Leaving the lively markets of Guwahati, the hustle and bustle, business being done everywhere, food stalls with cooked red tandoori chicken, we headed east through Assam.
It was the Hindu festival of Holi, brightly coloured dye was being thrown about. There was singing, dancing and drums playing in the villages. We were back in vibrant green rice fields again, similar to the scene in Bangladesh, but with less villages and a little more open landscape.
The route was fairly easy, varying from quiet broken lanes, through countryside and villages, to some sections on smooth tarmac of the highway. I found myself becoming fatigued and worn out for the first time on the trip. The young people with their relentless persistent and sometimes rather aggressive approach to get ‘selfies’ with us, fuelled by their need to get ‘likes’ on social media, started to irritate me. The worry about my Dad back in hospital for the second time in a couple of weeks, and his condition deteriorating much quicker was knocking the wind out of my sails.
We passed one horned rhino a little distance from the main road as we approached Kaziranga National Park. We decided to have rest day at the park to recharge. A jeep safari took us deep into the forest past wide rivers where elephants, rhinos and water buffaloes were slowly wandering by going about their day. There was silence in the forest just the steady breeze blowing through the trees. Had a beer that night, the first for over two weeks.
The next day with renewed strength and feeling a lot better we continued on our way along the wide flat Brahmaputra valley. It all seemed better today. We passed many tea gardens, a green smooth carpet of bushes set under tall trees followed the shape of the gentle slope. We stopped for a chat and smile with the tea pickers.
A stop for chai at the roadside brought us a lovely encounter with good people. We sat down on chairs, pulled up for us by an old man, under a bamboo roofed building that doubled as a food stall truck and their house. Simple charpoy beds were scattered around the shelter. Tea and biscuits were brought out and with a few words and hand gestures they asked all about our trip. It wasn’t the usual talk, they were really interested and we enjoyed their company. When it came to paying, they wouldn’t accept anything, just gesturing that we had cycled very far. We left with a feeling of warmth in us, that these kind people had been so thoughtful.
We closed in on the Brahmaputra river bank and boarded the crowded ferry to Majuli island. Very similar to the chars of Bangladesh further downstream this large river islands existence is a fragile one. This one however was much larger than the chars and very established. It was permanent but decreasing in size at quite a rate as sections are swept away during the monsoons down the mighty Brahmaputra. There were many Satras, small Hindu monasteries, dotted about the island.
We stayed the night in a picturesque bamboo hut, on stilts by a small pond. That night we met a most interesting group of people who were shooting a film for the government and UNICEF about some health initiatives including waste disposal (sewage and rubbish). The total lack of any means of sewage and rubbish disposal has been something that has really shocked us on this trip, particularly in urban areas. There has been so much development and population increase in the last 30 years since we first travelled here, but nothing has been done about this. You get a smart hospital, hotel or offices, and to get to the front door you have to cross a wide black putrid open sewer covered in plastic bottles, the stench from the dead water fills the air. Rivers are the only collection system and the monsoon moves stuff along a little to your neighbour. The film makers were a fascinating group and clearly very talented artists and well known for their photography and some quite edgy journalism, but this film seemed to be about the government looking good on funding a small rural sanitation project. Focus on sunrise and sunset shots were important!
We had spoke to many young people about politics and their future, but it was interesting talking to these people who were a little older and hearing from them that India is undergoing a strong nationalist movement, with a lack of tolerance of minority groups similar to Europe and America. Economic miracles are being achieved which is bringing the young on board but scary stuff is going on particularly with freedom of press and opposition to the government. We sat chatting into the night with the noise of frogs reverberating from the darkness of the surrounding countryside.
As the sun rose long gentle chanting from the Satra wafted across the island. An old man was working his ox plough with some vigour on a small field, his wiry body silouetted in the early morning light. This was my view from the loo out the back of the bamboo hut.
The orange ball of the sun sat just above the roof of the hut as we set off on our way across Majuli island and continued following the Brahmaputra valley north east towards China.
The rural scene, was lush and green, banana palms at the track edge, villages with bamboo houses on stilts, shaded by tall palm trees. Rickety bamboo bridges spanned small rivers, some dried up at this time of year. Everywhere the land was cultivated with rice and some small plots of vegetables near to villages. As we cycled on quiet lanes we passed by people going about their day, working the land with ox ploughs, drying seeds by the road, grinding pulses into flour, or just sitting on their shady verandas watching the day go by. Some were weaving cloth on looms under their stilted houses. We had nice chats and exchanges of smiles with these people.
Always there were people, bent over sweeping the ground near their houses with short spindly brooms.
My right flip flop sole had worn through and my bare foot was in contact with the pedal as I pushed. Luckily we came across a market under low thatched roofs, where I was able to purchase a replacement. A place with a lot of colourful activity, people enthusiastically doing their shopping. The air in the narrow gaps between the palm roofed shacks was filled with the smell of spice. Big steel pots, sacks of chilli, spice and pulses, all kinds of foot wear, fruit and vegetables, were all on sale.
As we pushed on the Himalayas came back into view on our left side, the first time since leaving Nepal. We were fast approaching Pasighat where the Brahmaputra flows out of the eastern Himalayas. We had started our journey at a similar place where the Ganges emerges from the western Himalayas and now we were 2000 miles to the east where the other mighty river that drains the Himalayas starts its journey across the green flat plains to the Bay of Bengal.
We are entering the land of the Adis and Mishmi people, quite different from the lowland Assamese and probably of Tibetan dissent. Their houses look different on low stilts as we come out of the flood plain of the Brahmaputra.
We met a lovely group of colourful Adis ladies by the roadside, who were out celebrating an annual festival, to do with the men returning from hunting. They were going from house to house dancing and singing, and kindly showed us their routine.
We reached Pasighat by mid afternoon and stayed at a lovely family run guest house near to the Brahmaputra. Tented huts were spread around their garden set under the shade of trees.
The mum sat on a rattan chair on her veranda, at the head of a long table, cigarettes at hand and a mug of homemade rice wine close by. A warm hearted 60 year old lady, clearly the boss and head of the house. We talked of possibilities of cycling high up into the mountains and trekking for many days to distant sacred lakes, surrounded by high snowy peaks, near to the border with Tibet. A plan seemed to be emerging through the fog of strong rice wine that we sipped from our mugs.