Tuesday, November 18, 2014

North of Northeast Part IV

After spending a day of rest, at the Kaziranga resort, we all are ready today, for another long spell of travelling. For a change, we shall now be travelling to the North and enter the border state of Arunachal Pradesh, before ending the day at “Bomdila,” a beautiful township on mountain slopes of Himalayan ranges with an altitude of about 8000 feet. Yesterday, we made some short outings and visited one or two points on the highway NH 37, from where, wild animals of Kaziranga are usually seen. At one of the points, where wild elephants are sometimes seen, we drew blank as the spot was totally deserted. Luckily, at the other vista point, we were more fortunate to see some rhinos and deer. Our Kaziranga sanctuary safari is actually planned during the return leg of our journey after about a week and I thought that what we saw yesterday, was a kind of a teaser.

We are back on highway NH 37 going westwards till the town of Nagaon and then take a right turn on highway NH 37A. Our first destination today is the mighty Brahmaputra river, located at about a distance of 22 Km, which we would be crossing over to go to our first stop of the day; Tezpur. For first few Km, the landscape is typically rural Assamese, with lush green paddy fields, groves of trees of various hues and shades of green with sprinklings of villages scattered amongst them with red coloured galvanized iron sheet roofing. But as we proceed further towards the river, the human habitats slowly start to disappear, their place being taken by marshy wastelands and grasslands. Every summer the mighty Brahmaputra, pours millions of cusecs of water in this area and this stretch of marshy wastelands get completely flooded. Much area under Kaziranga forest also meets the similar fate each and every year. This is the reason for the sanctuary to close during monsoon months and it reopens only on 1st of November.

I can see now the vast bed of this mighty river stretched almost to the horizon. As we approach the river, the car stops before a police check post. The guards wave to us and we are on the “Kalia Bhomora Bridge” crossing the Brahmaputra. After crossing the bridge, the cars stop near a small hillock. I come out to have a view of the bridge and the surroundings. This 1.3 Km long bridge was constructed during a period of 1981 to 1987. I climb a small hillock to see if I get some better view of the bridge but feel disappointed as nothing can be seen from there. There is also a small red coloured “Shiva” temple on one side of the road. On the left sidewall, from where the actual bridge and its railing starts, bass reliefs of seven female figures representing the seven northeast states are carved in concrete. Though the craftsmanship is just about pass'e, I like the symbolism. The bridge, connecting the city of Tezpur to Kaliabhor town has been named after “Ahom general Kalia Bhomora Phukan, who had defeated in 1671, much larger Mughal forces in a battle known as Battle of Saraighat. The bridge has been named after this general because it is believed that he had made an unsuccessful attempt to build a bridge at the same site in the seventeenth century.

Tezpur city is situated along the north bank of the river. As we enter the city, my thoughts immediately run down the memory lane, because in the 1962 border war, Chinese forces had reached within 70 Km from Tezpur and the inept city administration had almost given up the city. There was complete loss of control on 20th November 1962 with thousands of people fleeing the city by crossing Brahmaputra to the safety of the south. That is history; now Tezpur is a normal thriving city.

Our first stop in Tezpur is at a small hillock named as “Agnighar.” An impressive entry gate leads to a circular stairway for going up the hillock. The entry gate gives a feeling, that the way up would be an easy one. However, as I climb up, I find that it is not so and climbing up in one breath looks quite tough. I reach the crest of the hill. A nice manicured garden and some plat things for children can be seen here. An observation platform made from steel stands here. From the top of this platform, a breathtaking view of the mighty Brahmaputra is so bewitching that I spend quite a few minutes watching and enjoying the grand spectacle. The Bhomora bridge, which we had just crossed, shines in the morning sun towards the left. There are number of statues of some mythological figures and some imaginary encounters between them. A demon king “ Banasura” his daughter “Usha,” her companion “Chitralekha” and finally Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. The sculptures of these mythological figures have been erected at several spots around the circular stairway. I do not know from what material these statues have been made from but they all have been painted with Gray colour. These statues remind me of similar statues of mythological figures set up all over the Indonesian island of Bali.The hillock of “Agnigarh” is believed to be the fortress of a mythologiocal king “Banasura” in which he had kept his daughter “Usha” in isolation, fearing that she may elope with someone. Tezpur perhaps prefers to link itself more with the Mythological demon king “ Banasur” than any one from recent history.

We move on. Just next to this hill, we come across a place called “Ganesh Ghat.” This place is directly on the river bank and if desired, one can go and touch the waters of one of the greatest rivers of India. None of us however seems willing as the entire area is littered with garbage, flowers thrown away and plastic bags. I remember that near Leh city in Ladakh, excellent “Ghats” or stepped terraces named as “Sindhu Darshan” have been built on bank of river Indus, which allow people to touch the water or wash their hands and feet in the river, I remember having done that during my visit there. But that place was spotlessly clean compared to what I see here on the bank of Brahmaputra. I had wished that I would be able to wash my hands and feet in the Brahmaputra waters during this visit, just the way I had done in waters of Indus, but can not dare do it because of the filth.

Readers would agree that the entire history and culture of India is closely related to triplet of rivers- Indus, Ganga and the Brahmaputra. I had wished that someday I would be able to see all of them and would be able to touch the waters of all of them. For me it was like a secret pilgrimage of the sorts. I had touched the waters of Ganga at Rishikesh near Haridwar city besides waters of Indus at Leh. Unfortunately, here on the bank of Brahmaputra, I can not dare do that as the place is filled with Garbage.

Feeling disappointed, I move on. There is a temple nearby of Lord “Ganesha.” I watch it only from a distance and then continue towards our next halt, an excellet and neatly laid out city garden known as Cole park during British days. It was named after Mr. Cole, a British commissioner of Assam. Now it is known as “Chitralekha Garden;” the mythological connection coming up once again. It is a well laid out nice garden with lawns and flower beds on sloping grounds. In the middle there are two water ponds or mini lakes side by side. Activities like boating are available. I am more interested however, in a number of bass reliefs done in stone from 9th and 10th century, couple of massive ornamented stone pillars, gate ways and sculptural remains from the famous Bamuni hills that are being displayed at strategic places in the garden by Archaeological department of Assam.The massive pillars, gates and bass reliefs are very intricately carved. The carved human figures on these bass reliefs have a distinctly different look, when compared to contemporary bass reliefs from Pattadakal in Karnataka or from Ellora caves in Maharashtra. I also notice surprisingly, that there are some similarities in the figures displayed here with bass relief figures found in Siam Reap temples of Cambodia. But this needs more study. The pride of place of the park is at the center of the park, flanked by the two water ponds on the sides. This spot is occupied by a massive stone slab, which bears the famed inscriptions of Bhomoraguri, ordered by Ahom general Kalia Bhomora Phukan and recording the ancient plans of a bridge across the Brahmaputra, at the very spot, where the current Kolia Bhomora Bridge has been built. This is an exhibit worth a visit. Though, there appears to be some controversy, regarding the inscription. According to some references, the rock inscription actually mentions the construction of a rampart by Ahom King Pratap Sinha (1603-41 A.D.) after defeating the Mughals and not the bridge.

Bhomora Inscription slab

Image of the demon "Banasur" in Chitralekha park

Bass relief of Shiva from Bayon temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia

 Leaving the controversy to archaeologists, our flotilla of cars now leaves Tezpur and we take highway NH 15 to north. Tezpur's strategically important airport is located here. This airport was in the imminent danger of being captured by Chinese forces in 1962. Seeing the alarming situation and developing threats to Tezpur, army headquarters had decided to airlift 5 infantry battalions from Punjab to Tezpur airport on 19th November 1962; an advanced party of divisional headquarters and one battalion had flown in with troops quickly digging in for the defense of this airfield. The Chinse had however declared unilateral cease fire within next two days and no action ever took place here.

Leaving Balipore town, we leave the city areas behind and now forests flank us on both sides of the road. This area has been converted to a tiger reserve now and is beingcalled as Pakke Tiger Reserve. It connects with Kaziranga sanctuary in the east. A river makes a sudden appearance to the right. This is the Kameng river also known as Jia Bhoreli in Assam. Kameng originates near India-China border in Tawang district and flows for 264 Km to its confluence with Brahmaputra near Tezpur. I can also see a railway line being constructed on the left. The entire area is very picturesque and beautiful. To motor down this road to the Arunachal border town of Bhalukpong, is a wonderful experience, that is difficult to describe in words.

It is almost lunch time, when we stop near Bhalukpong town. From here the Arunachal Pradesh starts and we need to submit our Inner line permits at the checkpost to proceed further. We break our journey in the town for the long awaited lunch. After a delightful lunch topped by wonderful “Gajjar Halwa,” I decide to take a stroll in the hotel courtyard. At one end of it, I find one small out-house like structure, with a viewing veranda. I step in and take a few steps. My feet just freeze on the spot, as an unbelievably stunning landscape, unfurls before my own eyes. It is a perfect picture post card view. On the left is the gorgeous looking, foaming white, Kameng river rushing out of Himalaya ranges bending sharply towards Assam. The left bank of the river is rising and merging into the green foliage lined mountainside, almost touching the sky. To the right, near the bend, the white river transforming into a slow current of azure blue contrasting with the golden white sands of the flat river bank. The Bhalukpong town itself extends further to the right. I loose all sense of time, as I watch the scene, spell bound. 

A friend calls me and says that its time to move on. Within minutes, we all are out of the town, entering the enthralling valleys of the the Himalayas; kings of the mountains of the world.

18th November 2014

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