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Saturday, August 26, 2006

My unforgettable journeys-II: When rocket failed to zoom

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When rocket failed to zoom (Part-I)

Prologue :
Rocket Service is the name given to state run bus service that operates between Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, and Siliguri, which is the commercial hub in the north Bengal and the Gateway to Darjeeling. The distance is about 600 kms. Siliguri is also connected to Guwahati, the capital of Assam by regular bus service. This distance is approximately 450 kms. One can choose to travel by bus between Kolkata and Guwahati by bus. The normal journey would involve traversing about 1100 kms over 36 hours, with a long break and change of bus in between at Siliguri. But all journeys do not occur the way it is planned…….corollary #9999 to Murphy’s Law.

A train accident in 1998:
It was in the January of 1998. I alongwith couple of my batchmates went to Kolkata for taking the written test of a company named Bharat Bhari Udyog Limited, a PSU. We had planned to overstay a couple of days to scout the job market in Kolkata. I managed accommodation at the Assam House located on the Park Street. There I met two guys, few years younger to me. Unfortunately I forgot their names. One of the guys was from Jorhat and the other from Dibrugarh. Though we all landed at the Assam House separately, we became good friends. We also had a different departure schedule.

One day before my scheduled departure, my batchmates were to leave for Guwahati by the Kamrup Express. We came to the Howrah station to see them off. On arrival at the station we have learnt that there has been an accident on the Guwahati – Howrah route and hence all the trains have been delayed. But the good news for the guys leaving that day was that Kamrup Express departed though late by at least 5 hours.

The next day, I was to leave by the Kamrup Express. I checked out of the Assam House. My two new friends came to see me off. However on arrival we found that the Kamrup Express had been cancelled for that day as the train from Guwahati did not arrive. The guy from Dibrugarh encouraged me by saying that we will be traveling together the next day. He had his confirmed reservation by the Kamrup Express next day. So, I had no other option but to collect refund of fare and went back to the Assam House with them. We entered the house by avoiding the reception counter. Thus there was no check in and I stayed free for that night in the dormitory. It was possible those days, but I am not sure now. Anyway, I was low on my finance as I had carried just enough cash to survive 4 days. There were no mobiles or ATMs those days.

We repeated the drill of going to station the next day. But the trains to Guwahati have been cancelled for that day as well. We were told that a bridge has been badly damaged and there is no certainty as to when the rail link would be restored. I had no money to survive this period of uncertainty. So I had decided to start for Guwahati by road. I have heard about the way to travel by road -- Catch a rocket service to Siliguri and then if possible catch Guwahati bound fro train from New Jalpaiguri. It is going to a 1000 plus km bus journey. Reluctantly the guy from Dibrugarh also agreed to accompany me as he also had ran out of cash. It was almost five when we left Howrah station. By the time we reach Dharamatala bus stand from where rocket service starts, it was very late. We could mange ticket by only by the last bus to be operated by North Bangal State Transport. In our childhood we heard so much about the rocket service that I had high expectations. But when the rockets arrived one by one, there was nothing spectacular about them other than the words ‘Rocket Service’ written in bold on their front windscreens. They all looked like old deluxe buses, all in want of a fresh coat of paint.

The rockets left one by one as they came. However we just waited and waited. Finally an ordinary looking bus had arrived around 9 pm. All the remaining passengers were asked to get into that. It was informed that the rocket we were suppose to board is undergoing some repair at a garage and so we will be ferried to that garage by this bus. Smelling something fishy, some of the passengers started arguing. Bengalis ask too many questions! Both of us were hoping that the bus will leave and we will be step closer to Guwahati. Finally, even the skeptics agreed to board the bus. The bus criss- crossed though Kolkata road and took us to a workshop, probably located at Ultadanga. The situation there was that the bus was not ready. Half of the crowd erupted in protest. We were silent spectators. Foreseeing trouble, they transport agency produced a rocket. We all boarded that and the bus zoomed off. But about an hour or so into the journey, the conductor of the bus came and informed that condition of the bus is not good and it will not be able to travel to Siliguri. Heated arguments started again. But that would not improve the condition of the bus. So the driver took it to another transport garage. The arguments continued after disembarkment. Then they produced a semi deluxe bus (without push back chairs) and reluctantly everyone finally got into this one. We have changed bus thrice in a span of 2 /3 hours. I and my friend occupied a seat meant for three so that we can have some sleep. To the chagrin of the passengers, even this bus needed some repair before departure and few mechanics went under the bus to do the job. Fortunately, it did not take long. It was almost 12 in the night and all passengers were starving. So the driver was directed to take stop the bus at the next available roadside hotel. Being the peak of January, it was cold outside a thick blanket of fog engulfed everything. So the bus could not peak very high speed. When the bus stopped at a dhaba, all hungry fellows latched onto anything they could get. I remember even getting into the kitchen to get two plates for us. The ordeal had taken its toll on us. I do not remember anything else as I might have slept like dead.

We had finally arrived at Silguri around 2 in the noon next day. The rocket had landed several hours late. That excluded the possibility of getting any train to Guwahati. Now we had no other option but to catch another bus to Guwahati. We decided to have lunch before deciding on future course of action. The remaining part of the journey was equally eventful.

(to be continued)

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