Thursday, September 24, 2009
Tuting on Two Wheels: Yinkiong and Back
A huge welcome gate informed us that we were now in Yingkiong. The town basically comprises of two parts at different heights. The upper part was the more developed area with the Government offices and the main market while the lower part of the town comprised of small shops and garages. Accommodation is a big problem and the hotels are not worth writing home about. We headed straight for the Circuit House but were told that permission had to be taken from a local officer before we could be allowed to stay there. Being the eve of the Republic Day and a Sunday to boot it took us quite some time to locate the officer. However in the general confusion of things we managed to convince him that we had already applied for permission earlier, which in fact we had, but he had lost our letter. Considering the fact that Yingkiong was the hometown of Geong Apang one of the longest serving Chief Ministers in the country we felt very let down by the condition of the Circuit House. The rooms were quite rundown but we literally had no other option. Having found a place for the night we began a hunt for a place to have our lunch. We were so hungry by this time that we just entered the nearest eatery and ate whatever we could find.
Hunger satiated for the time being we decided to gather information on the road to Tuting. There were 3 possible routes from Yingkiong to Tuting. The first one – going back the way we came and crossing the river at ‘65’. This added around 100 km to the route so we decided against it. The other two options were crossing the Siang at Yingkiong via the Gandhi Bridge or crossing a few kilometers downstream via the Nyobu Bridge. Since Gandhi Bridge was not too far away we decided to ride over and have a look before crossing over the next day. A few minutes outside town we had to leave the main road and hit a dirt track taking us down to the river. It was beautiful ride with an irrigation canal on one side bubbling with mountain water and paddy fields on the other side. Our spirits were rather high as we had already managed accommodation for the night, had had a decent meal and the business end of the day was behind us.
The first view of Gandhi Bridge from the road was breathtaking. From that distance it looked like a string attached to rocks on either side. It looped downwards in the center with the banks on either side at least 10-15 feet higher. Our hearts sank a little when we realized that we had to cross it that too on a motorbike. Putting on a brave face we made our way to the bridgehead. As the road was a steep dirt track inclining sharply to the river, we decided to approach the bridge on foot. The enormity of the task facing us became quite clear when we actually stood at the bridgehead. Some kind soul had built a temple and heavenly benevolence would definitely be required to cross the river.
Planning to start at dawn we returned to the Circuit House for an early dinner. The dinner was a typical Circuit House one with mounds of rice, watery dal, egg curry and mixed vegetable. Every Circuit House that one travels to in this country provides the same fare and the taste will be identical. It seems that there is a secret tribe of circuit house cooks who share their recipes with one another.
After a quick cup of tea in the morning we set out for Gandhi Bridge. We wanted to cross early as we had been warned that the road to Tuting on the other side of the river was even worse than the one to Yingkiong and rainfall and mudslides were likely to occur at several places. It was cold and misty and rain was definitely in the air. As we made our way back to Gandhi Bridge a niggling doubt began creeping into my mind. Were we being too foolhardy attempting to cross at such an early hour with no possibility of help should anything go wrong? All our hopes of crossing over were dashed when we reached the banks of the river. The bridge shrouded in mist and we could see only 10 feet or so ahead of us. The wooden planks were moist with dew and dangerously slippery. Having come all the way we were extremely reluctant to return back the same way so we decided that we would attempt a crossing downriver at a point called Norbu Bridge.
As we rode back we were quite crestfallen about our inability to cross the Siang into Tuting. We made a brief stop at Geku where we watched the Republic Day Parade and I was once again amazed by the sheer enthusiasm of the general population who turned up in great numbers to attend the ceremony as well as hear the speeches.
As we rode along the now familiar turns and corners I had a chance to ruminate about our entire journey. Two questions, somehow interlinked, kept cropping up in my mind.
What was there in Yingkiong? Did we achieve our objective of biking to Tuting?
It is all about the journey rather than the destination. Yingkiong is a small town in possibly the remotest corner of the country and there is nothing really to do or see there. Yet the journey to Yingkiong made the destination enjoyable.
What of Tuting? The fact is that we never got there. We failed to reach Tuting itself but we achieved the dream of Tuting. Tuting is what the Yeti is to the Himalayan climber or that elusive golden mahseer for the angler or the Holy Grail. Simply put it is that place just beyond those hills, the place you have never been. It is Shangrila. It will always beckon to us and tempt us to leave our daily lives behind for that journey into the unknown.