My First Durga Puja and some very friendly folk!

At the Earle Holiday Home in Shillong we prepared to leave. A genteel crowd of middle-class holiday makers who had previously ignored us raved about us and decided our photo would be framed and put on the wall. We answered questions, celebrity-style, and rode off with a good (though surreal) send-off.

Meghalaya was stunning, but somewhat tense. They were a tough crowd. Generally there were more hostile stares than usual, and even with a huge grin and the all-encompassing respectful head-waggle you could only just garner a hint of a smile.

The scenery, though, was damn fine. It was rolling hills with a hint of jungliness. The banana palms carried on and on, and I think date palms started again from the look of them. There were waterfalls and things of that ilk. Everyone played out their lives on the road again, and the back bamboo stilts of the houses on the roadside were sometimes very, very tall.

You could see Jhum farming, the rotational crop farming the tribes of Meghalaya still practise. The steep hills were covered in almost vertical rows of crops. It looked like hard work.

We went past an enormous view across the whole of East Bangladesh. It was very flat, and very wet. We got very excited about it.


We headed back into Assam. There were tea estates again, and friendly faces. Phew.

Ten million or so hot hours later we arrived at a dusty, bumpy junction called Badarpur. It was a bit of a dump, quite frankly. We tried to make it to Silchar, which featured a real-life hotel, but we missed.

Adam decided to ask the police for hotel recommendations hoping to find something habitable. The officer spoke no English, but kindly took us into the station, where a prisoner sat behind bars in the main office, and where everyone sent us to the ‘hotel’ we had already spotted and deemed wholly unsuitable on the solid grounds of Yuk.

 We squeezed ourselves into the horrible cupboard they called a room- a tiny dusty space with two bug ridden beds with mosquito nets draped over them, too hot to stand in. The overhead fan had just one setting, very slow. On the premise of not spending any actual time in the cupboard, we disappeared to procure ourselves a fairly revolting but very plentiful rice and dhal meal.

Feeling like intrepid dustpit-explorers, we wandered the streets.

Two young jewellery-wholesalers from Elsewhere attached themselves to us, and took us on our first ever Durga Puja circuit. Numerous temporary temples are erected for the festival around town, and everyone visits them all in a circuit in a big group, offering Puja at each one. We made it to six!
An impressively large crowd watched us unload the bike, and me take off my helmet.  It was embarrassing.  The level of filth that crawls onto you when undertaking 9 hours of motorbiking in India is fairly horrendous.  And I am a muck-magnet at the best of times.  I was encrusted head to toe in traffic-belch, and the first foreign girl anyone had seen for a while.  I was not a good ambassador.

They were all lavish affairs, outdoing each other to be the brightest, loudest, biggest extravaganzas. Some were too loud to breathe in, with Hindu chanting blaring over the speakers, and young kids someone had thoughtlessly provided with drums keeping wholly out of time to the music.


It was a brilliant evening, and we managed to hold our own fairly well speaking only in Hindi with our wonderful hosts- there were even topics of conversation! Success!

Adam was approached on numerous occasions by people wanting a chat, but we were our host’s guests, and he swatted them away like flies while he attempted to hold Adam’s hand and Adam attempted to avoid this sub-continental display of male friendship quite unsuccessfully. Adam remained fairly unperturbed by it to his credit, though he did go a bit of a funny colour at first.

Finally we made it back, to find another crowd begging for a look at the bike (which was safely covered up in its black sack), so Adam did a bizarre show-and-tell interview in Hinglish.

Thankfully we had a sneaky bottle of rum in the tank bag to round the night off with, and we sat outside the cupboard-room sneaking pegs from tin cups.

I got a late night paan from the paan-wallah downstairs, and the manager found me on the way up the stairs. He grabbed my hand and patted my rump. I suspect he thought I wouldn’t notice…

Started the day at 4am, awoken by two strange men staring down at me sleeping. I woke to hear them deciding conclusively in Hindi that I was old. Not the most auspicious beginning I wouldn’t say. Oshy and Moshy, our friendly jewellery-wallahs, arrived at 7am with the photos of us from the previous nights festivities printed out in a little envelope. It cheered me greatly, and we rode off from strange little Badarpur with an even bigger crowd waving us Goodbye. I wanted to stay (again). 

Our ride took us from Assam to Tripura. A guy from the crowd rode with us to see us off, and we stopped for petrol where three really great Assamese guys sat us down for chai and a chat.

There were farmers harvesting rice with buffaloes, and people wearing old-fashioned conical, woven hats, like giant baskets on their heads.

 I watched a small goat try to butt a kitten. The kitten tried to butt back. It was a very amusing stand-off.

 We had heard the route to Agaltara through Tripura state required a police escort, and were quietly waiting for them to join us…

But the Police checkpost barriers were just too easy, we couldn’t help it, it just happened… They would flag us down and we would wave back in a chirpy, slightly dense manner, and carry on. Then an officer stepped out at one, and we stopped to say Hi. He wasn’t sure what to do with us, so we smiled and pretended not to understand anything he said (very easy). He told us to hang on while he wandered off to work out what to do. Well, it would be silly to miss such an obvious opportunity, so we smiled, looked totally bamboozled, waved at another officer, and rode slowly off.

After the Tripura barriers, the jungle really started, with full-on tribally folk, houses made of bamboo and thatch on stilts, enormous great vine trees you could live in, old men smoking in doorways, etc…All the women wore bright plain sarongs with cholis and had flat, beautiful faces. The kids were barefoot, bare-chested, and raggedy with tooth-shaped amulets round their necks. Some of them weren’t keen on us bumbling through, but others smiled and waved.  (This area survived with its tribal traditions by not taking kindly to outsiders.  Ever since they started taking more kindly to them, things have been going wrong, so I can understand thier reticence...)

 The hills started. Through green gaps at the side of the road there were vast chasms filled with billions of other greens- every jungle plant or tree ever imagined. The road was a narrow but perfect winding ride, with some serious angles to the edges of it. We were riding a giant green jungle rollercoaster! It was perfect! The bits that weren’t green were perfectly tribal-shaped! It was the best ride of my life!

The police check posts waved at us, the army guys on guard grinned and showed Thumbs-up as we went past, even the convoy trucks we should have been with in the first place were full of officers smiling and waggling their heads. (Always keep the officials on your side until the last minute. I'm learning.)

Anyway, so we wombled along, back down the gigantic hills, trying to find somewhere for lunch. There were small towns occasionally, but it was Durga Puja still and everything was shut. Eventually we found a sweet shop and sat down to a bit of artery-clogging lunch. The crowd was friendly and non-invasive.

 The amazingly friendly owner gave us five hardcore sweet dishes especially for us to try, and wouldn’t accept money for any of them. We ate jalebi, curd, barfi, rasgullai and gulab jamun, to be nice.

(We ate until we were near exploding, to be nice. We ate cold congealed fizzy curd, to be nice. We were so damn nice that I will take it as a personal karmic offence when that curd curdles my stomach for a week…)

(As a postscript, my stomach never did curdle, so there you go.  Lesson Two:  Always eat everything offered to you, to be nice, and to try stuff.  Mostly its ok...)

 Now we are in Agaltara, on the last Durga Puja day. That’s the one when the deities get paraded down the streets with loudspeakers, and everyone goes mad behind them with frantic dancing and chucking about of colored powder-paint. There were about eight processions on the way in. Everyone behind them either looked wrecked or completely knackered, and everyone was a very funny colour.   Everyone waved and smiled at us, and we've found a hotel too!  Bonus!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Say hello. It makes us happy. Ta, Nicky. x

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.