Monthly Archives: November 2011

Kodaikanal to Bangalore via Batlagundu

I am not directionally challenged nor am I terrible at public transit. I don’t remember ever getting onto a wrong bus only to find out that I was going the wrong way, and getting off in a strange place and panicking.

I recently read about a Thai lady who was lost for 25 years after catching the wrong bus home.  The last time Jaeyaena Beuraheng saw her seven children was in 1982, when she left her home in south Thailand on one of her shopping trips across the border to Malaysia.

She took the wrong bus to Bangkok, about 1,150 km north of her home in Narathiwat province. In Bangkok, unable to read Thai (she only knew a dialect, Yawi), she took a wrong bus again, this time to Chiang Mai, another 700 km further north. Her family waited for her, but in vain. The police later told her family that she was killed in a traffic accident.

She ended up as a beggar for five years, until she was sent to a homeless shelter in the central Thai province of Phitsanulok. But no one could understand what she spoke until  three students, from Narathiwat, arrived on an exchange program.

She sang a song for the visitors – a song that the staff at the shelter had often heard and did not understand. The visiting students talked to her and helped her to relocate her family. Her shocked family sent her youngest son and eldest daughter to meet her and bring her back home.

Points of interest

Looking Bengaluru, talking Chennai: When we got into our KPN travels bus at Kodaikanal, the only worry that crossed our minds was that whether we would be reaching Bangalore on time. We showed our ticket to the ticket collector and he, in turn, showed us to our sleeper seats at the back of the bus. The bus started its descent from Kodaikanal and was already giving me a little scrambled up feeling in my head, our last seats adding more motion to the up, down, side to side, round and round, forward, and backward movements.

Misty hues

Within an hour the bus had reached somewhere in the plains and had stopped for fuel. Suddenly, the boy who had collected our tickets came and told us that we had boarded the wrong bus and that this bus was going to Chennai.  He apologised for not checking the names on the tickets and we blamed our travel stars for not asking him before boarding. In fact, I always ask the driver as to when the bus reaches Silk Board, our usual deboarding stop in Bangalore. They came to know that we were the wrong passengers when they received a call from the two passengers who were to travel to Chennai and had missed the bus. They had hired a cab to catch the bus on its the way.

All jammed up

We told them to drop us at a point from where we could catch the Bangalore bus. Then we came to know that the Chennai and Bangalore routes are entirely different – the Bangalore buses take the Palani route and the Chennai buses take the Dindigul one. The bus driver was helpful and he made a call to the main office. Fortunately, there was a bus coming from Theni going to Bangalore which we could board from Batlagundu, if seats were available.

We were dropped at Batlagundu, a tiny town at the foothills of Kodaikanal.  We were tired and weary and everything about Batlagundu seemed to be more chaotic and less clean. To make things worse it started to rain and my head was still reeling from all that roller-coaster ride. The KPN office looked more like a warehouse, they were sharing their office with an electrical repair shop, and the person sitting in the office was far more from helpful. He kept saying there were no seats available and the rest of the conversation was lost in translation. Finally, when the bus arrived, the driver’s seat was available (that too a sleeper). We thanked our travel stars (this time) and promised ourselves that this will never happen again, making a mental note to always confirm the destination of the bus/train/plane before boarding.

Interesting story? We could have ended up on a Monday morning on a Chennai street, confused, hungry and fumbling with the phone in a dilemma on to whether to call the angry boss or the shocked cousin. Or even worse, we could well have been trying to eke out a living selling groundnuts in Batlagundu!!!

Digboi: War and Oil

The year: 1882. Engineers, commissioned by the Assam Railways and Trading Company (AR&TC), extending the railway line from Dibrugarh to Margherita were using elephants to haul the tracks amidst the swampy dense forests of north-eastern Assam. The AR&TC had already established tea gardens, coal mines and timber mills and were already trading tea and coal in Assam.

Suddenly, they noticed that one of the elephant’s feet was covered with oil. Retracing the trail of the footprints, they found oil seeping to the swampy surface of the forest floor. One of the engineers, William Lake shouted “dig, boy, dig” at his men as they watched elephants emerging out of the dense forest with oil stains on their feet.  Lake assembled equipment, boilers, and local labor and engaged elephants to haul the machinery to the site.

It is said that Digboi gets the name from the phrase “dig-boy-dig,” which is what the Sahibs told the labourers as they dug for crude oil.  Assam Oil Company was formed in 1899 to look after the running of the oil business in this area. Work on the first well was started in September 1889, locally called the Discovery Well or Well No 1 and struck oil at a total depth of 662 feet (202 m) in November 1890. The Digboi oil field produced close to 7,000 barrels of crude oil per day at its peak, which was during World War II.

Welcome to Digboi

The year: 2011. We were on our way to Digboi, now the headquarters of the Assam Oil Division of Indian Oil Corporation Limited, following the same railway track laid by AR&TC. This was our 2nd day in Assam.

The previous day we had taken a flight to Dibrugarh from Bangalore and then had driven down the AT road (NH 37) for about 48 km to Tinsukia.

We had started from Tinsukia at 9 am. Our driver, Dasda, was apologetic about being late but with a good reason. He had attended the Navami celebrations that had gone on till early morning and had overslept.

Digboi Railway Station

We were to follow the AT road till Makum junction, turn right, cross the railway track and then join the NH 38 all the way to Digboi. We were driving through lush green paddy fields and tea gardens, passing on our way small bamboo and wooden houses, some of them on stilts, with bamboo fences, the occasional concrete ones with asbestos roofs.

Dashami puja

The roads were bustling with men, women and children dressed in their best attires made from the famous Assam Muga silk, getting ready for the Dashami puja.

Waiting for the Ledo Express to pass

We had to stop at a railway signal to give way for the Ledo Express which travels all the way from Guwahati and terminates at Ledo.

As we entered Digboi we realised that the place still retained its colonial ambience. The wide, tree lined roads, the Victorian bungalows surrounded by well-maintained gardens and  lawns, the  Digboi Club and the world class golf course with 18 holes all gave this tiny picturesque town a well planned look.

Our first stop was the Digboi War Cemetery.

Digboi War Memorial

Just 1.5 km from the Indian Oil Centre, on the road to the Pengaree Tea Estate, lies some remnants of the Second World War. The cemetery has around 191 identified burials and a few unidentified ones, belonging to soldiers of the allies of the Second World War, mostly Indian and British.

The memorial is maintained by the Common Wealth War Graves Commission

The memorial is maintained by the Common Wealth War Graves Commission that manages around 2,500 cemeteries around the world to commemorate those who died in the two world wars.

An iron gate takes you to a sand stone arch which leads you to a well manicured lawn. A huge marble cross stands in the center of the lawn.

The cross and the headstones

The black headstones with inscriptions are laid low among the green lawns and flowering plants. As you read through the inscriptions, you realise how young these soldiers were when they died fighting in the war.

Our next stop was the Digboi oil field which now houses the Discovery Well  and the Centenary Museum.

Digboi Centenary Museum

The Discovery Well is found under an electrical grid like structure and, unbelievably, crude oil continues to stream out naturally from it.

The Discovery Well

The museum showcases the history of oil exploration in Asia and has a collection of machine models, photographs, and memorabilia.

Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam

Most of the machine models have self-explanatory notes and facts like when the model was introduced and when the model was ‘retired’.

The men and the machines

As we drove out of Digboi, we could see fire spewing out of the oil rigs of the Assam Oil Division.


Assam Oil Division

Digboi is well connected by road, rail and air. The nearest airport, Dibrugarh, is 65 km and the nearest railway station, Tinsukia, is 34 km from Digboi. The Ledo Express (intercity express 15603/15604) runs daily from Guwahati to Ledo stopping at Digboi. The state run transport, ASRTC, has buses plying from all the major cities.


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