A stroll in Guwahati
I believe the best way to explore life in a new environment is to live like the people there. The true essence of a city is felt when you eat like them, live under a roof like theirs and most importantly, commute like the majority of the public in the village, town or a city. There’s plenty to learn from the socio-economic status that exists. The way people communicate, the way they hustle, the transactions, the mid-journey snacks, the patience, the humility or the hostility, the journey, the roads, the comparative observable progress in the surroundings, the conversations, the weather, the sense of cleanliness, the coarseness of road rage lingo, there’s plenty to observe and gain by the ethics of public transport.
We’ve had a great deal of moving around the past half-month. From cattle-ferries, to sticky share cabs to grinding bus trips. We’ve done it all. It’s spectacular how the character of the place transcends onto the mode of commuting, after all we’re nomads aren’t we? My last day in Guwahati was the culmination of this enthralling journey. What started off with an overpriced private car on Day 1, ended with an overwhelmingly drastic drop in my expenditure on my travelling. Starting off on a share cab to the kamakhya temple, I re-realised that public transport in India makes you pay in Time if you can’t afford a pricier, faster, lonelier alternative. Although that’s certainly a negative trait, as an optimistic traveller, it’s quite truly a luxury. The time you spend wading through the tissues of the city from the outskirts to the core is when you really observe and absorb. The markets and the streets put up a cacophonous show which is indeed a treat for the voracious and hungry senses of the traveller. Hanging out of a bus humoursly way past its safe and allowable capacity with the breeze hitting your face on one side and the armpit of a co-traveller on the other, isn’t an unmissable experience but one you could check off you nope-list. A bucket list of nopes. Getting off the wheels in search of solace for my grumbling tummy, I walked my way towards the edge between the Brahmaputra and the traffic. On foot, the journey slows down tenfold. A slow motion panoramic version of what you could observe sticking your head out of one side of the bus.
Walking is really when you breath the city in. Take in all the twisted walk paths that will cramp your muscles later, breathe in a flavourful tea essence from a nearby vendor and then proceed to be attacked by a pungent whisk of paan and an open sewage. Oh what a delight! Hopping onto the ‘cruise ship’ which could easily have been called a slightly oversized boat, turned out to be a serene blend of the beautifully sunlit landscape which dimmed as the sun sunk into the horizon, and the joyous weekday party crowd on board jiving to a few Hindi classics and subsequently trashy electronic noise after a few sips of some party-liquids. While I spent the whole wonder-hour thinking how perfectly round the golden glow of our star is.
No matter which place I’ve been traveling to in my adult life, Google maps comes second to asking around for directions. A quick inquiry and I was squished up in an evening land ferry again. The conductor constantly yelled out the name of the destination at 5 minute bus stop intervals to attract more cattle into the already overflowing bus. You look around and there’s a story in every character you see amongst you. Be it the ghastly wound you can’t avoid noticing on a young man’s arm, or the swanky white punjabi sporting a freshly inked neck. The poor old lady with a casted arm and solemn expression, or the moderately attractive air hostess you found amongst the tired mass. It’s a pot-pouri of stories!
I had to switch back to a smaller mode of commute from the last bus stop to get to my bed. I struck a conversation with a co-traveller and this time it was purely actions and laughter and no language as I helped him accommodate a box of mangoes between my legs. Talk about convenience? He later proceeded to sleep peacefully on my arm only to be woken up by the sound of our driver being smacked across the face by the policeman when he broke a law which I couldn’t completely comprehend. Humourous as it was, I managed to hold back the giggle.
A rather adventurous day in a cityscape which intimidated me at first, but taught me plentiful, all thanks to the pre-pone flight ticket price that demotivated me from skipping this Assamese joy-ride and staying an extra day. To many more unexpected journeys, Cheers!