We are driving through Assam – precisely from Nganglam to Samdrup Jongkhar. As I zoom along the Highway 31, rice fields and cows, towns and rickshaws and overloaded lorries and bullock carts move away from me like a video in a fast-forward mode. As I gaze lazily towards the horizon and leave the world behind me, memories spanning over thirty years slowly play on my mind like an old film.
My earliest recollection is of me and my late mother travelling on the back of a Bhutan Government Transport Service (BGTS) truck to join my father who had found a job in Phuntsholing. The year was 1972 and I was six. And because we didn’t have the money to pay the fare, we were nearly off-loaded in the middle of Assam.
On another occasion and on a more positive note, I was with my father who was driving one of those black trucks and we got stuck in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly the whole village turned up and offered to repair, push and pull and jump-start our truck so that we could resume our journey again.
Several trips (on BGTS buses) and experiences and lunch stops later I found myself as a student in Deothang Polytechnic in the early eighties. Assam became the regular destination for our youthful adventures. I have lots of fond memories of those times. Many a times my friends and I would board the bus heading for Phuntshoing, get off at Rangia, hitch hike to Guwahati on lorries heading for the North-East and then after a day in Guwahati, we would head for Shillong where we would be the unwanted guests of Bhutanese students studying there. Once we even hopped on a train from Hashimara and had a long ride to Rangia. We felt we were the only permanent passengers. Others - men and animals, chickens and goats and loads of every types and sizes came in and dropped off every few kilometers. We had got on to a local train but the experience was memorable.
On an official note, often our college football team would go and play a game or two with local teams in Tamulpur or Kumarikata. No matter who won we always celebrated together. Being students and by default broke, I always cherished those times where we got free ladoos and jilebis and chae.
Then in my final year, I was elected as the mess captain and every Sunday I would accompany the hostel warden for vegetable shopping to Kumarikata. It used to be hot but it was fun. From the meagre stipend, I would permit myself a regular treat of few glasses of lassi from the same stall. Over time the lassi-maker got fond of me and if I passed by without having one because I had no money, he would even extend credit services.