Quick impressions of Guwahati

I spent just a shade over 48 hrs in Guwahati, I thought I’d share my impressions while they are still fresh.

Most travel guides and listings from lonely planet to trip advisor would like you to believe that the only attractions in town are the temples and river cruises, and that you should view it only as a gateway to the NorthEast. It is true only so far as it being no different to any major indian city or state capital; it is far more cosmopolitan than most though.

To me, the best indicator of cosmopolitanism is the wide range of eateries a city has and Guwahati scores pretty high on this front and affordability too. You can get a typical unlimited vegetarian thali, which is referred to simply as rice (bhaat) over here for as little as ₹40, the non-vegetarian option for around ₹75. Win!

The public transport is well organized too, you can choose from state run buses, private buses, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and shared taxis. The bus network is pretty extensive and from what I could gather there are 4 major hubs, interchanges, call it what you will; Jhalukbari, Beltola, Khanapara and Paltan Bazar.

Paltan Bazar is also where a backpacker ought to stay. It is situated around the Guwahati railway station( if you happen to arrive through other station i.e. Kamakhya Jn, its a 20 min bus ride, fare ₹ 10).You have a huge choice of hotels from the very basic to the snazzy. The aforementioned gamut of eateries are also spread around the Paltan bazar, Ulubari,GS road area. The state museum, state arts&crafts center are walking distance from here, so is the kachari ghat, one of the many ferry points.

Which brings us to something that I found disappointing, there is hardly any riverfront infrastructure. For a city based on the banks of Bhramaputra, I found this very odd. There is a park next to the kachari ghat but it seemed more like one of those that young couples seek out. On the same road i.e. MG road is the Uzan Bazar fish market, although I walked by it in the late evening when it was shut, by the looks of it, I’m pretty sure it would be thriving each morning.

If you are from Guwahati and find any of the info here inaccurate or incomplete, please let me know by commenting below and I will incorporate it in the post.

Travelling without an identity

This afternoon as I was clipping my nails, I noticed that there was still some of that indelible ink on one of them. I couldn’t help but think of the surfeit of ‘inked-finger selfies’ and how questions of what it meant to be an “Indian” were raised,right through the overcharged coverage of the recent elections and the debates that followed in our living rooms and on our social media feeds.

 

Eventually, my train of thought brought  me to the Andaman islands and how I had to travel without any papers on me.

 

This was back in 2009, I had just graduated from my management course and had sometime before I took up my first job. My friend Vikram and I decided to head to Andaman before we moved to the concrete jungles of  Bombay.

 

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I met up with him in Calcutta and after couple of days of Calcutta rolls, drinking and general tomfoolery, we took off from Dum Dum or Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose airport as it is now called. It was only after we collected our baggage at Port Blair that I realised that I had lost my wallet.

Initially I was worried about how I would now feed myself, it slowly dawned on me that I had no papers of identity on me.  I could get out of the airport now, but how would I enter it on my way back? Some of the places we planned to visit were national parks, protected areas and such,we required permits to enter them, we need to book ourselves on ferries. How would we get hotel rooms? We were thousands of miles away from mainland India, how would I get back home?

It was scary for a while, but I remember feeling liberated as well. No “baggage”.

Thankfully, I managed to get scanned copies of  my passport emailed to me and the rest of the trip went on without a hitch. It actually is one of my favourite journeys, I had a lot of fun. Seafood, scuba diving, lounging in lagoons, mini gigs by the beach.

These islands are truly amazing, the biodiversity and untainted natural beauty is breathtaking. For a visitor, it’s nothing short of a tropical paradise but being in such  remote places must be hard on the locals, they rely on  supply ships for even the most basic of their needs, they don’t seem to complain much though.

 

Click here for more pictures from my old facebook album

 

When I look back now,I realise that even while I was having the time of my life, I kept thinking about what the future holds in store for me. I was full of hope and with all the naivety of someone in their early 20’s was looking forward to joining work. Sort of like, how the average Indian is hopeful about his new government, let’s see how that pans out.

 

P.S.

Travel Tip: Now with smartphones and google drives and services like dropbox, it shouldn’t be too hard to keep track of your documents and tickets. Always save multiple copies of various id proofs, tickets and other reservations , having a few hard copies wouldn’t hurt either especially if travelling alone or to remote locations.

42

The only way a budget traveller could get  to Yumthang is to be a part of a package tour. We took one. This meant that we 3, rather well padded men spend one day in a jeep with 7 other passengers plus the driver travelling from Gangtok up to Lachung, spend a night at Lachung, leave at the crack of dawn, reach Yumthang in about an hr, spend a little time there and drive all the way back to Gangtok.

All 3 of us did not like this, but had to go along as this was the only option that suited our budgets. Everything changed once we landed up at Lachung on a starlit night. The next morning the urge to give it a shot without worrying about the consequences intensified. We just had to stay an extra night.

This meant we had to find a place to stay the night.

In a place where hardly anyone stays the night this time of the year. In a place which primarily acts a feeding ground for package tourists. In place where the only functioning guesthouse needs to booked in advance from Gangtok. In an immensely serene setting.

How?

The answer to everything is ’42’.

 

Darejeeling Toy Train

Despite Darjeeling being a very noisy, crowded, popular tourist destination, I was eager to get there solely to come face to face with the toy train. The mix of old world charm and the highly romanticised Bollywood imagery was simply too irresistible.

The best and most popular example would be the Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila Tagore & S.D. Burman classic.

It has been showcased in many movies over the years, this one from the 90s

More recently, it’s been featured in films like Parineeta & Barfi. It has even inspired foreign film makers, case in point Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited.

To know more about toy trains check this out.  If you like trains, and especially Indian railways, you might want to see this

Pictures of the toy train in Darjeeling.