The next morning when we left the Delphu, we were a little uncertain about the last leg of our visit to Assam. We knew we were going to Jorhat to spend the night on a ship, and the next day we would go to a gibbons sanctuary before flying to Kolkata and then Mumbai, but we really didn’t know how the timing of all this would work out, what kind of ship it would be and whether it would sail, and what kind of gibbons sanctuary we would find.
It took at least three hours to drive from the Delphu to Jorhat because of all the traffic and busy Sunday markets along the way. Driving through Jorhat was also slow because of how the city is laid out. Then we turned toward the river and down a very long road till we came to a ferry landing. But we kept going past the ferry landing for another mile or so and then stopped, in the middle of nowhere. Inram proudly point to our ship, but there wasn’t any dock or gangway to speak of. Just a muddy embankment where they had dug out some steps and a rickety bamboo bridge to the boat that looked like it wouldn’t bear the weight of the porters carrying our luggage. But it did!
The boat was named the Charaidew, and it was managed by a very refined, sophisticated man who seemed like the owner or the owner’s son. Of the 25 cabins available, ours was the only one occupied, which sounds creepy but actually we were very comfortable and secure. The crew were incredibly well disciplined and everything on board was fastidiously clean and ship shape. With unobtrusive manners, they served us a delicious dinner, sampling at least six dishes. We slept safe and sound.
Up at daybreak the next morning, Barry and I were dressed for our travels to Mumbai later in the day. Big mistake. The Hoolock Gibbons Sanctuary was in the middle of a jungle. When we arrived there, after driving for a good hour or more, Inram rummaged through his stuff and produced leggings we needed to wear over our socks and pants to prevent leeches from attaching to our skin. I got my safari shirt out of my luggage and swiped myself with bug repellant. Fortunately, we had both worn hiking boots to disembark on the muddy boat landing that morning. So there was that.
We did see gibbons, though. High in the tree canopy we saw a mother and baby and a few others. They weren’t calling to one another, but they were swinging from branch to branch as they grazed for their breakfast. After the gibbons moved on, we saw some macaques in the same part of the forest. Then Inram wanted to show us more, so the park guides took us on a little walk and we came to a railroad track. There was a troupe of gibbons farther up the tracks, and Barry wondered aloud whether any trains actually came through. Just then, we heard a distant train whistle and Inram moved us to the other side of the tracks. A huge, fifty-car freight train came rumbling down the tracks and left us wind-swept in its wake. Back on the other side of the tracks, the guides had urged the gibbons nearer to us and we got very close pictures of their red faces.
After a second train went by, we walked back to the ranger station and put our muddy boots in our suitcases, then headed to the airport.
Just outside of the Hoolock Gibbons Sanctuary was a large commercial tea garden. We had seen the workers arrive earlier in the morning - two lines of twenty or more women wearing simple saris and large reed hats. But their hats, at least three feet in diameter and one foot high, were not just reeds - the women had also covered them in the most colorful materials. Watching them walk along side-by-side in their lines, I thought of dancers going to a festival. In fact they were going to work long hours in the sun plucking tea leaves all day.
The drive to the airport took us through a busy commercial part of Jorhat where a lot of weathered men were manning hand carts and hauling goods off trucks. There was a lot of congestion and slow moving through the city, but we made it to the airport in time for our flight to Kolkata. Barry was very nervous about our transfer at Kolkata because we had only an hour until our flight to Mumbai and he anticipated that we would have to go through security, rather than merely walk from one airport gate to another.
He was right. Fortunately, because Barry had talked to Amber Tours, we were met by a woman from Air IndiGo. She walked us through the confusing maze of the Kolkata Airport and took us to the security line. The first guard she approached about our jumping the line refused her, so she took us to another guard who allowed us entrance.
The reason security for hand luggage takes so long is that they minutely inspect everything that comes through the Xray. Once, a guard had found something in my purse that was probably an extra battery, but they thought it was the array of mechanical pencils I carried. For once, I kept quiet. Another delay in security results from the cultural need to separate women from men. In the women’s line, I waited my turn and then stepped through the sensor into a curtained enclosure where the female guard waived her metal detector wand around my body. Then she would double stamp my boarding pass and passed me through.
At any rate, thanks to the Air IndiGo escort, we made it to our plane in comfortable time and arrived at the Taj Palace in Mumbai by 8 pm.