Travel travails in North East India

Now this is the story not entirely about journeys in the North-East but it illustrates the problems faced by people working in that area during 1991. The story again pertains to Silchar where I was posted from 1987-1991. Nowadays, it is only 3 years stint and you are transferred to another place in India but at that time there was no such strict rule.

On my transfer from Silchar to Mumbai in 1991, we decided that we shall proceed to our home at Chandigarh where family shall stay and I will go to Bombay and find accommodation there. After securing the accommodation the family will also join. The household goods were to be transported by truck. From Silchar to Calcutta, our company allowed its employees to travel by air to cut short the journey period. But from Calcutta to Delhi we had to catch Rajdhani train.

There was no train ticket booking office in Silchar at that time to book berths for the train. We had to rely on our colleagues who did 14 days on and off pattern duty. Many of them went to their homes in different parts of India and were frequently using the train services.

They all had fixed one booking agent in Chitranjan Avenue in Calcutta who booked the their tickets. Tickets were collected by them and delivered to the concerned colleagues. Sometimes, after alighting from the plane at Calcutta from Silchar, the tickets were collected from the agent enroute to airport.

So after spending 4 years there, I was transferred to Bombay which is the most important center of our company because almost half of the crude oil is produced from the offshore of Bombay. Naturally I was very excited and nervous. Nervous because we had heard that there was a problem of finding good residence in the overcrowded megalopolis and everyday one has to spend many hours of the day in the journey to the office from home and back.

All the flights to North-Eastern sector operated in the morning because there was no night landing facilities available. The airport at Kumbhigram was a wooden building and a strip which was maintained by Indian Air Force (IAF) because basically these were airbases for the Air force. We reached the airport in taxi and one of our friends who hailed from Silchar and who was a great help for people coming from rest of India on postings accompanied us. We had two small kids at that time.

Our luggage was sent for loading and we were given boarding passes. The sky was deep blue and there was not a speck of clouds. It was a perfect weather. Now everyone was waiting anxiously for the arrival of the plane.

It was a hopping flight from Calcutta. Its first stoppage was at Silchar and then it used to go to Imphal from there back to Silchar on its way back to Calcutta.

The expected time of arrival was approaching fast but there was no sign of plane. Wait of minutes turned to hours. Anxiety of missing the train at Calcutta due to late arrival began building in our minds. At one stage we decided to take back our luggage and return to Silchar.

But the people at Indian Airlines which was the sole travelling agency at that time told us that tickets shall be cancelled to be rescheduled in any case the flight did not arrive. He further helped us and brought the luggage and allowed us to take it with us in the cabin so that we did not have to wait and loose precious time waiting for its arrival at Calcutta airport.

There was a great anxiety about missing the train at Calcutta and stranded at the big city. At last the plane appeared on the horizon. It was delayed at Imphal where one of its tyres burst during landing. The time of its take off to Calcutta was such that anything could happen.

We did not have the railway tickets with us and to add to the troubles we only had the address of the agent but had never visited him. It was with luck that we had a copassenger who had seen the booking shop and he himself had to collect his ticket. We had booked air tickets through one of our colleagues and railway tickets were to be collected from the agent on our way to Howrah railway station from Netaji Subhash Chandra International Airport at Dumdum.

At last plane landed and we had only an hour with us in which to collect the tickets and board the train. Thankfully the day was Sunday and there was not much traffic on the road. We told taxi driver to wait on the road because the agent’s shop was in a side alley.

I and my friend ran to the shop and after reaching there found the shop which was located on the 2nd floor of an ancient building and was closed due to Sunday. Our hearts sank. Time was slipping like sand from our hands.

Someone told that the fellow lived very near to the shop. We knocked and he came out and went to his office telling us stay on the ground. He tied the tickets with a thread and lowered it so that we could catch the tickets. In turn we tied the money and he pulled it up. Running we again boarded the taxi. It was quite hot and kids were thirsty and restless.

We prodded the driver to drive very fast. He understood and we arrived at the Howrah railway station barely 10 minutes before the train was to leave. Running with kids and luggage in our hands we managed to board in our bogey. We were perspiring but felt as if we had won a great victory. Children were given cold drinks and settled down. Our panting heartbeat slowed down and returned to normal as the train left for Delhi.

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