Category Archives: Assam

By the Brahmaputra

What would you do if you had only an evening in Guwahati? Spend those precious hours at the expanse of the calm and unhurried Brahamputra. That’s what we did.

We were at the fag end of our 21-day sojourn through the north eastern states. We were in Guwahati for just a night before catching our flight back home.

From the hotel we hailed a rickshaw and said “Ghat”. Looking at us and seeing that we were not locals he raised his eyebrow and said “Suruj “. Yes, we wanted to see the famed sunset on the Brahmaputra River. 

‘There’s a sunrise and a sunset every single day, and they’re absolutely free. Don’t miss so many of them.’
– Jo Walton.

We were dropped at the Fancy Bazaar Ghat. A few boats were anchored to the shore, swaying to the lullabies of the waves. A few others, probably the last ones of the day, were trying desperately to get back to the shore. It was only 4.30 pm, but the sun was already down to its brightest red.

The river completely mesmerized us. Not only with its beauty, but also with its sheer size and huge expanse. How can you call something so vast like Brahmaputra, a river?

‘There is nothing more musical than a sunset.’
– Claude Debussy

Brahmaputra looked more like an ocean – a moving one.   It’s so different to sit by a river, who is addressed in the masculine gender. Brahmaputra, Son of Brahma, the only ‘Nad’ (नद) in India. You get a different kind of vibe from ‘him’; you can feel the strength and energy, the hidden danger lurking inside the depths, often expressed when he comes to full strength, during monsoons.

‘From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things, and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all.’
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Brahmaputra is the life line of Assam. More than the religious importance, this river evokes a sense of pride in the people. At the same time people have suffered when the river has come full throttle.

“Luitor Bolia baan, toloi koloi nu dhapoli meliso, hir hir sowode kal roop dhori loi kaak nu bare bare khediso.” [Jayanta Hazarika]

Oh the maddening floods of Luit, where are you heading this time. Whom are you chasing again with the frightening sound of your waves.” 

‘Sit by a river. Find peace and meaning in the rhythm of the lifeblood of the Earth.’
– Anonymous

We walked along the banks to get a better view of the sun. The banks were not without the usual share of the city’s grime. Did we hear a silent scream? “Clean me and preserve me for posterity”. Did we miss his pain in our relentless effort to capture one of his golden moments in our cameras.

‘Human society sustains itself by transforming nature into garbage.’
– Mason Cooley

 

Was he calling to us silently, welcoming us to explore the deep waters.  The smallest river island – Umananda Island – in his midst beckoning us to the shores. We didn’t venture in. 

‘It was good to be a little island. A part of the world, a world of its own. All surrounded by the bright blue sea.’
– Margaret Wise Brown

Why does this river take many a name in its course, even if the water that flows through the river beds is the same. Originating as Yarlung Tsangpo from Kailash Manasarovar in Tibet, in Arunachal Pradesh, Brahmaputra is known as the Siang River.  In Assam, Brahmaputra River is also known as ‘Luit’ or the red one. 

But what’s in a name, right? I could be anyone you would want me to be.

‘Write your worries in sand, carve your blessings in stone.’
– Anonymous

It was finally time for our journey back to reality. The magic of Brahmaputra was coming with us. Just like the music of Bhupen Hazarika, known as the bard of Brahmaputra, whose soulful renditions traveled thousands of miles beyond these shores.

‘There’s a lot of truth in the old saying birds of a feather flock together.’
– Anonymous

And as we flicked the sand off our clothes and made our way to a waiting rickshaw, we turned back for one more time to look at him. He didn’t let us down. Brahmaputra still glistened like gold in the setting sun.

Photo credits: Rajesh

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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.

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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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