The North-East of India which includes Sikkim, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Imphal, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Tripura and if you want to also consider West Bengal (though it doesn’t exactly come in the North East) is one of the most unexplored parts of the country in terms of tourism, lifestyle as well as the general day-to-day affairs of the people. For years our biased media situated in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai or for that matter any 0ther city of India has always projected a one sided image of this part of the country. Be it the ULFA in Assam, the different groups in Mizoram, the police atrocities in Manipur and Mizoram, the groups based in Tripura, attacks and incursions by HUJI and other militant organizations based in Bangladesh across the porous international border or even the Chinese claims to Arunachal Pradesh, the image of the North – East across the nation as well as across the world has never been positive.
In the context of this in April 08 when we (Sruthi, Achintya and me) thought of applying to IIT Guwahati for the B-Plan contest due to be held as part of the Tech fest “Techniche 08, the first thing that crossed our minds was whether it was safe to go there. Over the next few months though we worked hard to develop a pretty decent B-Plan. The submission date was extended by a couple of days (which is usual for all college fests in the country). But we joked that we will surely get selected because who will apply to Guwahati considering the safety as well as that it is too far. But as luck would have had it we got selected.
Now began the most amazing part of the journey. Two important questions needed to be answered. First as to whether we should go or not (obviously we wanted to because we were selected now though at first we had just thought of trying and not thinking of how we would go if selected) and Second as to how we would go. After endless discussions we ended up in Kolkata by train (32 hours – now that was seriously tooo much…though it gave me a great chance to see the East of the country which I hadn’t before). The best part was that the train was supposed to reach Howrah at approx 11 in the morning and finally ended up coming around 4pm. Our flight to Guwahati (yes everyone advised us to take a flight till there because of attacks by ULFA on the rail route as well as the fact that its single gauge and takes loads of time) was at 6pm. Somehow we all managed to catch the flight (that was an experience in itself with the driver coming close to nearly two accidents and mouthing expletives to hundreds all across the route).
In the flight (Jet Airways), I was seriously surprised to see a honeymoon couple (its just that I didn’t know people still come to visit the place despite attacks). As we were landing at the Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport, I was surprised by the lack of yellow lights as well as great patches of darkeness on the roads. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that I haven’t been to a quieter airport (till date) in my life before. The lack of any crowds, closed PCO as well as the fans and most of the shops surprised me. Before coming here I was already aware of the fact that prepaid phones from outside don’t work here. Hearing that the ISD facility at the airport was closed, I got all the more worried thinking that mom and dad will be worried. After coming out, we unanimously decided to go to Siroy Lily – the hotel Sruthis dad had booked rather than going to IIT which we thought would be unsafe considering that it was night and we didn’t know the place.
As we whizzed past the different streets of Guwahati what struck me most was the fact that the roads seemed pretty deserted even though it was eight, there were patches of darkeness (though at Paltan Bazaar where we stayed there was traffic and too much light) as well as some kind of uneasiness in me which made me feel that I was not exactly in India. Interestingly as a matter of fact, we came to know that Paltan Bazaar is a red – light area :P. It just seemed like this place is totally cut off from mainland India. Even though Siroy Lily is supposed to be one of the best hotels around there, I just felt a sense of uneasiness (though not so much to bother me) considering the fact about whatever I had ever heard about the North-East till then. In the hotel, Sruthi also realised that her Reliance Netconnect wasn’t working.
Sruthi’s dad who had accompanied us has his company’s office in Guwahati too. He had asked someone from there to take us to the IIT campus in Amingaon which is outside the city. As we moved through the city, I found it to be pretty dirty. But the landscape changed as soon as we left the city. Wherever one’s eyes went, only greenery was visible all around. Tremendous, Beautiful, Mind – Boggling, Out of this world, Spectacular, Splendid are just few of the adjectives one can use to describe the beauty.
The IIT campus is like an entire city in itself situated pretty far from the city. The presentation was a good one wherein we got a chance to interact with participants from various colleges as well as a B-School Team from IIFT Kolkata. Our topic – Lingerie Manufacturing was a crowd puller in itself literally too as at one moment one of the organizers asked us whether we had any inspiration from the IIM A team of 4 people who started such a business couple of years ago. Hopefully they didn’t suspect us of copying. Among the 10 teams we got shortlisted in the top 5 and were honoured to have a panel interview with the judges from IIM S and IIT Kanpur. Even though we ended up third (sadly there was no prize for coming third). On our way back to the hotel I got a chance to hear a couple of Assamese songs on the FM and they were really beautiful tunes. We got a call that evening to come an hour early for the early morning flight the next day signifying the fact that the security situation was serious. While going to the airport the next day seeing all the tree covered mountains and bushes passing by I was just sad for the fact that I couldn’t get the chance to visit different places like the famous Kamakhiya Temples, the Kaziranga sanctuary which is about 200 km away or other places away from the city which can truly be called “Heaven on Earth”.
Back in Kolkata again one of Sruthi’s dads office colleagues took us around to a nice place for lunch. While going to the Howrah station for the journey back to Katpadi, I saw the Eden Gardens, the Victoria Memorial as well as the All India Radio Building all from outside though because it was raining too heavily. The experience of sitting on the ferry across the Hooghly was a nice one.
The North East is one of the most beautiful places in this nation. The greenery which I saw (I think it was not even o.1% of what is there) was mind-boggling. One can just see everything green till the eyes can go without a single patch of barren land. The experience over the mighty Bramhaputra was stupendous. Sadly due to the bad intentions of a few individuals like Mr Baruah of ULFA and others this part of the country has been ravaged completely. On October 25 2008, approximately two months after I had been to Guwahati, three bomb blasts ripped through it and other places across Assam killing more than 60-70 people and wounding hundreds. Even the media has always given a one sided view of this region of the country preferring to enhance their TRPs by always talking about violence unleashed by the insurgency. Successive governments have neglected this part of our country in terms of budgets, funds etc. Even though the IIT and IIM have come up, the people need more in terms of resources, industries (which are almost none), infrastructure (airports are not present even in Shillong which has an IIM and even the rail network is bad) and also economic assistance (a package by the Asian Development Bank for Arunachal was almost blocked by China because of their claims to this state).
With its unexplored natural beauty, mind – boggling greenery and hidden mysteries, this is truly the “Heaven on Earth”. I wish to come back one day with my family to this part of our country with the hope of seeing peace and tranquility restored in this beautiful part of our nation.
I appeal to the Indian Government to avoid giving step-motherly treatment to this part of the nation failing which the consequences don’t seem too good for the country.