Welcome to India – Down Memory Lane in Guwahati

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It was with a bit of a hesitance to step outside the gate and into the world. What would India be like? As a result of delayed flights we had arrived late at night and after a warm welcome to India by our host, had gone to bed. Today was the day to do some sightseeing in Guwahati.

Of course we were excited to be here. India has been calling out to me for a number of years, to return and learn and explore more. Yet, this was my diary entree of our last visit in Guwahati, in 2005:

The 300-kilometer stretch to Guwahati (Assam) is long and on a bad road. We conclude that we are tired of India and no longer feel the need nor have the energy to drive all the way up to Upper Assam over another 600 kilometers of bad roads to see more rice fields, tea plantations, temples and ruins. It is time to go. (July 2005)

Brahmaputra river, Guwahati, India (©Coen Wubbels)
Brahmaputra River

Leaving & Returning

And so we left. Ten months of India had taught us so much, about the country but also about ourselves. It had been a roller-coaster ride with ups and downs within every 24 hours. It is easy to love and hate India at the same time, the extremities of emotions you may experience here go hand in hand with the extremities of life you encounter here – the good as well as the bad.

Yet, as we crossed the border into Bangladesh and were bogged down with – well – ‘extreme’ bureaucracies once more, we also knew that one day we’d be back. That ultimately, our love for India won from the hate, and that the love would lie shimmering deep inside of us until we were ready to return.

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Which is now. A few years back, when I felt that first pull, I asked Coen how he felt about returning. Initially he wasn’t too excited, fearing disappointments.

‘If, than not with the Land Cruiser,’ he said after some reflecting on the idea.

‘Great idea, we could go by motorcycle,’ I responded. I remembered travelers from that first trip who had bought a Royal Enfield and were cruising the beautiful mountains of Kashmir and Ladakh in particular. That looked like a great adventure.

The seed was planted.

And so, we are back. This time it won’t be ten months of travel in our Land Cruiser but two months or so on a Royal Enfield in Northeast India, a region we hardly visited in 2005 except for Meghalaya with its living-root bridges.

Sightseeing in Guwahati

Ah, watch where you walk! There’s a hole in the road / pavement.

Ah, yes, all the vegetable vendors sitting on the ground, their produce neatly displayed in piles

Ah, yes, the fruit vendors with their fruit (apples and oranges in season) in massive reed baskets tied to their bicycles.

Ah, yes, the auto-rickshaws, the bicycle-rickshaws, the guys pulling a wooden cart stacked meters high with wares.

Ah, milk tea! Let’s have one. No longer served in glass but a paper cup.

Oh, remember, all those road shrines. Every banyan tree seems to have/be one, fenced in or not. And we try to remember what symbol what symbolizing which deity again.

More motorcycles, it seems, and definitely newer cars and very few vehicles fuming blue/black smoke. But where are the cows and goats? Just one sacred cow to be seen, oblivious to anything and anybody.

The traffic, even though this is city with more than 1 million inhabitants, seems less hectic, mad, life-threatening than in our memories. Is that a change in their behavior or is it our 20-year experience of having driven in the most extreme traffic situations that we need more than this to blink an eye? No idea.

Just ignore the constant honking. That one definitely hasn’t changed.

We realize again how visible life is in this country. Everything happens outside, on the street or in workshops with open fronts. A man drawing a design on a shop window, a carpenter carving wood, lots of welding (chairs for hairdressers, among other things) being done, others creating sculptures of yet more deities.

The energy is vibrant, full of pleasant energy. At the same time, the cruelty of life remains visible as well: homeless living on the pavement, some asleep, others begging.

Dirt in the river, Guwahati, India (©Coen Wubbels)
And pollution is as bad as ever

Ready for the Road

Two days of strolling the streets and sightseeing in Guwahati and it feels as if we never left. We are again full of energy, with smiles on our faces and happily chatting with anyone who wants to. Guwahati makes us feel welcome in India.

Meanwhile the worry about where/how/when to buy a Royal Enfield has evaporated into thin air. Our host is lending us his, a 500cc bike. We spent a day test driving and are almost ready to hit the road. More on that in a next Where are We update.

Thank you Krishnajan for being such an incredible host and for lending us your bike!

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