Guatemala. The word was ringing in my ears when I saw the tiny green plants growing proudly in the fields unaware of the fact that they will be soon removed for the cultivation of another plant, for which they were grown in the first place.
The lands near the road from Moranhat, a small town in the eastern part of Assam in the Dibrugarh district, to Kathalguri (Kathal meaning Jackfruit in Assamese) were mostly devoted to the cultivation of Tea. Assam is known for the black tea it produces, commonly known as “breakfast” tea or simply Assam Tea. Green and white teas are also grown in the state although in smaller quantities. Almost half of the tea produced in the state comes from Dibrugarh.
On the right side of the road lied the green fields filled with tea shrubs, all of the same height, with a few trees growing amidst the neatly columned shrubs to cater shade to them. Some fields had tea plants that were almost a hundred years old, as told by my friends who were dwellers of the District we were in i.e. Dibrugarh, while others had newly planted shrubs. On the left side of the road the fields were covered with the not-so-neatly growing green Guatemala grasses that reminded me so much of the leafy crown of the Pineapple. They are grown before cultivating tea to make the land more fertile and suitable while increasing the activity of microbes.
As we crossed a long flyover in Moranhat, which was probably longer than those of Guwahati, it reminded me of the road from Guwahati to Dibrugarh. An eight hour long journey it was but the scenic beauty of the trees and fields next to the road, wiped all weariness away. Our bus had stopped at one of the many dhabas near the road and I can recall it was not that hygienic but it fed the hungry passengers quite well.
Dibrugarh town situated at the southern banks of the river Brahmaputra Is a beautiful, well-established yet peaceful place to be. While the town is surrounded by forests including the Kaziranga National Forest, tea estates are placed at the heart of the town. “It’s always raining there”, my friends had told me once and I witnessed it for myself in my visit to the town; not those heavy day-ruining rains but pleasant drizzles that embellish the day.
A trip around the town made me realize the fact that it was just inches away to be called a city; shopping plazas, movie halls, the crowded streets reminded me of the part of Guwahati near the Brahmaputra. The most crowded market was the Bhutiya market aka Tibetan market comprised of small stalls of clothes, bags and accessories. “Fashionable clothes at reasonable prices” they said and the market flooded with women of all ages examining the products.
We made it a point to visit the famous Tilinga Mandir (Bell Temple) at Bordubi in the adjacent district Tinsukia. The temple was named as such as it was a custom to tie a bell to a branch of the giant peepal tree growing in temple complex. Tying a bell would fulfill the wishes of the devotees, they said, and consequently the tree was tied with millions of hanging bells. Although the infinite number of hanging bells has given the temple its fame and is the reason behind its name, it was actually sad to witness a dying tree weighted down by the load of the bells with some very heavy ones.
A night’s stay at Dibrugarh town, and another at Moranhat, an hour away from the town, and we left for our destination Kathalguri where NEEPCO Power Station, our home for the next month as interns, was located. And now that I look back at the journey, all that fills my mind is peace that the region instilled in me and those tea shrubs of the same height looking so much alike yet different and distanced from each other by a few inches.