The road that halted us by earthfall

Kamal Baruah
Flood, rain & landslide make life miserable in North-East. This is a story about a journey where I adventured into road through woods. There’re National Highways that exist only on surveyors’ map. No outsiders are daring to travel by road. Airfare is generally high. Being localities, we see a land of possibility but we soon discovered that there was adventure beyond those frightening moments that we came over in a jiffy. “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there” - Lewis Carroll. It’s very true in case of NE states.
We a group of two hundred comrades from greater Guwahati boarded five charter buses for a quintessential small town of Barak Valley in an evening for SBISA Triennial Conference. It was dark at Umiam Lake while we’re passing outskirts of Shillong. Another road from Jagiroad/Nagaon joined at Ummulong beside Jowai.  The Dhabas start at the strip of land beside the road. Many foods are perfectly safe to eat when raw or modestly cooked, but poultry products don’t fall. Our Dinner wasn’t impressed by the spectacle of half cooked chicken and boiled rice. The Pnar (tribe) manager probably wasn’t expected such a huge order all of a sudden. The hotelier had given us pathetic hospitality.
We journeyed at a snail’s pace inside Jaintia hills. After a much local gossip, we fell half asleep in the midnight. The NH-44 was in a dilapidated condition and traffic remains suspended for days due to frequent landslides which results Manipur Tripura, and Mizoram being cut off from the rest of India. The other frontier route connecting Dibrugarh to Kohima and Imphal are considered India’s most dangerous road to hell.
The incessant rain hadn’t stopped for that night but it surely helped us to sleep. I realised the bus wasn’t moving at all and saw traffic to a grinding halt, leaving hundreds of vehicles stranded.  It was Umkiang after Sonapur under Narpuh Reserve Forest where the road goes along the Bangladesh border. The road was so congested that no vehicles can pass through. The top of rugged cliffs of mountain was hanging over our head. There was massive earth-fall that blocked the road. We passed overnight inside the deep jungle.
Alas!  The signal strength had shown zero and the readability of phone was far off.  With no alternatives, we kept walking for want of some water. Rain God helped us for a face wash. But another call pressurized us in the early morning. We had adventured into the forest and somehow managed since it was dark. The daylight soon appeared beneath the trees that boosted our energy. Hurrah! There is a tea stall. We all grabbed some tea and biscuits.
Local tribes are probably happy with such incidents and thronged the roadside for a living. I appreciated that line, “when neighbour suffers, localities earn”. Overcoming all hassle, the road brought us down to earth with a bang. The road was that wasn’t there. I could not believe the amount of mass of earth/rock from a mountain collapsed on the road. The incident triggered by incessant rainfall with passengers of several vehicles escaped from the jaws of death. The entire hills and rocks avalanched over a massive area. Also rain water created an artificial falls over the earth fall.  It wasn’t possible even walk over that mudslide while the road was extremely steep. We realised how nature could make such disaster for humanity when we feel proud of being civilised with huge scientific milestone.
Tea stalls were forced to pack up by thousands of hungry passengers. Scarcity of drinking water made life worst. The story reminded of a ship stranded at sea looking for drinking water.  They were extreme survival techniques which I came across in jungle training.  We knew to drink rainwater by boiling to purify from dust, pollen and mould. Incidentally, small rivulet streams gave us some respite. The thick jungles sheltered us from rain that continued pouring. We felt hungry at noon and expected another night halt. The tall trees pushed away the sunlight thus we arranged some firewood to have some light and warm. Outsiders especially women and children witnessed devastated look. The possibilities of wild animals were threatening us.
There was rolling noise echoed from the hills. We could hear people screaming in hope. JCB (JC Bamford) Excavators arrived. Cowboy herds and tends cattle, performing work on horseback. But these Khasi Cowboys started working like a “Demolition Man”. The bulldozers, the vital lifeline for that route had been pressed into service to clear the debris within an hour.
We started leaving slowly. There was enchanting views of a bridge over the river at Lumtongseng. We crossed across an awe-inspiring unique suspension bridge on river Lubha. The British bridge serves as a critical link between the Brahmaputra and the Barak Valley. The river broadens out as it meets the plains of Bangladesh.  The Indo Bangla frontier is just a KM away. Soon after reaching the plains of Assam, we witnessed the worst patch of the highway. The flood made the NH muddy and bumpy. The road turned into mud pools where traffics were in serious danger of skidding.
After 24 hours, we finally reached Silchar in the evening, where our comrades were eagerly waiting for our safe arrival at the Banga Bhawan. After a decade, today I sing my way along with Robert Frost lines from Stopping by woods...”The earth falls are no lovely but dark and deep, But I have promises not to travel by road over bump and mud, And miles to fly next time before I visit again”, ‘cause I was stopping by devastating earth-fall on a drizzling day.
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