“Sorry, there’s no weighing machine”
The Sub-Inspector of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) at the entrance to the Agartala airport looked at our helicopter tickets, then at my parents and me. He was very thoughtful, scratching his chin and obviously very confused. My dad watched him for a minute or so and asked him, ‘Aisa ticket pehle dekha nahi hai kya?’ The fellow admitted that he never saw such a ticket during his last three months tenure at Agartala airport. ‘Understandable, as no minister or a VIP might have used the chopper during the last three months for a visit to the interior areas of the State’, Dad said. An old hand of the CISF came to our rescue and asked the Sub-inspector to let us in.
We entered the airport departure lounge and sought out the reporting kiosk. Not a soul was near the check-in counter. When we decided to have some tea, the transport department guy (TDG) responsible to see us off turned up and our conversation went like this:
TDG: How old are you people?
We told our age.
TDG: How much do each of you weigh?
Dad: I am 56 kgs, my wife and daughter are 70 kgs each.
Mom and I protested vehemently and asked in unison: Do you have a weighing machine?
TDG: No. Those people (he gestured at Indian, Kingfisher, Jet, Deccan Air, Indigo counters) have weighing machines.
Dad: Why do you need to know our weights and how will you know that we are telling the truth?
TDG: This helicopter for five passengers can take only 500 kgs and the pilot will take fuel proportionate to your weights. You are allowed only 10 kgs of luggage per person.
Anyways, the TDG did not want to annoy two ladies at the same time and put our weights at 60 kgs each.
Immediately after the chopper took off I realised the beauty I had been missing these many days. I will let the photographs taken from the chopper do the talking. Though they will do no justice to what I saw or how I felt. My camera was only 1.5 Megapixels and already 10 years old. Next time, I’ll make sure I have a better digital eye.
One curious thing I noticed on reaching our destination, Kailashahar airport, was the plenitude of ruminants . A small patch of concrete is sufficient for a chopper to land but needs some dough to call it a “runway” and make planes land. On the day of our departure, the SDPO (Sub-Divisional Police Officer) informed us that the government intended to make some investments and equip the airport to capacitate the landing of some ATR planes, at least.
Three men in a boat
The flight took us 40 mins and while we were being driven to the Circuit House, Dad and me stated our own logic why the better pictures were the ones taken by each of us. I told him that the cliff was taken by me and the following pics had him looking out of the window-then the pics in between had to be mine. He surrendered saying that “OK. These are yours” but later showed me my pics and said :”Of course, and these were taken on self-timer mode? Huh?” And the war still goes on.
In the late afternoon, when Dad was through with his work, we visited my maternal uncle and aunt who suggested that we should go cross country for a little known man-made lake called Khaorabil which supplies all the fish required for the district headquarters town. So, at about 5 pm, we started our journey to the lake. We came across border fencing between Bangladesh and India. Such border fencings - 150 yards from the zero line and inside India - have been erected at many places of the Indo-Bangladesh international border. The Indians residing on the other side of the fencing have their own chronicles of woes to tell but that is another story.
By the time we reached Khaorabil it was dusk. We visited a temple and crossed a small canal by a dingy of a local fisherman. As we moved toward the lake, we located three kids in a boat, happily singing and returning home after a good catch of small fishes. My Mamaji paid for the half of their catch and kept on advertising the freshness and food value of the small fishes found in Khaorabil and invited us over for lunch the following day. The walking along the banks of the lake became more and more difficult with the road becoming bumpy. By the time we came back to our car, it was pitch dark and we were breathing fast and in need of some cold water.
Ten million minus one ( plus one? )
We intended to visit Unakoti, a Shaiva pilgrimage dating back to 9th century A.D. and reached there accompanied by a drizzle. The rock carvings, murals with a primitive beauty and a waterfall reminded me of the scenes in Tomb Raider III.
Unakoti means one less than a crore (ten million). As per Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva was going to Varanasi and made his sojourn here. He asked all the gods and goddesses to rise before dawn and advance towards Varanasi. In the morning no gods and goddesses could wake up. An angry Shiva cursed all the gods and goddesses to become stone statues.
A statue of Shiva and a plaque by the Archaeological Survey of India are the first things you notice on reaching Unakoti. The plaque reads:
The highly mutilated loose sculptures, some temple architectural members and traces of brick temple on the top of the hillock indicate an existence of a temple perhaps prior to these rock carvings databale to 9th-10th century A.D. on the basis of the Chaturmukha and Ekmukha Lingas, Uma-Maheshwara, Mahisasurmardini, Ganesha etc besides some Vaishnavite cults attest this valley as one of the Shaivite centers flourishing during the Pala rule which must have influenced the great rock cut carvings, in due course in this region datable to 11th- 12th century A.D. Thus Unakoti was the greatest center for religious activities that flourished at least for more than three centuries.’(Sic).
So, I got answer to my question - With Shiva’s statue in Unakoti how can there be one-less-than-a-crore statues? There are not one-minus-ten-million statues – with or without the statue of Lord Shiva.
The Spiderman in a tea estate
It was Ratha Yatra day and the sky was threatening us with a heavy downpour from the morning. We set off for Manu Valley Tea Estate, only 5 kms from Kailashahar. I had never seen processing of a bud and two leaves (duti paata, ekti koori), though I had seen a lot of tea gardens in my early childhood.
When we reached Manu Valley we were welcomed by Mr. Asim Das, the manager of the estate and his wife Mrs. Bharati Das. Their eight-year old grandson, Tuhin was visiting them for his vacations, and had a plastered bandage on his right hand. Mr. and Mrs. Das offered to show us around after we had a very refreshing cool drink called well-you-may-name-it-anything as I forgot to ask her the name of the drink.
The couple showed us around, the minute details of turning tons of two leaves and a bud into tea granules – right from step one where fresh tea leaves are put in bags that carry them to dehumidifier trays. Later, the tea leaves are dried, cut-torn-and-crushed, roasted and separated as per the sizes of granules. The dust tea coming from the leaves gives a strong liquor (remember 200 mile-wala chai in some dhabas on GT road?) whereas the bigger granules give lighter tea liquor.
On our way back for a cup of tea (narrated in a modest manner by Bharati but it was high tea) I became quite friendly with Tuhin and asked him, ‘How did you break your right hand?’ Tuhin replied nonchalantly, ‘Oh that was nothing. I just stood up on a stool and fell down.’ It was later when we were having high tea that Tuhin’s grandpa came out with the real story. Tuhin believed he could be the Spiderman and was just trying to change space but time did not agree with his calculations.
OK, here’s the recipe for the cool drink (let me call it "Planter’s Delight"):
Have a bottle of tea liquor (do not add sugar or anything else) chilled. The shelf life of the liquor in the fridge is about 15 days.
In a tall glass tumbler add sugar, salt, jal-jeera, lemon juice to taste. Add the chilled tea liquor and serve chilled. You may add ice cubes and all the nakhras of putting sugar powder on the tumbler rim, a mint leaf on top and a sliced lemon if you like.
The return journey was almost eventless except for mom having a flight fright when the chopper was caught in a thunderstorm and the pilot kept flying in orbit. When we landed at Agartala airport, it was still pouring heavily. Mom was stiff with fear and she had a tale to tell for many days to come how we got saved from nischit mrityu (certain death). Dad and I were a little disappointed though, we had already started imagining an adventure where the pilot would have to land in the wilderness and we would have to fight for survival for a few days until a rescue team found us wandering on the hills. Well, there's always a next time :)