Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The great crossing

May is not the best month to be around here in Upper Siang Arunachal. The rains that go on for almost the entire month nudge the lands to slide blocking roads, sometimes for weeks on. May this year, however, is even worse. What with the Zilla Parishad elections going on here my field assistants don't have the time to tag along for field work, in fact they don't even have time to do their own work. Most of the villagers including the young and old are in high spirits through the day and often through the night. But thats a story for another time. Today was a day Roy and I were going to reach the Bomdo village from the Yingkiong town, the headquarter of the district, a distance of only 35 km. But there was a river to be crossed, the teeming Siang river. And we could see the rain approaching us two hills away.

The rain approaching us two hills away (Photo by Anirban Datta Roy)
Usually we use the Gandhi bridge to cross over on a bike but today there was a landslide on the road to the bridge and we had to use the ferry. When we got on to the ferry, the rain had started as a slow drizzle and we expected a major downpour which would make reaching Bomdo slightly more uncomfortable. We were the first to arrive and the boatmen had to wait for few more bikes and at least two cars. So I waited, taking in the view, ahead at 11 O clock a major rain approaching us seeping in between two hills, at 3 O clock the groggy Gandhi bridge and at 8 O clock a sandpiper on the sandbars on the bank of Siang. Thats when the loudspeakers on the ferry poured out "take it easy, take it easy, don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy". In a moment I was teleported to a city, somewhat like in a pub on a rainy day in Bangalore. The folks in front of me opened up their beer bottles and started sipping, it was the election surplus. What was nice was that everybody on the ferry knew each other, so they kept sipping from the same bottle without ever so much as asking whether they could indulge.

Slowly, there were more bikes followed by a clamour from the folks on the boat directing how the bikes had to cross on the wooden planks from the bank to the ferry, for, earlier in the day one bike had slipped and fallen in the sand, a good 2 m fall. The ferry would not leave soon since the folks boating the ferry were waiting for the wind to subside. Thats when a gypsy arrived full of policemen who were visiting remote villages in the Upper Siang district on election duty. One of them was a new recruit who had exchanged election duty with a friend who was to go to the Geku village, further downstream and far less remote, for Singa village, perhaps the most remote village in the district, much to the humour of his colleagues. His choice though was wise, its a beautiful trek with stunning views of snowy peaks of Upper Siang and Upper Dibang valley districts. To get to Singa, one needs to get to Tuting town from Yingkiong, a distance of about 180 km which is a 12 hour drive and then a three day, about 50 km walk to the village from Tuting along the Yang Sang Chu (river). Singa is the last village in this district, bordering the Upper Dibang valley district.
The beautiful view on the way to Singa

The new recruit was very chatty and was an adventure guide earlier and knew quite a bit about rafting. He had also bought new shoes and knew they would only last the to-and-fro trek from Tuting to Singa. After a while, a pickup slithered down the muddy track to the ferry and boarded the ferry. On the pickup were more election goodies; at least ten crates of alchol, and a huge fat pig tied up upturned. So in all, there were about ten bikes, three cars, about twenty of us and one pig. The boatman then lit a beedi to judge the wind and gave the final ahoy and we crossed over the river in about five minutes.


To our luck, the rain too changed direction and we reached Moying a small settlement on the right bank of Siang. We left for Bomdo chuckling that the folks in the pick-up picked up few more crates of alcohol.