I treat people and places very differently. It’s easier for me to take an instant dislike to the former than the latter. Guwahati changed that for me.
The second we entered the city, we got caught in a traffic jam for over an hour and a half. The bridge over the Brahmaputra was like a bad discotheque – the cacophony of multiple vehicles honking constantly left no room for a conversation at a normal decibel. I thought Bangalore traffic was unruly and the people on the roads badly behaved, till I got stuck in the jam. As for the city itself, there’s spit and dirt and betel leaf stains everywhere.
Perhaps my harsh judgement of the city stemmed from the fact that it was a stopover on the way back to Bangalore from Bhutan. Perhaps my judgement is accurate. I don’t know for sure, but one thing I do know: Guwahati can’t be all that bad. No city can. There are always redeeming qualities – for heaven’s sake, even Mumbai is teeming with life despite the pollution, poverty and distinct class divide.
Guwahati’s redemption came when I did four very different things during the time I was there. They’re things you should definitely do as well, if you ever decide to go.
1: Spot Rhinos at Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary
Morigaon is 30 kilometres out of the city and home to over 100 rhinoceroses. Passers-by who were giving us directions to the sanctuary told us that it was closed for the season and we wouldn’t see any rhinos. Heedless, we went all the way to the sanctuary, crossed a rickety, half-submerged bamboo bridge and walked onto a road with a vision worth a lifetime –a herd of rhinos grazing alongside cows on the sanctuary grasslands. Having only seen one in a zoo, I went slightly mental at the sight of so many rhinos. It was fantastic.
2: Experience the night life at a local pub/lounge
After ten days of riding over rough terrains, everyone was game for a little letting-down-of-hair. We were recommended a place not far from our hotel. Apparently, it was well-known as a party place and open till late. When we went there, though, we were the only ones around. Of course, that was also because it was 7:30 in the evening – we were hoping to wrap up early and catch up on some much-needed sleep. The bartender told us that the place would start filling up soon enough and that we were in luck because there was live music that night. The North East is known for its musical talent, so we were quite excited with the whole idea.
An hour later, a man walked in with two women. He had short spiked hair in the front and long straight hair at the back. The women wore teensy weensy dresses with six-inch heels and fishnet stockings. One had dyed her hair toxic blonde and the other wore her hair in an ascending haircut. It was weird. When they started singing, though, things came back to normal. The blonde singer transformed a soppy Bryan Adam song into a semi-metal track and did a fabulous job of it too. The crowd, all of them men, started trickling in after 9:30 p.m. One late entrant was a she-male, very upset about sharing the limelight with two (only) other women in the place – the female biker on the Bhutan trip and I. As the music hit a crescendo, so did the hormones of the crowd around us. That was our cue to leave before things got messy.
It had been an interesting and different evening.
3: Browse through the book stores at Pan Bazaar
Pan Bazaar’s located in one of the oldest market areas of Guwahati and is home to streets full of book stores. With books of every era, genre and author, the place is pure paradise. I picked up an early edition of the original Arabian Nights (which I still haven’t managed to finish) from a book store run by a man who seemed to have been around for a while and had a great knowledge of books. When I got my book, it came wrapped neatly in paper with string.
4: Cruise the Brahmaputra
The Brahmaputra is so vast and endless that I don’t know why they call it a river. The waters look deceptively calm, sprouting islands of greenery here and there. Pictures of rafting expeditions show how violent the Brahmaputra can get, though.
Our cruise started around 6:30 in the evening. The crew members were busy decorating the boat with balloons and crepe paper when we went on board. Not thinking too much about it, we walked to the upper deck to our tables for an uninterrupted view of the river. The Brahmaputra watched on, silently welcoming us to explore its waters. Seconds after we were seated, it started pouring cats and dogs. The rain formed a veil around the river and we could see nothing; there was no choice but to seek shelter in the lower deck.
It was a nightmare. There were families sitting on one side and staring at the youngsters dancing on the other side to blaring music mixed by one of the waiters. The rain stopped an hour later and we went back up to watch the city lights glistening on the surface of the Brahmaputra.
It was a pleasant way to end my stay in a city that I couldn’t wait to get away from.
Getting there: Guwahati is accessible by flight and trains.
Go if: You want to see rhinos or raft on/cruise the Brahmaputra.