Even though I had spent the first twenty-two years of my life not far from the laps of the Borail Hills which overlook the Barak Valley, I had never had a chance to visit them up close. The reasons were many. From trivial ones like really bad roads to the serious ones like having to cross militant-infested areas. Over the years however things have gotten better. The militancy in the region is now non-existent and the road that connects the region to the rest of the country is it a much better shape than it used to be few years back. The fact that this road is part of the East-West corridor, the largest ongoing highway project in India, has definitely helped in this aspect.
I had decided to ride up to Haflong, a beautiful hill-station in the Dima-Haso district of Assam in March this year. Long back in 1997, I had crossed Haflong on the way to Dibrugarh. It had been a while but the memories were still fresh. Back then, we had taken the slow meter-gauge train – the Barak Valley Express which helped by two diesel engines, chugged slowly through the deep forests and century-old rusty bridges. As a child, I remember looking at the lone houses atop almost every hill as the train passed between them. It was a fascinating first experience for me.
The greenery in the north-east as the say, is unique and enchanting. I had never heard this saying back then when I went out on my first journey through the full-of-life green hills of my home-state Assam but now I have. And I cannot help but agree with every word of it. Be it the green tea-gardens extending slopes after slopes or be it the countless number of hills covered under the deep green of countless canopies, the beauty of this part of the country is indeed unique and beautiful.
Leaving behind the tea-plantations that stretched as far as my eyes could see, I snaked towards the green hills of North-Cachar. The nip in the air and the almost empty roads meant that the hills were not far. A sign-board next to the road re-reconfirmed the same.
Okay! In case I seem to sound confusing here because of the fact that I have hardly visited these regions even though I belong to this part of the country, let me share couple of quick facts here. The district of North-Cachar Hills (now Dima Hasao district) had seen a lot of violence in the past decades. The demand was to create a separate homeland for the Dimasa tribes of the region. Other ethnic groups opposed the demand because of the obvious fear of them being neglected in an already neglected area.
Long story short, due to this reason coupled with terrible road conditions, people of the Barak Valley and neighbouring state Tripura preferred taking the alternate route through Meghalaya which was free from any sort of violence. It was only when things started settling down and when the East-West corridor project started taking shape at a faster pace, people cautiously started using this route to connect to mainland India.
The colours of the Borail Hills kept pleasantly surprising me as I rode through them at my own easy pace, soaking in the surroundings. To tell you the truth, for once (or was it twice) I became so lost as I rode through the hills that for a very brief moment I came close to partially losing control of the vehicle. The mind was busy appreciating beauty of one of the many small waterfalls that trickled down from the slopes above next to the road when suddenly, I found myself at the edge of a blind-curve.
With a deep gorge not much far from where I was, it was hardly a matter of half a meter or so and I would have found myself hurtling down on a carpet of banana trees hundreds of feet below. Thankfully, nothing much adventurous happened and I somehow pulled myself back to my senses before it was too late.
The valley below with its muddy river and a road which looked nothing more than a carelessly drawn line from the highway accompanied me for almost the entire distance. The small villages that came once in a while were the only time the river and the valley went out of the view, only to join me back as soon as the villages were left behind.
Along-with the road condition, the railway connectivity scene too was fast improving in this area and the slow meter-gauge line was being converted to a faster broad-gauge one (the BG is now operational). I crossed a hand-full of newly built railway-stations that had come-up not far from the highway. The trademark bright yellow boards of the Indian Railways and the white & pink colored railway stations were a joyful contrast from the green surroundings.
On my way back, I spent some time at the (in)famous Jatinga village (about which I have written here:Jatinga – The village and the mystery around it) talking to the care-taker of the bird-watching tower there. Listening about the’phenomenon’ that takes place when the conditions are ideal.
As I rode back on my way home I couldn’t help but be even more fascinated than I had been, as a child looking out of the slow-moving train, chugging through these very enchanting hills. I was sure I will come back for more, I still am.
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Have you visited the North-east or would you want to? Leave me a word as a comment below, I would love to hear from you.