have been cut off by floods and landslides. The so-called roads probably exist only on surveyors’ map while no outsiders are daring to go the valley. Being localities, I saw a land of possibility but soon discovered that there was adventure beyond those frightening moments that came over in a jiffy.
We boarded a chartered bus for a quintessential town of Barak Valley for a conference. It was dark at Umiam, while we were bypassing Shillong. Soon another road joined at Ummulong, the dhabas started at the strip of land alongsidethe road. The Dinner wasn’t impressed us by the spectacle of half cooked chicken and boiled rice. The Pnar (Jaintia tribe) manager wasn’t expected such a huge order even with the hotelier was so cheerful.
We had journeyed at a snail’s pace, while the National Highway 44 was in a dilapidated condition. The frontier route is considered India’s most dangerous road to hell. The traffic remains suspended for frequent landslides which results Manipur, Tripura and Mizoram being cut off from Assam. After a much local gossip, we fell half asleep.
The relentless rains hadn’t stopped for that night. It was at Umkiang after Sonarpur under Narpuh Reserve Forest, all traffics went for a grinding halt, leaving hundreds of vehicles stranded. The road was so slippery and running sharp curves. The top of rugged cliffs of mountain was hanging over steep head. There was massive earth-fall that blocked the road. We passed overnight inside dense forest and deep gorges.
In the morning, there had been no let-up in our suffering. Alas! The signal strength of the network had shown zero. We were afraid; we had no alternative but to hike across rough terrain to see small streams for the need of drinking water. After hours of search, we found water steep fall into a plunge pool. We couldn’t hear anything over the thunder of the waterfall. Yes we reached deep in the forest. The daylight soon appeared beneath the trees that boosted our energy. Hurrah! There is a tea stall. We grabbed some tea & biscuits.
Local tribes are probably happy with such incidents and thronged out as they are finding it hard to make ends meet. I appreciated that, “when neighbour suffers, localities earn”. Overcoming all hassle, the road brought us down to earth with a bang. The huge mass of earth/rock from a cliff collapsed over a massive area. The incident triggered by continuous rainfall while passengers of several vehicles escaped from the jaws of death. Rain created artificial falls making difficult over mudslide realising how nature could make such disaster for humanity.
Tea stalls were packed up as stock drying up fast. Since the scarcity of drinking water made it worst, people forced to apply extreme survival technique by boiling rainwater to purify from dust, pollen and mould. Incidentally, small rivulet streams gave us some respite. The thick jungles sheltered us from pouring rain while the tall trees pushed away the day light hours. We were expecting another night halt thus we arranged some firewood to have some light. The possibilities of wild animals were threatening. We looked devastated and hungry too. Hundreds of sufferers walked out that night causing worst travel snarl-up for two days.
There was rolling noise echoed from the hills. We could hear people screaming in hope. As the JCB excavators arrived, Khasi cowboys started working on bulldozers like demolition man. They pressed into service to clear the debris after a couple of hours. The next difficulty was for traffic to move on the congested road. There was enchanting views of a suspension bridge over the river Lukhaat Lumtongseng. The river broadens out to the plains of Bangladesh after a kilometre away. The worst patch of the flooded road at the plains of Cachar district turned into mud pools, throwing traffics into serious danger of skidding. We finally reached Silchar over the next night.
After a decade, where a road that halted us inside the hills of Meghalaya, today I sing my way along with Robert Frost lines – “The earth falls are no lovely but dark and deep, but I have promises not to travel over bump and mud, and miles to fly before I visit again”, because I was stopped by a devastating landslides over a treacherous journey on a drizzling day.