After preparing our 3-month road trip through the Seven-sister states of India we said goodbye to Guwahati and crossed the bridge across the Brahmaputra for a short dash across western Assam.
‘Come, come’, a man beckoned from a field. ‘Eat with us.’
The man stood among highschool students in blue and white uniforms. Coen turned the bike around and drove onto the field. The group was from a neighboring town and the teacher proudly talked about his school and their annual outing. Clearly a great effort had been made to organize a perfect school trip.
They had just arrived by bus and sat on a huge cloth spread out on the grass, eating a snack of sprouted chickpeas and mung dahl with a quarter of an apple, served in a page from an old textbook. We got a portion as well, the food was tasty and filling. The children were about to visit the ruins of Madan Kamdev, which we had just visited, and would then come back for lunch.
‘One selfie, please,’ came the request.
After dozens of selfies we said goodbye and hit the road once more.
Our Assam Road Trip – Getting Into a New Style of Overlanding
We missed a turn. I was struggling. The sun was in my screen so I didn’t see any white (minor) roads on the map. I still had to figure out how to best fulfill my role as a navigator. Wearing my reading glasses with the helmet on was impossible so the whole map was miserably small to begin with. I was trying to figure out what worked best: using Organic Maps, which requires little battery but has few details, or Google Maps, which offers many more roads and destinations, but which drains the battery.
I found another minor route across the countryside, and all was well again. We passed rice fields and houses of stone, loam or corrugated metal (or a mishmash of materials). It was harvest time and men were cutting their staple food, rice. A motorcyclist rode up with us a bit, oblivious to traffic coming our way, until his curiosity was satisfied and he kindly said goodbye and sped off into the distance.
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Because India has only one time zone, here in the far northeastern corner, it gets dark at half past four. So we motored on to Barpeta, having returned to the main road. In the late afternoon light, the scenery of rice paddies was idyllic under a sky in soft tinges of orange. It was weird to watch the sun setting just after four pm.
Laundry was hanging everywhere. We passed beautiful temples and saw a man is painting the hand of a new god or goddess that had been put on the roadside. Traffic was behaving itself, except for the buses. They honked their horns consistently and overtook without any respect for anyone. Thankfully, there were few trucks.
Kindness in Barpeta
At a quarter to five we arrived in Barpeta. A man approached us – ‘One selfie, please’ – and pointed us to a hotel. No simple, quick parking of our comfortable home on wheels anymore, this trip we depend on finding a hotel, a guesthouse, a homestay – and hopefully some Couchsurfers.
I think this is one of the main differences in overlanding by four or two wheelers. We do carry our tent with us in case we may be able to set up camp in a national park or other natural scenery, but obviously not for cities.
After a shower we walked into town. It was a cosy place. No street lighting, only lamps from the shops. I bought biscuits and banana for tomorrow morning and spoke with the kind man behind counter. He also baked biscuits himself and he gave me some to taste. I asked for a good place to have dinner.
The visitors in the store agreed: Town House, around the corner. A moped rode along to indicate the restaurant. It was a bit of a trendy place visited only by youth (and two grey-haired foreigners). The place even had Nescafe. This was my first cup of ‘coffee’ today and I no longer had a (detox) headache as I did in Guwahati. The paneer butter masala – my favorite dish in this country – was delicious.
As we paid the waiter said he a present for us and handed us both a long white scarf with red embroidery. It is called a gamosa, a much used item in Assam to present to people as a sign of respect. How kind was that? We were touched.
A ‘one selfie’ session followed.
We didn’t yet know how many times that request was going to be made in the weeks that followed, and that ‘one selfie’ actually meant: an extensive photo shoot.
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