Continuing the next chapter after about 6 months..
I was kind of late. After about 15 minutes of waiting time (for a local bus) and another 15 reaching Police Bazaar, I was now trying to find the bus stand. After about half an hour of ‘bus stand locating operation’, I found what I was looking for. The local state transport bus was in an unexpectedly bad shape. I anyway seated myself with my luggage tucked in really close like an overprotective mother (window seat it was. Yay!). There were no direct buses to Darjeeling. This one was going to take me to Siliguri. The bus kick-started at 3:30 PM.
Passing through the roads of Shillong, I was now leaving the town behind. The bus continued to intersect the clouds. It felt like being a part of a fantasy film. The sight outside was par excellence. I was apparently more or less being taken on a drive through heaven in my mind. The way the mountains and the clouds were intermingling with each other can be compared to the beauty of love-making. If you’ve ever dreamt of sitting at lake side with mountains in the background (super close) and clouds being the only separating entity between the lake and the mountains, you got to visit Umiam/Barapani lake. I don’t know about the other months of the year, but for me, June end was just perfect. Watching a tiny cloud raining on a nearby mountain is bliss. I soon realized, I was going back to Guwahati.
The bus stopped at the exact spot where my shared taxi while going to Shillong from Guwahati did. I could apprehend that I was alone on this journey with absolutely nobody to share my thoughts & feelings with. Even my smartphone’s network range would mysteriously vanish at most of the times. Amongst all those passengers, I could feel that I was alone. It was a weird feeling – a neutral one with slight inclination towards melancholy. The bus moved after about half an hour. I bought some packets of biscuits and chips. The next stop was supposed to be a small town somewhere in Assam at 10 o’ clock in the night for dinner. I was well-aware of the fact that I was a “companion-less” woman travelling on my own thousand of miles away from my hometown in a long journey inter-state bus in a fairly conservative country where travelling long distance alone as a woman isn’t a very common sight. I also knew that it could have proved to be very vulnerable for me. I did not want to invite any unwanted danger for myself. I was in fact showing gratitude to God for seating a ‘decent very old’ uncle next to me as fellow-passenger. Why the heck was I even travelling in a local state transport bus if I had so much going on in my head? I yearn to travel to as many places as I can. But being a woman has its disadvantages. No matter how free your own circle makes you feel, you will always end up feeling vulnerable and unsafe at some if not all points in time and places. A relentless feminist that I am, I still sometimes tend to think – ‘I wish I were a guy’. The fear of my mind was as if innate at that time, and even after convincingly noticing that the passengers were least bothered about my existence in that craggy bus and nobody seemed to really care or pay attention to me, I was still trying my best to ensure my personal safety by disguising and trying to act like a ‘regular commuter’ rather than a ‘first-timer single woman traveller’.
It rained cats and dogs most of the time on the way to Siliguri. The roads reminded me of Jungle book, the old Indian mythical stories of dacoits, the infamous mass-murderer Angulimala and the likes while passing through Assam in the night; and of Malgudi Days when the bus passed by the beautiful clean Bengali small towns and adjoining railway tracks during early morning. The bus’s headlights were the only lights visible during night time. It was pitch dark. I kept awake the whole night. In the pursuit of keeping myself “safe”, I decided not to get down at the pit stop for dinner as I did not want to come in notice of the people around. I decided to eat whatever titbits I had with me. The bus moved in another half an hour. I had never in my life seen the night sky so dark and the stars so dazzling and prominently visible. The jungle’s were scary dark, the rain drops super thick. The bus often stopped at random dark places in the middle of nowhere and picked up passengers from random places. These places were so dark and deserted that I would often feel terrified thinking what if somebody came up from my window and cut my throat and take away my luggage. The window refused to close properly which made the rain come in. It was slightly cold. I took my stole out and tucked myself in to keep myself protected from rain and cold. I soon fell asleep and kept waking up in-between. I was glad to have dozed off well for a few hours. It was almost morning when I finally decided to wake up. I saw outside. I was in Bengal now. It was breath-takingly beautiful. The roads were smooth with no pot-holes at all unlike the weary roads of Assam. The India I was now witnessing was the one that should ideally be popularized by Indian tourism or maybe it’s better not. The plight of popular Indian tourist places is well-known to all. It broke my heart a little seeing no enthusiasm and aww-inspiring reactions amongst my fellow-commuters while witnessing these gorgeous non-touristisized sights. There were no signs of any excitement or sense of discovery on their faces. They were all behaving like normal localites which they were no doubt. And then I would think to myself would they feel the same if they got a chance to visit the part of country I belonged to or may be any other place where they had never been to before? This is what travel does to you. It shows you, makes you experience what you never imagined in your life ever before and changes your perspective for a lifetime or maybe at least till the time you are not again used to the usual life/routine life that you’ve always lived. One thing is sure. I am never letting go off my wanderlust. It fulfils me and enriches me, makes me feel like there’s something, if not a lot of things, that I know I can do like a pro. Travel is my peace of mind.