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Thursday, May 5, 2011


We were a group of four going to Shillong – me, my friend and her two sisters who were seeking admission into colleges in the capital of Meghalaya. As for me, I was going to collect my degree certificates after three long years.
From the capital, we boarded a bus to Phuentsholing early morning. It was a cake-walk. Good music on our mobiles and good conversation.
On reaching the border town, we went to Jaigoan where we did some cheap shopping but the stuff we bought was good.
It was the next day that our troubles started.
The hour long journey from Phuentsholing to Alipur had us in high spirits.
Vast expanses of green meadows, lakes and elf-like straw huts with more music and laughter had not prepared us for what was coming next.
We got general tickets from Alipur to Guwahati.
For me and my friend’s sisters, this was the first time travelling by train.
We had to wait for almost two hours for the Bramaputra Express to arrive and we learnt later that it is one of the dirtiest and slowest trains in India.
Four of us had to share seats with a married couple from Guwahati.
The heat, smell, dirt, humidity and the cramped space almost had us crying.
Food and ware vendors came in proclaiming their arrival with loud chants.
We looked different from the locals so on several occasions we were cheated off money by the vendors.
The couple we were travelling with was sweet enough to tell us that and warn us (though a tad too late).
After six long hours we finally reached Guwahati and got into a sumo where a Khasi woman and her daughter were sharing the front seats.
From there, it was torture. The two women kept blabbering into their mobiles and giggling like school girls, all the way from the sumo stand to our destination (They were talking about the daughter’s boyfriend from what we could make out).
Honking trucks, dust, noise, the chatter and weariness made me throw up. The others were also having a tough time.
Finally, when we reached Shillong, we booked into a hotel which the driver recommended – Ashutosh inn, a dingy, shady place so cramped we could hardly move about.
It was too late to look for a better hotel so we had to compromise. At night, we could hear strange sounds coming from the adjacent room.
They offered tea so sweet we could have got diabetes. Moreover, they had run out of mineral water.
It was a terrible night.
The very next morning we embarked on a search for a better hotel and though expensive, we checked into Hotel Alpine.
Then began the quest for colleges for the two girls.
We walked from pillar to post, took cabs and asked around but on day one we could only get the prospectus of two well known colleges in Shillong – St. Anthony’s and St.Edmund’s.
Dead tired, we returned to the hotel, took relaxing baths and had wine.
Day two – We went to Raid Laban College, my alma mater. We talked to and got the college prospectus from a professor there. The girls decided this was it.
They got admitted and were asked to collect their ID cards in the afternoon (which they did).
Now, I had to get my degree certificates. We waited for a couple of hours. Finally, the counter opened but when the man there checked, he said my certificates had already been collected.
I was puzzled but thought that one of my previous hostel mates must have collected my certificates on my saying so and that I must have forgotten about it.
Sure enough, when I contacted the matron of the hostel I had stayed in, she said the documents were with here (sigh of relief).
Thus, our tasks were completed.
But my friend and I were talking among ourselves that had we had one more day to stay in Shillong, it would have been ideal because we wanted to explore and do some sight-seeing.
But with our limited budget, we had to return the next day, so we did.
Early morning, it was pouring cats and dogs when we booked an Alto for Guwahati.
In Guwahati, we again bought general tickets and hired a coolie to get us seats in the train going to Alipur.
The station where we were waiting was dirty and stinky. One of my friend’s sisters almost puked.
We laughed like crazy as we posed for the camera with cotton plugs in our nose.
There were some lecherous police officers making suggestive gestures at us but luckily I did not see it (my friend told me later).
Finally, our train arrived and we had to walk till the first compartment because there was such a wild stampede for seats.
We finally got into an empty compartment but it turned out that it was reserved.
We had to explain to the ticket collector and painfully fish out a few more bucks to avail the seats.
Soon, fresh green meadows and lakes and birds made their presence felt as we took pictures of each other and the scenery, munched on “jhaal muri”, spicy “motor”, and finger chips.
We heaved a sigh of relief as our train stopped at Alipur and we took a cab. A Bhutanese guy who almost got into a fight with an Indian cabbie joined us.
It was raining when we entered Phuentsholing gate (We were overjoyed when we reached Bhutan).
We headed for the hotel we had stayed in earlier – West End with a swimming pool.
After refreshing ourselves, we took dinner and more wine.
Since we had got lucky at the BoB ATM, we decided to relax the next day at Phuentsholing after our hectic tour.
The next day, we did some more shopping at Jaigoan. But since it was a Monday, the shops were closed and we could only buy from street vendors. We bargained and haggled in the scorching sun but it was worth it.
Upon returning, my friend swam while I watched. We had fresh lime and tea and sumptuous meals.
We watched TV, conversed near the swimming pool and took walks in the twilight.
At last, at bed time we had some expensive wine and I went off to sleep immediately while the others had fun.
The next morning, we boarded a bus to the capital, laughing all the way but the bus played some really good music so we weren’t bored.
The bus driver and conductor were cracking their own corny jokes and laughing while we laughed at them from the back seats.
At 4 PM, we reached Thimphu and parted ways.
And that was how our week long trip to Shillong ended.

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