|The Great City of Shingkhar Lauri|
Looking back, the heaven-like Thimphu city beckoned me time and again. I felt I was on an exile but I had promises to keep. I reached Phuntsholing late in the evening. All the hotels were shut down and there was neither food nor room for me. The actually-busy and noisy town had settled down to quietness. I, carrying a huge and heavy bag, went around the city looking for some shed to spend the night. Finally I was blessed when the gate keeper of one of the hotels offered me the room.
The moment I got the room, I thought about my next day's journey to Samdrup Jongkhar. I hadn't arranged any vehicle and there came my worry whether I would be able to travel the next day. I woke up at 3:30 am and went to the truck parking. I knew that bus tickets would be all booked and the only option left for me was to ply in trucks that carried goods. However the trucks with loads had lined up from the gate and I asked each driver, I met, if there were any seat for me. Finally one of the truckers offered me but he already had nine passengers. We were 10, some standing and some sitting on others' laps.
|The house where the seed of future was sown|
When we reached Jaigoan, five of us got on the truck's cabin, buried ourselves under the thick plastic and, just like goods, we were transported to Samdrup Jongkhar late that evening. Except for the lunch time, the vehicles plying in the Assam areas don't halt on the way. They are driven in line by the Indian escorts till the danger places are crossed. Traveling through India is not only risky but long and hectic too. The dry roads throw dusts in the air, covers our faces and by the time we reach home, we look like ghosts, dirty.
I wished my journey was short. I also wished if there were a good transport system through Bhutan. However, my journey did not end there. From there I had to go to Jomotsangkha (Daifam), another one day's journey. I prayed to get a good vehicle where I could sit and travel. This time I looked for small vehicles destined for Jomotsangkha. Against the cool morning breeze, which is warmer than in Thimphu, before any one had woken up, I got out to the street.
Unluckily, the only vehicle heading to Jomotsangkha that day was a truck. It was almost full with passengers and I ha
d to pull along with
them. People sat on my bag and crushed my belongings. Some vomited
throughout the journey and some fell sick. Throughout the journey, I
kept a vivid vigilance. When the vehicle passed through the noisy
slums of Assamese town, I found myself praying to the almighty above.
|People cook using firewood and lit their homes with Kerosene lamps|
Even as I entered into Jomotsangkha border gate, peace returned into my heart. I reached Jomotsangkha, the unlikely dry town with only a handful people, dusty and tired. I went to take bath and the tap was dry just like the town. People in the town said they have no proper drinking water. They collect drinking water from the river near by. There were many people lined up on the banks of Chukarpo river, fetching water. I plunged into one of the deepest ponds, early morning, and cleaned away all the dirts that I had accumulated during a two-long-day journey in the border area. Unlike in Thimphu, the water out there is warm.
Hungry, I went back to my room. My host had put on the rice but before it was cooked, the light was cut off. We waited for hours, feeding on bread, talking as if we were not hungry. The power in Jomotsangkha area, which is brought from Assam, India, is cut off often leaving people in the darkness. After a few hours, my laptop's battery was down and the mobile switched off.
That evening I had planned to reach Minjiwoong. I was taken behind a Mahindra, through the bumpy and rough road which is still under construction. The road is hardly 15 kms but it took us more than two hours to reach the mule track point. From there I had to walk for almost two days to reach Lauri. People come till there to fetch goods like rice, oil and salts from the small shops that are pitched along the road sides.
On the way, people sleep under the trees, caves and in an open air praying for the local deities to protect them in the nights. On their cane baskets used for carrying goods, they carry pots and plates while their horses and mules carry blankets and clothes for them. We slept under a tree. In the night, the unexpected winter night brought rain and we had to rush our things to a nearby cave. The whole night we could not sleep.
Even before the dawn come, people start walking, half in sleep. The mule track to Lauri is dangerously cut through the cliffs and mountains. One has to climb up the mountain vigorously and reaching there, one has to walk down again to cross the Dhansiri river. The bridges across the river are made using many small weak woods spread on two long trees fell across the river and supported by a few poles. As horses and people walk over, it swings and bends as if to break.
Women with heavy bags at their backs, hanging their crying child from their neck to the front walk without a halt. They sweat like taking bath in the scorching sun. Following the Dhansiri river, I reached Lauri. Of the four main villages in Lauri geog: Momring, Lauri, Dungmanma and Zangthi, I went to Dungmanma. The moment I reached there, my host's wife was in labor. Holding from the ladder, behind the door, she was pushing and screaming in a dim light lit using a kerosene lamp. An elderly woman who stood near her to help was waiting with a bottle of wine. I remembered how children are being born in Thimphu, mothers assisted by Doctors. I could not think of a blink of life there. After the birth, she suffered from acute headache. I ran up in search of the village health worker but he had gone somewhere else to work. I looked for paracetamol kept in a bamboo basket but there was not.
People out there wake up early in the morning and go to work in the fields. Yet they said they don't have enough grains to feed around the year. They are poor and backward too. Except for the mobile phone which they blindly operate, most of the villagers haven't seen the modern technologies such as a Television. Having shown them my laptop, some of them prostrated to it and asked me how a huge man could fit inside a thin screen.
I have heard that people in the villages are the most happy ones. And apparently there is a smile on every face but looking intrinsically on their lives, they aren't as we see. Having to spend their lives in the darkness, unlike in the towns, they are unhappy. Moreover, they are tired of running up and down as a porter for others. They are fed-up with the dull village life and wants something new to explore. There is no happiness in them rather than the sadness of being in the darkness for more than a century. One of the villagers said he tries to forget all these by drinking alcohol. And many people like him, in the village, envy the town life.
Villagers don't even have oil to put into their curry. The sliced radish is boiled and adding a spoon of salt and a few heads of chilies, it is ravished with maize floor ground using two stones. Rice, which is considered to be a special diet, is hardly seen in the village. However during important occasions like Losar, people manage a few kilograms for their family. The homes are smoke-stained and that suffocates one during his or her sleep.
Being in the village of no light is akin or more so to prison's darkness. Many a times you jerk with the fear of being in the hell. Within a few days of my stay there, thoughts ran on my mind, time and again, to return to the town. I could not imagine how people survive in the villages throughout their lives.