Call of the Colliery

 

Amid the fast running and incessantly competing world, we could barely realize when we lose our existence and become one of those prime partakers in the race of survival. Thus, it becomes an essential responsibility to take a break and breath for a while.

I have always made it a point to take a small weekend break whenever it’s possible and come back rediscovering myself over and over again. While hanging out in a cafe in Guwahati, three of us friends were planning one such revitalizing weekend trip. Options like Cherapunjee, Shillong, Tawang, Ziro flashed out in our minds. But I was thinking of doing it off the beat this time.

Why go to the same common places where we have already been so many times! Suddenly something popped up in my head. I flashed back to one of the school picnics we were taken to, a place called Tipong, near Margherita. It was in the year 2002. The lovely place surrounded by gorgeous hills and frothy streams came alive in my imagination. And we decided to relive that school picnic again; this time in a better and more elaborate fashion, and for three days.

DAY 1:

Summer was at its peak in Guwahati. We packed our bags and boarded the evening train to Tinsukia at 7:45pm. Three of us snored away the 13-hour train journey overnight, and we finally reached Tinsukia the following morning around 9am. Following some refreshment at a nearby restaurant, we hired a cab to the small town of Margherita.

The small town in Upper Assam is merely 50kms from Tinsukia. But the views are breathtaking! As we crossed the town of Makum, and were gradually approaching Margherita via the NH 38, we witnessed a road that was no less than a spectacle.

Our car raced along a geometrically precise straight road with the deep green lustrous tea gardens festooned on both the sides of the road. In fact, the road is considered to be one of the longest stretches of straight roads in the world.Digboi-tipong

Driving through that stretch would any day be paradisiacal. I soaked myself in the sights, sounds, and smell of nature that pervaded the journey. Following one of the most pleasing drives, we finally reached Margherita at around 12pm. We checked in at Hotel Bluemoon on the NH 38 because of its strategically convenient location. By then we started feeling jaded and realized that we were starving. So, we took a quick shower and went to the Singpho Villa restaurant, famous for ethnic delicacies.

And the Villa stood up to its fame! The steamed rice wrapped in an aromatic leaf called Tora paat, the chicken salad and the traditional Singpho pork curry simply blew our senses. As we walked out of the ethnically designed huts of Singhpho Villa, our filled appetites promised to head back to the place soon.

From there, we decided to take a trip up to the oil town Digboi, which is only 17kms from Margherita. To be specific, we took a trip to the Digboi centenary Museum. Located close to the Historic Discovery Well No. 1 in Digboi, this museum is a one of its kind in India.

DAY 2:

Day two started with a heavy breakfast as we expected some desolate hours in the unconventional area of Tipong. Looking forward to reliving that school picnic, we packed our lunch boxes and set out to explore and embrace the tranquility of Nature.

Digboi-tipong

Tipong Colliery is located near the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border, and is operated by the North Eastern Coalfields division of Coal India Ltd. It is listed among the operational underground and opencast collieries in the Makum coalfield, which was first commercialized by the Assam Railways and Trading Company in the 1880s. The coal mines were nationalised in the year 1973. Tipong is only 20kms from Margherita. Hence it took us hardly 40 minutes to reach the area in our cab. Tipong is unconventionally beautiful.

The medium hills, the thick wood, and the river crisscrossing at the bottom of a steep valley are nothing less than eye-soothers! The colliary that remained suspended for a while was about to be re-opened shortly during our visit. The broken metre gauges were under reconstruction. And the haggard little coal trains were getting a new makeover. It was an entirely new experience to explore the old tainted machineries used in the colliery. Imagining the kind of work that must have been carried out in the colliery with the help of those machines brought about a feeling of joy and amusement. How it must be to witness the work there, I thought!

The Tipong colliery has a community life respond of its own consisting of hillside housings, schools, Hindu temples, mosque, shops, post office etc. And how can I not mention about the beautiful picnic spots, the memory of one of which is still ingrained in my mind since childhood.

Digboi-tipong

The surrounding hills, the deep green woods, and the shallow streams flowing over a legion of river stones, make for a surreal experience. As our eyes scanned through the wild timbers and berries and the captivating aroma of the wild orchids and dancing butterflies, “Aaahh……Paradise on Earth” was what went whirling in our minds. We paved ways towards the narrow pathway that opened up to the stream. SPEECHLESS!

For the next few minutes we stood there numb and dumb. It was like the scenario from Keats’ “Ode to Autumn” that unfurled before us. With the August sun blazing over us, surrendering my body full flat into the stream was a welcome relief! The clear cool water of the stream coupled with the rustling sound of the leaves had a spa-like effect on all the senses. We sat in silence listening to the sounds of Nature, breathing in deep and absorbing the quiet depth of the surroundings.

The silence was broken by a curious passerby who stopped by us and indulged in a friendly acquaintance, telling us about the whereabouts of the locality. A while later, a few other locals joined us too. While sharing our lunch box with them, the extremely amiable and effervescent locals introduced us to their ethnic food habits, especially the rice been It was during our lunch together that we got to know from then about the suspended colliery waiting to get resumed soon! It was heart-warming to see how excited the locals were about the restart of the colliery. It appeared as if their dreams and aspirations were deeply rooted to the resumption of the colliery.

The trip to Tipong surely broke my myth that the summers aren’t cool in the plains. When the endowments of Nature are respected, nature blesses us back. Following a full day of rejuvenation at the Tipong colliery, we made our way back to our hotel in Margherita in the evening.

DAY 3:

We packed our bags and made our way back to the town of Tinsukia. We decided to put up for the day in the tea town dedicated to shopping, good food and movies at the ATC Mali. While the day passed off spending some fun buddy time together, we boarded the train to Guwahati at 8pm the same day. The 3-day trip was enough to pump me up for another few months of non-stop labor and mundane life before my mind, body and heart called for another weekend break.

 

Submitted by: Abhijit Boruah

Edited by: Satarupa Mishra