Aranya and Wildcrest
That was the day I walked barefoot in a tea garden! It all started with Baidik getting all charged up and bullying me and Mate into accompanying him to Kaziranga, before he left for the kaalapaani of PwCites- Dhaka. Mate had been working in those dull heavy months in Assam with the Department of Tourism and managed to get us rooms cheap in Aranya, a government lodge.
Came the designated day…and in the absence of both the manager and the resident project manager, we sneaked out of office early, around midday on a Friday. Our carriage was waiting at the guesthouse and we all clambered into it with a growing sense of excitement, Mate looking very touristy in a cap and a red tee.
And so we proceeded, accompanied by the most horrific choice of Hindi music ever- courtesy Baidik :)
We got there late and had little more to do than go and admire the neighbouring Wild Crest Lodge hotel- a beautiful oaken- wooden- antiquey furniture place. On the way, Baidik chose (as usual) to frighten me with his ghost stories. The setting was eerie enough…Kaziranga had no lights for miles and Wildcrest was off the road, so we turned into bumpy side paths. There were thick bamboo groves on either side and in the moonlight, the trees all shone white.
Maruti Van, no Jeep
Next day we got up at 6 AM to catch the elephant safari… to our amusement (and to some extent concern!!), our haati was called ‘Maruti Van’ as he walked (lumbered- trotted- cantered) at a most un-elephant-like pace. He was a pachyderm with the soul of a mustang.
Our ‘van’ took us around a designated circuit in the park…and to our delight; we spotted several rhinos, deer (and rabbits!). All this was done and over with in an hour after which we started to scratch our heads! It was only 8 AM, and we wanted to do so much more on our little adventure away from dusty, dirty, tired Guwahati. There was a jeep safari that some of our fellow tourists were planning to take- but we were not keen on it at all as we had seen quite a few rhinos already and Kaziranga’s terrain wasn’t beautiful or varied enough to merit a parikrama.
It was then that a fellow tourist mentioned that there were these beautiful tea and rubber estates only a little while away and that we could go look at them. We jumped at the idea and went on to see a rubber estate that was on the slopes of a hill.
And what entered our minds as we wandered deep into the forest were the lines from Frost’s poem, ‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep’. We wandered deep into those woods and took some wonderful pictures that to my grief I seem to have lost!
Adivasi encounters over tea
Our next destination was a huge tea garden owned by Tata tea. None of us had ever been to a tea garden before and excitement levels were naturally high at the thought of what we would see. We expected to be stopped at the entrance of the estate, but to our delight, no one bothered with us at all and we drove in for a while till he hit a dead end.
Badik then decided that it would be tremendous fun to walk through the garden- at least till we were stopped. Our shoes were still wet from the river party so we walked in barefoot (and unarmed!). With shoulder high tea bushes on either side of the narrow mud paths- it felt like a walk through a labyrinth with green leafy walls.
The path was smooth and with cool dry mud forming the topmost layer, we didn’t cut our feet at all as feared. Every now and then the path was intersected by a broad deep drain that was overlaid with a narrow bamboo pole- the only way of getting across! When we came across the first of these Fear Factor type challenges, we eyed the drain and the bamboo nervously! Who we wondered would pull the shortest straw! I think it was Mate who got down to it first and walked the tightrope successfully. Baidik followed next and I brought up the rear very bravely.
Having conquered our first dragon, we were to run into another! We sighted a group of women adivasi tea workers some way off. They were walking in our direction and Baidik thought they would make a quaint photo. He asked them if it was ok for us to click a pic…and to his horror and fright, the woman he spoke to, waved a sickle in his face and said something angrily! The whole group gave us equally angry looks and we decided to turn back and return to our car…for we remembered in time that the adivasis had been rebelling in Guwahati that very month! Mate still managed to click a pic of the group.
Tezpur and the road home
On our way home, we decided to go via Tezpur which is a place of great historic importance. The drive to the city was beautiful, but the city itself was very disappointing- there was nothing to see and after eating some sorry looking biscuits in a local bakery, we decided to head home.