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    Saturday, March 15, 2008

    Karaitoli BOP, Haluaghat, Mymensingh, February 2002

    A Hill Too Far
    Journey to the place called Karaitoli, February 15 2002.

    There we started. The destination was Mymensing. The Garo Hills. The plan was that we would take train to reach Mymensingh and then take a bus to get to our ultimate destination. When we all gathered, we found that we were nine people in total. We didn't know the exact number of participants until the last moment because of the uncertainty surrounding the participation of some of us. The guys all looked upbeat and looked armed and ready for the kill. Not too many impedimenta with us, and that's what is natural for young people like us. I took nothing more than my sweater. Well, that's something that some of us didn't think necessary, and they were soon to find out how wrong they were.

    The gathering place was Kamalapur Railway Station. The massive rush of people there convinced us that the rush of home-going people might make it difficult to get tickets, even though we were fairly confident that it wouldn't be too difficult to get tickets for Mymensingh, which is not that far from the city. We ultimately got the tickets, but after some waiting at the counter. The 9:10 AM train was there waiting and it was already 9:08. The punctuality of Bangladesh Railway proved their affection for us. They didn't start before 9:35. The rush made us buy standing tickets, and there we decided to enjoy it as much as possible just standing there. There we found our desired spot at the end of the compartment and although cramped to the extreme, it served our purpose. The journey began with a vague idea about the time it might take to reach Mymensingh. The passengers travelling more than once were indicating to a 2 1/2 to 3 hour journey. The slow speed of the train, along with its habit of utilising most of the important stoppages on the way, gave an indication that it may take even longer than that.

    The standing journey couldn't ruin our day. We took a guitar, and we were prepared to sing all the way. So, there we started our agitation. Our voices kept the people in the cabin awake and I'm sure we were not far from entertaining the passengers. And we were spending our time in the best possible way as such. The boredom of such a journey couldn't reach us. The time passed by in the twinkling of an eye. We didn't notice when it was 12:15 PM until we reached Mymensingh.

    Our hungry stomachs were demanding some investments of any kind and our bodies demanded to be relieved of the dirt, which engulfed us like a thick quilt. A nearby small restaurant gave us relief. The refreshing water and some snacks gave us a new life. These gave us the spirit to start at once for our next destination. Four rickshaws led us to the bus stand. One of these rickshaws disappeared with two of our friends for a while, so we had to postpone our bus journey for about half an hour. We had some coconuts and bananas and jumped into a bus. It was already past 1:00 PM. The bus proved efficient in stopping at every possible place on the way. We had some heated conversation with the helper too. We all slept on the bus for an hour or so; but the road was nowhere to end. The sceneries were all too Bangladeshi. There were the green fields declaring the background of our flag and the palm trees looked like guarding the fields like scarecrows. The landscape was pockmarked with ditches and canal every here and there. Some of our friends discovered pleasure in sitting on the rooftop. Those of us inside the bus were trying to recognise the guys on top from their silhouettes on the rapidly moving bushy roadside. After enjoying the sceneries for half an hour, by about 3:15 PM we arrived at a dead end--Haluaghat. That's as far as buses go. But the Garo Hills were nowhere to be seen. There were a few rickshaws offering take us there and back again in two hours. But we thought two hours were a little too much for us. We started to look for an alternative way.

    And there it came. A truck was romping forward with its cargo space empty. We requested them to take us to our destination; they agreed. And thus began another chapter--a journey by truck. During the breezy journey, we were very busy avoiding branches of trees that were lashing on the truck. The heave and sway of the vehicle and the plume of dust coming the dirt-road forced us to spend most of our time standing. But still, it was fun; a very different sort of fun. Our outfit, which got dirty from the train journey, were further serviced by this journey, and we all were looking at one another to find out who had the distinction of having the dirtiest clothes. We were probably lucky to avoid any significant accident as a result of the branches as they were going past us at the speed of our fast vehicle.

    We didn't have to wait too long to find out that we were approaching a high mountain range. The bluish mountain seemed quite far, and we didn't feel confident at all that we would be able to reach those hills as we knew it very well that we were approaching the international boundary. However, we decided to go as far as we can; at least, let's give it a try. We stopped at a BDR camp--the Karaitoli Company HQ. It looked more like an earthen fort than a camp. The fort had battle stations at the corners, and those gave us the first notion that the border is very near. The trucks passing through this road are all coal-trucks. They carry imported Indian coal. The Indian trucks dump the coal inside Bangladesh territory and our trucks carry those inside. We were fortunate to find that our truck was not coal-dirty. We were able to sit and even lie in the cargo bay.

    We soon reached the end-point of our journey. We assumed that when we saw all the coal-dumps and busy flow of trucks. The seemingly centurion Indian trucks received our crudest possible comments. And their country of origin was bound to get even hasher words from us pretty soon. We were horrified to find that we were unable to reach the Garo Hills because the mountain range happens to be on the Indian side! So much effort spent on such an illusory target! What a shock! We went through the textbooks and found the name of the Garo Hills in the Bangladesh section. There was no mention of these horrible truths. There was no mention that you can only see the Garo Hills if you go to Mymensingh, but to climb them, you have to enter India. Even the base of the mountain lies some distance inside Indian Territory. This shock was to haunt us for the rest of our tour.

    By the by, we decided to go as far as we could and approached a BDR patrol. The two guardians, Amol and Shahjahan, were pretty much surprised to find us there. They informed us that we were standing at the edge of the 'no man's land'. And that if we had decided go a little further without their notice that could have caused some real trouble. The guards were not too critical of our arrival though, they appreciated our wisdom of consulting them rather than taking matters in our own hands. We had some interesting conversation in which they expressed their distrust of the Indians, and we mostly listened to their experiences. Our guitar was spotted by one of them and they requested us to let them hear a song. One of our friends played the lead singer and thus we became probably the first to sing on the extreme point of our national authority. And that was pleasing. The songs pleased them no doubt. These isolated and hard-working souls definitely found some refreshment to wet their rather dry and arid life. They soon showed their gratefulness by stating that they were responsible for our security and they took interest in showing us the surrounding areas. One of them acted as our guide and we were led to a very nice water-body with very pure-looking water. All of my friends except me jumped into the very shallow water and there were splashes all around. My mind tried to follow them but some thoughts of reality kept me tied to the shore. After the bath, we gave farewell to the BDR people and took the dirt-road again to reach the coal-dumps which were a few hundred yards inside our border. The dirt-road was probably too black to be called a dirt-road; it was more like a coal-road.

    We decided to have our very late lunch at a makeshift hotel there at the dump. The meal wasn't extraordinary but the situation made it look anything but ordinary. The rice, with cooked boiled eggs, and pulses made our heart breathe a sight of satisfaction. We could hardly move our bodies after the heavy and satisfying meal.

    There was the most surprising sight of some young fellows as we were leaving the two BDR people. The BDR men were surprised to see nine of us, but there were at least thirty of the newly arrived party. The way of journey convinced us that none could come here the way we came. These people definitely came here in a different way. And it wasn't too long before we discovered that they were students of Islamic History at Dhaka University and they came here using their own transport. We didn't feel it would be a sin to take a peek at the more attractive ones in that herd.

    It was time to leave. And we began to look for a way similar to the one we took in the inward trip. We didn't have to wait for long as a truck loaded with coal was preparing to leave and their driver agreed to take us to Haluaghat at least. We jumped onto the tarpaulin-covered truck and took the dirt-road. It was already becoming dark, and we were worried about the tree-leaves that were likely to smash us on the way. We were lucky to reach the main road before dark and thus were free from that worry. The cool air was hitting us like a thousand ice-coated knives. There were a few friends among us who didn't feel it necessary to wear a lot of warm clothing when we left Dhaka. These guys were now realising their mistakes. The truck was speeding along and it was just a matter of time before reached Haluaghat. But all on a sudden the truck stopped and the driver said that they wouldn't leave before eleven at night. It was hard for us understand the real reason behind their stoppage. There was now no other way for us but to disembark and take a few rickshaws to reach Haluaghat, which wasn't too far. It was a few minutes before we reached the main bus station at Haluaghat. It was beyond six in the evening. But the earliest bus wouldn't leave Haluaghat for Mymensingh before quarter past seven. So, we again began to look for an alternative.

    We were looking for the same way that brought us to Haluaghat. The people at the bus-stand were trying to prevent any truck stopping in front of their base as those trucks were taking away their customers. We moved a few yards from the bus-stand and began to waive at the trucks that were passing by. A few vehicles speeded past us without giving any damn to our request. But our idea was not to disappoint us. A truck at last stopped and we prepared to board it. But these people were unlike the others that took us to Karaitoli or brought us back from there. These guys began to demand travel fees. For nine of us, we offered ninety, but the bargain didn't stop until he helper was convinced that we would pay at least that amount. It was quite peculiar for these people to bargain over these matters since whatever they get from us, it was extra income for them. Too much lust kept them going with the bargaining.

    Whatever, we were moving again. This time the destination was Mymensingh. The sky was already dark. The chilling wind didn't prevent us from enjoying the fantastic beauty of the night sky. The innumerable stars kept us staring at the sky all the way. Our tired bodies took refuge on the tarpaulin that covered the coal beneath us. The stars were twinkling through the canopy of trees. The headlight of the vehicle made the tree-leaves float over the sky like green clouds. It was quite a sight. Living in Dhaka city we are not accustomed to watching such beauties of the night sky. The one-and-half-hour journey was something to remember, just like the whole journey itself.

    We reached Mymensingh bus-stand by about quarter past eight. And it wasn't a moment before we found a bus leaving for Dhaka. We had some snacks and tea at a roadside shanty hotel and jumped into the bus. When the bus began to roll, it was about half past eight. More than twelve hours have passed since we left our homes. We began to calculate the gains of the journey. We also felt pity about the friends who couldn't accompany us during this journey. But these thoughts couldn't go for long as our tired souls sought some rest. We quickly fell asleep, and passed this rather uneventful path without enjoying anything new. The lust of the truck-driver, who brought us from Haluaghat, was reflected in the bus-driver also. This so-called inter-city bus was stopping at every place to earn a few more. This attitude of theirs gave rise to some dissent in the minds of the passengers. And there were some heated outbursts.

    By the by, the slow journey ended at Mohakhali, Dhaka. It was past eleven and we were quite annoyed over the attitude of the bus-driver, who made us late. There was smile in the face of all of us as we bade farewell to one another. We went our separate ways, mostly, from there; although there was some travelling together for some of us. We spent the rest of the way home talking about the success of the journey and again felt pity for those who missed such a memorable journey. It really was a journey to remember.


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